The gunpowder smell of fresh rain in the night air hit me as I climbed down from the train in Semarang. By the time I reached the station gates and had clambered into a waiting becak (pedicab), a thunderous -- and highly unseasonable downpour had begun.
I peered from beneath the becak's dripping hood as it rolled along the empty streets. This was an old city, and I caught glimpses of heavy Dutch rooflines, crumbling columns and arched windows. Shadowy figures sheltered beneath shuttered balconies, and other becaks rolled swiftly through the wet night, their drivers straining urgently at the peddles.
I stopped at the only place open on this dark street: a caf* in a high-ceilinged old building with slow-circling fans. The walls were decorated with photographs of Semarang in years past, and the caf* was known simply as "No. 29" (opposite Blenduk Church). I ordered a plate of juicy sate and a glass of iced tea, and sat peering out at the wet darkness. The rain continued to fall.
Semarang is not high on any must-see list for travelers. Overshadowed by its southern counterpart, the touristic behemoth of Yogyakarta, it's easy to forget that this coastal city of 1.5 million people is the capital of Central Java, and one of the oldest settlements in Indonesia.