Friday, April 9, 2010

Parks, Palaces and Pie on a Weekend Jaunt to Bogor

Most people recognize Bogor as one of Jakarta’s satellite cities, part of the greater metropolitan area, but it can also provide a moment of respite from the heat of the Big Durian. A popular summer retreat for Dutch and British governors during the colonial era, the city is home to one of six presidential palaces in Indonesia.

The Bogor Palace sits next to the Bogor Botanical Gardens, another landmark attraction. The city wears its heritage on its sleeve, with inscription stones scattered throughout its streets bearing Sanskirt engravings that date back to the Tarumanagara and Pajajaran kingdoms.

To see history live on in a traditional village, make a stop by Sindang Barang, on the city’s west side, where the villagers have created a kampung adat , or heritage site, to preserve their ancient culture. You can sleep in a traditional house and take in traditional ceremonies, music and dance performances.

Just an hour’s drive from Jakarta, Bogor is easily accessible by train. Some people even live there and commute to Jakarta, avoiding weekday traffic on the Taman Mini toll road by riding the rails. An air-conditioned economy-class ticket will cost you just Rp 11,000 ($1.20), much cheaper than going by cab or renting a car.

Once you’re in Bogor, make a beeline for Taman Topi, across from the train station, where a tourist information center can provide directions, travel brochures and advice about transportation. You may not find taxicabs or air-conditioned public transportation here, so make sure to figure out your options while in the office.

In this city, apart from private vehicles, it is the angkot, or colorful public minivans, that rule the road. According to the customer service department at the Blue Bird taxi company, there is a regulation from the national Organization of Land Transportation Operators (Organda) that taxis shall not operate in Bogor.

If you’re interested in shopping for some of Bogor’s famous leather bags, definitely make a stop by Sumber Karya Indah Bogor, known as SKIBOG. Located at Katulampa, in eastern Bogor, the family-friendly, five-hectare shopping center has a playground, restaurants and souvenir shops, along with many stores selling shoes, bags and pretty much anything else you can think of.

After a hard day of shopping and sight-seeing, you won’t lack an appetite. Fortunately, this city boasts some of the best cuisine, from the street to sit-down restaurants, anywhere in the region. Toge goreng, fried bean sprouts served with tofu and rice cakes and covered in peanut sauce, is one of Bogor’s distinctive flavors. It can be found on many street corners, normally for less than Rp 10,000.

For something sweet, Martabak Air Mancur on Jalan Sudirman serves the traditional Indian pancakes known as martabak . Along with the usual cheese and chocolate fillings, the stand ventures into more experimental options like corn, strawberry cheese, banana, peanuts and sesame.

If you want to get off the street for a meal, head to Jalan Taman Kencana, the city’s restaurant row. Don’t miss Middle Eastern stalwart Ali Baba, where those in the know order the off-menu date juice and a dish of vanilla ice cream for one of the city’s secret treats.

For a romantic ambience, cozy up in Lasagna Gulung, which serves a delicious rolled lasagna. Or you can carbo-load at the nearby Macaroni Panggang (Grilled Macaroni).

For dessert (or breakfast, lunch or dinner), Taman Kencana is home to Pia Apple Pie, the oldest pie shop in Bogor and a must for any itinerary. The apple pie is the classic order, but there is also chocolate, strawberry, cheese and chicken pies, as well as Black Russian pie — a kite-shaped pastry with a chocolate and vodka filling. For a lighter option, Pia Apple Pie also sells pie crusts topped with cheese, apple and raisin.

Along with its signature pies, Pia Apple Pie also turns apples into some interesting mains, like spaghetti with apple sauce and apple fried rice topped with beef bacon and egg. It might sound strange, but those who have tried the slightly sweet, less-greasy version of the street food see it as another reason to love Bogor.

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