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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride


Day 72/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Semarang, Java, Indonesia.

After staying up way too late last evening finishing up my last blog on Bali and our day at sea in between, I forgot to post some of the photos from the Indonesian evening on the Viking Neptune last night, so to start today’s blog here is a sense of what we experienced last night on the pool deck on 7.

Offerings floating in the pool and traditional Indonesian decorations lining the pool deck.

Gene and Margaret mugging for the camera.

Guests and staff were encouraged to wear traditional Indonesian garments to the dinner. It was really nice to see how everyone dressed up in their best Indonesian garb.

This morning we had elected to do the included tour since Semarang, Java, Indonesia is not really on the top 10 tourist destinations that you have to see before you die. Some fast facts about Java:

  • the Island of Java has over 151 million people living on it!

  • Think about that…151 million people living on an area of 58,000 square miles or a population density of 3,033/square mile with a population density 3x that of Japan or the Philippines, and 7x that of China.

  • What is weird is neighbouring islands in Indonesia are not that densely populated.

  • Java is known for its volcanoes, being in what is called the ‘Ring of Fire’, this region of the Pacific Ocean has a lot of tectonic activity that causes volcanoes and earthquakes from New Zealand to Japan. with 38 mountains forming an east-west spine that at one time have been active volcanoes.

  • Java has in total 150 mountains. Java’s large population though can be explained by the fact that Java has very fertile land because Java has more volcanoes and fewer other types of mountains. Fertile land can sustain a lot of agriculture for a long time and the Javanese grow lots of rice on this fertile land, which feeds its huge population. Javanese need large families to tend to the rice fields, so the fertility of the land, has led to fertility in the human population too.

  • Semarang where we are today has a population of 1.6 million and the capital, Jakarta, the largest city on the island of Java, has a population of 10.56 million.

  • From Semarang to Jakarta would be a 6.5 hour drive (depending on traffic) and a 442 km drive. I’m glad we were not going to Jakarta today!

We went to the Star Theatre this morning around 9:00am to wait for our bus number to be called. We were going to be riding on bus 27 today.

Waiting for our number to be called. Wearing a linen top that I know will be wrinkled as soon as I get outside in the heat.

A nice welcoming committee for us today in Semarang, Java, Indonesia.

The local ‘Rolling Stones’ Java version, playing traditional Indonesian music at the port to welcome us. I really liked the drummer.

Check out the guy on the right with the big drum. Head covered, maracas in one hand and cigarette in the other hand, playing the big drum. Cigarettes are cheap in Indonesia. About $1 for 10 cigarettes so everyone smokes….everywhere….!

In the Cruise terminal, after having our bags screened in the X-ray machines, we did not have to show any I.D., customers forms, or proof of vaccinations to anyone, and proceeded straight to our bus.

Our tour guide (whose name I forget) told us that we would have a short 15 minute ride to the first stop of the day. Our first impressions of Semarang and the Island of Java were not good! Being a port city, Semarang appears to be very gritty and as I like to say “hardscrabble”.

The bus we were on was extremely uncomfortable for someone at my height of 6 feet tall. There was absolutely no leg room, so I had Richard sit in the window seat (he has shorter legs than me) and I was able to get my bad leg to stick out into the aisle. UGH!!! The air conditioning on the bus was not very strong either as the bus had not been cooled down before we got onto it. People were complaining and asking for the air conditioning to be turned up because it was at least 32C outside with a solid 95% humidex!

As I was watching out the window of the bus, I saw a DO NOT ENTER sign on the road we were on and overheard a bit of a loud, heated discussion going on between our tour guide and the bus driver. The next thing we know, we’re driving down a ONE WAY STREET in the wrong direction, with cars and scooters coming at us. Lovely, just lovely! What a great way to start a day!

We finally made it to a parking lot at the old train station in Semarang and our guide kept telling us to ”Stay in Unity” and “Stay in the SHADOW”. He meant of course to stay together and stay in the shade but the way he said SHADOW it sounded like SHADE-OH! Anyway, we were 32 people in group 27 and our guide did not want to lose anyone on his watch.

Richard rocking his Aloha shirt in Semarang on our very, very hot walk.

We set off to our first destination and almost immediately the guide had to take his life into his hands by holding up the Viking wooden #27 Lollipop sign to try and get the one way traffic of buses, trucks, vans, cars and scooters who were driving on the road, to stop; to allow us to cross the street. Traffic lights are a ‘suggestion’ at the best of times it seems and with no traffic light or crosswalk, we were told to “HURRY, PLEASE HURRY” to get across the street. We were walking to see some kind of Protestant Church and it seemed like we must have parked the bus about 1.5 km away from the church. The area we were walking was a very unique blend of architectures.

A blend of crumbling Dutch colonial and high security Indonesian architecture.

And here’s a combination of both styles of architecture in one place!

Finally we turned the corner and we were in the “Old Town“ of Semarang which was established in the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company established a fortress here. “Kota Lama Semarang” as it is called is a preserved colonial city with various architectural sights.

What a quick change in architecture by turning right from one street to the next. You can see from the women in this photo that the Javanese are primarily Muslim and the women all wear the hijbab head covering.

We came to a beautiful small park called Srigunting Park in the old Dutch colonial “Old Town” of Semarang. The colourful, old pedal cabs were out so people could take photos in them and hashtag them on social media, according to our guide.

#kotalamasemarang There was no way I was putting on that pink hat though that sits with the pedal cab!

But we were not here to see the old fortress, nope, not us, we were there to see the Blenduk (‘Dome’ in Indonesian) Protestant Church, which because it was a Sunday, was closed. Now does that make any sense? A Protestant church being closed on a Sunday?

Blenduck Protestant Church, Old Town, Semarang, South Java, Indonesia.

As soon as we arrived at the church, that is when our very truthful guide told us that the Blenduck Church was closed. Yeesh, we could have avoided the 1.2km death march in the heat if we had only known that a Protestant church was going to be closed on a Sunday!!! Instead of visiting the church though, there was a building set up to offer us very hot sweet coffee, tea, bottled water and some very weird Indonesian food snacks. I mean breakfast was only 1 hour earlier, so of course we needed coffee, tea, water and weird snacks!

Some kind of tofu and chicken savoury delight with a pepper. Richard opened it but did not eat it.

When some of our group found out that we had just done a death march in the heat for nothing, they were quite upset and wanted to know how they could get back to the bus, without walking back. Taxi? Uber? local Indonesian version of Uber called GRAB…how could they get back to the bus….NOW! When Viking did the port talk on the included tour in Semarang there was no mention of a death march in the heat, so I get it, these folks were visibly annoyed because it was very, very hot, the church was not open, we were marched all this way to, yup have hot coffee on a hot day and not be able to see what we came for, which was to see the old Blenduck Church.

So while I did not see inside the church, I was able to take photos of the outside. The church was built in 1753 and is octagonal in shape, built on a stone foundation with a copper-skinned dome roof. ‘MBLENDUCK’ in Indonesian means ‘DOME’. Wikipedia says that the church holds regular Sunday Services…I guess Wikipedia has not been to the church lately on a Sunday.

It sure would have been nice to go inside the Blenduck Church on a Sunday and see the sun streaming through these beautiful stained glass windows.

The front entrance of the Blenduck Church. No one was getting inside the church today.

So after I wandered around taking photos of the closed up church it was time.…yes, you guessed it…another death march in the heat back to the bus past the stunningly magnificent architecture of Semarang.

I am sure the local authorities have approved the scaffolding to the local building code.

Our guide brought us into the front of a small shop to show us the drink packets that the Indonesian people mix with water and drink. Such a cultural highlight for us to learn. The rest of the shop had foodstuffs everywhere and looked more like a bad version of an abandoned warehouse and the thought that was going through my head was “Hmmmm, I wonder how many rats there are running around inside this shop?”

Doing the ’death march’ walk back to the bus.

Our guide again had to take his life in his hands with the Viking lollipop held high for us to cross back across the One Way Street to our waiting bus. Thankfully the folks who had wanted to leave the church by anyway, other than walking, were already waiting on the bus, which meant the bus was running and it was good and bone chillingly cold! Just what we needed after our second death march of the day!

Our next stop was to visit the Sam Poo Kong Chinese temple about a 15 minutes (depending on traffic) drive from the Blenduck Church. Whenever I hear that “depending on traffic” phrase from a guide I am immediately transported back to Korea where I went 3 times with Hyundai and Kia when I was working as a Vice President in Automotive Finance at Scotiabank. We were bussed everywhere on those trips and of course because we had travelled all the way from Canada to Seoul, South Korea, there was so much that we had to see. Every time we entered a bus (which was too often), we would ask “How long is the bus ride?” And every time the response was “30 minutes, depending on traffic.” I think that phrase must be in the international, standard tour guide phrase book that they learn when studying to be a guide. It sure shuts up the audience because the “depending on traffic” is a sure fire way to hedge the bet on timing!

Our drive to the temple was pretty uneventful and maybe because it was a Sunday, the traffic was not too bad and we actually did the drive in about 20 minutes.

The Chinese temple is known by a couple of names: Sam Poo Kong and Gedung Batu Temple and is the oldest Chinese temple in Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia. The groundbreaking for the temple occurred in 1400-1416 and the foundations were set by Chinese Muslim explorer Admiral Zheng He. Zheng disembarked from one of his ships in Semarang, found a cave in a rocky hillside and used it for prayer, and then built a temple on the same spot years later. We wandered around looking at the buildings which we were again not allowed to go into. The Chinese temple does not belong to any one religion, despite the founder Admiral Zheng being a Muslim explorer from Mainland China.

Gates to the temple Sam Poo Kong. There were buses and people everywhere else so I was lucky to get a photo with no one in it. I think every Viking included excursion bus was at this temple at the exact same time.

There were some interesting creatures at the temple. Thankfully it was caged, but it looked like it wanted to put on a show for me, raising its head and flicking its tongue out.

I am not sure what kind of snake this is, but as I got closer, to the cage, I definitely got its attention!

Flicking his tongue out at me. The sign on the cage said ‘MENGUSICK ULAR” which literally translated to English means “THEY ARE CHASE AWAY”!!

The main buildings at the Sam Poo Kong Temple in Semarang, South Java, Indonesia. The women in the temple are all from a religious Muslim group and dress alike on tours so they will not get separated from others.

Luckily for us, our tour guide did not want to spend too much time at the very hot and limited shade temple today, so it was back on the bus for our third stop of the day.

The real reason why we had decided to go on this included excursion today was because of this next stop. In the port talk we had seen some photos of the area we were going to see and it sure looked amazing!

We were at the Rainbow Village of Semarang to look at the very colourful place which used to be a a slum. The local government decided in 2017 that to grow the local economy, they would transform a small neighbourhood, home to a little over 200 houses, into a thriving tourist destination. With a budget of $22,000 the authorities managed to transform the lives of many people. Once a slum, now the area is a big tourist attraction.

When we finally got across the busy street taking our lives in our hands again and the life of our guide, we got to a flower market. The local vendors all have little shops with lots of flowers set up in buckets for people to pick the flowers they want in their arrangements.

Beautiful flowers at the flower shops in Semarang.

Our guide took us through the Rainbow Village and pointed out a green mosque and some of the grafitti on the walls of the village.

The bridge leading to the Rainbow Village in Semarang.

The Rainbow Village is built into a very steep hillside. You can see the bright colours painted everywhere in this village, but the sun has faded them since it was originally painted in 2017.

Local children sitting on the steps of the Mosque. I did the sign of the peace sign and this little guy mimicked it back to me! They are wearing their sarongs around their necks as they have finished their prayers inside the mosque and do not have to cover their legs anymore with their sarongs.

One piece of graffiti was really very interesting. The guide pointed out how each of the various people depicted in the band in the graffiti was from a different religion. The mural represents the harmonious way the Indonesian people live with all of the various religions in this 4th largest country in the world, by population.

The guitar player to the right represents Christianity, the drummer is wearing traditional Balinese garb and represents Hinduism, the guitar player on the left is wearing traditional Buddhist garb, and the lead singer is meant to be a Muslim. The woman in the background is wearing a cross and is meant to represent Catholicism.

The graffiti mural was a very interesting depiction of the harmony and tolerance Javanese people have living with different religions. The Javanese national motto is “Bhinneka Tunggal IKA’ which literally translated means ‘Unity in Diversity’. We have really enjoyed the peaceful, zen nature of the people in Indonesia and I think their beliefs have definitely influenced how they are so authentic in their lives and every day interactions.

Finally after our 3 hot stops on the included tour, it was time to drop whoever wanted off the bus at the Citra Mall in Simpang Lima, Semarang. We were one of the few people who got off the bus since it was only 1pm and we didn’t have to be back onboard the ship until 5pm. We had arranged with Gene and Margaret who were 30 minutes before us on their included excursion, to meet us at the front of the mall around 1pm. Since none of us have data on our phones, we were happy to see Margaret out front of the mall when we got off the bus.

I had a list of things I wanted to get at the mall and the first was a new Ipad case with a keyboard. As soon as we entered the mall there was an Indonesian version of the Apple Store. I wasn’t sure if anyone would understand me, so I powered up the Ipad, and connected to the store’s wifi and showed them the problem with the keyboard and how the home row was not working. They said that the Ipad I’m using is too old for their cases that have the keyboard built into them, so they couldn’t help me. I asked if there was an electronics store in the mall that might be able to help me and they sent me up to the 2nd floor where the electronics store was located.

Sure enough when I got to the electronics store and showed them the problem with my IPAD keyboard case, they did not have another keyboard case. I saw that they had a wireless remote keyboard though that works by Bluetooth, so I asked if it was compatible with my iPad, which it was, so I asked the price and they quoted me 425,000 IDR, or about $35 CAD!

Making sure what they were trying to sell me was going to work with my Ipad. Since the keyboard was a Logitech keyboard and my last Ipad case had been a Logitech variety, I figured it would probably work. I have an Apple Bluetooth keyboard at home, but did not think to bring it with me on this trip. I guess I needed a back up plan to my plan!

And now I am back in business using the IPad for the blog. My son Josh did reach me this morning on Messenger and told me I needed to download iTunes to the Windows laptop and sure enough, once I did that, and connected my phone with the charging cord to the laptop, I was able to download my photos to the laptop. So now I have two solutions for writing the blog….as long as the internet cooperates.,…,

After we got my remote keyboard purchased, we decided it was time for lunch. We were on the 2nd floor of the mall which seemed to be where all of the Indonesian fast food restaurants were. I went to one spot, that also had seating available and asked if they had Nasi Goreng with Chicken, NOT spicy…and they said yes they did. I paid for lunch, since I was the only one with Indonesian Rupiahs and the cost of lunch for 4 of us was only 110,000 or about $11 CAD for lunch. We waited and once the food was ready, the server brought us the 4 boxes of food which contained rice, a big piece of flattened fried chicken, some vegetables in a small plastic packet to mix with our rice and a packet of hot sauce. The lunch was delicious and we felt very proud of ourselves being able to order local food that tasted great and that we got what we wanted!

We found a grocery store in the mall that seemed to be a very high end speciality grocery store. Gene was looking for coffee to purchase, but only a very special kind of coffee. He asked the lady helping him for the ‘poop coffee’. I knew the name of the coffee rhymed with “EWAK” but couldn’t remember the proper name of the coffee. The lady brought over some coffee that had an animal on the front named ’KOPI LUWAK’ and I knew we had the right stuff. KOPI LUWAK coffee is also known as civet coffee and it is a coffee that consists of partially digested coffee cherries which have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. The cherries are fermented as they pass through the civet’s intestines, and after being defecated with other fecal material, they are collected. The KOPI LUWAK coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world with prices reaching $100 US per kilogram for farmed beans and $1,300 US per kilogram for wild-collected beans. The coffee is often called the ‘Holy Grail’ of coffee. I don’t drink coffee, so I had absolutely NO interest in buying any of this coffee, which Margaret ended up buying 200 grams for $45CAD.

While Gene and Margaret were looking for the coffee in the store, I found some coconut milk yogurt! Finally I’m re-stocked with yogurt! We have ordered some berries for breakfast tomorrow, so I will try the yogurt and berries for breakfast!

We had a great shopping trip to the mall today. Prices were great and we got to see and experience an Indonesian Mall in Semarang. The 3:30pm shuttle bus arrived a few minutes late to take us back to the pier, and we happily made our way back to the ship with all of our purchases.

We saw that the ship was being refuelled around 6:15pm and wondered why it took so long to get the refuelling ship when we had been in port since about 7am this morning. Usually our departure time is 1 hour after our back on board time and today’s back on board was 5pm, so we thought we would be sailing already by 6:15pm.

Around 6:45pm we were finally on our way and it was also time to head to dinner for a nice big salad!

Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia was certainly interesting. Not a place I think I would ever have a reason to go back to, but I’m glad we had the chance to experience it, just to be able to compare and contrast it with Bali, where we had spent 3 really wonderful days.

And now we are at sea for the next two days on our way to exotic Vietnam! I am craving two sea days to sleep in, rest and recover from the heat in Indonesia and the busy days we have had. The heat in Indonesia is not for the faint of heart and I do not think I could ever survive an Indonesian summer! If this is rainy season and it is 32C, I know I could not manage a steady diet of +40C!!!

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