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Two days in Oslo

Two days in Oslo

Think Norway and images of expensive beer, amazing fjords and blue eyed blond Viking folk generally come to mind. Though not far from wrong, stereotyping Norway and Oslo in particular can lead to srprises.

Norway has long left it’s past as a predominantly agricultural and fishing nation and emerged over the last three decades as an oil producing economic power house, known for it’s socially progressive laws, marine engineering, high taxes and newly found status as one of the richest nations in the world. With an increasingly cosmopolitan population of less than six million, magnificently preserved forests and the second longest coastline on the globe (second only to Canada) one is easily led to believe that there must be countless opportunities for development in this Scandinavian nation. Oslo is the capital and a good place to start exploring. 

Positioned at the deepest end of the narrow Oslofjorden bay that cuts into the mainland from the Skagerrak Strait, Oslo is home to around sixhundredthousand people and can be reached by ferry from Denmark or Germany or buy road and rail passing through Sweden. It goes without saying that a Scandinavian Airways flight is the easiest way tof reaching the Norwegian capital from anywhere in Europe and beyond. Gardermoen Airport has a welcoming, cosy appeal with wooden floors and cladding that comforts the visitor as soon as he or she steps off the plane. An efficient rail link then connects the airport with down town Oslo in less than a thirty minutes. 

What made an impression on me on arrival though were the prices advertised at the airport’s eateries. A simple croissant sold for the better part of 5€, a cappuccino for over 4€. Sandwiches for 10€ and a slice of cold pizza for around 15€. Dare I mention beer for over 12€? A chilling welcome to Scandinavia and just a taste of things to come. 

What to do in Oslo for a couple of days during the cold Winter months? What’s not to be missed? Where to stay and where to hang out? Here are some suggestions.

Where to stay

With limited time to explore Oslo it makes sense to find accommodation as close to the town centre as possible. Anywhere around Karl Johans Gate is a good choice for easy access to public transport, shops, bars and restarants. The harbour is a convenient five minute walk away and is the starting point for cruises and ferries to the Oslofjorden islands and beyond. Options for accommodation around Johannes Gate include pricy hotels, affordable Air B&Bs and cheaper “Pensjonat” guest houses. Unfortunately there are youth hostels available as of 2018. 

I stayed at the mid tier Bondeheimen Hotel based mostly on the encouraging reviews I read about the breakfast buffet served here in the mornings. I was not disappointed. My room was clean, with underfloor heating, quiet and comfortable. The hotel’s location was great, the service friendly and of course breakfast totally to my satisfaction. 

What not to miss

-Frogner Park

Gustav Vigeland is perhaps Norway’s most prominent artist of recent times. Known as an exceptionally prolific sculptor Vigeland is also responsible for the design of the Nobel peace prize medal which has remained unchanged since it was first minted in 1902.

Frogner Park is an open air display of some of Vigeland’s work. It’s free of charge, always open and well maintained and can be easily reached the town centre by metro or tram. 

Gustav Vigeland Crying Baby
Vegeland’s Crying Baby

The granite and bronze figures exposed date back to the early years of the last century and have an appealing, essential, minimalist style to them which was typical of those years. The statues are all part of a common theme i.e. the transition we all go through during our lives; from infancy to adolescence and then from adulthood to old age. Our joys and struggles are masterfully and entertainingly represented in the artist’s full size human figures with their emotionally charged poses. It’s hard not recognise yourself in some of the shapes on show. 

The Pinnacle in Frogner Park, Oslo
The Pinnacle in Frogner Park, Oslo

Centrepiece in the park is the granite monolith that towers perhaps some fifteen meters tall. The carvings on the rock once again tell the story of life’s cycle: birth, family, love, work, struggle, joy… it’s all in there. 

Vigeland statues in Frogner Park
Art is supposed to question morals. What’s going on here?

-Holmenkollen

Considered by most Oslovians as their back yard, Holmenkollen is really just a 340m high hill on the north western fringes of the Norwegian capital. Come the winter snow however, and the festive season too, Holmenkollen is a hotspot for winter sport enthusiasts from near and far. It’s easily reached from the town centre by metro ( line 1 ) and it’s not unusual during the colder months to find masses of Oslo folk commuting by rail to this place with skiing cloths and equipment in hand to enjoy the outdoors. It’s also tradition for the Norwegian Royal Family to spend Christmas at Holmenkollen at their Royal Villa and sometimes mingle with the crowds as well.

Norwegians go skiing
Off to Holmenkollen

There’s over two thousand kilometres of cross country skiing tracks around Oslo, ninety kilometres of which are lit for late night skiing enthusiasts with cabins to cater for food and overnight stays. It goes without saying that cross country skiing is Norway’s national sport, a speciality in which the country excels and generally dominates Winter Olympics as well with over 120 gold medals to the Norwegian’s credit so far. 

The Holmenkollbakken
The mighty Holmenkollbakken

Due to the magnificent skiing infrastructure Holmenkollen is often the venue for international skiing events. However, the most prominent feature of this outdoor sports haven is the “Holmenkollbakken”, the massive ski jump that dominates the skyline towards the summit  of the hill. 

Holmenkollen Ski Jump
Holmenkollen Ski Jump

There has always been a Holmenkollbakken since 1892 with new designs (19 so far) successively replacing older ones throughout the years. The current version was completed in 2010, towers at 134m above the ground and has the capacity for over sixty thousand spectators. Ski jumpers who have braved the Holmenkollbakken have achieved leaps over 140m long. 

But if skiing is not your thing then just the views from the Holmenkollen are worth the trip to the hill alone. Beautiful vistas of  Oslo and the Oslofjorden at sunset can be admired while slowly sipping a mug of hot Glögg, the local mulled wine sold for no less than 10€ a serving.

-Olso City Hall

Oslo Town Hall
Oslo Town Hall

Definitely an odd looking building, the Oslo City Hall is of course the seat  of city’s administration. However, it deserves a mention for it’s stunning inside decor and for also being the venue for the Nobel prize award ceremony that takes place every year. There’s plenty of marble to admire and the decorative paintings by artists Sørensen and Rolfsen in the huge Main Hall contains some interesting highlights of Norway’s twentieth century history.  

-Oslo Opera House

Angularand deceptively small the opera house is a prize winning architectural marvel that can be found at eastern end of Oslo harbour no more than a twenty minute walk from the City Hall. 

The Oslo Opera House
The Oslo Opera House

Beautifully clad in steel and Italian Carrara marble the building hosts the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet organisation. The interior of the building has plenty of wood on display on floors, walls and ceilings as well as some inspiring use of metal and plastic decor. It’s an interesting piece of architecture worth exploring.

-Viking Ship Museum

Viking Ship Museum
Viking Ship Museum

There are someextraordinary, beautifully restored viking vessels that date back to around 800 AD on display at the Oslo Ship Museum. The boats were recovered from old burial sights after being used as tombs for what are believed to have been people of rank within the viking communities. The precision with which the boats were crafted is exceptional and the work put into restoring them for public display is superb.

What to eat 

Reindeer Burgers
Reindeer Burgers at the Christmas market

Reindeer burger might not appeal to some but to the carnivores out there (including myself) it’s a definite must. Tasty, tender and nutritious one of these bad boys fills you up satisfying for several hours. Reindeer burgers are particularly popular around Christmas time and are easily found at the open air Christmas market. Be prepared to spend around 15€ for the privilege though (drink included).

Where to chill 

An easy stroll heading east along Karl Johans Gate towards Oslo central rail station takes you through the town’s main shopping district with the usual display glitzy high end fashion boutiques. There are also at least a couple venues worth exploring here. The Scotsman Pub (link) is pleasant and buzzes in the evenings with a healthy mix of locals and tourists from all over the globe. There a shuffleboards (which seems to be a favourite amongst Norwegians), and a band or a DJ on some nights along with English speaking staff. Drinks as usual, are extortionately expensive. Anything with alcohol will set you back by at least 10€ if not more.

Just around the corner from the Scotsman’s there’s “The Club” the aptly named venue for those in the mood for a bit of a boogie. Queues here can be long but the music continues all night til 3am. 

Andy's Piano Bar
Andy’s Piano Bar

Another great spot worth checking out is Andy’s Pub ( Stortingsgata 8,) close to the Grand Hotel. Live music from a grand piano and capable pianist, some keen would be half drunken singers make this place ideal for a late night laugh. Drinks still way above 10€. 

So, to sum it up:

If you can put the aside the steep prices for food and drink, Oslo makes a great city break. There’s an international environment and people are generally friendly and welcoming. The city is clean and public transport efficient.

December however, temperatures are constantly below freezing and the streets are caked with ice and snow. You need to be careful if you want to avoid slips and trips. Contrary to popular belief, there’s enough sun light during the day (five to six hours) to enjoy the outdoor sights. If you’re into skiing then you can also enjoy the Holmenkollen pistes after dark with plenty of like minded folk, too.

Travellingstranger 2019 ©. All rights reserved.



Five sights not to miss in the Dolomites

Five sights not to miss in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are surely one of the most beautiful and exciting areas of the Southern Alps. Set in north eastern Italy between the border with Austria (north), the Sugana valley (south), the river Adige (east) and the Piave valley (west), the Dolomites offer some of the most inspiring mountain vistas in Europe.  There are jagged rocky peaks over three thousand metres high to admire, refreshing pine forests to explore, turquoise lakes to bathe in and some exhilarating switchback roads to ride that lead to stunning mountain passes. There’s a huge variety of outdoor activities available from rock climbing to parasailing to mushroom picking and the unique blend of germanic and latin culture produces some great cuisine as well. It’s no wonder the Dolomites have long been a favourite with bikers and holiday makers alike.

What are the hot spots not to be missed on a bike tour to the Dolomites? Here are five of the top attractions that should be on everyone’s list:

1. The Three Peaks of Lavaredo (Tre Cime di Lavaredo)

Placed at the northern most section of the Sexten Dolomite complex, just south of Val Pusteria, the Peaks of Lavaredo consist of a row of three stout craggy pinnacles, towering at three thousand meters and set in a stark, rocky landscape. The area is a haven for rock climbers and there are plenty of easy hiking trails in the area to explore as well.

On route to the Cimone di LAvaredo
On the way to the Tre Cime

The foot of western most Peak (Cima Ovest) can be reached by bus, car or motorbike via the “strada panoramica” (toll road), that leads to Rifugio Auronzo from Lake Misurina.  The rifugio serves meals and drinks and there are rooms for overnight stays too. There’s always a healthy stream of hikers in the area especially during the warmer months of the year that come to admire the breathtaking views around the Lavaredo Peaks and the photo opportunities they offer, truly an astounding location.

2. Lake Braies 

If you’ve browsed any length of time on Instagram looking at nature landscape pictures then lake Braies is probably an all too familiar sight. This idilic little lake is in fact one of the most popular tarns of the Alps and has been portrayed and  focussed upon by hundreds of keen photography enthusiasts over the past few years. Its dreamy green coloured waters create a stunning contrast with the surrounding grey/white dolomite cliffs and the blue skies of a clear day.

Lake Braies
Placid and green waters of Lake Braies

Sunrise and sunset turn the cliffs to shades of yellow, pink and orange that producer a pleasant soft and warm atmosphere perfect for romance. Old style wooden rowing boats are available fo hire and the beautiful lake side walk, which takes the better part of two hours to complete, is a definite must.

3. The Gardena and Sella Passes

Extremely popular with bikers, cyclists and hikers the Sella and Gardena passes, each within a short ride of each are guaranteed to impress. Jaw dropping views and challenging twisty roads offer heaps of  entertainment on the seat of a motorbike. Of course there’s always great food at the rifugios at the passes and plenty of hiking on offer for those equipped and fit for the task.  

Stunning Dolomite Scenery
Scenery around the Gardena Pass

At the peak of the tourist season, between July and August, there are traffic restrictions to Passo Sella. Only a couple of hundred vehicles per hour are allowed to transit beyond the check points on the road that leads to the pass. However, the curb on traffic doesn’t apply on weekends and the restrictions are extremely unpopular with the locals who thrive on tourism all the year round. It remains to be seen for how long traffic limitations will hold. As of (2018), access to the pass  involves an online booking here.

4. Passo Giau (Giau Pass)

Passo Giau
Passo Giau is definitely a favourite with bikers and day trippers alike. Occasionally hard to find a space to park a bike.

Possibly the most inspiring of all the passes of the Dolomites, Passo Giau has it all. Once again there are awe inspiring views of mountain massifs and valleys near and far to admire from this iconic and much loved beauty spot. A stop at the local rifugio is usually a memorable experience as the parking area is generally  packed with motorcycles from all over Europe (especially at the week ends). Photographers are often perched on the hills around the pass at sunset working hard to capture the scenery with cameras and tripods. It’s not unusual to see the occasional drone as well. 

5. Lake Levico 

Lake Levico is on the southern most fringes of the Dolomites in Val Sugana, just a few kilometres from Trento. On a hot summer’s day the banks of the small lake offer highly sought after shade. There are well manicured lawns that provide perfect bedding for a beach towel and cool mountain scenery to behold all around.

Lake Levico
Lake Levico

The lakes’s water is fresh and just what’s needed under the glare of the Italian sun to ease off the drowsiness of a long day on the road. Camping is available for an overnight stay and of course eateries abound in the area with Levico Terme, the local village, at a twenty minute walk from the water’s edge.

Find more info about touring the Dolomites click here

Travellingstrangetr 2018 ©️. All rights reserved

Five essentials for a bike tour

Five essentials for a bike tour

Helmet, jacket, trousers and boots are ready to wear. Your bike is clean, full of fuel, serviced and fitted with bulging panniers, navigation gizmos and action cam technology. All is in place with insurance, road side assistance and  itinerary.  You just need to fire up your beloved motorbike, lock your front door and ride off to that far away destination of your dreams. But hang on…wait a minute. There are some less obvious accessories to take along that should not be overlooked. Consider the following to add to the SAFETY and long term ENJOYMENT of your road trip.

Ear Plugs

As per a very recent research  published on the Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences (March 2018), it has been proved that riding a motorcycle even moderate speeds (60km/h) whilst wearing an open face helmet, exposes the rider to wind noise above 90 dBA which, if repeated and prolonged in time, is more than enough to cause permanent hearing loss at any age. It goes without saying that higher riding speeds induce greater wind noise and  potentially greater damage to our hearing as well.

Although there is some controversy over how sound levels should be measured beneath a helmet, motorcycle audiometry tests agree that helmet induced noise is a real threat to our hearing and one that should not be taken lightly. What to do? Are there helmet designs that care about wind induced noise? Should wind shields be made compulsory on all bikes to reduce the hiss of flowing air around our ears?

The experts so far have conjured little in the way of remedies or techniques to protect riders from the dangers of hearing loss. For now the only tried and tested method to lessen the menace of wind noise on a bike is adopting a set of good quality ear plugs.

There are a variety of designs available as far as ear plugs go however, the safest and possibly the most comfortable option are custom plugs, individually moulded to fit extremities of our ear canals. Many companies specialise in this sort of product and although a set of custom plugs like these can cost around £100 (GBP) they are generally durable products that can be worn comfortably for hours. I guess they’re cheaper than a quality hearing ade as well.

Custom made ear plugs

Custom made ear plugs. Red is for right.

Sun Block

The sun, especially in warmer countries, is a biker’s fiercest yet most underated foe. Exposure to the sun causes dehydration, sweat, exhaustion and UV radiation is responsible for lasting damage to the skin and eyes.

The face, neck and nasal bridge in particular are parts of our bodies that are exposed to the sun most of all while we’re on the road and protecting  these areas is essential for our well being.

A few drops of high factor sun block on  nose, cheeks, forehead and at the back of neck should be part of a biker’s daily routine before climbing onto his/her machine and hitting the road. It goes a long way in avoiding unsightly and painful sun burn, peeling skin and chronic blemishes (especially after the age of 40). 

There are sun block products designed especially to be used on your face.  Some smaller pharmaceutical companies might be more reputable than better known mass marketed brands. It’s worth doing a little research and figuring out what works best.

Gloves

As remarkable as it might seem, not everyone wears motorcycle gloves whilst riding a bike. Some find them cumbersome, others claim that gloves are too easy to lose or are that they simply cannot be bothered with them.

There are  plenty of reasons to justify the use of gloves on a bike. Falls, for example, are unpredictable and scraping unprotected hands on any length hard tar in the event of a spill is always a sorry expeerience.  Gloves allow a firmer grip on the handlebars especially when riding off road and they also help lessen the numbing effect of engine vibration when travelling at motorway speeds.

I would argue however, that most of all gloves are essential to protect our hands from the elements and the sun, once again, most of all. 

Falls don’t happen every day and neither do we always need the firmest of grips on the bars of our bikes however, the sun works relentlessly all the time, every time we ride, it’s rays beaming down on us mercilessly. Covering up the back of our hands is the best way to lessen the damage from the UV rays on our skin.

Always pack a pair of spare gloves (even the cheapest ones) in your panniers and don’t get caught riding without for any appreciable length of time, ever! 

Light weight motorcycle gloves.

Motorcycle gloves, essential to protect your hands from the sun.

Safety Specs

Visors on helmets do a great job in protecting a biker’s face from the elements, the  dust, and even colliding insects. Occasionally though, especially when it’s warm, we all like to keep visors open to enjoy some cool air. Our eyes however, need constant protection and a good pair of quality sun glasses is advisable. But sun glasses can be excessively expensive and some designs frankly aren’t suited for motorcycle travel at all. A cheaper option to costly eye wear is safety specs, readily available in most hardware stores in any town, all over the world.

Safety specs come in a variety of shades, from tinted, to mirror, to clear. What’s more, they’re tough, easily replaceable and usually come with adjustable temples which makes them ideal for use under a motorcycle helmet. 

A tinted or mirrored pair of safety specs are just fine for riding in the sun and clear ones are great for protecting  eyes when riding after dark or on a cloudy day. I personally wouldn’t travel anywhere without them any more and often have more than a pair as back up.

Interesting geology in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, India

Doing my high-vis neck scarf at over 4500m on the Himalayas in India. The sun was so intense I needed to cover up as much as possible exposing least amount of skin I could.

Neck scarf/warmer

Neck warmers are a versatile piece of kit that can serve different purposes. They can keep our necks warm in the cold and protect the back of our necks and faces from the sting of piecing sun during hot days. Equally, neck scarfs  might help filter some of the dust and fumes from from the road. They also can be used as bandanas and a bright colour neck scarf  increases a biker’s visibility on the road. 

Travellingstranger, Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.

Just like a Celebrity

Just like a Celebrity

In India

“Hey man, I’ve been following you for the past three blocks” said the lad riding an aging Honda 125 as he pulled up next to me in the dark.
I was trying to figure my way around Amritsar (India), after crossing the border from Pakistan, it was getting late, I needed to find a place for the night and I felt startled.
“Really?!” I replied feeling a sting of uneasiness.
“Yeah, I recognise you. I know who you are” insisted the lad.
“Cool, tell me” I stiffened, trying to anticipate what might be coming next.
“Come on man, I’m your fan! I saw you on the Discovery Channel…. please,  selfie?”

I discovered on my route across Asia that as a solo traveller on a motorbike I was in many ways as much of a curiosity to the people I met on my path as they were to me, often even more so. Also, riding an “exotic” machine with  weathered riding gear just added to my alien carisma and helped boost my standing pretty much to celebrity status. There were countless times by the side of the road in which  I was approached by locals with smiles,  hand shakes, words of appreciation and eager offers of hospitality. I was treated like someone in a position of eminence, of ranking, a star, or at least it felt as though I were.

Crowd gathers around in Pakistan Just a few moments stop and I’m the centre of attention on my way to Sultan, Pakistan.

The attention however, caught me off guard. It was flattering initially and I felt encouraged to engage with my new found friends and pals. People seemed authentically welcoming, kind and concerned.  I was a guest in their country and a flag bearer for the world I had come from. But, it soon became apparent that dealing with the interest and attention from the locals was a repetitive routine that gradually turned into a chore.  I was often surrounded to the point that I had no space to manoeuvre my machine, people would start to touch bike and equipment and I was asked the  same questions time and time again, five, six, ten times a day. It became hard to bare, a bit of an annoyance and in the long run I found it less stressful to avoid any unsolicited attention as much as possible in pretty much the same way I think real celebrities do too.

In Checnya

It all began as in Chechnya, the rebellious Russian republic just north of the Caucasus. Since the end of the clashes for independence (fifteen years ago or so), this area has seen few tourists and even fewer foreign registered motorbikes venture across it’s borders.

As I idled at a traffic light in Grozny (the capital) admiring the gleaming new town centre I noticed a little commotion reflected in my rear view mirrors. A group of lads hurried to my side from the cars behind.

“Mister, where are you from?”
I explained that I had travelled from the UK.
“From UK to Grozny with moto?”
I nodded, and acknowledged the looks of surprise on their  faces.
“….welcome to Chechnya, thank you for visiting…..selfie!” and before I knew it, half a dozen smartphones were at work.

First stop in Iran and immediately I have someone that wants to know about my trip and my bike. First stop in Iran and a young family comes along to enquire about my trip. 

In Iran

In Iran things really took off.  I was regularly honked at on the roads by truck drivers and given the thumbs up sign of approval. I noticed smartphones pointed at me from passegers inside cars, either filming or taking a sneaky pic with waving hands and at many road side stops I was regularly approached by curious passers by.

I stopped at a beach side eatery one afternoon, on the Caspian coast. As I pulled up I caught the attention of some youths lounging near by. While I sat at a table and sipping at a hot drink the youngsters gathered around me and one by one politely asked questions. What was the reason for my trip? What I had seen so far? What did I think of Iran? There were some particularly telling ones as well:

“Is it true that people in Europe believe that everyone in Iran is a terrorist?”
“What’s it like to travel to a foreign country?”
“How many countries have you visited?”
“Do you have problems with the police?”
“Can I take a selfie?”

Students surround me when I stop for a sip of water in rural Pakistan Students surround me when I stop for a sip of water in rural Pakistan

In Pakistan

In Pakistan it continued. An overnight stop in the village of Dalbandin on my way to Quetta, attracted a few locals to the guest house I was staying at. I was a foreigner and an opportunity for students to practice their English. So, converse we did.

“Sir, are you married? Sir,why not? Do you have a job, sir? You have children, sir? Sir, will you be travelling to India after Pakistan? Please sir a selfie, yes?”

Further East, through Punjab and beyond to valleys of Gilgit and Baltistan in the Himalayas, every road side stop close to a village drew a small crowd of  inquisitive folk .

“Sir, where you from?”
“Sir, you married?”
“You have children Sir?”
“Selfie!”

I was an eccentric, an oddball, a weirdo on a strange looking machine, someone that clearly needed to be checked out. Although the attention was occasionally massive with maybe thirty to forty  people crowding around me I can’t say that I ever really felt under threat, far from it.

Always someone that would come and enquire about my well being in Pakistan There was always someone that would come and enquire about my well being in Pakistan

Counter Measures

Eventually I had enough of the attention I seemed to attract everywhere I went and decided to blend in with the locals as much as possible. Camouflage seemed like a good idea so in Islamabad I procured myself  a Salwar (trousers) and a Kameez (shirt) as is customary for a man to wear in Pakistan.

Confident that I could now mingle and not stand out too much from the crowd I put on my new outfit and walked into a small restaurant  not far from my guest house. I had never been in before. The cashier spotted me immediately:

“Ohhh, Pakistani style today. Very good. Nice colour. ….You American Sir?” he asked, as him pick up his smartphone ….”Selfie?”

Discovery Channel or not, there was nowhere to hide.

(I have never knowingly been featured on the Discovery Channel either.)

Kamez and Salawar for camouflage    Kamez and Salawar for camouflage

Travellingstranger, Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.

The Fairy Tail Homes of Sumatra

The Fairy Tail Homes of Sumatra

I doubt anyone could travel through Sumatra and not be totally taken by the beauty of the spired roof houses (the “Rumah Bagonjong”) typical of  Minangkabau culture. These iconic looking long house homes have become a well known symbol of Indonesian heritage to the point that they are often mimicked in style by the architecture of Indonesian embassies around the globe.

Minang home decor is like no other. The constructions, with their prominently upswept gables, are mainly made of wood, ooze a sense of tradition and are forged by the capable hands of experienced carpenters. Some stand out more than others with brightly coloured carvings painstakingly maintained by their proud owners (women of the household most of all).

It can be said that design of these dwellings gives the impression that the buildings are somehow partly suspended in air, via invisible threads of some kind. It’s easy to keep gazing admiringly , transfixed in awe, trying to figure out exactly what’s going on with the roofs of these constructions (I certainly did anyway).

Solok is close to Padang on the centra western coast of Sumatra, map. Solok is close to Padang on the central western coast of Sumatra ( licensed, Creative Commons )

The village of Solok, not far from the port town of Padang (west coast of Sumatra), is well known for its abundance in Minang style structures, some of which here are over sixty years in age. Big hoses, small houses, shops, school, few buildings here fail to incorporate the features of traditional design.  Some are plain with no adornment and perhaps in need of a little attention but others are definitely well maintained.

Traditionally Minang houses are intended for large extended family groups just like the Long Houses found in other parts of South East Asia (Borneo in particular). However, in more recent times elegant spire designs feature in smaller individual homes not to mention government buildings too.

Minang Long House Minang Long House

Minang Long House Another!

Riding past these homes on my motorbike I couldn’t help feeling as though I had been plunged into some sort of a fairy tale. “Hansel and Gretel must have happened in this part of the world” I remember thinking to myself   “…and no doubt the evil witch in there story lived around here, too”.

My curiosity got the better of me at one point, I simply had to find out what these homes looked like inside. I pulled over and parked in front of a larger Minang home where a lady sat on the porch just in front of the entrance. I used the politest half broken Bahasa I could conger and ask if I might peer inside her home. To my astonishment, I was given kind nod and made welcome to take look.

Creecking floor boards, and dim lighting accompanied me through the entrance of the old home. As I lifted my gaze inside I found a beautifully kept “log cabin” with leather armchairs, pictures, hanging on walls,  mats and rugs. A kitchen at one end of the open plan space and individual sleeping compartments behind the living area. Everything seemed meticulously taken care of and gleaming.

Minang house interior I was amazed to be invited inside…

Kids rushed towards me from the kitchen to great with smiles and surprise. Another elderly laydy at the kitchen stove also smiled and watched me as I strolled around. It felt homely, warm and cosy.  It was beautiful, certainly a place I would have eagerly spent spent a night at.

Local society in western Sumatra is matriarchal meaning that it’s a mother’s name (blood line) that is passed to the children of a family. This has implications on inheritance laws, too. Minang houses are in fact passed from mother to daughter, from one generation to the next almost like a dowry.

Beautiful Minang House on the outskirts to Solok

The costs involved in building a Rumah Bagonjong have increased over the years along with the price and availability of quality timber. Today a new Minang style home is no longer affordable for many locals in a rapidly developing Sumatra and Indonesian nation but there are still many old style homes to admire and perhaps restore.  Some have been transformed into guest houses that offer lodging for the occasional tourist.

Of course I absolutely recommend a trip to Solok  if you’re ever travelling through Sumatra. You will not be disappointed!

Beautiful Minang grand house, Solok Minang grand house in Solok

Travellingstranger, Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.