So this past weekend I, along with a friend, headed out to a small town called Parys, in the Free State province of South Africa. I can’t quite recall from whom I had heard of the place from, initially, but a couple of years ago, friends of mine went to hang-out there for a weekend. ‘Beautiful”, they had said it was. I planned to one day head out that way and I sure did.
Prior to going there I did a bit of research about this ‘vibrant’ little town situated on the banks of the Vaal River. I figured to find an acclaimed breakfast spot because I generally am a breakfast/morning person so I was more than happy to set out of Johannesburg as early as 08:30 am and make it for a nice 10:00 am breakfast do. That’s how long the journey Google Maps had estimated would take from my location, about an hour and thirty minutes. I know two people from the Vaal and sent both of them texts saying: “Hey, have you been to Parys? Know any places to give a try? Looking for great ambiance, seriously good food and perhaps a seat by the window?” I know, totally romantic set-up! I mean, if the name of the place is an Afrikaans translation of Paris then surely I wasn’t asking for too much. Both of these people, despite being from the Vaal itself, had never ventured into Parys and of course, recommended I Google and figure things out from there. I had been hoping for someone with a personal experience and the friends who’d spent a weekend there had very little collection of places to see but mentioned that they had heard that there were new spaces that were interesting to see. In conclusion, Google would be my saviour. I discovered O’s restaurant which had stellar reviews and made a reservation.
Anele, my friend, thought it ludicrous that we should drive as far out as Parys for breakfast and determined that there was nothing exciting to do there nor anything worthwhile to see. I negotiated, told her that it was about experiencing a new space, driving out of Johannesburg and settling somewhere far away, different and quiet. After rolling her eyes and offering a rather loud sign, she conceded. But instead of an early departure, we decided on brunch. I made the changes with O’s restaurant and at somewhere towards 10:00 am we set off onto the N1 and to Parys we went! It felt good to just drive out and whilst Anele bothered herself with my disappointing radio, I offered to have it completely off but the city girl’s eyes popped out at my crazy solution. Leaving her to solve what dilemma she had, my mind and eyes drifted to the tall buildings, cars and busy bodies we were leaving behind in Johannesburg. Thank you Father!
You will pass through only one tollgate on your way to Parys from Johannesburg which almost makes you feel as though you’re journeying far out into another country. You’ll pay R 20, if of course prices haven’t changed by the time you travel. Then you’re in for a long stretch that will eventually get you to the infamous Parys. As you may have already concluded, I’m awful at giving directions and explaining routes to places, just as I am bad at taking them. This should also tell you that I used the GPS to get us there and back but to be honest, it’s not a tough nor tricky route.
I got bored driving there, not because of the company I had but because of the landscape. No detail of mountains or even little hills, no rivers or streams and animals either flying or jumping about, the grass is no longer green but brown and burnt, everything just looked dry! I love the outdoors so it dampens my spirit when surroundings look lifeless but that’s just how life is, isn’t it? Seasonal. We eventually made it to Parys and finding O’s restaurant was simple enough. Now O’s restaurant is on the banks of the Vaal River and the tables are spread amongst the rather expansive garden and there is optional indoor seating. The beauty of this restaurant is the views it offers and the lovely atmosphere enhanced by jazz music coming through speakers securely perched on the trees. If you do a bit of a walkabout and into the indoor area, you will also realise that O’s restaurant is a house that was transformed into an eatery.
From the moment we walked in, all eyes were on us from the seated customers. Following us and reading us, it was bizarre. We asked to change tables because we were placed underneath too many trees with very little sun to offer warmth. The eyes lifted us from our seats and transported us to our next location. Anele kept muttering underneath her breath but at this point, I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to repeat anything she was saying. We eventually sat down, thanked our waiter who quickly set off. No name introduction, nothing. I stood up for the bathroom and when I asked for directions at the reception area, I also inquired after our waiter whom I could only describe, and requested that he wipe our chairs. I was told a ‘Lebo’ was being assigned to us and would be with us shortly. I told Anele this when I made it back to our table and asked if she had observed that we were the only people of colour in the vicinity (apart from our dearest Lebo whom had been accordingly assigned to us)? She shrugged and said, “What did you expect in a predominantly white and Afrikaans town?” To tell you the truth, I was aware of this fact but did not consider that it was ‘this bad’. Where people of colour are still met with glares and are obviously ‘the other’ in restaurants, goodness!
Anyways, I was both hungry and irritable. The river below us brought a slight chill and Lebo being gone forever wasn’t helping much with my mood either. Eventually she showed face and we placed our orders. A plus that is worth mentioning, the menu does offer a variety of meals to choose from. I had determined the previous day what I would have to eat and so wasted no time. Pie of the day! Anele settled for a seafood pasta. It felt like forever before we had our food. But it came and we ate. My first bite was glorious but a quarter of my way in, I was over it. The food tasted like normal food from where we came from. My pie was massive with an onion and beef filling that wasn’t much to write home about. But we ate and filled our tummies and enjoyed the ambiance. We had dessert, malva pudding and ice-cream (the pudding itself was rather tough but alas), and left the restaurant to walk about the small town.
We finally got some sun and the walk was lovely! Parys is not a loud town, at all, if anything I felt my laughter raised a few heads. Most of the Saturday activity is along Bree Street where most visitors and I suppose locals find a spot to hang out at. I recognised most shops from my Google search and some other detail. I didn’t feel lost at all and truly, Parys is pretty simple to figure out. My second option to O’s restaurant was Plum Tree and to satisfy Anele’s craving for pancakes, we sat down for coffee and ordered some. Inside Plum Tree you literally get a blast from the past! It’s a definite must-see. The exterior isn’t much too inviting but when you step in, you feel transported to your grandmother’s kitchen. It’s not modernised, no attempt at that, and I reckon that’s the beauty about it. Even their menu and their serving dishes feed into the ‘ancient’ and traditional South African ambiance. The one side of the restaurant is a sweet shop with homemade bakes so if you have a sweet tooth, this one is a great joint for you! We also spent some time at Matsimela Home Spa which sells home spa products made from local ingredients. We loved their scrubs and oils! We also discovered that this outlet is in other areas in Gauteng so perhaps our find isn’t exclusive to the country town but hey, that’s where we discovered the products. That’s something.
After spending half the day in Parys, we were nicely tired and ready to head back to the hustle and bustle of the big and bad city of Johannesburg. We so wished we could score a nap before journeying back but no such luck so off we went. Not long after the tollgate on the N1, we were back to activity, cars speeding past, buildings all about us and people of…Of all sorts! We were back in Johannesburg, back to the noise, back to crazy. Parys was good for us.
Please share any places to escape to outside of Johannesburg and your experience of them. My girl and I are keen on more quick breaks from this noise.