Girls Trip To Parys

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.

Photo Credit: Jana Sabeth Schultz

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.

Johannesburg, South Africa

Top 5 Travel Destinations in Africa 2019

TRAVEL, as much as you can,

as far as you can,

as long as you can.

Life is not meant to be lived in one place.

This is something we struggle with the most as millennials, particularly millennials in Africa. I cannot tell you how many times Whats App groups have been created in the hopes of planning a local successful trip, however they never manifest. We either slowly start losing people, or lose interest, as it seems like nothing is falling into place, and a result of this is finding ourselves located in one place, while we witness others become globetrotters. Some of us have been fortunate enough to travel outside of the continent, but reflecting on that, traveling within the African borders was never a consideration. This is mainly due to the fact that most existing travel agencies don’t have itineraries that include African travel. Also there is this idea that it is unsafe to travel Africa, especially alone.

However, there are more and more emerging travel companies, both local and international that are creating opportunities for solo and group traveling across Africa. But even without these travel companies, it is possible to plan a safe and successful trip to most parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa is truly an astoundingly and remarkable continent, with many adventures, historical sites, traditions, cultures and teachings that one can immerse themselves in and experience a unique transformation. It is a place like no other, and I rate it is time we fully explore.

  1. Cape Town, South Africa

The city of Cape Town has been repeatedly voted the most beautiful city in the world, and who can blame it? It is blessed with the most beautiful landscapes, overseeing the city, renowned mountain hiking trails that oversee amazing sunrises and sunsets. The city is surrounded by wine yards that produce local and international wines. It also is the host of some of the best beaches in Africa. Basically it is the hub for beautiful views and beautiful people.

Photo by Arno Smit
  • Zanzibar, Tanzania

This semi-autonomous region of Tanzania is where you should be headed if you’re all about white sand and blue water beaches. This island is also known for having the best resorts and luxury hotels the continent has to offer. The island is surrounded by the Indian Ocean so can expect to experience warm water currents, with delicious seafood. It is the most ideal place to relax, distress, or even enjoy a romantic escape with your partner.

Photo by Jordan McQueen
Photo by Javi Lorbada
  • Accra, Ghana

A western African stop to the city of Accra is an absolute must! Particularly the Art Centre. If you enjoy market shopping, you will love the streets of Ghana. So vibrant and so energetic. You can expect plenty of handcrafted art and local cuisine.  This green city if filled with a pop of colour almost at every corner of your eye. It is modern yet so cultural.

Photo by Victor Kwashie
  • Kigali, Rwanda

Rwanda is currently the fastest growing economy in the world after Ethiopia, and we just cannot wait to step foot there. Village tours are very popular amongst this region; this is perfect for the exploring tourist who aims to be enriched by tradition and culture. The green safaris are where you will experience gorillas in Africa, which we know is not very common. The city is booming, so is life, so are the people, and one is guaranteed a phenomenal experience.

Photo by Maxime Niyomwungeri
  • Nairobi, Kenya

You didn’t think I would leave Nairobi out of this list did you? This is probably one of the most traveled cities in Africa and perhaps it’s because they are one of the most beautiful people to visit. With Swahili as the spoken language, we are already mesmerized. This is also the home of the Maasai people, which is one of the most known populations with years of history and tradition. Nairobi is where you will want to shop for African material (Maasai market), visit national parks and of course take walks on the hills.

Photo by Yonko Kilasi

Living in Austria

Today marks the 143th day since I left the motherland and temporarily moved to Austria. It is also my last day, and I’ve never been so anxious and excited in my life!

So, you know how we always talking about ‘leaving this country man’, living in Austria has made me realize that there is no place like Mzansi, no really there isn’t.

With all of our drama and chaos, corrupt and entertaining politicians, our artists, the overall culture, it makes us a people that are excitingly unique.

But I guess one has to leave home in order to appreciate it.

The first thing I missed about Mzansi, maybe a month into my move, was the taxi noise. I hate taxi drivers. I hate how they claim their space to the discomfort of other drivers. I hate how unforgiving they are about how we must treat their vehicle, and of course their money. But, all I was longing for was the never ending hooting, and the conductor’s call, if you’re from Cape Town, where we don’t count money. Either way, if you climb a taxi you will know that you’re always up for an adventure.

My parents didn’t believe that I’m jubilant about leaving this first class, first world country where everything works. I’m a lover of the finer things the world has to offer, and living in Austria did not disappoint. But, that was about it. I realized that what truly makes an experience is the people. Really, that is South Africa’s gift to world, we are beautiful people, filled with life and a contagious energy. I so desperately want to say the same about my experience in Austria, but people here in Austria have really broadened my understanding of humans as a whole, especially humans in a world where struggle and poverty do not prevail. Perhaps this is what makes us a happy people with a wild sense of humour, our struggles in life. I guess our tolerance for that which is different is second nature due to the diversity of our nation. People in Austria are cold, to be frank.

I keep saying I will never return back here, not only is the weather just miserable, the space is also depressing. It’s quite, I guess this is what money looks like, it’s how money behaves, it’s how wealth carries itself. But after this experience, I learned that there is more to live for than just money. You can literally see on the faces of the people, no one looks happy, no one looks satisfied. I think creating wealth is a generic accomplishment that everyone wishes to achieve, but what is money if you are not internally a happy person? It makes me wonder if it is either one or the other, but it can’t be. Surely, it’s possible to be wealthy and happy. Oh, I just remembered that Austrian people are seldom people of service, external service. Happiness can be drawn from being of service to others, wealth should be inevitable if your purpose is beyond yourself, that, I think is a combination of happy. Rich happy, if you get where I’m going with this.

I say they are not a people of service because in a non-governmental youth operated world organization that I joined on campus, only 20% of the members were Austrian, the rest were foreigners, even from neighboring countries. That says a lot. Perhaps being ignorant to the suffering of others is the reason behind the lack of motivation to help others, because most Austrians I met, are pretty well off. Some claimed that is was not an activity that they were interested in engaging in. However, there would be a selective few that would volunteer for initiatives such as Red Cross.

I always wondered how war could last for so long. the Second World War commenced in 1940 and lasted 4 years to 1944. With due reasons given to climate change, perhaps it wasn’t that cold at that time, but as a millennial traveling from South Africa, where we experience 8 months of summer, the weather was just miserable. It honestly can alter your experience in Austria. A lot of the times I’d find myself feeling sad, and the weather had 90% to do with it. Vitamin D deficiency is real, I was quickly living out the symptoms.

As for the rest of east Europe, honestly I would be more than glad if it was not required for me to return there. South Africa has its past relating to racial subjugation and public oppression. It’s still very much apparent and experienced by many in the country. So I wouldn’t be so quick to award the rainbow nation. However, I did not expect to experience such demoralizing acts of racism in ‘advanced’ Europe. Any form on racism is ill willed, not to mention how much of an effort it takes for the perpetrator. What stung the most about my racial incidents, is not what was being done or said to me, but the fact that people surrounding us witnessed the act and nobody had the audacity to intervene. It is beyond humiliating, demoralizing and dehumanizing. I was totally heartbroken.

However, there were plenty of blissful moments that I experienced. I befriended two male friends, who were both Austrians, who became my brothers. Obviously this altered my perception and experience, as I should’ve known that not all people are alike. Therefore, I became aware of the fact that culture is relative and not absolute. Through these friendships I was able to gain a deeper understanding about the local mindset, wolrd view, particularly the older generation, which is still programmed in the old school doctrine of classism and racism. The younger genertion, which is more well traveled than the older generation, had opposing point of views. They had a more liberated, more tolerant perspective, and it became simpler to conversate about issues beyond the stereotypes.

It later became obvious to me that my experience will be whatever I make it out to be. I couldn’t allow myself to be too engrossed in matters that did not concern me. With time it became easier to brush off racism as the perpetrators problem and not mine. That is all that I can advise anyone who intends on living abroad, make the experience your own. That will make all the difference. Also, I advise that one truly explores the place and the surrounding, immerse yourself in the culture. Become a local. Look out for events or social clubs that may involve you meeting other locals or foreigners. Great conversations are had there. And off course take advantage of each and every opportunity at your disposal, it will look good on your portfolio and it will enrich you as a person. Travelling is the only activity, where spending money actually makes you richer, I would recommend this to all females out there, no matter the time, travel, see the world, globalise your world view.

Exploring the beautiful city of Prague with Yours Truly

Also formerly known as Bohemia, this is probably one of the few cities that did not experience much, if any, damage from the second WW, so it still holds its beautiful scenic architecture from earlier centuries. It is simply stunning, with a taste of gothic. Bohemian is an ethnicity used to describe the practice of unconventional lifestyles, which includes musical, literary, artistic and spiritual pursuits. This term is used to describe the western most and largest historical region of the Czech lands.  You would describe a person, as ‘oh, she’s Bohemian’, the same way you’d say ‘oh she’s ‘Cape tonian’’.

Exploring this city was an absolute adventure, I’m not sure if this was due to the fact that I finally had a travel buddy with me for the first time. Since I started exploring beyond our South African borders I have been traveling alone. It’s true what they say, ‘if you have to wait for people to travel with, you will never travel’. It was absolute fun having fellow South African @winaybinay with me.

I could write about the intriguing history of the Czech Republic, and as I’ve now learnt, it has its own distinct history; but I’m not going to do that here.  Whilst I am an exchange student for a semester based at Linz, Austria, I mostly travel for short bursts at a time due to school (European semester), so I mostly travel on weekends. I thought it would be awesome if I put together an itinerary for what one can explore in a short space of time if ever traveling to Prague. This will be useful if you intend to travel to various cities in Eastern Europe with a budget, since they are all inclose proximity to one another.  Eastern Europe is suitable for those with limited budget, the Rand does go quite far.

City Tours: Most capital cities are extremely rich with the country’s history and Prague was no different, it is impossible to explore and retain all about the city over a weekend’s stay. So guided city tours are always useful and better, especially if you are a historical and cultural traveler like myself.

These usually include both a bus and will require a bit of walking, cause I mean which other way is best when you trying to explore a city, its people and street culture?But I prefer them because you always have a guide who is deeply knowledge able about every corner, street, building, sculpture, you name it, of the city, they are trained to know this. Here were my highlights and stops including taking a selfie with Kafka, and the “Dancing Building”.

  • The Charles Bridge  
  • The Prague Castle
  • Old Town Square
  • The Prague Astronomical Clock
  • St. Vitus Cathedral
  • The Jewish quarter

Beer Tasting: So you’d think after living in Europe for almost three months, I’d know more about beer, not until you’ve been toPrague. The Czech really pride themselves in their beer, to the extent that beer costs less than water and other drinks. I couldn’t believe it either. They produce plenty of beer, some of the world’s greatest beers even, like the pilsners. This is a cool way to immerse yourself into the culture. You’ll most definitely meet some interesting characters during this experience too.

Visiting a Concentration Camp (Terezin): If you have the stomach to witness some of the atrocities done to humans by other humans, then you have to visit Terezin. You literally get to walk in the streets of the Ghetto where Jews were sent to wait for their death. Most of them ended up in Auschwitz where they were gassed to death. This is an emotional tour, you will see the cemetery of thousands who were murdered, letters and drawing from the children who were victims, where they were cremated, the prison where many, including Russians, were imprisoned by theNazi, and the Jewish Museum. It’s the closest experience one will have to their reality. Maybe visit Terezin at the start of your weekend adventure in Prague, because it is quiet a sobering end to a trip.

by Nonhle Matsebula

Linz, Austria – First Impressions

Reflection…

Upon reflecting on my time here in Linz, Austria and the rest of Europe, there are a few things that immediately stand out, like the people, the culture and obviously the architecture. However, I still have much to explore and experience, but here are my thoughts about Linz thus far.

Oh, before I continue, a quick background. I am currently a student at the University of Cape Town. I was accepted into the exchange programme via the international office, IAPO. I am now spending a semester (October – January)in Austria. If you are a student and would love to experience such an opportunity, simply visit your school’s international office, or find out on the school’s website, there is always more than enough information available there.

  1. The People – There are two kinds of people that have caught my attention. The first kind is the cold unapproachable kind. They are probably the most aloof people I’ve encountered through my travelling. They appear to be very disinterested and quick to dismiss you. I guess that’s because they are not very open or exposed people especially concerning to what appears to be different from them. The second kind, and I’m not sure if this only happens when they are in the midst of consuming some kind of alcohol, love to stare and sometimes flirt. I’ve been called plenty of different names, all of which are an attempt to capture my attention. It’s true that Europe is not a continent with a large African population, but it is intriguing to see how some people react simply on the basis of your skin colour.
  • Landscape – Linz, like most other European countries consists of a large assemble of old buildings and historical sites. What I love most is the existence of two completely different environments in one. The city centre and the country. It’s such a great paradox, because you get to experience 2 in 1, a bit of the fast life but also the humbling, relaxing but comfortable countryside. This brings me to the amazing hiking trails I have experienced, some with difficult terrains but always spectacular views. Plenty of outdoor activities to take advantage of here.
  • Drinks – Wine and Beer. I haven’t consumed as much beer in my travels as I have in the city of Linz. It’s just beer galore, good beer though.The wine is on its own level of magnificent. Wine tasting in Linz, Austria is a definite must, and the people are attending these are the most interesting.
  • Food – I’m yet to explore traditional Austrian cuisine and experience the Farmer’s Market. But apparently the schnitzel is to die for; I have to compare this to the Woolies one. Oh, and egg and dumpling is thing here, lol.  I must say though that I am in vegetarian and healthy food heaven. It is easy and affordable to find all sorts of healthy, fresh foods for those of us attempting to eat healthier and go vegetarian.
  • The Culture – okay, so the culture here is quite different from what I expected. They are a devoted religious people, with considerable regard to Christianity, to the extent of having all shops closed on Sundays. Their lifestyle is a bit on the expensive side. Punctuality is a serious matter, which is going to really test me as an African who functions on the concept of ‘African time’, which means never EVER on time (I need to work on this). They say, “Time is money” I’m more like “better late than never”. They have weird office hours, like these people don’t work, most days they knock off just after lunch time. This is what it’s like in first world countries I guess, you can only get paid so much a day, since your government really takes care of you.Did I mention they barely pay for University, only 19 Euros per semester, that is equivalent to R350 a semester! But more than anything I question their tolerance regarding other races. They have strong values, and the elderly still hold traditional German customs.

by Nonhle Matsebula