I went on a roadtrip from the Gauteng province to Bloemfontein. Road Trips have their own benefits. It's therapeutic and it’s one of the best ways to experience the best of what our country has to offer.
Starting off in Midrand
Our trip started the BON Hotel in Midrand. I arrived there shortly after midday. A modern spacious hotel in bustling Midrand, the hotel can hold 49 guests, with meeting rooms that hold maximum 400 delegates.It also has several features such as bar, restaurant,secure parking and wifi.
The Viva Espana Bar at the BON Hotel in Midrand. Photo: Supplied
We were served with a selection of welcome drinks, and the opportunity to walk around the hotel. Through a showcase, the hotel showed decor options should you wish to hire parts of it for an event, and allowed other businesses that often work with the hotel to showcase.
The stand out was the Culinary Passions School of Hospitality which is under the leadership of respected culinary professional Citrum Khumalo. In there we found a lively atmosphere, of Khumalo joking with while sternly guiding his students. Eager to impress, the students worked quickly and efficiently to get the dishes ready. The school has been operational since 2006, and is part of chef Khumalo’s dream to empower young people with culinary knowledge and skills. It is affiliated to his company, Asidle Gourmet catering company that allows students the chance to get work experience.
A post shared by Masego Panyane (@big_fat_travels_za) on
Afterwards, a buffet lunch was served and we were seated at the pool area while one of the hotel’s ambassadors, Liz Englebrecht sang through the afternoon. After lunch, we hopped onto our transport- a VW kombi and a Quantum that would take us on the one hour twenty minute trip to BON Hotel Riviera on Vaal. The N1 South, was the route of choice.
Experiencing the Vaal
At around 5pm we arrived at the hotel that would be our home for the night. We checked in and were given the opportunity to freshen up. Upon arrival in my room, I found a rustic feeling to the room. Decorated simply with browns and whites, the hotel has an old but graceful feel to it. The rooms provide guests to the hotel with a magnificent view of the Vaal river and the green of the golf course that’s next door the hotel.
We headed out onto a walkabout of the hotel and explored some of the hotel’s features including conferencing rooms that can accommodate 200 guests, 91 rooms a bar, gym and a restaurant. The 90 year old hotel is believed to have been the original hotel the Sun International founder, magnate Sol Kerzner had initially wanted to be the site for Sun City. However the inability to get a gambling license moved Kerzner away from the hotel.
The onsite restaurant Matthew’s can take up to 140 guests. It is decorated mostly with dark wood, and has been named after the hotel owner’s son Matthew who was a toddler when the hotel was bought.
Later in the evening we were treated to a calm cruise on the Vaal River onboard an Aqua Cruises Lounge boat. We were warned before getting onto the boat that we’d be faced with extremely cold weather, especially as the Winter season was setting in. With only the blood moon full red and visible glowing over the river, the 90 minute ride happened in the cloak of darkness. The only light, a blueish light created an ambiance of relaxation. With drinks flowing and a dinner spread fit for the vibe.
After the cruise, I headed off to bed because the day ahead of us would be a long one. By 6 am I was up because we’d been encouraged to not miss the sunrise over the river. As I looked out the window the sky was bathed with pink and orange light merging where the sky seemed to dip and the river disappeared to. At 7, I was at Matthew’s eating breakfast. A hearty breakfast that would get me ready for the six hour drive that lay ahead of us.
We agreed that we'd have about three stops, to allow for toilet and snack breaks. At 8am, onto the road we went, where our first stop was in Parys, almost an hour away from the Vaal. The R59 was the route of choice. On the road, you pass a couple of suburbs as you leave the Gauteng province for a couple of Kilometers. Then it's just you and the open roads, with fields of lush green and the occasional truck stop. Upon arrival in Parys, I found that it was a small Afrikaner town with a lot to offer. As you walk down the streets of its central business district you find a town that’s close knit, where outsiders are easily spotted. The stores are lined up opposite each other and sell a variety of things, from restaurants to clothing stores and antique stores. My favourite stores were an antique shop and a candy store. I found in the candy store sherbet and gumballs that reminded me of my childhood in Soweto. In the antique shop a glorious blue and white tea set captured my attention. I stood next to it for 10 minutes thinking of all the reasons why I couldn’t buy it. I eventually dragged myself away from it.
The tea-set in question that I spent some time convincing myself not to buy. Photo: Masego Panyane
Two stops, several weather changes and four hours later we arrived in Bloemfontein where our home for the night was- the BON Hotel Bloemfontein. Located in the CBD, it's views are not scenic, but the advantage for travelers is that you are in the city center, a good place to start sightseeing. On arrival we were serenaded by the staff of the hotel. Watching the interaction between Pieter and his staff was simly heartwarming. I realised that Bloem is a town with rich history. The city of roses, as it's affectionately known, is the only cities in the country where three of the country's major political parties were formed- the ANC, EFF and COPE.
One of the sites we stopped at was the Women’s Memorial at the outskirts of Bloemfontein. The memorial pays homage to the women and children who were victims of the Anglo Boer War. However, one thing that got to me is the absence of Black women and children in the memorial. But our tour guide, Annelien Diedericks from the National Afrikaans Literary Museum showed me a plaque by minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, put up in 2015 that explains that the government had taken the effort to correct this miscarriage of history. The researching and recording the names of Black people is now in a book that is available for sale at the museum.
Our next stop was Naval Hill where we were treated to beautiful views of Bloem, with the worst wind possible. Also overlooking the town, is an eight metre statue of Nelson Mandela by sculptor Kobus Hattingh. Hattingh is also responsible for the statue at the Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton.
The Tweetoring kerk (Church of two towers) in Bloemfontein where Towers of Hope operates from. Photo: Wikimedia commons
Our visit ended at the Towers of Hope, a church based NGO in the city. It cares for people who live on the streets of Bloem, equips them with basic skills so that they will be able to get formal employment and get off the streets. The project also cares for women who live on the streets and work in prostitution.but have to live on the streets as well. The organisation is run from the Tweetoring Kerk, the oldest church in Bloem that was founded in 1848, and was for the longest time known as the main church in the city. As our day winded down we were treated to a scrumptious dinner by our hosts back at the hotel.I wish I’d had more time in the city of roses, as it’s a historically rich with a lot to give. For more info on the things you can catch up on visit: www.mangaung.co.za