A trip to Parys
- 21 October 2012 -

Parys, a small town in the Free State about 160km south of Pretoria. I woke up very early like usual (I did over sleep about 30 minutes, but it was still early). As I started my journey I adjusted my GPS to avoid motorways and toll gates as I could get to see the scenery. That didn't work so well, so I just pulled out my iPad and turned off onto the first road in the direction which looked interesting. When I turned off I did see a board that said "Suikerbos Route", but after I turned all signage for that disappeared. Who knows I might had taken the "Suikerbos Route", I might not have. About 10km this road I was already on dirt roads and heading towards a small mountain. The landscape is beautiful in this area. I have a tendency to keep driving so I made a concerted effort to stop. The first thing I noticed when I climbed out of the car was the silence and wondered how it can seem so peaceful and quiet only 20 minutes from one of South Africa's biggest cities.

The sky was dark and it certainly looked as if I was headed straight into a storm. 30 minutes later, my suspicions were proven correct. As I hit the North West province border it started pouring. It rained so hard I had to stop, I literally couldn't see.

I waited a while till the rain softened and rode on a bit further. One thing I have realised since I took up photography, just after a storm the sky is very clear and dramatic. I totally love it.

As you approach Parys the scenery becomes more rural and less exciting, but just before you get into the town you are met with a bonus, the Vaal River. Parys is a river town, situated on the banks of the river. I have a soft spot for water in any form, but then again so does so many other people. It is evident that water is prime attraction for many others when you start browsing the advertisements for property close to a river, dam, lake or the sea. Parys is no exception.

I stopped just before the river bridge and took a walk over the bridge to admire the view, and it was spectacular. 

Parys is renowned for it's main streets, namely, Bree and Water, where there are hundred of little stores ranging from restaurants to antique shops. It had taken me a considerable amount of time to get to Parys taking into consideration the weather my choice of roads and my stops along the way. Being 8:30am I could expect the stores to start opening and the rain had stopped, so my first stop would be the quick cup of coffee and something to eat and then I would hit the main streets to see what was on offer.

I first drove around the main streets and into the suburbs to get a feel for the place, but I must say it didn't feel like anything spectacular. However I'm sure that there was something to see and I know that if you want to get a feeling for a place the only way to do it is to park your car and start walking. I found a parking spot on the far end of the Bree street, grabbed my gear and set off down the street.

The first stores I came across was a series of art galleries and interior decorating shops, but as I walked slightly down the street a older building caught my attention, it was also an art gallery and was not yet open, but the styling of the building was typical to the older residences you would have found in the area.

Across the street I found some really rugged looking store, mostly selling antiques and other small items. I really like the rugged look. What you can expect to find in these stores are probably a mixture of true antiques and some look-a-likes, but my feeling is they are mostly proper antiques acquired from the local older community, which is the majority of the residents.

Mock bicycles are definitely a theme here. I would even go so far and call it the "Fake Bicycle Town. They are everywhere, just about every shop has one in some form... personally it gets a bit much.

Quite ironically in-between all the antique store and art galleries you find regular stores to. The one below was quite colourful but there are plenty of car dealerships and car spares shops. I found it quite funny to see 2 stores right next to each other, "Antiques" versus "Radiator repairs". My advice, if you looking for a perfect town, you probably not going to find it here, but probably won't find it anywhere. Just try to ignore the ugly bits in-between.

So browsing here and there through the shops and admiring the view, I came across a cute little "wire art" store with the most unfriendly looking owners. It could have possibly been because they have a board indicating "no photos" and I'm carrying around 2 large looking cameras. I wonder what they think? Do they really think people carry around cameras photographing their pieces of wire? Anyway, just because they had a board up right in the entrance, which is the first thing you see, I had to take a photo.

In addition to the abundance of fake bicycles, there is an abundance of churches. In my initial drive around the suburb I noticed a church per block and that is not an exaggeration.

As I ventured into the busiest part of the street, the restaurants and eateries became more frequent. In this part of the street I almost think you can't go wrong, they all look good.

The people in Parys are of all sorts, majority of the local population is Afrikaans speaking, and I believe a lot of religious people too. Don't get me wrong there are old people, young people and "street" people. Based on one of the previous photos  there seems to be indians or muslims too. Include the week-end tourists from Gauteng, you have a mix of just about anyone.

There are truly some old odds and ends that are beautiful in this town, and I must admit I would have never noticed them if I stayed in my car. It's totally worth it to take a walk down the main street.

Eventually I made it back to the car, and decided it was time to visit the river once again. The Vaal river is one of the biggest in South Africa and feeds the Vaal Dam. The river is quite well renowned for the white water rafting and the rapids that come with that.

So do I like it? Yes I love Parys, although there are a couple of strange and ugly scenes, I still do. Yes, you have people peeing on the street, and car spare and repairs between all the beauty and I even came across a very stinky stream filled with rubbish. But does that change how I feel? Well, no, these "off" pieces actually just remind me that this is a real town with real people, despite the short falls, it's still beautiful.

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