If you're in any way a proudly South African citizen, you need to visit Bloemfontein. Heck, if you're not, you should also definitely visit Bloem. You have a lot to learn.
This little life lesson is something I only discovered for myself recently. Before a road trip through the Free State, which ended with a day of exploring in Bloem, I had thought of Bloemfontein only as a place of extreme Afrikanerism, dust storms and the place where the ANC was once founded.
But man, was I wrong in my stereotypical thinking of the city! Bloemfontein is a city on the forefront of change in SA. It's much more integrated as Cape Town, for example, and when it comes to things to do and places to see, Bloem is such a relevant and #ProudlySA destination.
If you have only a weekend to explore this important SA city and landmark, here are a few ideas on what to get up to -
Spend time at the Women's Monument
This is the first monument in the world dedicated to women and children. It was unveiled on 16 December 1913, and today still represents the incredible saying, ‘Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo', which means 'to strike a woman is to strike a rock'.
As this saying is relevant for all women in our country, the National Women's Monument represents all of South Africa's women - their resilience, their courage and their ability to rebuild a nation.
Naval Hill & Franklin Game Reserve
You know those panoramic pics sweeping over the Bloemfontein horizon, with our Father of the Nation Nelson Mandela overlooking the view? That's Franklin Game Reserve in Bloem, and you simply have to see it for yourself.
The view from Naval Hill offers sweeping views of the city, and at dusk in winter, the city lights are something to see. The best bet is to lace up your hiking shoes and take the road to the top with your feet, to get an up-close view of the giraffes and ostriches on your way up. Take a windbreaker or jacket along, it gets cold up there.
Spend the morning at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum
The Oliewenhuis Art Museum houses a permanent, uniquely South African art collection, complemented by regular temporary exhibitions by local artists. It also has a restaurant to enjoy a quick bite and coffee.
The Museum is located in one of the most magnificent gardens in the city, a large section of the property comprises natural vegetation bordering on the Museum grounds. It is the only museum of its kind in the Free State and one of the youngest art museums in the country.
Stroll down President Brand Street
President Brand Street been declared a national conservation area in its entirety - the only such conservation area in the whole of South Africa. Once you walk down this leafy street, however, you understand why.
Nearly all the old sandstone buildings - which have been immaculately preserved and maintained - which line the street have been declared National Heritage Buildings. You'll find the stunning City Hall, the Old Raadsaal (seen below), the Fourth Raadsaal - dating from the 1800s, the Supreme Court, Old Presidency and many more stunning structures here.
Read up at the National Afrikaans and Sesotho Literature Museum
Originally built to be a government office in 1875, this literature museum now accommodates well over a million artefacts related to Afrikaans and Sesotho literature. What's fascinating about the museum is how it manages to celebrate Afrikaans and Sesotho - both indigenous South African languages - with such respect to one another.
The National Afrikaans Literary Museum and Research Centre (NALN) is the custodian of the largest collection at a single institution of material pertaining to the Afrikaans literature and related arts, while the Sesotho Literary Museum still actively engaging with the local community to ensure the culture and language is documented and preserved for generations to come.
Get all jazzed up at Macufe
The Mangaung African Cultural Festival (MACUFE) was launched by the Free State Provincial Government in 1997, and has since become "one of the biggest cultural festival on the African continent with international acclaim," festival organisers say.
Dates for this year's festival has not yet been announced, but it promises to be another celebrations of African culture and - as always - our incredible love for jazz.
Relax in the Free State National Botanical Garden
If you're in need of a break from city life, the beautiful Free State National Botanical Garden, situated on the outskirts of Bloemfontein, is just the spot.
The natural vegetation comprises tall grassland and woodland, dominated by magnificent wild olive and karee trees. The harmony of the Garden has been achieved by retaining and highlighting the best elements of the natural landscape.
The Garden covers 70 hectares, and is home to about 400 species of plants, mainly from the Free State, Northern Cape and Lesotho. It also includes a collection of decorative and hardy trees indigenous to the area. It's the perfect spot for a lazy afternoon picnic, so pack something delicious and head out.
Smell the flowers at the Orchid House
Set in a circular glass greenhouse, the Orchid House sits on Union street right at the feet of Naval Hill at the Franklin Game Reserve. The glass house has a small but stunning collection of flowers and, of course, those delicate orchids. It is managed by the Parks & Gardens Department of the Mangaung Council.
A boardwalk runs around its circular design, allowing a close-up view of these exotic and ancient plants. In this tropical nursery of lush greenery and other exotic plants you can view the beautiful Vanilla Orchid.
The surrounding Hamilton Park is an ideal place to take the kids for a picnic and the best time to visit is between May through to September when you will catch the most blooms.
Let loose at the Vryfees
It's not the KKNK, but the Vrystaat Arts Festival is fast becoming another one of South Africa's major, must-see events. Although there has been international artists at the festival for some years, this year for the first time, the festival also has artists from our neighbouring countries Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The collaboration will be the first Pan-African Creative Exchange (PACE) Teaser. PACE aims to be a biennial arts market for the interdisciplinary arts in Africa, showcasing the highest quality productions from Africa to national and international audiences, presenters, producers and buyers. This initiative was developed to grow visitors access to the enormous creative talents of our continent, festival organisers say.
This year's festival takes place from 18 to 22 July.
Have breakfast at the Boeremark
Markets are the new niche in South Africa, but the Bloemfontein Boeremark in Bankovs Boulevard in Langenhoven Park has been on the map long before institutions like Neighbourgoods and Oranjezicht took their first baby steps.
This Bloem-bound farmers' and crafters' market is open every Saturday right throughout the year, and everyone is welcome. Whether you're after some extensive Christmas shopping, or just looking for a quick bite to eat on the grass under the trees, the Boeremark will sort you out in no time.
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- The Bloem Boeremark: a family market institution