Tag Archives: Ruins

Lions for Christmas. Out of the Blue.

One year in the last century, completely out of the blue, we got lions for Christmas! For some odd reason I had completely forgotten about this particular, shall we say, slightly different holiday experience when I wrote about the holidays we have celebrated in various corners of this earth. But last night I saw this funny lion ornament my hubby had put in the tree, and it all came back to me.

It all came about entirely without planning on my part. Saying that it came out of the blue might actually not be quite truthful. That particular year it was very difficult to find blue skies where we lived, in Stockholm, Sweden. It was all grey drizzle, ice and snow starting from mid November.

So one day I get this call from a reputable development agency. They asked if I was interested in doing an urgent evaluation of a heath care project in Zimbabwe the following month. December. That was interesting. I had a regular job and so did my hubby. But the thought of doing something truly worthwhile in a warm place – and as a bonus being able to skip all holiday stress, was intriguing. So I braved myself and asked my employer for a month of unpaid leave starting the second week of December. It wouldn’t hurt asking, I hoped. To my total surprise my employer agreed! And so did my hubby’s employer. It must have been the good cause that persuaded them – or was it simply the good old times?

So one snowy morning in early December we were on our way to London and further to Harare, where we established our home for the holidays in a small hotel room. I worked every weekday, and sometimes until late at night, but on the weekends and holidays we were able to explore the sights together.

Our first weekend outing was to the impressive  Chapungu Sculpture Park in the outskirts of Harare. The exhibition included hundreds of beautiful stone sculptures of people, animals and some mystical beings by contemporary Zimbabwean and other African sculptors.

We spent almost a full day there walking around, admiring the works and talking to the sculptors “in residence”, who were actually working right there in the park.

Zim sculpture garden cat ed

I found this stone cat truly charming but he was too fat to take home in the suitcase so I opted for much smaller sculptures from there, like this stylized stone elephant.

zim stone elephant ed

Unfortunately it seems that this wonderful sculpture park has not fared well through the recent times.

The next day we visited a nearby crocodile farm and a snake exhibition. I think our son will never forget his spitting cobra experience. For obvious reasons I didn’t get a picture of that fast action.

The following week my work took me out of the capital to the town of Masvingo in south-eastern Zimbabwe. As this town is close to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, we decided to spend the following weekend in a small resort at walking distance from the ruins.

Great Zimbabwe was the capital of Kingdom of Zimbabwe in iron age. It was constructed by the ancestors of today’s Shona people over more than three centuries in the 1100-1400s. It covers almost 1800 acres and may have been inhabited by up to 18,000 people in its heyday.

Zim ruins ed

The ruins are impressive, constructed completely of stone – without mortar. I was truly fascinated by them. Walking there I could still sense some of the lively energy that once inhabited this walled city. It was a very interesting pre-Christmas weekend.

Christmas fell on the following weekend. We spent the Christmas eve and day quietly. Took long walks in the city, stayed at the pool and did all our dining in the hotel’s excellent restaurants. No cooking or hassle. No tree, just a fresh flower arrangement that the hotel had kindly provided for its Christmas guests.

Then we watched the mid-night mass on TV and it brought some additional Christmas spirit to our holiday. Our son got a couple of small presents Santa had bought for him at Heathrow. He was happily playing with his new remote-controlled car on the pool deck and in the hotel room. I’m sure he sneaked it into the hotel corridor as well – for a quick speed test.

On Boxing Day we took a drive out of the city to a small wildlife sanctuary. It was not a real safari, of course, as the lions were in a large enclosure, separated from other wildlife.

But we could observe them at a close range as long as we wanted, like this huge male taking a nap in the afternoon sun. And then, during a game drive, we saw many species of antelopes, zebras, ostrich and hyenas.

Even after having lions for Christmas, our son’s absolute favorite was this old tortoise. He was huge and over 250 years old!

For our last weekend outing before returning home and to work, we drove to Lake Kariba in northern Zimbabwe to celebrate the New Year. I believe Lake Kariba is still the world’s largest manmade lake.

It covers 2,150 sq miles (5,580 sq kilometers)  and was formed when one of the world’s largest dams, the Kariba dam, was built in Zambezi River on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in late 1950s. The lake has quite a dramatic history in terms of displacement and resettlement of about 57,000 people and the famous 1960-61 rescue of thousands of large wild animals and numerous small species from the rising waters of the lake. In many parts of the lake, one could still see the dead trees sticking up out of the water.

We stayed at the then very fresh Caribbea Bay resort situated right on the lake Kariba shores. In addition to resting and swimming in the pools, we did some wonderful excursions on the lake by boat to see the spectacular sunsets. We saw some wildlife too, like hippos, crocs and a large variety of  birds.

We did not have the time to visit Victoria Falls, but you can find a post about that beautiful spot on earth here.

All in all, this was a wonderful holiday season. It was somewhat work filled for me, but also offered relaxation and some very interesting experiences for our little family. We did return to work, kindergarten and our daily routines thoroughly refreshed after 12+ days of Christmas. The lion in the tree is a good reminder.

I will take a small break from blogging and editing my book to spend some quality time with family. It’s been a great year for me with so many new friendships formed in the blogging community from all corners of the world.  Thank you everyone!

I wish you all a wonderful Holiday Season. – Tiny

Hello Greece!

I have been fascinated by Greece since I was in high school and studied Greek mythology and the teachings of the great philosophers.  Luckily I have had several opportunities over the years to visit and get a small glimpse of the history as well as the natural beauty of this country. So today I wanted to take a break from poetry and tell you about Greece from a visitors point of view.

Athens has been called the cradle of the Western civilization. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, with over 3000 years of recorded history. It was the cultural and political powerhouse of Greece and the home of famous ancient learning centers, such as Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum.

new and old side by side in Athens by tiny lessons blog

Today’s Athens is a bustling metropolis with over 3 million inhabitants in the greater Athens area, of which a bit less than 700,000 live in the city itself.

One can still feel the wings of history throughout the city that retains many ancient and other more recent historical monuments, the most famous of which is the Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis.

The last time we visited Greece, several years ago now, we were lucky to be invited by friends who were stationed in Athens at the time. They showed us around the city from Acropolis to the churches, monuments, museums and historical buildings. I could feel the past there, the culture and education, the wars and the invaders – all these influences were still present in the air.

Downtown Athens is lively with colorful flower shops and fruit markets, shops for Greek handicrafts and other souvenirs, boutiques and of course, packed with one cozy street café after another, and excellent restaurants where one can enjoy the famous Greek cuisine accompanied by authentic bouzouki music.

Our friends lived on one of the hills surrounding the downtown area – with cleaner air and wonderful views of Athens, both day and night!

After a few days of exploring Athens in the sweltering August heat, we felt the need to cool down! So we decided to visit one of the numerous islands in the central Aegean Sea, Paros. We had not visited this island previously, and discovered that to go there one could travel on a large cargo vessel from Athens’ harbor. That was an adventure in itself as only a few “passengers” were allowed onboard on any given voyage. So off we went on this large vessel early in morning, spent most of the day on the deck admiring all the small islands en route, and arrived in Paros late in the afternoon.

Paros has been known for its white marble, and somehow the sight approaching this island in the late afternoon sun was fitting this historical fact: clear blue water and blue skies enveloping the dazzling whitewash buildings.

The municipality of Paros consists of numerous small islets, many uninhabited, and one can easily reach a number of other islands from Paros, so much of the life on the main island is focused on marine activities: water transport by ferries, catamarans and sailing boats, whether of inhabitants or visitors. And on fishing, of course.

In the town of Parikia, and in the smaller villages around the island, most houses are built and decorated in the traditional Cycladic style, with flat roofs and whitewash walls.

The tempo on this picturesque island is pleasant and leisurely, inviting the visitor to enjoy the small moments of life, like sitting down in a small side street café for a drink of ouzo and a plate of mezés in the middle of the afternoon.

In recent years, Paros has become more popular as a tourist destination. It has lots to offer in terms of clear blue waters, white beaches and numerous small secluded coves where one can still enjoy the sun and the sea breeze in relative privacy.

Paros is also attractive to surfers due to the wind conditions in the strait between Paros and neighboring Naxos, and visitors can engage in a variety of other watersports as well.

A visit to Paros, or one the other small islands in the Aegean Sea, is truly relaxing. One understands what Heraclitus meant when he said “the sun is new every day”. And by combining an island stay, or even island hopping, with a few days in Athens one can enjoy a fascinating combination of history and nature that feels both timeless and refreshing.