Sister Rhi and I just got back from a few days in sunny Lisbon. It was our first trip together since the Baltic Saga of 2004, which I still haven't finished writing about! So instead of my usual slow, tedious manner of taking years to write about holidays in carefully crafted episodes, I am just going to blurt out some random thoughts in unruly fashion until it's time for bed.
Lack of Blokes
I left my husband at home for this trip. You wouldn't believe how many people thought this made me some sort of harlot. But I like to keep the Home Office and my mother-in-law guessing… Sham Marriage: Yes Or No?
I always make an effort to learn a little of the native tongue before hitting a foreign country, with varying degrees of success. While I spent three months cramming basic Spanish, I could only muster "penis" in Icelandic and "ham" in Latvian. Not that all that Spanish did me any freaking good. I am okay at learning to read/listen/write in foreign languages but absolutely stink at saying the words out loud to actual residents of that country. Verbal conversation just ruins a perfectly good language for me. I panic and go red-faced and squeaky, rendered mute in anticipation of butchering a beautiful language. I'd been rehearsing a simple line for weeks, "Two train tickets for Valencia please," but when I finally rocked up to the ticket counter I froze, and just open and shut my mouth for ten minutes before running away.
So for this trip I was determined to learn some goddamn Portugese. My father-in-law loaned me his tapes at Christmas and the task was at the top of my New Years Resolutions list. But somehow it became the Night Before The Trip and all I knew was "bom dia" and wondered if it was more important for me to know which way to the monastery or My name is Pedro.
A conversation with a charmingly wacky taxi driver went like this:
TAXI DRIVER: Bom dia!
SHAUNA: Bom dia!
TD: Do you speak any Portugese?
S: …. I can't remember the word for no!
TD: You don't speak any Portugese! [pounds steering wheel and pretends to cry] Why? Why!? WHY!?!
Rhi works for a Very Fancy Hotel in London. Each year she gets a number of complimentary nights at any Very Fancy Hotel in the world and was kind enough to use a few for our trip. When we arrived at Very Fancy Hotel Lisboa Branch, the foyer was swarming with expensive people and their matching luggage. I was pink and mildly sweaty, because I've lived in Scotland for almost three years and now consider anything above fifteen degrees to be a heatwave. I was also carrying a bulging, ancient backpack. Yet the doorman bid us welcome and opened the door with a grand flourish like we were duchesses. Then another bloke arrived and asked "Miss Rhiannon" if he could take the bags to our room. All we could do was stand there and cackle at the ridiculous sight of our grotty backpacks trundling past the expensive people on a golden trolley.
It was a hoot staying in a five-star hotel. There were slippers and spas and bread in silver baskets. They turn down your bed and give you a weather report each night:
But the egalitarian Aussie in me felt extremely uncomfortable having some bloke opening doors and pouring my tea at breakfast. I hate the idea of anyone thinking I am some pampered git, incapable of unfolding a napkin or placing my own pair of slippers perpendicular to the bed. Not that anyone could mistake me for a wealthy dame – when we caught a taxi back to the airport, I had to leave Rhiannon in the car as security while I ran to the ATM as we didn't have enough cash for the fare!
In homage to my convict roots, I nicked 7 soaps, 3 shower caps, a pen and 10 wee bottles of shampoo.
I've written before how Rhi and I are ideal travel companions, always seeming to hit the same moods at the same time, e.g. knowing when it's Time To Shop or when it's Chocolate O'Clock. Best of all there's no competitive backpacker heroics. You can freely say stuff like, "How about we tell people we went inside this ancient castle and just take a photo of the outside instead?".
The Ham Man Yelled At Me
Foreign supermarkets rule. This one had a man in a Ham Corral. I don't know what else to call it. The butcher stood in the middle of a circular counter, surrounded by gorgeous hams on chopping blocks. The customers would walk up to whatever ham they fancied, and he'd hack off a few slices for them. It was fascinating because all the ham legs still had the hoofs on them. Or maybe they were faux-hoofs? I wanted to take a photo and discuss with you, except as soon as I whipped out my camera the Ham Man pointed his saw at me and screamed, "No! NO! NONONONONO!" in ever-increasing pitch. I scampered away and hid by a display of huge-yet-flavoursome strawberries. I was scared, but mostly jealous because he could say No in English but I couldn't say it in Portugese.
Man Creche It was probably a good thing that Gareth was left behind on this trip as we did a lot of shopping. He would have been cast out with this assortment of bored yet obedient blokes, waiting outside a Zara store.
Abandoned Husbands of Lisbon
Righto chaps, it's bedtime. Boa noite!