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So Portugal..

This is where Naomi and I stayed - the place in the middle with the pool.. It's in the Freguesia de Serra do Bouro, which sounds a lot like "Parish of the Mountains of the Donkey", but I'm fairly confident that that's not actually it.. :o)

So, the house.. for starters, it was home to monsters - I'm talking two-inch ultra-fast semi-invisible multi-spiders - centipedes. Now, I had this vision of centipedes as being kinda like worms with stumps, so these came as something of a shock. I must have slain a good dozen of them by the time we left, though they exceed the size of animals I would normally kill - they're large enough that they'd squish a little too graphically.. Nevertheless, they had to be despatched, for I am a man, and it is my job to protect my assigned female from bugs.

Their (many) crimes against me include:

- The first time I met one, it was in the context of it crawling over my foot and then hiding behind the toilet. I was forced to fling him into the bath and nuke him with the shower. They are ridiculously quick, far moreso than any spider I've ever seen..
- A subsequent encounter involved one that was crawling over the bed late at night when Naomi and I were trying to sleep. It met the underside of my shoe.
- Another one was spotted on the bottom of a suitcase, just after we'd put it on the bed. After it passed through solid plastic (or slipped through an impossibly small gap), I was forced to slay it with tissue paper
- One last one, that I never managed to kill, was on the wall of the bedroom at 3am. As I moved near to it, it just dropped off the wall and onto the floor, where it was impossible to see (and bloody quick). Fortunately this was during our last night, so it did not trouble us again.

In happier news, there were also cool animals there.. Specifically lizards. Now, I don't tend to see lizards all too often in Wales, so it was really cool seeing them (possibly for the first ever time) in Portugal. What was even better was that the second lizard I ever saw was in the swimming pool, so I got to reach in, pick it up, and save its life. Something about getting to pick up lizards makes me happy :o)

I also got to help save the life of a huge grasshopper, which was also fun.. the pool was a magnet for animals, obviously (as proven by the number of dead wasps we had to clean out of it each morning). So anyway, that's the animals out of the way, now the scenery side of things..

One cool thing was Lagoa de Obidos, a huge lagoon whose passage to the ocean was bordered by beaches. I have to say, I didn't think much of these beaches - growing up, I rather liked soft sand and pretty bays, rather than long coastlines with coarse sand. Still, there were up-sides - sand dunes, for one. I'd forgotten how much fun it is running almost vertically, and what a challenge it is to change direction at a right angle when you reach the ground).. And the beaches were exposed enough for flying a kite, which was the first time I've done that in years.. All in all, it was rather good, and the sunbathing was awesome (though do people here notice my tan? Of course not!)

Other scenery includes Cabo Roco (Rocky Cape, or similar), which is the Westernmost point of mainland Europe. The setting was unremarkable (except for the horizon, which had ocean most of the way around, which was cool), but when one is somewhere like that, it's important to experience it, just so that you can say you have.. Ooh, and that's reminded me, Cabo Carvoeiro was really cool.. It's just outside Peniche, and had the weirdest rock formations, all in layers, and was getting a real hammering from the waves.. There are pictures, but naturally I don't have them with me (well, technically I do, but not in an appropriate size).

And just generally, the overall feel of the place was really cool.. Lots of hills with castles at the top and stuff.. makes me kind of sad that we destroyed most of our own castles (and also had less need for them, without a land border with a potentially hostile nation).. It's not the sort of thing that can be properly described, so I won't try..

But this brings me onto architecture.. Massive churches at Alcobaca and Batalha, though I could only feel God in the former. The latter was very obviously built by people, for people, with God in an incidental role as their excuse for building it.. It was mostly about "Let's see how spiky we can make this building", which doesn't really appeal. Alcobaca on the other hand (and excuse me for not having the relevant tail on my c) felt like God's house, and was simple yet enormous. It's hard to get across how the place made me feel, but it was a good feeling - my God spot tingled :o)

Obidos was cool too, a walled town atop a hill, it felt like stepping back through time.. And it had an aqueduct, which was the first time I've seen such a thing (in spite of playing Civilisation for many years), so that was a bonus.. Naomi got some clothes there - I wanted a hat, but apparently it made my ears look huge.. I can believe this (and I'm sure TMA can as well), but still.. A hat would be cool.. But back to the subject, Sintra was also nice, though we didn't see the main citadel (or whatever it was) at the top of the mountain, so it's hard to fully assess it.. Tomar too was cool, though again the main focal point for culture was at the top of a hill that none of us had the energy to climb. I think I've covered everything, there was a lot, so it's hard to be sure..

I'm quite pleased with myself, food-wise.. As per usual, food was probably the thing that caused the most stress for me during the holiday, but I didn't let it get to me, and tried several new things (including pumpkin, which is nice).. The only fish I ate was salmon (plus a little swordfish), but I managed to enjoy many steaks with different sauces and stuff, which was cool.. Querro bife com cinqo pimentos, se faz favor! Yum.. Ooh, and they had these fresh potato chips (kind of like crisps), which were also awesome.. Overall, I think I really enjoyed eating there, which makes me feel quite good about things.. And on that subject, I have home made pizza to look forward to tonight - just thought I'd mention it, because I'm all excited now :o)

So onto the personal side of things.. For starters, I learned that I need to refine my Scrabble technique - putting down words because they should exist is not the same as putting down words that are actual English. Apparently "embait" isn't a word, though I can't think why not. When one adds bait to a hook, for example, one enbaits it. But en- prefixes turn to em- when before a B, so it should be embait. Unfortunately, English opts not to follow the correct Latin rules on this one, and thus my word was disallowed. But I still like it :o)

But anyway, the point is, staying with Naomi's family was fun.. Many games of Scrabble (which, despite my objections to the lexicon, I really enjoy), lots of games of Chess (including an awesome strategy I found which has twice resulted in checkmate inside of ten moves each), and much fun in the pool.. Anthony (Naomi's 14 year old brother) is annoyingly fast to pick things up, and by the end of the holiday had managed to beat me at chess (at which he was a novice when we started), which was quite impressive.. I'm enjoying being taller than him while I can, it won't be long until he catches up.. But for the time being, it gives me a slight edge when we're being competitive (i.e. being able to vault over walls that he can't, etc.).. Obviously it's wrong of me to enjoy beating somebody ten years my junior, but he's very competitive, and a fast learner, so I have to cling onto those things I can still win at..

Onto slightly more significant things, life-wise.. Naomi and I have passed the eighteen month mark, and managed to go the entire holiday without a single argument. Not that we argue especially often, but still, this is quite important - we spent a solid two weeks together, rarely out of each other's sight, and no arguing or moods. This has to be a good sign for the future, if only a sign that we can go on more holidays together.. And in general, things were just great - swimming together, tanning together, seeing cool culture type stuff together.. It felt good, for reasons that I don't entirely have the words to explain properly. It felt right - that's the closest I can get explanation-wise..

One thing about the journey - I'm not sure if I've mentioned this (or indeed how many times I've done so), but travelling for about thirty hours pretty much non-stop each way was.. interesting... It was cool to drive through France, and on the way back I got to practice my French.. Je voudrais le piece du boeuf, avec frites et le sauce de poivre, sil vous plait.. And it was neat to see Spain, since I've never been there (and now I can say I have, even if I only used their restrooms).. The Basque country was beautiful, all valleys and mountains and streams and stuff, it was great.. and I always enjoy being on the roads at night, though I don't know exactly why. I don't know how Naomi's parents managed it, it must have been exhausting, but I am of course eternally grateful, because it was great fun :o)

As for the language, it was cool.. it wasn't too hard to pick up, it's mostly Latin-derived, and a thorough knowledge of English and how it's constructed is enough to get you through most of the general vocab.. Still can't understand it when spoken for the life of me, but I can read quite a bit.. Now that I'm done with Portuguese (or, at least, I've learned enough to get by, and enough to read most short simple sentences) I need to find a new language to concentrate on.. I've found all my Welsh language learning material, but I'm thinking that I'll give that a miss for now, and concentrate on Quechua. It has some truly awesome rules in it that just make it look really fun and interesting.. It's just kinda difficult, but I'm sure ultimately rewarding.. Wish I could stick with a single language long enough to get good at it, but I'd rather learn a little about lots of languages than just have a narrow expertise in one or two.. Especially something like Quechua, which is unlike anything I've ever seen before..

So yes, that's my holiday, or a rough approximation.. I'm sure I've forgotten huge chunks, but I'm equally sure that I'll be gently reminded of this, and that corrections will follow :o)

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Y'know, I just feel so special when you refer to me as your "assigned female" ;o)

By the way, I thought that the second lizard you saw was the one that had already drowned?

Ooh, I would just like to point out that the hat you refer to looks way better on me anyway, and didn't even fit on your head. It was the cowboy hat that made your ears stick out. Perhaps you should try a beanie?

There was a list. Your name was against mine. It's a fair term :o)

And yes, it was dead, but once it's dead it's not much of a lizard really, it's just a corpse.. second living lizard, I should have said :o)

And a beanie? Are you mad?!!! I'm not nearly 'street' enough for that :o(

It is encouraging to know that you are not ready to "kill" Naomi's parents after a fortnight with them. It is also gratifying to see that at least one of the younger members of the travel party enjoyed some of the cultural and historical elements of the trip. I would just comment that in light of your linguistic abilities, particularly with the Portuguese which tripped off your tongue without too much effort, I would suggest that you are being a trifle lazy in not continuing your efforts until you have attained perfection. It clearly comes very easily to you and it may come in very handy one day. Just a thought before you embark on learning a little Quechua. I have also taken the liberty of placing a link here for you to look at, in case Quechua becomes a little too easy.
You never know James, you may find yourself stranded on the Norfolk Islands one day and if all you can speak is English, a little Welsh, French and Portuguese and of course Quechua, you could be stuck when trying to order the peppered steak!
Thanks for your company and for taking such good care of the "14 year old brother!" He particularly enjoyed racing you down the dune!

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