Two days ago, I was sitting on a slatted wood bench in the Santa Polomia train station in Lisbon waiting for the night train to Madrid. The well-worn often varnished oak slats were bolted on either end to two identical molded cast iron supports incorporating two feet and a back. It is a familiar design of unknown origin and age but found almost any place in the world.
I am convinced train passengers, at least here in Portugal and Spain, are less stressed and more acceptable to their situation than passengers in airports anywhere I have been. Airport passengers seem to wear worried frowns and obvious apprehension about the status of their fight, weather conditions, and a multitude of other potential problems that could have an effect on their flight being on time. Trains here seem to leave on time with little mystery or uncertainty for the passengers, who even running to catch their train before it pulls out are smiling, save those few dragging children.
While I sat people watching, one of my favorite pastimes as an octogenarian, at least 85% of those passing by had smiles. I can’t recall seeing that in any airport in recent years. Santa Polonia was a great place for people watching. I arrived about 6 hours early, tired of walking the neighborhood of my hotel. The building and facilities of the station are as worn as the bench I was on but there were several people cleaning so, although not spotless, the place was as clean as any of the airports I have been stuck in lately.
Another advantage is no standing in a long line to be X-rayed, or scanned, or groped. At the largest train station in Madrid, Atochoa, where I had to transfer on my way to Seville, my luggage did have to go through a machine, but I didn’t have to take my computer out of my backpack, or empty my pockets, or take off my belt. As an old guy I haven’t had to take off my shoes for the past 8 years. Eventually I tired of people watching in Lisbon, put my luggage in a locker, cost 6 Euros, left the station, wandered the neighborhood, found a nice little restaurant and had a nice meal and a couple of glasses of a very nice red wine. Then wandered back into the station to gather my luggage and board my train about 15 minutes before it left.
I word of caution. A first-class Euro rail ticket doesn’t provide a 1stclass seat or berth on any train. You have to make a reservation ahead of time. Something I tried to do from the states but was unable to navigate their computer system to get it done. There were no 1st class berths available for the night train and I still had to pay 29 euros for the required reservation in tourist class. Almost 12 hours in a lurching, often stopping, 6 X 5 cell with two bunks and 3 strangers. I was not able to stretch out in the bunk, my feet and head were jammed into the walls. I should have opted for a seat in tourist class since I didn’t get any sleep in the birth. I was assigned a top bunk, impossible for me, but the guy assigned the bottom bunk was a graduate student from Mozambique. He switched with me and I took him to the bar car for some beers. A very affable young man. The first class accommodations appeared significantly better, but the bunks were about the same size. In Madrid I paid another 29 euros for a 1st class seat.
Tomorrow I embark on the bike tour I booked for 6 days and 5 nights riding from Seville to Granada. Should be a blast.