During the month of September, as I hope most of you that follow along with this website know, I will be joining Jeannie the Nomadic Chick and Nora the Professional Hobo on the Ultimate Train Challenge.
The three of us are going to be updating our journeys on each of our websites and also on the blog on the Ultimate Train Challenge site. I will also be writing some brief posts on this site, but beware, as I will have very limited internet, they are destined to be quick hitters, so forgive me in advance if they aren’t the best work I’ve done.
For instance, I am posting this one up from the free wifi outside McDonald’s in the Barcelona Sants train station as my battery runs down under 10 minutes of time, since I can’t see a plug anywhere around here and there wasn’t one on the train here.
Day 1 – Lisbon to Porto, then on to Bordeaux
As I outlined on the UTC website yesterday, the route I decided to try for the first 5-6 days of the challenge was going to revolve around wine. First to Porto for some locally famous sparkling wine and a glass of port. Then up to Bordeaux, perhaps the most famous wine region in the world. Then over to Italy and back to Burgundy and up to Champagne.
Day 1 didn’t exactly go as planned.
I got to Porto around 1 p.m. and made a beeline to the São Bento train station in the center of town, where I was going to buy my overnight ticket to Bordeaux, leave my big backpack in left luggage, grab a huge francesinha sandwich for lunch, as recommended by my new Portuguese foodie friend, Célia Pedroso of Eat Portugal, then walk across the river and do a quick tour of one of the many port wine cellars.
The only part of that plan I was successful on was figuring out how to leave my backpack in the lockers at São Bento station.
I got there, put my bag in the locker, waited in two very long lines for about 20 minutes that I thought might be for the train tickets I needed and then decided to just hop a quick 4 minute train back to the other station I’d arrived at earlier, since the lines there were much shorter, to buy my ticket.
When I got there, I got in the line I needed to buy an international ticket behind two groups of three people also buying tickets. It was about 1:45 p.m. at that point. An hour and a half later, I still hadn’t made it to the front of the line.
Obviously I don’t speak Portuguese, so I have no idea what took these two groups of people so long to buy their tickets. The second group took almost a full hour to buy one train ticket. At one point, the woman in the group of three was in tears – I have no idea what would drive someone to tears buying a train ticket, but she had the look in her eyes like she was going to fall into the pit of hysterics.
The only question was whether she was going to be hysterical first, or whether one of us waiting in line behind her was going to beat her to it.
Those of us in line were sighing, stomping our feet, looking over the shoulders of those three at the counter, sitting on the ground – yes, I am sure I was more than a little over the top, but seriously… were they trying to route themselves to Vietnam, all in one visit to the ticket counter?!
I’ve never experienced an hour wait for something that should be so simple.
When I finally got to the front of the line, I was told that there was no space available on the overnight train to Bordeuax, so the best I could do, in order to keep moving, was book a ticket back to Lisbon and on to Madrid, where I arrived this morning. I then took a train to Barcelona, where I am now. I think I am going to try to sneak into France on local trains and just wing it.
The new theme of my journey.
I have a lot more options of routes from here than from Portugal, so I am still going to try to make it to Bordeaux in the next 24 hours. Or I will stop in Andora and change my plan to “wine, plus small countries.” Who knows.
I was incredibly frustrated yesterday, which isn’t a good way to start a journey like this. Basically, all I got to see of Porto was the really nice train station and a quick view of part of the town and the River Douro from the train as I came in. No time for any sparking wine, no time for a sandwich, no time for any port wine.
But even in the midst of a really horrible start to this whole adventure, once I got back on the train to Lisbon, put some good music on my iPod and opened up my Kindle to read some of the Winston Churchill biography I am working on right now… a small bit of peace came back over me.
I love trains.
A quick mention, because I do want people to know that we are also doing this bit of craziness to raise some money for a good cause — Eurail is going to be kind enough to donate to our charity for every ticket bought through the links on the Ultimate Train Challenge site — they have been a great sponsor. Follow us on Twitter with the hashtag #utc11. We really want your feedback as we try to sort this all out, day by day.
And one other note from my brief stay in Portugal. Our fabulous sponsors, Hostelbookers, set us up in perhaps the best hostel I have ever stayed at in all my travels. Rossio Patio Hostel is a brand new hostel in Lisbon that is …. inside a train station. So damn cool.
The owner is an architect, which is obvious the moment you walk inside. It is much more on par with a quality three star hotel than the hostel environment I am more used to traveling in. Frankly, I couldn’t recommend a place more highly and since he offered Jeannie, Nora or I a chance to work there in exchange for a place to stay when we return…..