The (mis)Adventures of the Sud Express

April 5th-6th, 2015

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Dan settling into our private cabin for the night. Fancy huh?

After boarding our overnight train, the Sud Express, in San Sebastian we settled into our private berths as we began to chug southwest toward Lisbon watching the sun set over the verdant hills through our cabin window. Dan and I had a 545am wake up call the next morning as our plan was to disembark the train early at 6am when it pulled into Entroncamento before heading south on its final leg to Lisbon, as we would be starting our Portugal travels in the northern city of Viano do Castelo and would catch an early morning regional north bound train instead.

Though the rocking of the train was quite soothing and you would think it would just rock you right to sleep like a baby in a cradle it was also quite noisy. That, combined with my fear of missing our stop as the train only pulled into the stations it passed for a brief minute or two and there were no announcements made of what the next station would be, made for a awful night of sleep and we were up at 430am. I don’t think another overnight train experience will be in the cards for us again if we can help it!

When the train pulled into Entroncamento, we hurriedly grabbed our luggage and disembarked before the train pulled away again. Our connecting regional train was due to arrive in the next 15 minutes, however, as it was still quite early in the morning the ticket office wasn’t open yet to instruct us in English what platform we needed to be on to catch the train. The only other two individuals on the platform spoke only Portuguese. We were starting to panic just a bit since there were 8 different platforms and you had to climb up a set of stairs and an overhead walkway in order to change platforms so we wouldn’t be able to quickly move to whichever platform we would need. However, that was only the beginning of our dilemma.

Our train never arrived.

Fifteen minutes after the train was suppose to have arrived, the little coffee shop attached to the station opened and the young woman behind the counter informed us that there was a strike scheduled for that day for all the regional trains to include the one we needed to get to the coastal city of Viana do Castelo about an hour north of Porto. The ticket offices would be closed as well so we had limited information and alternatives for how best to proceed with our travels. We took a bit of comfort in the fact that the dozen or so locals on the platform with us were just as confused as we were.

Nothing like being stranded at the train statin at 6am!
Nothing like being stranded at the train statin at 6am!
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Goodbye Entroncamento!

Fortunately, the alfa pendular fast trains between the major cities were still running so when the only train anyone had seen in the last hour pulled into the station we and everyone else on the platform stormed the doors and settled into the few remaining seats. We didn’t know where we were heading but it beat being stranded in what looked like a one horse town! Following the GPS on my phone we discovered that the train was heading south toward Lisbon. Unfortunately, we needed to head north so after we disembarked in Lisbon we got on the next fast train running up to Porto. We laughed as the train passed through the small station of Entroncamento again on its northerly route three hours after we had first landed there.

Once in Porto, we had to decide whether to rent a car to continue our journey up to Viana do Castelo or to spend an extra day in Porto. After hemming and hawing we decided not to let the train dilemma derail our plans and a hour later we were zipping up the coast in our rented Fiat 500. Northern Portugal here we come!

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