This being Portugal, I’ve come to expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to public transportation. Understanding an entire interconnected and convoluted network of subway lines, busses, trams, trolleys and then some, can be daunting enough for anyone who grows up in the same place, but place yourself in my shoes, a newbie in a city where I hit the ground running upon arrival, and doing a lot of guesswork at best. I realise now that my first six weeks were the trial period, where I was in a safe bubble, commuting to work with my daily Uber and then home with the bus, all harmless and it certainly wasn’t rocket science. Oh my golly geez! My world is completely turned upside down now, living 32km outside of Lisbon proper, in my adorable little town Vila Franca de Xira. I am entirely dependent on the trains now – hell, basically anything on the damn tracks that moves in any direction. Buses are no longer an option for me unless it is an emergency and I am literally off-track. Like yesterday.
I have spent many an unusual Good Friday in my life, and I could tell you stories about that! But I think yesterday took the cake. The night before I realised that since Good Friday is a public holiday in Portugal, the trains were going to be running on a completely different schedule, if at all. So I mapped out my route based on my two apps and figured I had to change trains in Estaçao do Oriente and catch another one that would take me to the office (don’t ask, it’s a long story as to why I worked on Good Friday). The plan looked good on paper (ehem, the apps…). Until I got to my Quentin Tarantino station and found out my train was running 20 minutes behind the irregular schedule. That meant I was never going to make the connecting train in Estaçao do Oriente and needed an alternative route. Fine. So I plotted out one where I caught a tram instead and then a bus. You still with me? Stop laughing please, I haven’t even gotten to the good part yet!
OK, so I get off at Oriente, quickly concluded that is my ultimate nightmare of a station with several levels and I had no fucking clue in which direction to head. I stopped myself from jumping into a taxi and taking the easy way to work, but that would have set me 15EUR back and I wanted to figure the damn thing out on my own. So I followed the signs to the tram, checked the charts and the station I had to get off to take the bus. Whew. I made it to Alameida station and dashed up the stairs to catch the bus. I thought I had nailed the whole thing and as pround as punch.
The five other people waiting groaned in frustration when the bus driver puilled up with another bus route and told us that the bus were were waiting for was not running that day becuase it was Good Friday. No freaking app indicated this. Ommm. So I stood in the middle of the Alameida park (I don|t even know what the official name of this park is) and pondered my next move. OK, so back down to the tram I went to travel two more stations and catch the subway at Sao Sebastião.
Believe it or not, although the bizarre trip took me over 90 minutes, I still made it to the office with ten minutes to spare, perfect for that much needed trip to the loo. Now fast forward to the the homeward trip. I swore to myself that I would find a better and easier way home. Again, this is freaking Portugal, where none of the train apps (nor Google maps) tell you what platform to head to. It is the universe of guesswork and I hate guesswork when it comes to transportation. I mean, this coming from a person who can’t read maps to begin with… I casually stood on Platform 2, while my colleague looked something up on her phone, and informed me that I actually should be wating on Platform 1. Cue eyeroll please. So off I galloped to Platform 1, and waited for yet another delayed train. Nevermind, I told myself, I am on my way home. How bad could it be?
This time I decided to change trains In Braço de Prata in order to avoid the nighmare maze of Oriente again. What could possibly go wrong in a small suburban station? I alighted from my train, and stared in horror at the four different platforms and absolutely no information which train was stopping where. Because it was Good Friday, the schedules were wonky and not all the electronic monitors were working either.
Crap. Crap. Double Crap.
Logic told me to stay on the same platform I got off, because the train I needed next was headed in the same northeastern direction. Talk about faulty logic! To make matters worse, an Eastern European tourist asked me if she was on the right platform to catch the train to Oriente. I stared at her trying to telepathize the message Lady, do I look like I freaking know where I am going?! I explained with great difficulty that she just missed the train but the next one would be along soon, and yes, she should stay on that platform. As I turned around I saw the Azambuja train approaching, the one I needed, but was two platforms away and there was no way i was ever going to spint over because this is what I was dealing with:
There was not proper station at such where I could even consult the display and figure out what platform I was supposed to be on. Aparently in Portugal you have to figure out the Platforms by osmosis. So I crossed over to Platform 3 and asked someone. The man looked at me with pity and said, Yes, this is the train to Vila Franca but you just missed it. The next one comes in an hour. Of all the times to be stuck in a station with no quaint cafe or even a pub to drown my sorrows in! So I made myself as comfortable as possible, took out my Kindle and read the trashiest novel I could find in my library to pass the time.
The next 60 minutes i spent reading and watching trains go by and was reminded of this old Stephen Bishop song
Apt isn’t it?
The trains got me thinking about my personal journey though. In some aspects I am on a high speed train that zooms past all the small and unnecessary stops. The price to pay is higher and you miss out on a lot, but it gets you there faster. But then you have to ask yourself, was it really worth it? Then there are the smaller regional trains that stop in every little dinky station from here to the back of beyond. They are slower, not as comfortable, but always full of life. When you look out the window from these trains you can actually soak in the passing view and the details, unlike the high speed strains where everything becomes one big blur. Is that really what we want out of life?
By the time I got to Vila Franca, I was dead tired and in no condition to cook or eat. I was proud of myself, for not getting lost, and for actually making it to both my destinations without having a nervous breakdown! And then they ask me why my symbol is a frog…