LETTING THE TRAIN TAKE THE STRAIN
By Beverley Reid
Having made the trip to and from Coimbra many times by hiring a car at Porto Airport we thought, with a degree of trepidation, we would give the train a try and hire a car from Coimbra.
I, like so many people in the UK I am sure, have avoided using the railways in England for many years due to the extortionate prices you need to pay for a fairly unpleasant experience.
We decided to take the evening flight from Stansted (6.30 pm) to arrive in Porto around 8.30 pm and have an overnight stay before embarking on our railway adventure.
Stansted Airport was very busy as usual and always seems to me like it is bursting at the seams. A far cry from my first flight from Stansted on a package holiday to Spain many years ago when the new airport had just opened and I remember baggage handlers and staff playing “touch” rugby in the main terminal hall because there was so little for them to do !
We boarded our Ryanair flight on time and it was good to leave the frenzy of Stansted behind.
Whenever I board a Ryanair flight I have mixed feelings about the airline. They appear reasonably efficient, they are cheap, they get you where you want to be as quickly as possible and they are reasonably honest when they call themselves the “no frills airline”, but as I climb the steps I start to wonder how they can maintain the aircraft and pay everyone for such a price ? I guess I should have thought of that when I stumped up the princely sum of €4.99 each !
The two hour flight went by in the usual manner with the cabin crew trying desperately to relieve us of as much cash as possible with their overpriced snacks and drinks, scratch cards, perfume, smokeless cigarettes (I wonder if you “smoke” them or “smokeless” them ?), train tickets, coach tickets, etc. Bless them, they have to make a living I guess !
Arriving at Porto always seems to me like you only need to stroll everywhere instead of the quickstep of Stansted. The place is so empty and the staff appear so relaxed, even at passport control they look like they have just popped in to check a few passports before returning to their coffee.
We seemed to be in the arrivals hall drinking a coffee in no time before heading off to our overnight hotel which was just walking distance from the airport. The hotel was clean and pleasant and for €30 per night for two people was very adequate for an overnight stay.
A short walk from our hotel was an excellent little restaurant. The staff were helpful and friendly and we had a very good dinner with, as always, great house wine !
And so to bed with the thought of tackling the railway system in the morning.
We slept well and filled with the usual breakfast of bread, cheese, ham and excellent coffee we walked back to the airport to catch the Metro train to Porto. We realised afterwards that we could have just crossed the road to Bodica station to catch the Metro, something to note for next time.
The Metro is well signed and easy to find from the airport and we prepared to do battle with the ticket machine (no ticket office). I was pleasantly surprised to find that even I could operate the machine successfully, which was no great feat as you can select English. Press “buy”, select the zone for Porto Campanha station, feed the machine with €1.85 and there’s my ticket ! Before going to the platform we found that it is necessary to “authorise” our tickets by waving them in front of a reader.
The train was very clean and modern (the Porto Metro system is brand new) and bang on time.
The journey to Porto Campanha was a “commuter ride” into the city with many stops and a good way to “people watch” as they go about their daily lives in the city suburbs.
Thankfully they announce the arrival at every station so no drama getting off the train !
At Porto Campanha we found the main line station is right next door to the Metro so we wandered across the road to have a Bifana and coffee before the next stage.
We decided to splash out and get the Alfa Pendula train (the high speed, tilting train) to Coimbra. It’s a bit more expensive than the Intercity at €15 each but what the hell we are on holiday !
I was really impressed that when you buy a ticket you actually get a seat number so you are always guaranteed a seat. The train was on time, very comfortable with air conditioning, foot rests and TV.
As we relaxed and watched the Portuguese countryside slide by at 225 kph we wondered why we had been so reluctant to try the train in the past.
Lest than an hour later we approached Coimbra “B” station and I was feeling surprisingly disappointed that we were not going on to Lisbon.
We left the train and a very helpful rail attendant gave us directions to the nearest car hire office (he even came right to the steps outside the station to make sure we went in the right direction !)
All in all our first taste of letting the train take the strain was a very pleasant, inexpensive and interesting experience and one we will be happy to repeat in the future.