Settled in the thirty-third and thirty-fourth seats of this train’s eleventh car, we find ourselves en route to Lagos in the Algarve, embarking from the decidedly futuristic—albeit obsessively concrete—confines of Lisbon’s Oriente station. This enormous structure, a brainchild of the Spanish architect and sculptor Santiago Calatrava (the very same individual responsible for the Turning Torso in Malmö), serves as our departure point.
There exists, as is often the case, a certain melancholia in bidding adieu to the congenial environs of the Portuguese capital. Yet, with habitual optimism, we have pledged a soon return.
Our departure from the hotel in Principe Real was marked by wide smiles from yet another splendid breakfast courtesy of the dining hall’s Brazilian matron. Her ebullience, coupled with an inexhaustible reserve of laughter and warmth, stood in stark contrast to the previous night’s escapade—a foray into the maw of a classic tourist trap, where a Herculean waiter demanded (but received neither) cash nor gratuity for service that was as graceless as it was curt. One is reminded, somewhat painfully, that age offers no immunity to such pitfalls. Nevertheless, the adept Fado performers and the delightful company of Maria and Lars-Vidar salvaged the evening from utter ruin.
Our current companions on this journey south include a medley of garrulous North Americans—indistinguishable as Canadians or citizens of the United States—and German speakers, possibly Germans or Austrians, along with a reticent couple, possibly hailing from Asia, burdened with an inordinate amount of luggage. The majority of our fellow passengers seem to share our chronological vintage, though my perception—possibly a form of denial—casts them as decidedly more senior.
Adjacent to me sits the charming Charlotte Attenborough, who, with a zeal bordering on the fanatical, narrates the unfolding panorama beyond her large window seat.
There’s an air of the surreal in commencing a workweek this February by descending to the southern reaches of Portugal, where, if the digital oracle that is the weather app on my phone proves accurate, we shall be greeted by sunny skies and a temperate 18°C (64°F).
Nearly a decade has passed since my first visit to Portugal, making today’s journey a seminal train voyage for us as a duo. Each lengthy rail ride evokes memories of the exhilarating days spent backpacking across Europe in the early ’80s, adventures that eventually emboldened me to traverse the diverse landscapes of Southeast Asia and the Southwest USA in subsequent years.
Now, with Charlotte succumbed to slumber and the landscape blurring unnoticed into obscurity, save for the intermittent outbursts of a German baritone voice several rows ahead, tranquility descends upon car number eleven. I intend to recline further in my seat and catch up with some much-needed sleep.