Given the opportunity, I will always choose the train over the car.
Why, you may ask?
Well, in order to better understand the reasons why I love travelling by train, allow me to tell you four small, but meaningful, episodes of my life.
The year was 2006.
Back then I was working in Lisbon, Portugal, and I was living in Porto. Well, actually, the blunt truth is that my son (an infant at the time) and ex-wife were living in Porto and I was spending most of the week in Lisbon, where the headquarters of the company I was working for, at the time, were located.
For those who are not familiar with Portuguese geography, the driving distance from Lisbon to Porto is 314 Km (more or less).
So, my routine, back then, was as follows:
Monday to Friday – Working and living (spending, by myself, week nights at a hotel would be more precise!) in the capital of Portugal.
Friday evening – Getting on the road, onwards to Porto, to spend some time with the family.
Sunday evening – Getting on the road again, this time heading south, (yeah, you have guessed it!) towards to Lisbon.
This went on and on for over one year.
So, let us do the math.
2006 was not a leap year so, there were 365 days, 52 Fridays and 52 Sundays. If you deduct holidays, it adds up to, more or less (let’s round it up), 96 days of going back and forth from Lisbon to Porto.
That represents more than 30.000 kilometers, a lot of time spent on the road! Just to see your family and (try) to have some rest!
Icing on the cake, my job at the time involved a lot of driving so, you can keep adding kilometers and hours behind the wheel.
As you can easily understand, every single Friday, for me, it meant, “step on it!”. I just wanted to get back home, to my family, as soon as possible.
This way of life, though, it was taking its toll.
Then, as we were getting closer to the end of the year, came along a special winter Friday.
It was pouring rain.
A good friend of mine, that was working for the same company, needed a ride to Porto.
We decided to go together.
Left the office late that evening, and, as usual, headed straight for the highway.
Did I mention it was raining? To call it rain, actually, it is an euphemism… so, let us say that driving conditions were very demanding that particular day.
We were both tired from what had been a very long week (and year).
After one hour on the road, we were famished and decided to pull over.
There was (and still is!) a very famous restaurant near Pombal that we both loved so, we went there for some much well-deserved R&R.
Thing is we had one too many, if you know what I mean.
Pay the bill, get back into the car, crank up the AC, blast the speakers with a Duran Duran tribute album, face the storm (by now we should call it for what it truly was) and …”country roads / take me home / to the place I belong”.
Few hours later, due to blind luck believe me, we finally got home.
As soon as I entered my apartment late that night, I leaned over my son’s bed, kissed him on the cheek and wished him goodnight.
I was feeling blessed.
So, when I woke up next morning, I made a vow: “Whenever possible, I would take the train on long journeys!”.
And so, I did!
The year was 2013.
I had kept my promise, made back in 2006, regarding long journeys and trains.
At the time I had a somewhat high-profile job, based in Porto, which meant having meetings with Government Officials on a regular basis in Lisbon.
So, rule had it I would take the train (my own ruling, that is), every chance I took.
The train was so liberating: I had time to prepare meetings, had some work done, enjoy the view and relax.
It had improved my productivity, and that alone was worth it.
Until that one-and-only day came along, and what a day it was!
I was not traveling alone, that particular day, for a meeting at the Ministry of Economy with a state secretary.
We were a party of three traveling from Porto to the capital.
The day before I had advised taking the train but, unfortunately, I was out-ranked so, we took the car.
“Forget trains. This is the way to travel. The trip will be quick, smooth and comfortable.”, said the person behind the wheel, proud of his new acquisition.
I was seating in the back and, even though I do not care much about cars I have to say it was quite the car, a state of the art SUV.
But, as we would soon find out, a car is just as good as its driver.
It was just not his day. It happens to all of us.
What a trip it was.
We got pulled over, for speeding and other major traffic violations, two times!
Moreover, we ran out of gas while approaching Lisbon!
What a freaking nightmare! We were running late simply because it was decided not to take the train.
It was not meant to be, later on I realized!
Nonetheless, I was pissed off!
I hate being late!
Long story short, after talking to the secretary of state’s PA, and using all of my charm, we finally got to the meeting… and we were merely three hours late.
I will spare you with the details of that unfortunate meeting… another story, for another time… who knows?
The following trips to Lisbon? Well, we took the train.
END OF PART I