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From Portugal to Spain - Notes from the Rails

Taking the train from Portugal to Spain, and various items along the way.

sunny 15 °C
View Iberia '09 on GregW's travel map.

And that was it, after three days, my time in Portugal was over. A short trip to the country, but I'll have to come back. I never got to try the salt cod or have a glass of Port, so there is more to do in Portugal before my time on this earth is up.

I heard a lot of people speaking Portuguese during my time in Portugal. This is to be expected, of course. I don't think I've ever really heard Portuguese before. More correctly, I have probably heard people speaking Portuguese before, but it has never really registered. I've done lay-overs in Sao Paulo, where no doubt I heard numerous announcements in Portuguese, and I have friends with Portuguese background, so I may have heard it spoken by their parents and such. However, I've never really listened to it before.

What amazed me is that Portuguese sounded NOTHING like what I would have expected. Having seen it written, I expected it to sound like Spanish. It doesn't. Portuguese sounded to me liked Dutch people speaking alternating words in Russian and Spanish. Lots of harsh Russian sounds said with the slurred "sch" sound that Dutch people use, along with flowery Spanish sounding words. Very strange.

My time ended with a last glance at the International Fair grounds where Lisbon held Expo 1998. All those flags lined up along the basin, alphabetically arranged by Country.

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I was excited to get down to the Cs, where I looked up the tall flag pole dedicated to Canada.

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No flag! The only country where there wasn't a flag! I was crushed. However, the wind was very strong, and most of the flags were in tatters. I assume it wasn't an intentional slight, but rather more likely that the wind took away the Maple Leaf over the sea.

A couple workers were slowly working their way down the flags, taking down the tattered and faded flags and replacing them with new versions, so no doubt Canada's flag is flying high again. I just wonder how often they have to replace those flags, they way they whipped on those high, windy flag poles.

I left Portugal on the train, from Gare do Oriente (the Station of the West, literally). Oriente is one of the main transport hubs in Lisbon. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava for Expo '98, and sits right beside the grounds of the former world Expo. It is a very modern station, with lots of light and glass and swoopy curves inside, and an impressive glass platform roof (the term train shed seems inadequate here) like a medieval cathedral made of light.

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I had left my luggage in the lockers in the basement (floor -2 if you are looking for them) as I wondered around the grounds of the International Fair and went to see the Vasco Da Gama Tower (covered in a previous entry). Before claiming it, I popped into the toilets on the ground floor.

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Now, Oriente is a very busy commuter station. It handles 75 million passengers a year, and I was there at four in the afternoon on a weekday. Not quite rush hour yet, but still pretty busy. Therefore, I was amazed at what happened next.

I was in the toilet, standing at a urinal and doing what men do at urinals - taking care of business and staring straight ahead at the patch of wall directly in front of me. Out of my peripheral vision, though, I noticed the guy a couple urinals to my right was looking over at me. I took a quick glance over at him, and saw that he was involved in ... ummm... pleasuring himself. Right there, in the middle of a busy toilet in a busy train station in broad daylight (well, we were two stories underground - but it was broad daylight up there).

Upon me looking at him, he caught my eye and looked at me in a way to suggest that while he was having a good time, he would not be against a duet. I blushed and went back to staring at the wall ahead of me, trying to will myself to finish my biological functions as quickly as possible.

On leaving, the man was still there, still at full attention. He had now turned his attention to a man a few urinals away on his right, who was also trying his best to ignore him. As I washed my hands, the man who had been engaged in self-satisfaction zipped up and walked out of the toilet, obviously unable to attract the attention he wanted.

I finished washing and drying my hands, and I walked out of the toilet to see the self-lover standing by the door. As I exited, a commuter in a suit walked in the toilet, obviously in a hurry to quickly take a pee before grabbing his train. The stroker waited until the commuter had entered the toilet, and then followed him in.

Bold. I guess when one is dogging in a commuter train station, you might as well be bold.

The train I jumped on was the long distance train to Hendaye, known as the Sud-Express. The Sud-Express used to be a two-night sleeper train between Paris and Lisbon, but with the creation of the high-speed LGV Atlantique line, the train no longer goes direct to Paris. Instead, you get high-speed TGV to Hendaye, and then a slower train between Hendaye and Lisbon.

I wasn't going as far as Hendaye, just as far as Salamanca in Spain. It was still a 6 hour journey, though. When I got on the train, I was impressed to see that the seats were those old-fashioned six-seater compartments with a door and curtains for the windows, like in movies staring Clark Gable.

I settled in with the iPod on shuffle and started to read a book that my flat-mate had given me for my birthday - Kate Atkinson's "When Will There Be Good News?" It is a very good read. My only complaint is that books that involve train crashes with massive loss of life on page 149 should come with a warning of such, in the event that you don't want to be reading about train crashes whilest rumbling across the dark Portuguese countryside in a rickety, old train.

The train arrived in Salamanca at 2 minutes past midnight. The train station looked quite nice, but was deserted at that hour and all the shops were closed.

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From the train station, I had about a 15 minute walk to my hotel. I pulled out my printed Google map and headed along the route towards the centre of town.

One of the things I noticed when I was in Lisbon was that most of the windows have shutters on them, and this continued to be the fashion in Salamanca and later Madrid. Big, metal things that usually roll down on the outside of the window. They reminded me of the big, metal roll doors that shops often have on the front of them when they close up at night. I wasn't sure why they were there. If it was protection from burglars or rock-throwing kids, why did they even have them up on the top storeys of 15 storey apartment blocks?

In Lisbon it was just an idle curiosity. In Salamanca, walking along the deserted streets past midnight and seeing every window protected by a metal shutter and walls covered with graffiti, and you start to wonder if perhaps there is something you don't know about the neighbourhood you are walking through. Should I have body-armour or an armed escort for protection?

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Of course, it turns out to be nothing so sinister. I asked a friend who lived in Madrid, who said it was to block the sun. Most folks don't have curtains, and instead have shutters. In the hot summer, they close up the house during the day to keep the sun out, then open the shutters and windows at night to let in the cool breezes. Because I was there during chilly November, people weren't throwing open the windows at night.

I walked along the same route a few different times while in Salamanca, and even the sinister graffiti from that first night was not what it seemed. Rather than gang-tags, it was a quite well done mural of Alice in Wonderland.

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After a 15 minute walk, I arrived at my hotel, all body parts still intact. You know you are getting into late at your hotel when you walk into the lobby and they greet you by name, even though you’ve never been there before.

"Hello Mr. Wesson. Welcome to Salamanca."

Posted by GregW 12:00 Archived in Spain Tagged train_travel

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