Portugal, Part 2

São Bento Station, Porto

The travel arrangements for my 9 nights in Portugal worked out very well.

I flew from Edinburgh to Porto with Ryanair (yes, I know) paying £52.47 for their deal which includes an extra legroom seat, 20kg of checked in bag, a tiny cabin bag, and fast track at security. The plane was about 70% full, so it did not feel cramped. Passenger compliance with distancing, masks and so on was mixed. Good with masks. Less so with the rest.

The whole process from bag drop to luggage retrieval at Porto reflected very well on the airline and the airports, apart from one glitch which left us all standing on an airbridge at EDI for 20 minutes after passing through the gate.

Alfa Pendular > Coimbra

My Lisbon to Edinburgh flight with easyJet was a very similar experience, without the airbridge nonsense. I paid £170 for their Flexi fare, which includes an extra legroom seat, speedy boarding, a 23kg bag in the hold and some kind of bag in the cabin. I forget all their rules.

In both cases we walked to and from the plane from the terminal, and did not get stuffed onto one of those transfer buses to catch whatever nasty virus happens to be going around.

I took the train from Porto Campanhã to Coimbra B (70 minutes) on one of Comboios de Portugal’s Alfa Pendular services. It cost me €11.50 (£9.76) in 1st class – very affordable because I got a discount for booking in advance and another discount (50%) for being old. The carriage was not busy and the journey was very relaxed and comfortable. On time too…

Alfa Pendular 1st Class

The fare included connecting urbano/regional trains from São Bento to Campanhã and to Coimbra from Coimbra B.

To travel from Coimbra to Lisbon I took the train as well. I paid €17.50 (£14.86) this time, again for 1st class on an Alfa Pendular service. It took 90 minutes. Again it was very relaxed and comfortable. On time, again.

Porto Campanha

Those routes are also served by intercity services, which seemed to be a bit cheaper but slightly slower. The Alfa Pendular trains offer a café service which I did not try. I did use the station cafes at Coimbra and Coimbra B. They were delightful. To a Brit it was lovely to be able to buy real food at reasonable prices in a railway station, and in a very traditional setting. An espresso and a pastel de nata sitting outside on a terrace in a railway station – I had to pinch myself to check I had not died and gone to heaven.

Regional Coimbra > Coimbra B

I was apprehensive about my travel to and from Portugal under all the pandemic restrictions, both in terms of the paperwork and testing required and the risk of catching the virus in the close contact situations of being on planes and passing through airports. As for the former, it all turned out fine and I would be less apprehensive in the future armed with that experience of doing it for the first time. Whilst flying is highly regulated in terms of keeping us safe from infection, I still rate it as high risk on account of the stupidity and selfishness of other passengers.

I had to take and submit a Covid 19 test within 48 hours of getting back, at a cost of £68. It produced a negative result. On the other hand, it is one of the tests you self-administer and I am unconvinced about folks’ ability to self test properly. Then of course there are doubts about the accuracy of the tests, especially for anyone who does not have symptoms. Finally, if someone infected me on the plane home the incubation period would still be “open” when I took the test.

Overall, my apprehension about taking international flights was understandable in the circumstances and it was gratifying to find it was largely misplaced.

ⓒ iain taylor, 2021


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