On the night train to Lisbon
As my youngest son and I settle into our sleeper compartment on the Trenhotel night train from Madrid to Lisbon (the Lusitania line), we hope we are in for an occasion that will be a highlight of our holiday.
He has been working overseas in the marine industry for some years and we’ve decided to backpack together in southern Europe, getting around by train.
His only experience of Portugal has been airport stopovers in Lisbon, but as this is a country that has delighted his parents, a trip there has been a priority for our reunion.
I have recently read Swiss writer Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon (prompted by watching the 2013 film based on the novel, starring Jeremy Irons) and am looking forward to wandering the streets of the Portuguese capital again, this time imbued with the background of the book’s characters as they grapple with questions about life and the dangers they face under dictatorship before the Carnation Revolution in 1974.
We have taken our own food and wine on board and, as the train pulls out of Madrid, sit back with bags stowed and provisions laid out, and toast our adventure.
That is when my son reveals he has the film on his laptop and wants to watch it for the first time with me. I am chuffed.
Viewing the movie, I point to locations that I recognise, including bridges across the Tagus River, the Belem waterfront district of Lisbon, shadowy alleyways and steps climbing hillsides in the old Alfama quarter and the Bairro Alto, and an ornate art nouveau shop facade in Rossio Square.
I tell him, “We’ll go here!” and “You’ll want photos there!”. He laughs, we share some more bread and cheese and another sip of wine.
The film ends with a meeting in Salamanca in Spain that draws together the final threads in its story of characters fighting the Salazar regime.
We are both ready for sleep as the train stops. I step into the corridor to see where we are, blink and call to my son, “You’ll want to see this, you won’t believe it.”
In the near-darkness, the station sign reads Salamanca. We feel this is going to be a memorable journey. And that’s exactly how it turns out. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnists will receive a lightweight laptop compendium from Catherine Manuell Design featuring multiple pockets, pen holder and an A4 notepad; available in a range of vibrant prints including red viper, $89.95. More: catherinemanuell design.com.