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: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. 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.

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