#2018 | The Broke Student’s Guide to Intercity Transport in Portugal

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Hey guys,

It’s me, back with yet another broke student’s guide inspired by my desire to move through Portugal on the cheap. I initially wanted to have this be part of an overall BSG for Lisbon, but the more I detailed the transport options the more I realised inter-city transport in Portugal really needed its own post. Yes, you can rent a car, but as with most of the world, manual cars are way cheaper to rent and us Singaporean noobs can only drive auto. Or is that just me? Anyway. Having to search for parking or ensure your hostel/airbnb/guesthouse offers free parking also seems like a bit of a pain, and although having the freedom to load up your bags and move in any direction is undeniably attractive, the car works out to be the more expensive option no matter how you look at it.

So we turned to looking at public transportation options, essentially: bus, train, and hitchhiking. I am a huge fan of organized hitchhiking as per my student days in Germany, but because people only list rides a couple of days before they want to go, it’s hard to do if you’ve got a fixed schedule. It was a lot easier when I was based in Germany and could just browse potential quick trips over the weekend, but coming long distance from Asia I wanted to have my accommodation all booked up beforehand so I ruled the option out this time. If you’re keen on exploring this option nonetheless, the website I use for hitchhiking / car sharing is blablacar.com.

IMPORTANT NOTICE BEFORE WE BEGIN

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For some reason in Portugal, most bus or train tickets come printed on what looks like receipt paper, which feels like a recipe for disaster. For this reason I prefer opting for e-tickets if possible (an option if you take the bus), but it’s not always possible. So be careful to store them carefully – don’t accidentally throw them away because a conductor will come and check your ticket on the journey!

Ok now that the PSA is out of the way:

Intercity Trains

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Taking the train is the most common tourist way to get around Portugal as it’s what we’re generally most familiar with/ believe to be the most reliable. There is a pretty extensive train network in Portugal, but if you’re planning Portugal as a stop in a multi-destination European expedition, please note that the Portuguese train system is almost completely isolated from the other European lines, with only one or two trains to Spain or something like that. So if you’re hoping to book a weeklong rail pass in europe and move around, it wont apply to the Portuguese leg of your trip.

So, Portuguese trains. Their intercity trains service the bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto, but to get to the smaller towns like Batalha, you’d need to take a bus. The trains are run by their state railway company CP – Comboios de Portugal – and you can check for tickets and schedules below.

Tickets and schedules: www.cp.pt

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Things to note: EN option on the top right
Select Train Times instead of Buy Tickets to see full train schedule

Not all the trains can be pre-booked. This is where it got a little confusing for me when I was researching/planning my trip, so I’m going to try my best to break it down. There are 4 different kinds of trains you can take:


R – Regional (stops at every stop)
IC – Intercidades (express)
U – Urbano (suburban trains for Porto and Lisbon’s networks)
AP – Alfa Pendular (express + expensive!)


Most Expensive
– Alfa Pendular (AP) and InterCity (IC) long distance trains. These are available to buy online, and require a seat reservation. You must print these tickets, or have them sent via SMS to your phone if you are able to register your phone with the website.

You should buy these in advance as they have major discounts up to 65% the earlier you get them, but do note the train schedules only come out 60 days before travel date so if you’re planning way in advance just keep that in mind. ALWAYS buy the tickets on the official CP.pt website as third-party agencies like EuRail or Rail Europe cannot issue seat reservations, and you’ll have to pay extra for them at the station anyway.

The AP/IC trains have a lot of different discounts that can be applied if the terms and conditions are right. For example: If you’re traveling between Tues to Thurs in a group of 3/4, the AP trains have bulk deals of 40/50% off your tickets. If you’re booking a long distance return trip of over 91km, you get 10% off. If you can prove that you are 25 or below, you get 25% off your train ticket prices. Etcetera. As there were only two of us and we are no longer young (FML), very few of these incentives applied to us.

But I personally find that because the above deals cannot be stacked (discounts dont apply in conjunction with other discounts, even if you qualify for more than one), the R/U trains are still cheaper most of the time.


Least Expensive
– Regional and Urbano trains. These have no option to pre-book, and they don’t require a seat reservation, so buy tickets at the station when you arrive. They are often significantly cheaper than the AP/IC trains, but because you cannot purchase them online, if you run a search using the Buy Tickets instead of Train Times option on the website, they wont show up, and you might end up accidentally buying the more expensive AP/IC ones instead.

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Sample schedule for trains between Coimbra and Aveiro

As you can see, only the AP/IC trains have the option to purchase on the far right. And even though there’s an early bird promo for one of the IC trains, it’s still 2 Eur more expensive than the cheapest R train. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it adds up, especially if you’re going to hit a few Portuguese cities on your trip!

We didn’t take a single AP/IC train on the trip because 1. they were significantly more expensive and 2. the places we wanted to go to were all serviced by either buses or the R/U trains. I think the only reason why someone on a budget would pay for the AP/IC trains would be if they were super anxious about having everything booked beforehand – I’ll admit, I was a bit confuzzled by the fact that we couldnt get the R/U trains online (no forums or websites seem to mention why) and I was nervous about not being able to get tickets on the day itself. But we ended up winging it and it was fine.

Intercity Buses

Interestingly! Our Portuguese friends strongly recommended the buses, saying that they rarely took the trains unless absolutely necessary. There are a few bus companies, the most extensive (and therefore, tourist-friendly) one being Rede Expressos which has over 200 express buses zipping between cities multiple times a day. It also seems to have absorbed its main competitors, RENEX and Eva, so I suppose this would be the closest they have to a national bus service.

Website: www.rede-expressos.pt

It’s not a perfect booking experience – The website can be a bit finnicky, especially on desktop. Even though I used the English version of the website, I had some issues getting the locations to show up – Porto, for example, kept showing up as PORT, which was initially very confusing, and Lisbon’s Oriente station shows up as LISBON EAST. But I eventually circumvented this by downloading and using the myRNE mobile app, which I found much easier to navigate. It’s super convenient too, because then you can just present the mobile ticket on the app rather than looking for a printer to get the actual ticket printed.

If you have a Portuguese address and phone number (basically, if you have a Portuguese friend), you can sign up for the free Rflex membership which gives you discounts on your bus ride. I think we saved about 2 euros per ride, which adds up! Otherwise, if you’re 29 and under, you qualify for a youth ticket, which gives you a small discount as well, though not as good as with the Rflex card.

You can book tickets on the bus up to 30 days prior, and if you’ve accidentally booked the wrong time or have a change of plans, you can swap your tickets once for free at the station. They’re also very good with customer service – I had some questions about my ticket before getting to Portugal and didn’t want to place a long distance call, so I DM-ed them on Twitter and they replied within the hour.

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Twitter: @RedeExpressos

The buses were actually great. The seats were mega comfortable, and they were fitted with power sockets and wifi. We were super impressed by how comfy the buses were! You can also store your luggages in the bus, and although they technically have a 20kg limit, I didn’t see any bus drivers checking for weight.

The only things I would take note of during the booking process would be the station names and locations – they don’t always depart from central bus terminals, and in bigger cities they might have more than one departure point. In Batalha, for example, the Rede Expressos bus departed from this tiny bus stop in a small road, which had no signage for the bus company whatsoever, although the address matched what our tickets said. We basically sat there and hoped for the best. It all worked out in the end though!

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Basically

Which option you go with depends on what you prioritize. For me, it was cost – so I ran searches for both the buses and the trains between each city we wanted to visit, and went with whichever worked out cheaper for that leg. As a result, we did a mix of bus and trains on our trip – small villages like Batalha were only accessible by bus, and on occasion, the bus worked out significantly cheaper (14Eur for Porto to Lisbon, vs about 25-30Eur on the train). But because the buses have a minimum fare of 6 Eur, we swapped to taking the trains for some legs, like Coimbra to Aveiro (5,30Eur) and Aveiro to Porto (3,50Eur). It’s a little bit more troublesome, and requires a touch of faith that your trains will indeed have space for you even without an advance reservation, but this is the Broke Student’s Guide, not the Everything Is Easy guide – and in that spirit, I say to you: yolo.

x
Jem

#2017 | from a guesthouse in portugal

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Olá from a guesthouse in Portugal, where I am currently sitting with my free coffee and tea, content with my discovery that the Portuguese do in fact make excellent (and strong) coffee, watching the other guests do various backpacker-y things like eat the complimentary cornflakes or charge their phones. One girl seems to be revising for a language exam: interesting. Also interesting: I had forgotten how glad I used to be for free laundry options in hostels – and accordingly, have revisited that feeling with great affection.

I am in Portugal for a wedding, which happened three days ago, a beautiful affair that was the cumulation of a student romance I was brief witness to in Stuttgart, Germany, 5 years ago. How time flies. After the wedding Shane and I have continued to traipse across Portugal since we are already in this part of the world, a strangely nostalgic remake of our time traversing the cobblestones of Europe as broke students all those years ago, dragging suitcases, drinking cheap wine, getting fat on fresh seafood. The difference is we are older now and our bags heavier, and we are more afraid of the unknown, I suppose. Or perhaps it is just me who is afraid. Not a crippling sort of fear, but a more adult awareness of the ways things can and may go wrong, a tenseness in my lower back that now never really goes away (correlation? to a newfound love for massages back home), and a kind of ache for the more gung-ho innocence of youth. Is this something that happens automatically as you grow older, I wonder? Or is this new wariness a by-product of the specific way the world has changed in recent years, and the lightning rod speed at which international conflict is wrapped up and delivered to us in our own remote corners of the world?

Who knows. The fact is that people have been so good to us on this trip – reuniting with old friends has been excellent, as always, making new friends who surprise us at every turn with how generous and kind they can be, also, the open helpfulness of people we meet in hostels, guesthouses, shops, and etcetera. So there is no concrete rationale for worry and also I am understating how incredible and beautiful the country has been thus far. Each interaction I have unknots a little of the fear in my belly and reminds me that I cannot allow a vague worry originating from increasingly hysterical international news to box myself into a smaller world. We cannot change the overarching sentiment of the world but perhaps in our own local ways we can weave a friendlier one, unseen and unmappable, but blended into the experience of each destination through our touch and speech and breath. Maybe part of travel is allowing that unseen world to move us too.

x
Jem

#2016 | Apple of my eye

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An apple by any other name…
Pic one: Table 65
Pic two: Akira Back

I had two apple themed desserts of late, leading me to wonder if this belies a new trend, or if it has been the classic dessert option all the while, the only variable being my mild nosing into the specific echelons of dining circles that would blowtorch sugar into beautiful, fruit-shaped crystals. Regardless, they were both excellent.

Table 65 Van Oostenbrugge’s signature Apple, which was made famous in Amsterdam’s restaurant Bord’eau, serves up a sour green apple sorbet under a transparent sugar dome, the whole thing perched atop a pastry flaked to perfection. One bite and you can’t imagine there being a more apt finishing dessert to balance the meal out, also, it’s prepared enchantingly before you, open-kitchen-concept style. Dinner and a show.

Akira Back’s Apple is a tantalizingly glazed sour cherry apple granite, filled with dense cream cheese with an apple compote middle, surrounded by ice cold champagne jelly which is my new favorite kind of jelly. Cutting into it is its own kind of satisfaction, watching the dessert knife sink cleanly into the soft glaze.. and then you get to the actual eating and you’re blown away.

Interesting to me also is how they’re named – nestled amongst names that conjure fantasies and images of gastronomical flight, both dishes are just – Apple. Almost a punctuation in the menu. Perhaps both places, unaffiliated as they are, had the same thought: stripping the dessert to its main descriptor, and letting it speak for itself on the plate. It’s a strategy that certainly works.

x
Jem

#2015 | under the weather again

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As I’ve been relegated to the couch, here’s my unhappy bedfellow

No romanticism about it, I’m just sick again, and it sucks. I saw two doctors this time and they are divided on what it means, but agreed on the point of it being non-contagious, meaning technically I can (and will) continue working. The bottom line is, I’m either the victim of a random viral attack, or have developed a tragic late-life allergy to shellfish. Please, Lord, no.

The worst part is, sick me is delirious me, aka totally hallucinatory me. The medicines have hit me hard, and I’ve been living life in a blurry haze the past week. I keep dreaming up plans that I’ve made, or texting people based on conversations I thought we’d had… it’s embarrassing. It’s funny, when I first read My year of rest and relaxation by ottessa moshfegh i didn’t like it at all, but I suddenly find her character’s Ambien induced wooziness extremely relatable, if not desirable. The difference for me, is that life, by both necessity and circumstance, must go on.

x
Jem

#2014 | i made a meme


am i young now

i tend to shy away from crowds so i’ve been avoiding the Jewel opening, hoping to wait it out till the hype pipes down.. but the boyfriend, tourist that he is, excitedly signed us up for the public preview along with fifteen thousand other people it seems and told me we were going on monday morning. That was this morning btw. I nearly had a panic attack because there were people EVERYWHERE. And I’m ultimately a creature of comfort, of familiarity, so obviously i located the nearest starbucks and ducked in. The idea was to ride out the panic attack until either the crowds died down or i was calmed by the dulcet tones of a smooth nitro cold brew being pulled.

No luck with the first, but a good compromise – the second floor of the new Jewel flagship is quiet, comfy, and serene, and more to the point, it is absolutely gorgeous. There was this hand chiseled mural of the starbucks siren which the team later told me took two months to do, and what a mural. I was so blown away i took a million photos of it then made a meme because that was the only way i knew how to express accurately how i felt. I know, i know. Shame on my English degree, etc etc. I’ve heard it all before. Get over it. Sometimes a meme is just funnier, o.k.

x
Jem