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On Missing Trains and Meeting Communists

Booking a ticket from Brisbane to Porto was no easy task. All of the major airlines flying from Australia seemed to have forgotten that Portugal was a viable destination, and any tickets to Lisbon to Porto had a several hundred dollar premium attached. I spent hours trawling Kayak trying to find options that were even remotely feasible; if only I’d known about TheAirDB I think my life would have been a lot easier!

Eventually, I settled on what seemed to be the best option — arriving in Madrid on Emirates at 8.15pm and departing Madrid for Porto on the sleeper train at 10.30pm. I knew it would be a bit of a squeeze but it would get me into Porto early the next morning while saving me an expensive night in a hotel near the airport.

T4 in Madrid Airport

At least T4 in Madrid Airport was pretty...

It turned out to be too tight because my flight into Madrid was more than 30 minutes late. A backup plan and a helpful local meant I had a restful night in a hotel before heading straight back to the airport the next morning. I’d chosen to fly TAP Portugal because I didn’t want to deal with all of Ryanair’s restrictions (particularly the one about only having 1 carryon bag). I told myself it would be easier and less stress.

I was wrong.

We boarded the bus to the plane on time, but we knew there was a problem as soon as we got near the plane itself. It was kind of obvious, given that the pilot was standing under the plane kicking the landing gear (which is apparently a valid method of fixing broken plane parts). Soon, a circle of hi-vis vest clad maintenance men joined him, making a circle around the offending wheel.

Kicking the Landing Gear

Standing in a circle around the landing gear will definitely solve the problem.

We got occasional updates from a TAP representative, who kindly translated into English for me since I could only understand about half of what she was saying. It was interesting that in Spanish there was “una problema pequeña” whereas in English there was “no problem, we’ll be ready soon.”

Even more lost than me was the group of Chinese travelers sitting in the back of the bus. I soon became their translators, passing on any information I could get from the briefings in both languages to those in their party that spoke English.

Eventually, the flight was cancelled — although they’d waited long enough that all other airlines’ flights to Porto had left — and we were all bused back to the terminal, where we got to pick up our bags and wait in line for our new reservations.

Initially, the only option I was given was the 7pm TAP flight, which I didn’t want to accept because it meant I would miss the first event of the conference I’d flown all the way from Australia for. After some haggling, they moved me to an afternoon flight on Iberia. I passed this information on to my new Chinese friends and then made my way to T4 to have my free lunch (it was three courses — much more than most airlines would pay for during a delay!) and twiddle away the hours until my new flight was due to depart.

A Three Course Meal

A three-course meal at the airport courtesy of TAP Portugal.

It was nice knowing that, once we all met up again at the gate, I would have people to talk to. I do so much of my travel alone — and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it and the fact that I get some “me” time — that it’s nice to sometimes have a friendly stranger to chat to. It seems like everyone always has an interesting story. It’s just that some of them just force it on you while you’re trying to watch a movie on a plane and ruin it for everyone else!

What I didn’t know was why my new acquaintances were in Europe. I’d just assumed they were on a holiday, but that wasn’t quite right. The man I’d talked to the most was on business, and not just any business. Perhaps the top of his business card will give you a hint:

Bureau of West European Affairs for the Communist Party of China


This was by far the coolest business card that I acquired on my whole trip (no offense, bloggers). How many traveling Chinese communists do you get to meet? Especially ones that want to have a chat and then try to convince you to come visit their country and see how it is in real life instead of how it is portrayed in the media? I’d say not a lot. He was certainly the first I’d ever met.

To top it off, they were going to a Communist Party party in Portugal (possibly the Avante! Festival although they didn’t specify). Members of Communist parties all around the globe were descending upon the country, which to me seemed like a few people were being treated better than the rest in their party…but hey, what do I know. In any case, at least a few bloggers were sad that they hadn’t been told about the Party’s party so they could crash it!

So, while it was very frustrating to miss an entire day of sightseeing in Porto, missing the train had its perks. I certainly don’t think I would have met anybody going to the Communist Party party there!

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