Day 1 – Connecting Europe Express Journal – Lisbon to Covilhã

Where we spent the whole day running around Lisbon in between conferences, press events, and ceremonies, and we finally hopped on the Connecting Europe Express.

What a hectic day in Lisbon! Well, to be expected, after all, it was a much-awaited day. Lots of people from the European Commission, the Community of European Railway Infrastructures Companies, and many other partners worked really hard to make this happen. And it was important for this to happen because railways, it seems, are in need of a boost to pick up a more relevant role in Europe as the main choice for transport.

What kind of boost? Well, this is where it gets technical, and this is why this train is travelling around: to make a point. Let’s say that what is needed is a “genuine European rail market” to say it in some of the words I’ve heard today. In my passenger-oriented mind,  this means good and fast connections and affordable travelling. Then it will be easy for many people to pick the more sustainable option. I really hope this is going to be achieved soon.

Praça do Comércio in Lisbon

Anyways, it comes without a surprise to see so much interest by politicians and media alike, and by influencers too. You can reach their accounts and their stories of this journey from the home page of the European Year of Rail website.

Platform number 6 of the Lisbon Oriente Station – an important intermodal transport hub for the whole of Portugal –  was stormed by people waiting for the train and the VIPs, some of which are still on board in our way towards Covilhã. Only a 3 1/2 hours ride today, just getting warmed up!

I am speaking in plural because I am far from being alone on the Connecting Europe Express. Many people between guests, rail and transport experts, and several types of media are enjoying the first beautiful sights of Portugal with me.

As I write we are passing through a green and wild hilly area with a kind of water basin at its feet and scattered farmhouses on the top of the hills. The rails draw a serpentine-like shape as we go further inland.  Rocks pop out from the top of some hills. Nice. And we have zero internet connection, aha, I can’t check the English spelling of that word I need to write down. It’s all part of the journey.  

View from the Connecting Europe Express right after departure

But I digress, I was saying that many people are on the train for a segment or the other, but only two will go through the whole 36 days as I do, Desiree and Roxana from the Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, and at least 3 more people assisting on the train. They are the logistical heart of the whole thing, and what a heart it took to organise all this. Chapeau! You’ll hear about them again for sure.

36 days and 26 countries, wow, right now it doesn’t seem possible. The only pity is that I don’t really have the time to get to know the places where we stop. I spent less than a day in Lisbon and I loved the vibe, I stuffed myself with pasteis de nata, and came across one of my favourite writers’ house, José Saramago. I’ll have to go back and check out the place a little bit more (mental note!).

36 days… and yet, the first day is almost over. Tomorrow, we’ll go through our first border crossing already and we’ll arrive in Madrid, Spain! 

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