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Monday 16 November 2009

End Of Another Line

Weekends are sometimes difficult for getting around in the Algarve – unless, of course, you join the herd and drive. Then you face the problem of finding a parking space at a reasonable price – more often than not, parking means paying – unless you’re headed for one of the many out of town shopping experiences.

So today I had to mix and match the transport modes to be able to have a day in the western Algarve town of Lagos. Here the pros and cons of the competitors can be summed up: the bus station in Albufeira has a pleasant concourse, there are toilet facilities (free), but the ticket office has not yet progressed beyond cash transactions. At the railway station, there is a small waiting area, the toilets are generally locked (50 cents for a loan of the key), but both the ticket office and automatic machine will take debit and credit cards.

The train was well filled, with most punters headed for Portimão, a town that now stretches from its old centre inland all the way to the sea. Here and at Lagos the stations are staffed and tidy: most other wayside stops are neither. At the latter, arrival was actually a little late, but nothing on the scale that Senhora Eva manages whenever it’s busy, or when they advertise unachievable timings, as I mentioned the other day.

Lagos has, in fact, recently got a brand new station, but why this was necessary is a mystery. The old one is still there, just behind its successor, and the nicely proportioned red tiled terminus is starting to fall into disrepair. The bar that was opened on the ground floor has closed, the inevitable graffiti has started to appear, and the area at front is now being used by folks sleeping rough.

Which, after a pleasant few hours walking the promenade opposite the marina and taking the obligatory photos, brings me via the Sunday afternoon Transrapido, back to the shiny new bus station at Albufeira. Look beyond the area where buses lay over, and there is a jumble of makeshift dwellings, a mixture of wooden board, corrugated sheet, and tenting. Here are the people who have not made it, or have fallen out of luck. We have similarly unfortunate folks in the UK: merely because the glossy brochures fail to mention them does not mean that they do not exist elsewhere.

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