Tavira’s Comboio Touristico (aka the train from hell)
Since I have professional experience of working in the guidebook area, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to my travel information. I like a well-written guidebook with information that is curated and up-to-date. However, very few publishers can afford to produce a book specifically on the Algarve (most of the visitors there are holiday vacation-home owners, who don’t need a guidebook). So when we went looking for some information to plan our trip, we only had one option: Marco Polo Algarve. It was published in 2012, but a close reading of the copyright page shows that it was translated from the German, which immediately made me suspicious. Nonetheless, we decided to give them a second chance. (We used them last year in Lisbon, and it was neither good nor bad).
However, this book really let us down. And nowhere was this more obvious that in the section about Tavira. Allow me to quote: “Every hour a narrow-gauge railway does the trip from the Praca da Republica at the Roman Bridge to the ferry in Quatro Aguas (it includes a ride through the city with brief sightseeing stops at several stations / 2 euros), which will take you to the island.”
Now, I’m sure you’ve realised by now that some of us (ahem, Alex) really love trains, so this sounded like a home run. We looked for the train station, but couldn’t seem to find it. Then, suddenly, we saw THIS pull up.
Um…. narrow-gauge railway?! Where is the track? Excuse me…. but this is a car. A car with an elaborate plastic cover, pretending to be a train. At least it was pulling a few “carriages” behind…. but this is clearly not a train. It looks like something that little children take at the zoo.
We really should have known better, but at this point we decided to continue with our plan and give the “comboio” a shot. Boy, was that a mistake! I ask you to look closely at these “train carriages”, which are merely trailers masquerading as a grander form of transport. Do you see any shock absorbers, by any chance? No, I think not. Because there weren’t any. And we spent AN HOUR on this thing, in the freezing cold, bouncing our way along the old cobblestone streets. It was painful and miserable.
Oh, and we were entirely alone. All three trailers, puffing through traffic, blocking up the streets, causing the locals to look at us with contempt and disdain. At one point I felt like I was on the world’s worst parade float – I wanted to start waving madly like a princess and throw candy at the people on the streets.
So, no thanks Marco Polo…. but you really steered us wrong there. And this wasn’t the only incorrect information, merely the most egregious (and uncomfortable!). Lack of URLs, lack of street addresses, bad restaurants, poor sight descriptions…. yeah. Next time we’ll just figure it out on our own!
Oh well, at least we have a funny story to tell. We were laughing hysterically toward the end of the journey, because it was just so awful. I’m sure the local townspeople thought we were insane.