Although I picked it up from the Oriente station, there are about 17 stops along the way. Some other central stations you might want to grab it from include Braco de Prata, Roma-Areeiro, Entrecampos, and Sete Rios. A ticket to Sintra costs €1.90. You’ll need the Viva Viagem card, zapping it on a card reader before getting on the train and again when you get off. Keep in mind that you cannot buy this ticket in advance like you would a long-distance train with Comboios de Portugal. (For more detailed information on the Viva Viagem card and everywhere it’ll get you in Lisbon, click here.)
The train from Lisbon to Sintra is a simple local, commuter train. Most people aren’t riding it the entire length from Oriente to Sintra. Like in most cities the world over, you’ll see a different slice of local life riding the train through neighborhoods that are nowhere near the tourist map.
Inside the train, you just grab a seat wherever. It’s a perfectly comfortable ride for the short duration.
Once in Sintra, you’ll likely face the temptation to follow your Google Maps directions for the quickest route to the hotel. This might take you through some steep sidestreets and stairs that can prove a struggle for anyone with bad knees or who simply doesn’t want to lug their bag up a flight of winding stairs. The trick is to stay on Volta Duche, a flat road that’s much easier to walk into town and isn’t noticeably longer.
The Transit Angel of Lisbon
Our train was pulling into Lisbon’s Estação do Oriente from Porto, so I jumped out of my seat early to get my mother-in-law’s bag––because it was heavy and I’ll never be above scoring son-in-law points. An elderly gentleman was ahead of me in the makeshift line to disembark the train. He looked well-dressed for ongoing Good Friday festivities in a sharp suit jack, tie, vest, and golfer’s style cap.
While carefully descending the steps to the platform, he dropped his cane in the gap between the train and the platform. He continued down the steps, muttering his frustration in Portuguese. I followed behind him and noted his brown cane lying against the rocks and rail below.
I hesitated to help at first, my body instinctively reacting to the hundreds of warnings not to step on the tracks I’ve seen in however many languages over the years. But he saw me look down at his cane, we locked eyes, and I saw the helpless despair of a frustrated man whose day just got annoying. I paused the worrywart voices in my head and quickly hopped off the platform.
“Cuidado, cuidado!” or “Careful!” he encouraged, a precaution I planned to follow anyhow.
I grabbed the cane, hopped back up and handed it over.
“Obrigado, obrigado,” he said, thanking me with a smile.
“De nada,” I replied––and he shuffled away while I waited for the rest of my family. I briefly thought about sharing the story with them––Hey! I just helped an old man get his cane!––but it felt self-congratulatory, and that’s not why you help old men who drop their canes. I kept the anecdote to myself, and then, instant karma.
Inside the station, I walked over to a ticket machine to purchase our fare for our last stop in Sintra. We still had a few reloadable cards already from our time in Lisbon, but the machine wasn’t taking my credit card. After a couple of failed attempts, another elderly gentleman appeared out of thin air. He was similarly dressed as the man with the slippery cane––ready for some Good Friday action.
He spoke only Portuguese, and after about five days in the country myself, I’d increasingly realized that I could mostly use my Spanish vocabulary if I just spoke with a Russian accent. I attempted to speak back after I recognized him asking where we were going.
“We’re going to Sintra,” I explained.
“One way or return?”
One by one, he took our Lisbon “Viva Viagem” transit cards, showing us how we were loading them improperly and proceeding to finish the job for us––a task not made easy by the machine refusing to take our coins. He’d take the rejected coins and vigorously rub the edges of each one against the metal of the ticket machine like a lottery ticket. If it worked, he’d say a quick prayer. When the rubbing didn’t work, he took out his own coin purse and traded currency, even giving us the fourth rechargeable transit card we needed for free. (It’s just €0.50 plus whatever you load onto it, but still.)
I’m ashamed to admit that I wondered if we were in the midst of a scam. I’d been approached before at a similar machine in another country with someone eagerly waiting to take my money, purchase the tickets for me, and then demanding payment. The guy moved so quickly, he was done before I could really understand what just happened.
But this transit angel of Lisbon was different. He seemed to actually be enjoying himself, both the challenge of besting the uncooperative machines and the opportunity to help strangers. It was as if this is how he got his kicks on his free time. I imagined him hanging out at the park with some friends. The quiet boredom of an uneventful Saturday afternoon settles in when he suggests, “Hey, you know what would be a blast? Heading down to the train station and helping some foreigners make their connection!”
With our tickets in hand, he waved us over down the station to show us where to validate our tickets and proceeded to do it for us anyhow, then ushered us further to the escalator leading up to the platform. Before parting ways, he explained something while smiling and repeatedly patting me on the back. I think he was reminding us to scan our card again once we arrived in Sintra, but more words came out of his mouth than my limited Portuguese knew what to do with. So I did what I generally do when communicating in a language I barely know––I nodded repeatedly and kept saying “Entendo” (I understand) because that’s one of the few Portuguese verb conjugation combos I knew that fit that context, even though I certainly didn’t “entendo” much.
Wishing us a good trip (Boa viagem!––that one I knew), he gave us a sweeping wave as the escalator took us away. That’s when a pair of angels’ wings grew out of the back of his jacket, sending him off to the next helpless traveler.