ANDREW, author of ‘Spitton.biz’ forced me to go to the wine bloggers conference in Lisbon. I’ll be honest – the idea of actually paying to take a seat amidst 150 self-important, klaxon-loud alcoholics held all the appeal of acupuncture through the heart (which I suffered last week). He dressed it up, of course. We would start at St. Pancras Champagne Bar and then weave through four countries on trains of decreasing slowness armed with a lavish buffet. And rather than hole-up in a glassy, aloof tower spiking some distant district of finance, we would rent an apartment in a local’s block in the heart of the old town. He raised one further incentive – after the steady conference activities melted, we would take advantage of a comped tour of the brilliantly-marketed ‘Douro Boys’ holdings, pausing at the too-cool-for-school, ‘Aqua Pura’ hotel. Before long, my conference fee was transferred and train tickets were booked.
‘Be there for 7am’ advised Andrew of our meet-up. Bleary-eyed, I duly dragged my case past Betjeman’s bronze to the Champagne terrace. I craved a decadent breakfast in one of the heated booths overlooking departing trains gliding to France. Alas Searcy’s waiter, wrapped in tunic, wouldn’t let us sit there, shooing us into a golden tomb where coffee tasted of trench. ‘So what time does the train actually leave?’ I asked Andrew. ‘11:00’ he said, revealing an obsessive fear of tardiness.
Four hours, two flutes, and a thorough security frisk later, we took our seats (actually someone else’s, as they keenly pointed out) and submitted to the first leg of our journey...