This morning I dropped Zed (formerly Mr Indoors but clearly more Outdoors) off at the airport to go to Zurich. At the parking ticket barrier there was an option to pay via Via Verde. Aha, we have a Via Verde box for the toll booths. I drifted off, pleasantly remembering our attempts to get one a few weeks ago. Oh what larks!….
Toll roads in the UK are thankfully rare – at the moment – and usually for a bridge. In France and Spain, in my experience, you drive up, you pay your money, you drive through, the journey carries on…
In Portugal, you get on the A23 and drive on, and on and on. No toll booth. Great, what a fab country. Beautiful scenery, an almost empty road, and all free. Wrong. If you listen to any expat who has been in the country for longer than a few months they’ll tell you the anecdote about a Dutch, Dane, or English couple who didn’t realise the silver gantries along the motorways were tolls and who came home to a bill of six hundred euros and, well, you are maybe really hoping at this point that this is an urban myth.
When we first reached the Portuguese border, having been warned by friends, we knew we were supposed to buy some sort of toll card for a month. We enquired at the customs office and, not understanding the fast Portuguese spoken, grasped something about 11km. We drove down an empty motorway wondering at what point police sirens would come chasing after us because we hadn’t paid to drive on it.
11kms later we saw the sign where you pick up a toll card. We punched in our credit card details, car number plate, took a receipt and drove off. Legal for a month. Hurrah!
The month was up and we were still in Portugal. Should we go back to the border of Spain and start again? Sell the car and fly home? Pay online? The latter seemed the easiest option. Easy toll directed us to www.ctt.pt which directed us back to www.easytoll.pt. Which directed us back to www.ctt.pt… which directed us….you get the picture. We never did manage to get out of the loop and buy a card online. Things may have changed in the last couple of months. I doubt it.
There is yet another option; you can pay in advance for your journey at the post office. Apparently. Not at village post offices though. Not at any I went to.
Finally, I went back to the website, www.portugaltolls.com. I could buy a card or a box or something with ViaVerde. Right. I’ll do that then.
The office is off the main square in Castelo Branco at the Loja da Cidadao, and I took a ticket ready for my turn, from a machine like the ones at the deli counters in England. A couple of minutes into the conversation with the brunette lady at the Via Verde desk I realised I didn’t have the car registration certificate with me. I was sent home. Next day I took another ticket, waited, got a couple of minutes into the conversation then… aaagh, I’d bought everything but the car registration document again. Drove straight home and back out into town again, a forty minute round trip because we were driving to Lisbon later that day and I absolutely had to have that box thing. Luckily between our house and town there isn’t a toll barrier so unless you miss the turn off you can drive freely. I missed the turn off. An extra euro and a half down.
This time I actually arrived at the desk, filled out the forms, smugly handed over the documents plus 26 euros to become the proud keeper of a little plastic box to stick in the windscreen. I just had to activate it by using my Portuguese bank card at a cash machine and follow the instructions on screen. Simple. So why didn’t it work. Huh? Huh?
Our suave and very helpful bank manager politely explained why I couldn’t activate the toll card. I had the wrong type of bank card. I had to open a savings account to get the right sort of bank card. Okay I’ll do that then.
“The card won’t be here until next week” Mr Suave and Helpful Bank Manager told me.
“But we’re going to Lisbon today. We have to go to Lisbon. It is imperative,” I say, voice rising.
“Ah but you have 48 hours in which to pay after you have used the motorway,” he says calmly.
“Great. Bingo! I even know where to pay. There’s a pay point opposite Intermarche,” I say, triumphantly.
Well no there isn’t actually, as I discovered after our trip to Lisbon. You have to go to a post office. I found that out at one o’clock. Just after the post offices closed for the weekend. That was our last chance to hit the deadline. Still I carried on, determined to pay anyway.
Monday morning, and I arrived at the shiny bright new post office in Castelo, which had tape across the door and a sign pointing to a dusty, temporary post office around the corner. I took in a worn leaflet about tolls I’d picked up at the border some time back and showed it to the staff. Confidently said something about wanting to pay for a trip a couple of days ago. More head shaking. “But….but….PLEASE LET ME PAY TO USE YOUR GODDAM MOTORWAY, DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH TIME I AM WASTING, DO YOU? DO YOU? Okay, of course I never said that, I actually smiled brightly and backed away. Looking calm and happy.
At this point I gave up.
A few days later Mr Suave and Helpful Bank Manager gave me a new bank card, activated the Via Verde account at the Multibanco cash point for me, and we now proudly zoom up and down the A23 and through the Via Verde toll point sections on the toll booth motorways, the box bleeping every time we go under a barrier. We can even zip through the Via Verde lane where there are toll boxes. Ah, the good life. It was a proud moment when we had the receipt for our first toll debit emailed to us. One day I may even have the courage to try out the Via Verde parking button at the airport.
When life gets that good, where is there to go?
Update* I’ve just read in Portugal News that they are thinking of changing the system. Noooo!