15 January 2009

Airports I have known

"It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the phrase, 'as pretty as an airport'" - Douglas Adams.

So I visited a moderately impressive list of countries on my way to Madrid, but didn’t really get out beyond the airport in any of them except Germany. I was hoping to present a photographic essay on my adventures in foreign airports, but unfortunately they’re a little touchy about people taking photographs of international airports these days. So instead, here’s a not so photographic essay on airports I’ve visited since Christmas.

Launceston International

No, really. If we’re counting from Christmas (and we are), which I spent in Tasmania with family, then the first airport is Launceston. It’s not the most grandiose of constructions out there, but it gets the job done. Sure, you can see one end of it from the other, but they’re renovating and modernising to bring it into the twentieth century. While we were there they were constructing a baggage conveyer belt so they could do away with driving the trailers into the building.

And yes, it is technically an international terminal, but only if you consider New Zealand an independent country. Or if you consider Tasmania an independent country.


Tullamarine, Melbourne

Having visited Tasmania numerous times while my grandmother was alive, transferring through Melbourne has become second nature to me. I know the layout of Tullamarine quite well these days, despite having been outside in Melbourne a grand total of once.

For some reason, I always seem to end up eating Hungry Jacks there, whether I’m hungry or not, and despite the obvious risks involved in eating heavy oily food before boarding a flight over Bass Strait. I guess it’s a better way to kill time than buying a souvenir of my time in Victoria. Or a new designer handbag. And there aren’t any other food outlets that look halfway appetising. Furthermore there’s only one place in the whole terminal that sells ice cream.

Sydney Domestic

I’ve been through this one a few times as well, but I always seem to come at it from a different angle, or even a different terminal. Invariably I start at the wrong one. I’ve never had to kill any sizable amount of time there, but everything just feels a lot more welcoming than Tullamarine. The food looks better. You feel less like you’re going to get growled at for browsing the bookshop without actually intending to buy anything.

Short version is; Sydney is awesome and Victoria isn’t.

Sydney International

Okay, so here’s where the real adventure starts. I’d never been here before, and even just the check-in part overwhelmed me a little bit. Seemingly endless lines of check in desks for every airline I’d ever heard of and a few I hadn’t. I got my rucksack checked and picked up my boarding passes all the way through to Berlin, which was handy.

I’ve been flying on planes every few months for almost my whole life, so I don’t know how I managed to do this, but I successfully misread my seat number as my gate number, and ended up going through customs at the wrong end of the terminal. Very embarrassing, but they gave me a free bus ride back to the other end, where I sat for an hour and watched the cricket.

Changi, Singapore

I didn’t have quite as long in Singapore as I thought I would. Actually I had about twenty minutes and had to hotfoot it from one gate to the next. It was night time, so I didn’t get much of an impression out the windows, but the Christmas decorations were nice. I only saw one corridor of the place, but I get the impression that it’s a monumentally huge arrangement of shops and hotels and the occasional departure lounge. Maybe I’ll stay longer on my way back.

Heathrow, London

I pulled in to Mother England at six in the morning England time, approximately 14 hours after leaving Singapore. I must have got more sleep on the plane than I thought, because the time seemed to pass pretty quickly. I had six hours to kill in Heathrow. About an hour of that went in getting a bus to transfer me to the right terminal and getting through security again and figuring out which gate I was leaving from. Then I stopped in at one of the airport caf├ęs. I figured there was really only one appropriate meal to order:

“English breakfast, please.”

It was pretty good for the price, and I must have been hungrier than I realised because I even ate the scrambled eggs, which I wouldn’t normally do.

I spent the next few hours looking around the freaking huge duty free shops. Those things have always struck me as strange things to have in a departure/transit lounge. I mean, I understand the attraction of cheap stuff, and the desire to pass time by buying things. But really, when you’re about to climb on a cramped and crowded aeroplane, who thinks to themselves “you, know, what I really need is more stuff to carry”.

Tegel, Berlin

I wasn’t quite prepared for how cold it was going to be in Berlin. To be fair on myself, the Berliners weren’t quite expecting it to be that cold either, but it snapped cold just before I arrived, and the whole place was blanketed in fresh snow. Fortunately there was an aerobridge thing from the plane to the terminal. I was all ready for the usual forms and bag checks and passport stamping and difficult questions (even more difficult in German), but there was none of that. They just stamped my passport and said “Welcome to Germany”. My rucksack had a harder time getting into the country than I did, since the door to the baggage compartment on the plane had frozen shut. We had to wait half an hour for them to be rescued.

The hardest part of negotiating Tegel was when I left four days later. The check-in counters for my flight were tucked away in an obscure corridor. I had to get a policeman to help me find them.

Ruzyne International, Prague

Of course, half the reason the checkout was obscure was because, in order to secure a reasonably priced flight in peak season at short notice, I was flying a moderately obscure airline; the highly esteemed Czech Airlines. Flying from Berlin to Madrid via Prague is certainly the long way round (although not as long as Sydney to Darwin via Madrid) but it was the only way to do it for less than a thousand dollars.

I ended up spending a lot more time in Ruzyne than I had hoped or expected. It was supposed to be a forty minute stopover, but tragically there was a blizzard in Madrid (!) the day I was supposed to fly and the Madrid airport was closed, so my flight was cancelled. That sucked a bit, but the up shot was that Czech Airlines put me up in the nearby Marriott hotel for the night, which was pretty nice.

I would have gone out for the afternoon to check out Prague, but it was minus fifteen degrees at the most, I was stuffed, and I had cleverly turned all my money into Euros, only to discover that the currency of the Czech Republic is the Czech Koruna. So I stayed inside instead and watched the BBC.

Barajas, Madrid

I made it! And only a day late. Not bad for a week’s worth of travelling. Barajas was kind of boring as airports go, although it does have a kind of interesting yellow and black colour scheme going on, which made a nice change from the traditional blue and grey. Another fantastically relaxed country with nothing to sign or declare as you come through. Actually, my passport doesn’t even have a Madrid stamp on it, which is a bit of a let down. On the plus side, apparently no-one officially knows I’m here, which probably means no-one is going to officially kick me out any time soon.

So there you have it. A whirlwind tour of airports I have known. Join us next week as we examine the fascinating lives of… Petrol stations of the twentieth century.

Far from home

Garry with 2 Rs
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