Friday, March 21, 2014

Civil protest at 7am

Airport hiker do not really intend to break the law. They are law-abiding citizens, which clearly separates them from their brethren in mind, the terrorist. But in a zone where the number of laws per square meter reaches one million (rough guess), it is sometimes not easy to follow the law. The airport hiker constantly operates in a grey zone, one step away from being stopped by the police, another step from in jail. But often it is hard to notice these things. The law is invisible.

The new Travelodge at the airport in Glasgow is really just outside the terminal, not more than fivehundred meters away. Distance is not the issue here. The issue is the motorway that runs between the terminal and the hotel. A convenient tunnel leads from one side to the other, but the walkways end on the terminal side of the tunnel. But does it matter? There is muddy grass next to the road, I'm quite competent in crossing roads without getting killed, it is dark and rainy, so what. Five minutes of precarious balancing around puddles later I've arrived. The Travelodge is slightly difficult to access, so I thought. In my mind, I was Scott and the hotel the south pole.

It's only on the next morning when my problem became obvious. When trying to reverse my route, back to civilisation, a gigantic sign blocks my way, only readable from the hotel side. "According to bylaws", does it say, and "strictly no pedestrian access". But why, this is my go to response to everything right now, but why, the airport is right there. Just hundred meters from the sign is the tunnel, hundred meters further the walkway. But why?

It is one of these cases where it is hard not to break the law. The alternative is going back to the hotel and calling a taxi. But here the ridicule is too much. I cannot possibly accept this sign. And the other one just a few meters away which says the same things in an even harsher tone. Scott didn't have to deal with signs. I don't have to take this, is the murmur in my mind, something I rarely say to myself, and for two or three precious minutes I turn into an outlaw. I feel dirty. The roads are peaceful, the tunnel quiet. I cross the road that feeds the motorway and step onto the walkway that leads straight to the terminal. I'm back in my country.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The emerald airport

You can laugh as much as you want about the CamelCase in FitzGerald, but it is still one of the oldest and most famed Irish families, tracing back to Maurice FitzGerald, Lord of Lanstephan, whose son Gerald settled in Ireland in 1169 as part of the first Norman invasion. From this event and the Siege of Dublin in 1171 leads a direct line to the foundation of Dublin Airport, which is kind of hard to believe, but there it is: Desmond FitzGerald, brother of the former Irish head of government Garret, was the architect who designed the original terminal of Dublin Airport. It opened in 1941, a year in which other people opened concentration camps. It is likely that most of the design was actually done by Desmond's minions, but who cares.

The old terminal in Dublin is, to make it clear, a must-see for any serious airport hiker. It is one of not so many airport buildings that is actually of architectural relevance. I know almost nothing about architecture and I don't care about relevance, but look at the building and you'll understand what's going on:

Now, this is a terminal. The idea was to make it look like an ocean liner, which might become more obvious if you see the backside towards the runways. Today the walkway to pier D, finished in 2007, curves around the old terminal. In the satellite image this reinforces the impression that the old terminal is in fact the secret focal point of the airport - although it is mostly used for weather forecasts and other boring stuff. Yes, weather forecast is boring in Ireland, because the weather changes so quickly that the only relevant information is the weather report in real time.

I know Dublin airport since 2004 when pier D, now the starting point for trillions of Ryanair flights for 10 Euros plus fees, was non-existent. Instead we had to walk miles to some sort of gigantic shed. I've watched in agony as terminal 2, finally opened in 2010, was growing slowly over the years. Dublin airport has so many cheap flights to other European cities that it is a prime location to go for a walk on a rainy Sunday, even if you live in Croatia or Finland. It's not extreme and doesn't offer really ambitious hiking trips like Heathrow or JFK, but it's not too small to run out of options in less than one hour. With other words, it is perfect. With the quick Air Lingus connections to Boston or Chicago, it might even make sense for a daytrip from the US. Dublin might be the best airport hiking destination in Europe. Seriously.

The classic walk at Dublin airport is the famous Three-Terminal-Trip. Starting in front of the spectacularly ugly terminal 1, which was the main terminal for more than 3 decades but looks more like a malformed parking garage, you walk straight up the road to the brandnew terminal 2. This brings you to the first sensation - walking through the road tunnel underneath the bulging bridge that connects the two parts of the terminal. The blue illumination of the tunnel is a little bit creepy, but nothing an adult with some experience with blue lights can't handle in dignity:



At the end of the tunnel a flight of stairs leads up to the front of terminal 2 from which you can go on vast excursions through parking lots, hotels, and utility buildings until you ultimately reach the big roundabout at the East end of the airport, which leads directly to the M1, one of the two-and-a-half motorways on the island. If you like that sort of thing. The shorter and more scenic hike leads from the bus station a few hundred meters to the north, then to the west and in a straight line towards the old terminal. The whole way you have a good view on the strange trias of terminals: the classic old building, the desastrous terminal 1, and terminal 2 which looks like it could have happened in a cheesy SF movie from the 1990s. One wouldn't be able to guess that these three radically different buildings are siblings. Wait, they aren't, so, anyway.

When your reach the old terminal it's important to imagine being a Red Army tank or a horde of Mongolians on wild horses swinging spears or your preferred scene from an old-fashioned Chinese martial arts movie. It just makes more sense if you are trying to conquer the building, a long homerun to the promised land where you will raise your kids and all that. In reality, of course, you can't conquer the old terminal because it's locked most of the time. A lock is the ultimate deterrent against the Mongolian invasion. And you wouldn't want to give birth there either. Once you have realised that it's time to stroll back to terminal 1.

This whole trip through colours, spaces, and stories takes only about half an hour, even if you include the time to take pictures. Now you can invite yourself to a Strawberry Sunrise at the juice bar and head to, whatever, Rome or Moscow or wherever you came from. Don't go to Dublin. It's entirely unnecessary.

Because the jewel of Dublin is its airport.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

London Lethargy

I wanted to write about the London airports, but there was so little to write about. I postponed and postponed, a year went by, weed was growing everywhere on this blog, and there is still little to write about. London has five airports; to be fair, I only know four of them, but it seems unlikely that the little city thingy can save London's airport face. London is a gigantic airport hiking fail.

But it wasn't easy to accept this. I don't have an exact record of my visits to London airports, but I certainly spent more time on London airports than in London itself. This sounds sad, but it's not, really, because initially, in the early London years, I had high hopes, particularly for Heathrow. Such a big, massive, complex thing, there must be lots of potential. Must. Be. Originally, as you can see here, the plan was clearly to build an airport shaped like the Star of David, but nowadays it looks more like the inside of an octopus womb, plus Terminals 4 and 5 placed inconviently somewhere way off. Do octopuses actually have wombs?

But then reality hits. Terminals 1-3 are just too much stuff at the same place, it's not even funny. Good for a few quick minutes to get the circulation going in the legs and maybe a peaceful moment in front of St. Georges chapel, but that's it, as far as I can see. 4 and 5 are too far away for most stopovers. If you really want to walk from the new terminals to 1-3, it must be more than 10 miles. Still, this is an option for extreme airport hiking and someone will do it, some day, it might even be me. If there is one thing I learned over the last years, there is always someone out there doing the things I consider to be too extreme for the moment.

I'm not going to say anything about Gatwick and Luton, other than 'been there, done that'. The thing with these smallish airports in the UK: They look so similar that you really need a clear, distinctive feature to remember them, like the tower in Edinburgh. Gatwick and Luton have nothing like that. I wouldn't even buy a T shirt there.

The consolation price then is Stansted. It's the Ryanair airport, so you expect exactly nothing, but this is slightly too little. Stansted is in fact an okay hiking airport. This year alone I spent about 20 hours there and it wasn't boring, which means a lot. The terminal building itself is charmingly unoriginal, just a large, transparent block. I imagine it was 4pm on a Friday afternoon, the architect has spent the whole week playing Angry Birds, and he still has to come up with this airport design, and at some point he goes 'fuck it' and 'block'. It's the perfect way to save the weekend.

The other good thing about it is its size. Big is good. Spring nights, like all nights, can be fairly unpleasant in England, and it's always good to be able to do long rounds in the warm, dry terminal, watching the sleepers, marvelling at the imagination these people use to find vaguely comfortable sleeping positions on an airport bench. Or, conversely, at the fuck-it-all mentality of those people just lying flat on the ground somewhere in the middle of the huge hall.

Spring days, on the other hand, like all days, can be quite pleasant in England. From the terminal building it's just a short walk past the Radisson or across the parking lot to reach open land. With this type of airport (Edinburgh or Stockholm Skavsta are other examples) it's not easy to define what airport hiking is all about. Because they merge with the countryside, ordinary airport hiking quickly becomes ordinary rambling. Is the cow meadow ten minutes down the road still the airport? Can I claim the next village, too? The airport becomes bigger and bigger and ultimately the world is an airport.

Another fun game: Catching the wireless internet while walking around the Stansted bus station in front of the terminal. Since the internet is driving around with the buses, this requires to watch buses and switch between various wifi stations which all have the same name, while checking emails. With other words, it's a nightmare.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Feels like YYZ

I'm watching “Up in the Air” on the return flight from Toronto. The protagonist apparently likes flying. In the seat next to me is a boy, maybe 10 years old; he stares out of the window and enjoys every single minute of a long-distance flight. Finally, at least two people, one fictional, one real, who actually have their minds where they are.

See, airports are like zombie land. Nobody really wants to be there, nobody actually is there. Either they are still with the people they have just left, in their minds. Or they are already with the business they are going to do the next day. In their minds. What matters is what's going on in the mind. Airports leave them as soulless corpses. Their souls are somewhere else. Empty shells populate the parking garages, the elevators, the gates, the security checks. Well, you know. Whoever manages to actually be at the airport, will experience the most lonely moments in his life, moments of precious, beautiful isolation. These moments are worth living for.

Fuck, that's nonsense. I've just spent one hour walking through an eight level parking garage without seeing anything worth living for (not counting rental cars). Terminal 1 at Pearson International in Toronto, the airport with the enigmatic shorthand name YYZ, does not seem particularly interesting, which bothers me because I really like Toronto. The top floor of the parking garage is walled and fenced, and there is no point from which you can get an overview. The bottom floor (note: top and bottom floor are the most essential floors in parking garages) only leads back to the road. This is going nowhere and I don't have much time left until boarding.

I give up. I give up and walk again through the zombies in the terminal. Lower level, arrivals. The mid level is meaningless. Upper level, departures. Here you can watch the airtrain. It seems glued to the parking garage and then takes off towards Terminal 3. For the time being, Toronto doesn't have a Terminal 2, which is confusing for the amateur. But wait. From the west end of the terminal you can actually see a path to the other terminal. It's right there, maybe ten, fifteen minutes away. I don't have fifteen minutes, but at least I've figured it out. I spent my last five minutes in Toronto with a fantastic sunset and a stone man. My shadow is longer than his. But he has more muscles.

Sunsets at airports are the best. So many moving lights. For your information, Terminal 1 has incredible express walkways, which make you walk with about 20 km/h. I usually ignore walkways, but this one is a definite proof that the future is here. A future Made in Germany, of course.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Memmingen? WTF!


And so it goes. On a sunny monday in March 2010 I found myself alone on Allgäu Airport, and for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, well. Let's say I'm not surprised. Allgäu Airport is located deep in the south of Germany, about three miles east of Memmingen. Okay, that's not particularly helpful, I see. Memmingen has about 40.000 inhabitants, and they are all depressed. I know it, because I asked two of them. About ten years ago. Inspite of that, the town is 'often' referred to as 'Town with Perspectives', and I can only hope they mean the views southwards to the Alps. The city is a two hour train ride west of Munich, which is why Ryanair does not shy away from calling the airport 'Munich West'. I know.


But this is not to slam poor little Memmingen. Quite the contrary, because the airport is nothing short of amazing. This has been a military airfield from 1935 until 2003. There are plenty of barracks from at least three generations of soldiers. In the early years, the airport hosted the Kampfgeschwader 51 Edelweiß (1935-1940) and the Zerstörerschule 2 (1940-1945), with other words: bona fide Nazi elite soldiers. After being destroyed by our friends, the Americans, the barracks were used to accomodate Heimatvertriebene, apparently a word that has a career in the English language. After that, the Americans came and practised for Top Gun, before the German Jagdbombergeschwader 34 took over. See, every little place in Germany has so much history. Nazis, refugees, Americans, and then proper, peaceful Germans. It's hard to believe.

You can see all of that at Allgäu Airport. The moment you leave the modernistic terminal, you are in the middle of an open-air museum, a historic war zone. You see the old Nazi barracks, some of them apparently populated by giant hares. (Hares!) Others by squirrels. You see some more contemporary barracks further to the west, partly barred with ugly construction site fences. There are basketball courts, a reminiscence to the good old American days, I'm sure. And there are quite new barracks, 70s style, grey, ugly, uninspired, that means sort of great, and directly at the airport access road. They are all locked and empty, but in the basement I found damp rooms to take off the ponchos ('Ablegen Poncho') and to decontaminate the boots ('Dekontaminierung Überschuhe'). These signs with instructions in english and broken German are sort of hilarious, but I never travel with a poncho.

And then the bunker. Yes, there is a bunker. A huge concrete building in camouflage grey+green, with a sort of loading platform in front and the entrance in the back. I couldn't get to the door, because it was guarded by, well, by a gardener, okay, so I need to come back to try to go inside. Or at least up to the roof. There are ladders and Google Maps satellite view promises an interestingly shaped colour pattern on the roof. Good enough for me. Other insights from Google Maps: At the other, southern side of the runways is a forest with white dwellings for little airplanes. Or UFOs. Who knows what's going on there.

Sadly, not a single soldier there, I was the only guy wearing camouflage and armygreen. As if to make fun of the militaristic spirit, the world has put a giant yoghurt cup ('Ehrmann Almighurt') right in front of the bunker. But they do still have an 'Immelmannstrasse', a road named after Max Immelmann. In case you don't like war history, I mean it's possible, I guess: Immelmann, although the Wikipedia photograph shows him with a dog, was a pilot. In fact, the Eagle of Lille was the best German pilot in WWI, as far as I am concerned. He invented the Immelmann turn, a sort of looping manoevre, although the history of this manoevre is quite debatable. Taxonomy of aircraft manoevres, what else do I have to know.

Such a cute little thing. I had almost two hours to kill, an extreme challenge on an airport with four gates (in total) in the middle of nowhere. But here, I mean, not an issue at all. I want to come back, cute little Allgäu Airport. Fortunately, Ryanair now operates 14 routes into Memmingen. 14. That beats the Kampfgeschwader 51 Edelweiß and the Jagdbombergeschwader 34, hands down.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some nostalgic notes about EDI

It needs to be said: Edinburgh Airport is not a hiking airport. It's the typical one-terminal, two-level airport, with one building that can be crossed within a couple of minutes. It has only one parking garage and little else. It is, however, the airport where I spent about one third of my leisure time in the past few years (the other thirds on mountains and golf courses, just to be complete). So, yes, this is not an entirely objective criterion; and I need to find better ways to justify this entry. Why is Edinburgh relevant from a hiker's perspective?

I could for example argue that Edinburgh is nicely embedded in farmland which serves as an ideal outback for any hiking adventure. While the north side is blocked by the runways, everything towards the south is open and mostly accessible. It is completely unproblematic to get to the airport on foot, an outstanding feature in a world where airports are typically surrounded by dense cobwebs of motorways. You will pass old stone cottages, cross fields, and occasionally see extremely wild animals (horses, just to give one example).

For I stopover of 1-2 hours I recommend to explore the area towards the southwest - there is the Royal Highland Centre, some sort of village called Ingliston, and even a golf course next to Fairview Av. The southeast is mostly covered with huge, flat parking areas, I mean, if you like cars, why not. The parking area directly next to the M8 motorway that limits the immediate airport area to the south has a bus terminal which is served by various city bus lines, which are millions of pounds cheaper than the Airport Express.

If you have more time, try to cross the double-laned motorway. This can be done anywhere you like in a dangerous, adventurous style, or more conservatively by using the tunnel between the two roundabouts where the airport access roads meets the motorway. Feel free to walk a figure of eight around the roundabouts. If you are finished, try to hike across the fields to Ratho, a few kilometers to the south. It has a pub, a canal, and houseboats. Show me any other airport with houseboats within walking distance, please.

The shortest meaningful excursion you can make is to the main control tower, just a five minute walk south on Jubilee Rd., that means back towards the entrance. The shiny tower looks particular shiny in the dark; the lightning at the bottom makes you think that it kind of hovers above the ground. Things hovering above the ground are always fun.

The terminal building, by the way, has a few niches for sleeping, particularly on the upper level to the right. It is not perfect, but sleeping is so 2006, anyway. Today nobody sleeps in airports anymore. How did I manage to write so many things about such a small airport? It's a mystery.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Malaga is not icecream

Four times at AGP covering 8 years, and still no idea why this airport has any business of being a part of the Universe. And that's saying something, I do have a lot of respect for rat kings, for example. But not for AGP. In 2002 I preferred to sleep at the beach of Torremolinos among drunk Spanish teenagers, to escape from AGP. At some point in this night a gay couple stripped directly in front of me and started to make out. And I still say that a night at AGP would have been more terrifying. It's that bad.

AGP is essentially a monumental rectangular block called 'Terminal 2' for some reason. They do have a historical and irrelevant Terminal 1 nearby, which can only be found on Google Maps. Consistently confusing, the two gates of Terminal 2 are called B and C. The ground-side of T2 is mainly a monumental, airy departure hall and a arrival hall of unclear nature. The dominating colour is the brown shade from the stuff you sometimes find under your fingernails. I can hardly bring myself to write a single sentence about the air-side, which is boring as hell. The only power outlets are behind a stupid electric rocking horse which pretends to be a car and takes photos when fed money. There, I did it, amazing.

Surrounded is this whole thing by an unholy mess of traffic. The moment you leave the airport you are surrounded with mind-boggling dullness. You stand there for a while, try to get a grip on this spectacle of not even nihilism, and then surrender. This airport has quite obviously been invented long before anything interesting has been invented, including and particularly airport hiking.

This detailed history of the Malaga Airport nicely illustrates what we have suspected all along - shortsightedness rules airport development. This is not necessarily the end of the world. In case of AGP, however, a lack of foresight meets a lack of creativity. This is the combination of inabilities that brought us kick-and-rush football, the Big Bang theory, and the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Ugly stuff.

AGP is currently under construction. They show a 3D model of the anticipated airport outline in the departure hall, which is a nice idea, because it makes the exploration of this disaster so much more convenient. According to this model, the new airport will look exactly like the old one. And although construction sites are of course intrinsically fascinating, I cannot quite see how the transition from one hopelessness to another identical one merits any attention. Even the tower is kind of mainstream here.