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.