Did you buy biscuit tins with Eiffel tower at Paris airport, and what about sizzling dosa at the Bangalore airport?
While most people look on an airport from the functional point of view — as a transit area when you are going from point A to point B, they are the first, last and sometimes only view of a city you might get. If you have hours to kill, thanks to humongous layovers, then New York’s John F. Kennedy airport is fun. You might go through some crazy industrial tunnel kind of space and suddenly you are inside this swanky terminal. There are all sorts of food echoing New York’s cosmopolitan nature — I got chatting with a pretty Sinhalese girl about the rival merits of different kinds of sambol as I ordered extra cheesy fries and a gargantuan banana walnut muffin to fortify myself for a trans-Atlantic flight.
All dino fans would be thrilled to bits at being greeted by the grinning bony head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex at Pittsburgh International Airport. From the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, T-Rex between two escalators is just what you’d like to be welcomed by — if you are dino fan that is. Or you could feel like Robert Plant as a traveller of both time and space.
Charles De Gaulle in Paris is all ooh la la! You can buy a bit of Paris in the form of biscuit tins with the Eiffel tower on it, chocolates or perfumes. What I loved were these couches lined up against huge glass windows where you could catch 20 winks or if you are like that character in Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English August who loved to watch planes land and take off, you could do just that.
Frankfurt is functional and there is no chance of you getting lost with lots of helpful signs as well as readily available shop directories. The airport would be your last chance to buy some of that amazing German bread you feasted on through your stay. If by some evil twist of fate, you were unable to go to Harrods’ in London, Heathrow has a Harrods’ counter where you could pick up a tin of English breakfast tea.
Changi Airport in Singapore is quite the little township with a movie theatre and mind blowing duty free. Kuala Lumpur International Airport in neighbouring Malaysia, while not as vast, has some cool local art on bookmarks. Walking into Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is like entering orchid zone — the pretty purple blooms are everywhere and on everything from key chains to snow globes, bookmarks to fridge magnets. Hong Kong International Airport is huge but make time as you are dashing from Gate 12 to Gate 42 to take a picture in front of these lovely black and white photos of old Hong Kong , even if it means running on the travelator.
While James Bond decided to marry Tracy (in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) as he waited exhausted after escaping Blofeld’s thugs in Zurich Airport after an uninspiring breakfast., The airport is a marvel of sleek design and good food options. The fact that the bus and terminals are right there ensures that you do not have to step out into the bitter cold on a dreary winter morning to get into town or head off to Piz Gloria to capture an evil megalomaniac masquerading as a count.
Culture vultures could look forward to being stuck at Athens International airport as there is a museum there. Inaugurated in 2003, a majority of the 170 odd pieces including amphoras, tools and sculptures dating from Neolithic times were uncovered when the airport was being constructed — it seems you cannot escape history in Greece!
Back home, the Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi is vast and has enough eating, shopping and spa options to help you effortlessly kill time. The Bengali alphabets in fancy fonts on the ceiling of the international departure terminal at the spanking new Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata is eye-catching.
While you’d tend to notice stuff about airports, the same doesn’t hold true about your home airports —you’d never be stuck there in transit, you’d never shop there as you would have finished your shopping in town and when you get off a plane you’d hardly dawdle around; you’d just hare it to the bus terminal or the taxi rank and wonder if you could make it in time for dosa and chicken curry from Empire.
That is why a walk through Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport was an eye opener. For one, the airport in the day and at night are two totally different beasts. Especially in the morning, the check-in counters are eerily empty.
The international departure terminals have an eyeful of duty free shops with the usual suspects, perfumes and cosmetics and unusual suspects like electronics. Apart from Shoppers Stop and Fab India, there are the super kitschy souvenirs from Chumbak and its ilk. The O2 spa promises to rejuvenate and business travellers can head to the Plaza Premium Lounge for an office away from office — and silly me thought one travels to get away from work.
If you have to have one more dosa before you head off across the ocean , head for 7 Tavas with hectic live cooking as parathas crackle and dosas sizzle on many counters. Malgudi Tiffin Centre in the domestic terminal offers the best of food from the four southern states.
While I love all airports for that transitory feeling, from the quaint one in Bokhara, Uzbekistan, where they handwrite boarding passes to the business-like Sydney Airport, an airport I wouldn’t mind being stranded in would be Bhutan’s Paro Airport. Thanks to a fog, I got to spend a day there. The traditional wooden building in warm, earth colours with carved pillars and pagodas nestles deep within a valley. As I stepped out on to the runway and looked at the mountains towering to 18,000 feet, it was easy to forget smart phones and social networks; easy to step back to a time of flying lamas, robust people, metal bridges, hardy dzongs, Tiger’s Nest monasteries and of course the migou.