Waiting to take off

I love airports. Simple as that

Some more, some less, but I love the rush, departure boards, annoying security check queues and the thrill of an upcoming flight. For me, an airport is the place where my traveling adventures begin and end. Differently put, my travels do not begin when deciding how many trousers and pair of hiking shoes I need to pack or end with countless laundries I need to start after each trip. Rather, it is the airport that marks my trip. I have traveled across five continents and have to admit, there are some airports that I am still looking forward to passing through, and some that give me rather negative chills.

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Ataturk Airport in Istanbul from the plane

My favourite airport has got to be Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. Majority of my travels are with Turkish Airlines, hence it is at this particular airport where I spend lots of time arriving, transferring and departing. There are much bigger airports in the world, but I tend to favour this one.

Ataturk Airport is crowded at all times. You will see all types of passengers passing through its corridors 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. On the way to your gate, you will walk by the Asian tourists crowding by the departures board, backpackers sleeping off the weariness of the different time zones on their way back home, Hajj pilgrims queuing for flights to Jeddah, and of course business travelers in their suits flipping through their very important business papers. But a search for a cart is always like looking for a holy grail: You know it exists somewhere, but no one can find an available one.

As a result of countless visits to this airport, I already have a pattern of what shops I go to, what cafes or restaurants I eat in, and what souvenir shops are best avoided. Of course, food is an important part of the travel process. Food court and cafes are always packed there, but having a big glass of tea with honey in Cakes&Bakes after a morning flight, or lentil soup with fresh beans and lime lemonade on the side (a must try!) in the lounge before an evening flight is exactly what is needed to relax before the last part of the journey.

Two other airports placed high on my list are the Kastrup International Airport in Denmark and Changi International Airport in Singapore. I do not fly via Copenhagen very often anymore, but if I visit my old neighbourhood, there are a few must do things:

First on the agenda is always the Peas of mind juice and avocado sandwich at Joe & the Juice. I was never too keen on this particular chain establishment while still living in Copenhagen due to its seemingly arrogant service and guys wearing too tight t-shirts with really bad attitude, all of whom seem to imagine being the character played by Tom Cruise in the movie “Cocktail”. But it is worth shouting your order through the music playing at a night club’s decibels –something one inevitably always have to do- just to get this wonderful combination.

After Joe the Juice, I make a quick visit to Lagerhuset to buy a chocolate or blueberry muffin or both. Lagerhuset is a well-known bakery chain in Denmark, offering the best pastries and breads in the country. Their cakes are so decadent, that even your hips stop sending warning signals after two nice chocolate muffins. There are always two or three of them hiding in my bag for the car ride back from the airport to my home.

The last one I want to mention is the Singaporean airport, the Changi International Airport. It is a rather aged airport, but it is filled with fresh orchids and has one advantage above all the other airports: the cookie shop!

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Singapore in the morning during landing in Changhi Airport

There is one particular place that offers traditional Singaporean cakes and cookies, namely Bengawan Solo. This is the place where tourists queue for kueh and their cookies. My internal GPS is normally set for a box of almond cookies but I occasionally stray to peanut cookies as well. My guilty pleasure cookies are called Almond Nut Crunchies. As the name indicates, they are rather heavy on your stomach, but they are truly delicious nevertheless! The almond on top is the perfect ending to the full cookie experience. I can usually enjoy a few at a time, normally not listening to the objections offered by my stomach.

Unfortunately there are two airports that have left me with rather poor impressions. First one is the Almaty International Airport in Kazakhstan. It may not look that bad from the outside, but inside of the terminal is quite terrifying. When you cross the check-in and passport control areas, you enter virtually a twilight zone.

The waiting area is tiny with a stale air, stinking normally of cigarette smoke. This part of the airport looks gloomy and grey, and seems that it has not seen wall paint in few decades. There is also one suspicious looking café where passengers try to drink something that resembles some form of a weak coffee. The entire interior design brings you back to grey times of the Soviet Union and it is a pity that I did not manage to take any pictures of the place. Suffice to say, I was very happy when my flight left on time.

The second one is Santos Dumont Domestic Airport in Rio de Janeiro. This small airport is conveniently located in the city, 2km from the business area. Its airstrip was built in such a way that is surrounded by water from three sides. Its location makes landings and take-offs challenging and pilots have to be quite skilled to control the plane in a proper way to control the plane during first and last few minutes of the flight. One little mistake can cause the machine to roll down to the water. This has apparently happened on a few occasions, as I was informed while waiting to be checked-in.

Now, imagine chaos, Latin American style, and you are in check-in area. Several airline companies, check-in booths and hundreds of passengers trying to get to different cities in Brazil. The most amazing thing is that you never know whether you will depart on the flight that you had booked and or at the scheduled time. It is all more of a surprise. While standing in the check-in line, you may find out that our flight is canceled, rescheduled or rescheduled yet again. You will not know on what new flight you are on until you reach the desk of a crew who – in our experience were very nice – but barely speak English.

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Sunrise

Interestingly enough, the flight times are indicated in a most peculiar way. There are dozens of flights within an hour, but they do not depart at most common times, like 10.00 or 10.15. The Brazilians like to have journeys that begin at 10.02, 10.13, 10.17, 10.24 or 10.39. I must be very European in this, but these odd flight times puzzle me till today.

Despite the size of the airport, small or big, international or domestic, it is thrilling to be embarking on a new voyage. The excitement of exploring a new country or simply revisiting others takes over any possible traveling related anxieties, when you sit by your gate, waiting to be boarded and watching your luggage, thrown on the belt going up to be loaded onto the plane. Somewhere deep down you hope that your luggage is loaded on to the right plane and you can enjoy your two pairs of trekking shoes at your destination. Then you finally hear the much anticipated “we are ready for boarding” announcement and you are on your way to embark on another adventure. Preferably just after a good snack and a muffin in the bag.

So, tell me folks, which airport you cannot wait to visit? Or which airport do you prefer to avoid?

Do you like to snack before the flight or simply wait for the surprising airline food?

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