A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about airport

Roaming out of Rome

I left Rome in the gloomy rainy November dawn. It was very early, the streets were uncharacteristically quiet. Street lights glinted in the greasy puddles on the bitumen. The metro ride to Termini station was uncrowded, perhaps even pleasant.

I bought my ticket at a Trenitalia ticket machine at Termini, the terminal spitting out a stiff cardboard ticket of immense size, even more substantial than an airline boarding pass. I passed through the tall glass gates to catch the Leonardo Express, the train from Termini to Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino some thirty kilometres to the west.

Trenitalia has no business calling this train the Leonardo “Express”. Yes, it runs non-stop from Termini to Fiumicino. Yes, it is a very nice train with high-backed seats, plentiful luggage space, and more than enough power points and USB ports. But it crawls along the tracks the entire way. The Leonardo Express shares the same tracks as all-stations suburban services and consequently gets stuck behind the slow trains. I felt that I could have walked to the airport quicker.

I was rather impressed by Leonardo da Vinci Airport. Once again I felt that eerie cognitive dissonance tinged with jealousy - how does such a dysfunctional country with such corrupt politicians and unstable governments as Italy manage to build such amazing infrastructure?

A cute little driverless people mover took me swiftly to a satellite terminal where I waited for my Qatar Airways flight to Doha. As the plane took off I got a good view of the mouth of the Tiber and the town of Civitavecchia, once Rome’s port, before the scene was obscured by the low clouds.

The clouds cleared by the time we crossed the Ionian Sea and passed over Greece. The Greek scenery down below was superb - stunning coastlines, soaring mountains, a cobalt blue sea studded with alluring islands, peninsulas and isthmuses. The plane also passed other Athens. I now understood why Athens has such intense air pollution. The city is a crowded metropolis of mid-rise buildings squeezed into a bowl-shaped basin surrounded by a ring of high hills. There scarcely seemed to be an acre of green space in the entire urban area save for around the Acropolis.

The clouds and desert haze returned somewhere after Cyprus. I passed the time watching Head Full of Honey starring Nick Nolte, a cloyingly saccharine film about a grandfather with dementia taking his granddaughter on a railway adventure across Europe to Venice. It wasn’t Old Nick’s best work. As schmalzy as the movie was, it brought back memories of my own beloved Granddad’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.

The plane landed at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar shortly after sunset. I had a wait for a couple of hours in this rather pleasant, well laid out airport. I took the opportunity to stretch my legs, go for a long walk around the terminal and ride the people mover just for laughs to mentally and physically prepare myself for the long, long stretch home.

Posted by urbanreverie 08:35 Tagged airport train italy rome qatar airways doha Comments (0)

The beam out of thine own eye

I have probably had worse starts to holidays. It's just that right now I can't remember them.


I went to bed at about half past midnight after a productive, busy night of packing, laundry, tying loose ends and my customary pre-holiday housework binge. My intention was to get up a little bit earlier than usual to finish my packing, ensure that my apartment was secure and in good order, then take my backpack into the office and work my usual hours. My flight isn't until 10:15pm and it would not be worth going to the office, doubling back home to pick up my luggage, and then going from home to the airport as I would have to pass through Central Station opposite my office again.

I fell asleep unusually quickly at about one o'clock, and then I woke up at a quarter past three in agony. It felt as if a shard of glass were embedded beneath my left eyelid. Every blink, every eyeball movement, resulted in wincing pain and watering eyes. I turned on the bathroom light and spent half an hour with my head under the running tap or the shower head trying to flush the damned thing out of my eye, but it only made things worse. I went back to bed, and every time I fell asleep, ten minutes later I woke up again due to my eyeball moving.
Instead of going to work at my usual time, I went to my local general practice clinic. The doctor had to turn my left upper eyelid inside out and she scraped out the offending item with a flattened cotton swab - a tiny, flat, dark orange piece of debris, shaped like a Google Maps location pin, no more than a millimetre long and a third of a millimetre wide. Neither the doctor or I could identify what it was, but if I had to guess, I would say a tiny little timber splinter. It was amazing how much pain and irritation something so tiny could cause.

I went back home and rested for a couple of hours - I was delirious with fatigue after getting so little sleep - and caught the bus to work, arriving a bit after midday. A few of the boys in the office and I went out for dumplings in Chinatown for lunch. Some decent company and great food made things a little bit better.

I finished work, bought antibiotic eyedrops at a pharmacy, and did the same Urban Reverie's Tightarse Method of Travel to Kingsford Smith Airport as I described in my Sri Lankan blog - namely, catch a train on the Airport Line to Mascot one station before the airport and then change to a 400 or 420 bus to the terminal. For maths nerds, here's the comparison:
TRAIN DIRECT FROM CENTRAL STATION TO AIRPORT: $2.52 off-peak fare × 50% Opal weekly travel reward + $14.87 "airport station access extortion... ahem, fee" = $16.13

URBAN REVERIE'S TIGHTARSE METHOD = ($2.52 off-peak train fare + $2.24 bus - $2.00 Opal transfer discount) × 50% Opal weekly travel reward = $1.38

So, $16.13 versus $1.38. Worth the inconvenience of the transfer, I reckon. The fact that I have reached my weekly Opal travel reward of half-price fares due to making more than eight trips by commuting to and from work makes it even better. The weekly reward discount does not apply to the "airport station access armed robb... ahem, fee".

I spent forty-five minutes in a typically glacial check-in queue, and then endured an equally irksome security screening queue. I then paid five dollars for a bottle of water for the privilege of having to use this extortionate claustrophobic cesspit called Kingsford Smith Airport. I cannot wait to board Qatar Airways Flight QR909 in a few minutes time. Believe me, I cannot wait.

Posted by urbanreverie 00:51 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney chinatown airport public_transport Comments (0)

A stately pleasure-dome decree

View Urban Reverie 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

It was time for my last tuk-tuk ride. And what a ride. After I finished watching the sunset on Negombo Beach I returned to the Heritance Negombo resort, collected my backpack, showered, changed into my plane clothes, and walked onto the street outside and waited for a tuk-tuk. It was a long wait. Thousands of Sri Lankans had headed to the beaches for the Poya public holiday and the roads in Negombo were choked. Every tuk-tuk that farted past me was engaged. Finally, an empty tuk-tuk stopped, the driver quoted me eight hundred rupees to go thirteen kilometres to Bandaranaike International Airport. As soon as we took off he upped the quote to a thousand rupees. That would constitute false or misleading conduct under the Australian Consumer Law but such legal provisions must not apply here. I didn't complain, two hundred rupees is nothing to me.

Every railway station, every government building, every neighbourhood has a Buddha statue in a glass case illuminated at night. Being Poya day, the monthly Buddhist full moon holiday, every one of these shrines had massive crowds of devotees standing next to them. My driver took off down Negombo's back streets. When I questioned him he said it was a short cut. Maybe on any other day. At each shrine we encountered an immovable mass of people who seemed completely deaf to the sounds of the tuk-tuk horns and the horns of every other vehicle trying to get through. "Get off the road, you stupid bloody morons!", I think I shouted at one crowd.

The driver extricated the tuk-tuk from the labyrinth of back lanes crowded with worshippers and turned south on the A3 which was just as congested with traffic headed back to Colombo from the northern beaches. Thankfully my flight wasn't until 00:45 and it was only eight o'clock.

After about half an hour we arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport, a few hundred metres from the terminal because tuk-tuks aren't allowed to enter the terminal roads. I had a long wait. Not many restaurants were open in Negombo due to the public holiday and I thought there would be more to eat at the airport. Before security screening there is an ice cream shop, a place that sells short eats, a mini-Cargill's supermarket, and that was it. It was still too early to check in and there was no seating. I ended up sitting on some large stainless steel box that was used by the luggage trolley collectors as their rest area.

Someone soon joined me, Carmel, a young British traveller. She had missed her flight back to Heathrow due to the insane Poya traffic and had a very long wait for her next flight. Here's the thing - there is actually a railway line that goes nearly all the way to the airport terminal, but it is only used to deliver avgas. How great it would be if passenger trains ran on this branch line, even if it's only once or twice an hour.

We chatted for a while then Carmel left the airport, she was staying with a friend nearby until check-in for her next flight opened.

Bandaranaike is unusual in that security screening is before check-in and baggage drop. I went through security and waited until my flight, Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 469, was ready to check in. All the other flights were shown with green blinking "Check-ins" on the departures screen but not mine.

I waited long enough then decided to walk around. I found the Singapore Airlines queue in a hidden corner. When I dropped my baggage I let them know about the mistake. They were very apologetic and rectified the issue immediately.

I passed through emigration where my passport was stamped out by yet another po-faced, silent, sloth-like immigration officer. Goodbye, Sri Lankan bureaucracy, and good riddance!

There wasn't much food on the other side of emigration. There was a Burger King and a generic bar-restaurant, both selling exorbitant US dollar-priced meals. The Burger King looked slightly less unappetising. I was starving so I paid eighteen American dollars for a Whopper with Cheese value meal. That's twenty-five Australian dollars or about three thousand two hundred rupees. Outside the airport it would have cost one thousand rupees. Outrageous.

I boarded the Airbus 330 at Gate 7 shortly before midnight and we pushed off on time. As soon as we took off I fell asleep for about half an hour, then we were woken up for a meal. I couldn't get back to sleep after that. Red-eye flights are unavoidable for Australians who want to travel the world because, as former Prime Minister Paul Keating said, Australia is at the arse end of the world. They might be unavoidable, but red-eye flights can still go to hell.

We landed at Changi Airport as the peachy sun rose over Singapore. This holiday is the third time I have passed through Changi and each time I visit it seems more impressive. Changi is the only airport I have visited that I don't want to leave as soon as possible. It is part-glitzy shopping centre, part-entertainment complex, part-botanic garden, part-transport facility. Most airports are sterile, generic places but Changi's architecture is interesting and inviting.

I had three hours until my next flight, Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 211 departing Singapore at 10:30. I ambled in sleepless awe around Terminals 2 and 3. I checked out Terminal 2's orchid garden, its sunflower garden, the free cinema that shows free short children's films to keep the little ones amused. I activated my Changi wi-fi account (free for three hours but you have to scan your passport at dedicated computer terminals to get your wi-fi password), looked at all the birthday congratulations flooding through on Facebook. I withdrew fifty Singaporean dollars and grabbed a meal, only seven Singaporean dollars, quite a decent dry chicken curry with noodles. I caught the Skytrain to Terminal 3, the cute little driverless trams with rubber tyres that shuttle people and their luggage between terminals every two minutes.

I changed about forty Singaporean dollars to Australian dollars and asked if I could change the two remaining dollars to the full set of the new Singaporean coins for my collection, which the friendly lady did without any rancour. Often bureaux de change won't do this or they do it with a massive sigh as if I am asking them to do the impossible.

Terminal 3 is the jewel in the Changi crown. It has a butterfly garden. Yes, there is a whole garden, walled off from the rest of the terminal with double plate glass doors and hanging chains, full of tropical plants and butterflies. How many other airports in the world have beautiful butterflies? And affordable good-quality food, and free cinemas, and sunflowers, and cute little driverless trams, and toilets that are constantly cleaned at all times by rotating crews, and bureau de change employees who don't resent innocent coin collectors, and little touch screens outside each toilet asking you to rate your toilet experience, and such well-oiled clinical efficiency in every aspect of airport operations? It was a bit of a shame that I had to board the Boeing 777 back to Sydney.

Butterfly garden at Changi Airport

Butterfly garden at Changi Airport

Butterfly garden at Changi Airport

Butterfly garden at Changi Airport

Koi pond at Changi Airport

Koi pond at Changi Airport

Orchid garden at Changi Airport

Orchid garden at Changi Airport

Free sleeping pods at Changi Airport

Free sleeping pods at Changi Airport

Sunflower garden at Changi Airport

Sunflower garden at Changi Airport

Posted by urbanreverie 03:38 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore airport sri_lanka changi bandaranaike Comments (0)

Singapour, mon premier amour

View Urban Reverie 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

30 January 2019

Singapore was my first ever overseas destination way back in 2010 and it is where I caught the travel bug that will be with me the rest of my life. It is therefore no surprise that I have some affection for the place. Yes, it has a rather nasty authoritarian corporatist government that turns the buttocks of petty criminals into Peck's paste with heavy bamboo canes saturated in water just to make them even heavier and more brutalising, slaps crippling defamation lawsuits on those few brave souls prepared to criticise government leaders, and relies on blatant exploitation of low-skilled foreign labour. So I can't see myself ever living there. But it does have marvellous modern architecture, amazing food, one of the world's greatest public transport systems and a flag-carrier airline that consistently ranks among the world's best.

I had never flown with Singapore Airlines before, nor had I ever flown on an Airbus A380. I was eagerly looking forward to both these things. Singapore Airlines' reputation is well deserved. The service is polite, professional, clinically efficient, and the food is better than in most restaurants on terra firma. The food even comes with proper stainless steel cutlery. The A380 is a commendable enough plane and the seats were comfortable and roomy. The main noticeable difference is how deeply recessed and far away from my seat the window is. I usually book window seats because I like the view but I had to lean all the way to the left to get a glimpse of the terrain eleven kilometres below.

The plane pushed off from Gate 57 at Kingsford Smith's international terminal a few minutes early and we took off from Runway 34L. We banked to the northwest and soon encountered heavy cloud and turbulence until we reached the Outback somewhere west of Tottenham. I kept myself occupied by listening to an excellent Big Ideas podcast from ABC Radio National about the broader socio-economic causes of mental health disorders (look it up - I think the guy's name was Yonah Hari) as well as a podcast from Boonta Vista, a troupe of three young Australians whose programs consist of an hour engaging in sardonic and understatedly hilarious commentary on Australian current affairs. I did the crossword and Sudoku in the complimentary dead-tree edition of the Sydney Morning Herald and watched the Outback scenery glide past thirty-seven thousand feet below. I passed over Lake Eyre, Australia's largest "lake", really just a vast desert salt pan that looks like a giant white turtle.

We also passed right over Uluru, but just as it was about to come into sight, the plane flew over a bank of clouds. I got to see a little glimpse of Katatjuta anyway, a nearby landmark consisting of a few dozen closely-spaced breast-shaped monoliths that is just as interesting and awe-inspiring as its more famous neighbour.

Four hours and twenty minutes after leaving Sydney, Flight SQ 222 finally crossed the western coastline of Australia between Derby and Broome. The vastness of this country is something Australians don't think about often, we are kind of aware of it in the abstract, in the background. It is only when you are flying over it for hours and hours that the colossal magnitude of Australia is brought home to you. The flight is scheduled to take seven hours and twenty-five minutes. That means that over half the flight from Sydney to Singapore consists of just crossing Australia. Broome is closer to Singapore than Sydney.

Night fell as we passed over Bali with its volcanoes puncturing through the soupy mist. Not too long after, we started our descent and I got to see my first love once again, the Lion City with its brilliantly lit waterfront skyline and hundreds of ships scattered through the Malacca Straits like so many Christmas decorations. The plane approached the runway over high-rise housing estates and illuminated sporting fields and the Airbus A380 touched down at Changi.

The plane docked at the far southern end of Terminal 3 from which it was a lengthy walk to the Skytrain, a driverless people mover system with cute little trains that whisk transferring passengers from one terminal to the other. There was only a fifty minute interval between SQ 222 and my next flight so I didn't get to savour too much of Singapore before boarding commenced.

Posted by urbanreverie 22:25 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore airport changi Comments (0)

Out of the frying pan

overcast 30 °C
View Urban Reverie 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

C7ACA9BA-86A9-47F4-BFAA-632F747655B8.jpegF7574A23-2403-4A0E-9DF0-3EF62C5FC775.jpegA5A7CC62-FA77-4403-AAFA-ED8A36C7A389.jpeg1708F442-CBA1-4453-9CE6-54823B97BCE3.jpeg173D5294-E4AD-4EE4-9ACC-CC4391EAA504.jpeg0219F3FF-C411-49F2-B906-E0BC4E15BE10.jpegI awoke early having slept very soundly due to being awake until midnight packing my bag and going on a housework binge. I can't explain it but I always go on a housework binge the night before I go overseas. Perhaps I am subconsciously terrified of an impromptu tenancy inspection by my real estate agent while I am away, or maybe I don't want some burglar to judge me for the soap scum on my shower tiles. In any case, it is baffling because I don't particularly care much for cleaning my flat at any other time.

My flight is due to leave Kingsford Smith at 16:10 so I had a leisurely morning cleaning out the fridge, putting the garbage out, checking and double-checking and triple-checking all the locks, washing up and ironing. I left home shortly before midday and trudged up the steep hill to the station with eleven kilograms on my back in the ghastly humidity of a Sydney summer. The dew point today was a decidedly oppressive 22 °C. Now that climate change well and truly has the world in its grip all the climate zones are shifting. The Queensland climate has moved down to New South Wales, Victoria has inherited the New South Welsh climate and the Victorian climate has cascaded down to Tasmania. Pretty soon Bega will be famous for its bananas rather than its cheese, I fear. I console myself with the fact that I chose a good time of year to go to my tropical destination because the weather over there is certainly no worse than what it is in Sydney right now.

I didn't have to wait too long for the first of many trains on this adventure in which trains shall be a salient feature. The 12:05 Inner West Line service to the City Circle arrived at Summer Hill on time. I boarded the K set grateful for its air conditioning and that I didn't get an even older S set without air con.

I changed at Central to an Airport Line service operated by a Millennium set and got off two stations later at Mascot. Why did I get off at Mascot and not the airport? Because I'm a cheapskate! Ladies and gentleman, please allow me to show you Urban Reverie's Tightarse Guide To Cheap Travel To Kingsford Smith!

The Airport Line was built as one of those dreadful public-private partnerships where large corporations and consultancy firms get to screw the taxpayer and the service user sideways. In return for the private sector building the airport stations (but not the tracks, tunnels or the trains themselves which were all paid for by the state), they get to charge the airport traveller a $14.30 "station access fee" on top of the regular train fare. For Summer Hill to the airport, the regular fare is $3.08 outside of peak hours so I would end up paying $17.38.

But if you get off one station before the airport at Mascot, you avoid the station access fee. There are two bus routes, 400 and 420, that each operate every twenty minutes and combine to come roughly every ten minutes. So you get off the train at Mascot, walk a hundred metres south, cross Coward Street and board a bus at Stand B and you are at the airport within minutes. The cheapskate option from Summer Hill costs only $3.28 ($3.08 train + $2.20 bus - $2.00 transfer discount).

Singapore Airlines baggage drop was quick and efficient except for one lady in front of me who thought it would be a lovely idea to repack her entire luggage at the counter. Seriously, how difficult is it to arrive at an airport well prepared with all your appropriate documentation? There is nothing quite like watching people at airport check-in counters that makes me despair more for the future of the human race. Except perhaps for the comments below every YouTube video. But apart from that, nothing.

I went through customs and immigration, waited forever, got the full-body pat down as usual, almost felt like laughing at how the formerly civilian professional public servants have now been turned into the Australian Border Force complete with starched black uniforms and shiny gold insignia. They look like nothing quite so much as stage extras in some Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera. The militarisation of airport bureaucrats and attempts from some quarters to turn them into heroes is a tad unnerving. Most customs and immigration personnel are no more virtuous or courageous than an average motor registry clerk or Australia Post delivery rider. Yes, the work they do is vitally necessary and socially purposeful and is worthy of respect (and you can't say this about all jobs nowadays). But this idea that airport public servants are up there with people who run into burning blocks of flats to save babies or defuse IEDs on the nature strip of some dusty Afghan highway is absurd. Let's face it - the militarisation of our airports is nothing more than the satisfaction of the uniform fetish of the current Home Affairs Minister.

After passing through passport control and security screening I grabbed some lunch at Sumo Salad and awaited my first plane, an Airbus A380 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 222.

Posted by urbanreverie 19:53 Archived in Australia Tagged trains sydney airport transport Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]