Anyone has walked around the ruins of Portus near the Fiumicino airport outside Rome appreciates how the sheer size of the harbours and ports has been among us for millennia. Even if the history of popular air travel has not even reached a century, flying has left easily recognisable structures all over the world. Yes, I admit that in many far-flung places the air strips are just that – strips – in the jungle or a flat area along the coast. However, the largest airports fill hectares and the support structures around them are huge. Drive to Heathrow and try to find your way around different hotel areas and parking lots!
Now when I live in two different countries I get to visit different airports every month. Just in last two weeks I have familiarized myself with different terminals at Stockholm, landed to Birmingham and flew off from the City airport. Birmingham airport became most memorable because of the late coach that risked me catching my connection and getting home in time, whereas Stockholm Terminal 5 was huge with row after row of fashion boutiques but a ladies toilet with only two booths. And one of the booths had the only baby change facilities in the toilet. Next to a coffee shop. Long way from the next ladies toilet. Had to be a male architect!
The real revelation was the City airport in London. I admit I took the advice from some random web site for face value and ended up doing a longer journey than I should have, but I was amazed by the landscapes I could see from the Dockland Light Railway. For the first time I saw the profile of Canary Wharf in real life with the skyscrapers rising high. Suddenly I passed the Millennium Dome – I mean the O2 Arena. It was as pointless-looking as in the photos or Google Earth but bigger. One passed the Thames flood defences and numerous shining funky town houses, old sugar factories and wasteland. Then there was the airport itself. Just an airstrip and a ‘box’ along the canal side. I have to go again just to marvel the river and the changing urban make-up.