Saturday, 28 February 2009

Changi airport - "Enjoy the elegance"

Flying isn't really that high up on the list of things I enjoy doing. In fact over the years I've taken a couple of courses to overcome a fear which I consider to be completely rational.

Nor am I the world's greatest fan of airports. They serve a purely functional purpose as far as I'm concerned, namely a point of departure, transfer or arrival - and basta.

All right so I'll admit that I get quite a buzz from pitching up at the arrivals hall to collect someone.

It's more than a little moving to see the pure joy with which people greet each other after time spent apart.

And of course I've become quite emotional when seeing couples cling hold of one another for the longest time until one of them finally has to make their way through passport control.

But that aside airports leave me pretty cold.

Or they did until this past week.

You see my recent "encounter" with Singapore's Changi airport has rather changed the way I feel.

Much has been written about the airport, its magnificent modernity and ample amenities (apologies for the alliterative overload there - I honestly didn't just swallow a thesaurus).

In fact it's probably hard to find anything new and original to say - apart that is from my own personal impressions as a first time visitor.

So with that in mind, and just in case you've never had the chance to pass through, here goes.

Over the past couple of decades there seems to have been the trend at many of the world's major airports (or at least the ones I've visited) for them to become a shopper's paradise.

Both Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (Paris) and Heathrow (London) - two airports I know particularly well - offer a bemusing array of choice for those in desperate need of a little retail therapy or simply the desire to flex a bit of plastic to while (or wile if you prefer) away the wait.

I have - in my rather superior way - tended to scoff at such unsubtle attempts to have me part with my hard earned pennies (or centimes).

Changi tests such resolve to the limits as you can quite literally "shop 'til you drop" or at least until the credit card has been maxed out.

Changi airport, koi pond

To start off with of course there are all the "usual suspects" - in the form of booze, ciggies and smelly stuff.

There's not just the chance to hang out at one duty free shop, but in the terminal I went through - three.

If it's CLOTHES you're after (and it has to be capitalised) and DESIGNER LABELS (so does that) to boot, then you're in for an enormous "treat".

Burberry, Dolce and Gabbana, Bally, Hermes, and Zegna. Gucci, Hugo Boss, YSL, and Esprit. even Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes have got in on the act - a none too gentle reminder perhaps that since last year Singapore has played host to the only night time grand prix on the Formula One (circus) circuit.

The list could go on and on and on, but you've probably got the picture.

Looking for a watch? Hello Tag Heuer, Omega, Swatch, Tissot or Longines....and once again I could go on, but.

Then of course there's the chance to buy luggage - just in case (ouch) you haven't already checked in far too much and are looking to reinvest in something sturdier, flashier, more designer-labelly.

Changi gives you the chance to do just that with a suitcase mantra that includes, Samsonite, Delsey, Victorinox, Mandarina Duck and heck let's face it, just about any clothes or perfume designer you care to mention that seems to have jumped upon the baggage accessory bandwaggon.

Now here's a thing. How exactly are you supposed to take on board a newly-purchased oversized piece of luggage that doesn't meet the carry-on restrictions? Search me.

For technology geeks there are stores galore and the chance to drool over the Apple Macbook Air (a fellah can dream) and hundreds of gadgets that do goodness knows what - I certainly didn't have a clue, I just knew I wanted them - all.

There's a specialist French wine shop (a bit "coals to Newcastle", but that didn't stop me looking) books in a variety of languages and regional crafts stores.

If shopping - real or window - isn't exactly what you're after, then there's plenty else on offer at the airport's spacious and carpeted - yes that's right in places it's almost wall-to-wall woven stuff - terminals.

Check out the space specifically dedicated for children (and adults) to scribble and trace to their hearts' content.

Changi airport - scribble and trace area

Golfers can practise their putting, there's a cinema, live music, a swimming pool (terminal One) and five separate, perfectly-maintained miniature "gardens" featuring ferns, orchids, bamboo, sunflowers and cactus. There's even a koi pond.

Hungry? There are restaurants everywhere featuring food from all "four corners of the globe". Thirsty? Ditto - including Harry's Bar - make mine a double and easy on the ice.

There's free - yes sorry to have to keep repeating myself, but FREE wifi access available and not just for business travellers. That's s bit of a novelty for any European who might be used to having to pay.

All that and much more (I've probably missed out a huge chunk) in an airport that is clean - oh sorry CLEAN - and easy to find your way around.

There are none of those bewildering signs that seem to point you in all possible directions at the same time (anyone who has had the misfortune of passing through terminal E at Roissy recently, where organised chaos and interminable queues are par for the course, will know exactly what I mean) and there's even someone to hand out sparklingly spotless trolleys (are they all brand new?) to help you lug your almost overweight carry-on around.

The blurb in the airport brochure runs "Enjoy the elegance" and that's exactly what Changi offers.

If you turn up far too early or have an overly long stopover, it doesn't really matter. You won't be bored.

And the beauty of it all is that you don't really need to shell out buckets full of dosh to enjoy yourself.

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