Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/28 posted by hidden europe on

Is not the journey to the airport often one of the great hassles of modern travel? Not all of us can enjoy the relaxed approach taken in the Isle of Man where narrow gauge steam trains pause on request at Ronaldsway Halt, just a short walk from the island's airport.

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Dear fellow travellers

Is not the journey to the airport often one of the great hassles of modern travel? Not all of us can enjoy the relaxed approach taken in the Isle of Man where narrow-gauge steam trains pause on request at Ronaldsway Halt, just a short walk from the island's airport.

Many are the European airports getting ever better rail links. In Athens the metro link to the airport has been upgraded, just reopening this month. In Moscow there is a new direct fast train between Belorusskaya station in the centre of the Russian capital and Sheremetyevo Airport. Good news for the airport, which also last month marked the fiftieth anniversary of its opening.

But there are other airports in Europe which do things differently. Tresco is one of our favourites in this respect. The Isles of Scilly are happily remote from both mainland Britain and modernity. No railway, let alone a car or bus, has yet arrived on Tresco. The island's tiny airport is served only by helicopters (which fly in from Penzance in Cornwall). Most passengers make their way to and from Tresco's tiny grass helipad on foot, but a battery-operated golf cart is usually on hand to assist with luggage transfers to local hotels and even offers a free ride to those not inclined to walk.

Marco Polo Airport in Venice is of course an airport that enjoys excellent boat connections, and the one hour ride on the Alilaguna ferry from the airport to Venice is the best possible introduction to the Adriatic city. But those of a less romantic disposition (or travellers in a hurry) also have the choice of a bus. Not so in Ketchikan in Alaska, where the airport on Gravina Island is reached only by ferry.

Europe has its own version of Ketchikan on the North Sea island of Helgoland. The German island is a rather striking hunk of red rock in the middle of nowhere. The only other land in the vicinity is a tiny slip of an island called Düne just east of Helgoland. Düne has no permanent habitation, but it is home to many seals and an airport. Travellers flying to Helgoland are often surprised to find that they are not landing on Helgoland at all, but on a neighbouring island. Transfer between Düne and Helgoland is by ferry. Not a rail link in sight and no luxury buses lined up outside the airport terminal to ferry folk to their hotels. If fly you must, and well do we appreciate that some folk have little choice, then it's good that one gets a free boat trip thrown in too.

But are there not other European airports which could benefit from better connections by boat to the communities they serve? We recall that prior to the opening of the Öresund Bridge, SAS ran a boat service direct from the Swedish city of Malmö to the terminal buildings at Copenhagen airport. And about ten years ago, Virgin Atlantic ran a boat service connecting Brentford Wharf (on the Thames near Heathrow Airport) with the City of London. The regular Thames Clippers boat services along the River Thames do not quite serve London City Airport. Travellers need to disembark from the boat and hop on the Docklands Light Railway for the final stage of the journey. Still much better than having to cope with London traffic. It is a model that could surely be emulated at other European airports that are close to waterways.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.