Well-kept Secrets of European Airports

I’ve been on the road recently. So:

1) The Billa Supermarket in Vienna International (Wien-Schwechat). It’s located on the arrivals level; walk out of customs, turn left, go past the McDonalds, down the long corridor, and turn left.

In addition to the usual supermarket stuff, it has cold shelves full of salads and sushi, an icebox full of smoothies, and a deli that makes sandwiches to order. All fresh and tasty, and less than half what it will cost at one of the overpriced eateries on the departure level or out by the gates. The only drawback is that there’s noplace to eat it, but this didn’t slow me down — I sat on the stairs outside, while everyone went by on the escalators.

2) The showers at Frankfurt airport. Terminal 1, Departure Hall B, outside security. Two each, male and female. Used to be 5 euros each though that might have changed. Nobody knows about these, which is a damn shame. If you’re travelling in Europe, you’ll have to spend some time in Frankfurt airport, so why not take the chance to freshen up?

3) The kids’ playroom at Budapest Ferhegy. Okay, I wouldn’t exactly call this a secret — it’s not hard to find — but it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen: a small indoor playground with a toy chest, free video games and a changing room. Weary parents and squirrelly kids alike will find this a blessed oasis. If only more airports had this!

Add your own.

Some thoughts on borders

One of the things about living in an island state is that you rarely cross over national borders on land. To get to any other country from Britain you have to fly, sail or travel underground and all these have their various formalities for border crossing and, like most Britons travelling abroad, my travels within Europe in recent years have been a case of going from Britain to another country and then coming back.

So, on a day trip to France on Monday, we took a brief detour into Belgium and crossed a European border on land for the first time in several years. Having spent some time travelling through the US last year, it was quite an interesting experience to notice how little paraphernalia there is to mark the border nowadays, especially compared to the changes you notice on the borders of many US states. A simple ‘Belgie’ sign, a sign telling you the new speed limits and a single police car on the French side of the border are all that marks the transition from one country to another, which is a rather strange state of affairs. There are obvious differences that soon become apparent – the signs are now in Flemish, rather than French, and there are subtle differences in architecture – but the ease with which one can now cross borders within Europe is, in my opinion, one of the great benefits of European integration.

However, even though the physical borders have gone, it does not mean that there has been any homogenisation of the culture across the border. Adinkerk, the first town across the border in Belgium, is still unmistakeably Flemish, even with the large number of shops there selling cheap tobacco to British (and now also French, after their tobacco tax rises on Monday) visitors, and the other side of the border is still clearly French.

Anyway, what I want to do here is open up the floor to our readers for your thoughts on and experiences of travelling across borders. Are there places where the borders are unnoticeable physically and culturally? Where are there still strong border controls within the EU? What do you think the future is culturally for the borderlands of Europe? Will they maintain their identity or will continual cross-border traffic eventually create a homogenous border culture?

And, for a quick consumer travel tip for our readers. If you are planning on travelling between Britain and France then Eurotunnel are currently charging ?39 (approx ?59) to take a car and passengers for a day return trip.