A wonderful four days in Hong Kong convinced me yet again that it really is the most fantastic city in Asia. If you can concoct a reason to get there it's worth every cent. Just make sure you stop in for dim sum at Lan Fong Yuen in Central.
But steamed dumplings aside, my little sojourn to the other side of the world got me thinking about airports.
Flying to Joburg last Sunday morning I used the gleaming new terminal at Cape Town International for the first time. The upgrade is long overdue and the calibre of the airport finally matches the destination. From Cape Town it was through ORTIA and over to Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong. Four days in the city and then back the same way.
Designed by British architect Norman Foster, Chek Lap Kok is easily one of the world's most impressive air hubs (pipped to the post by Singapore's Changi), but the revamped Cape Town and ORTIA aren't half bad either. And, as I say, all this time in airports got me thinking.
"... it's all pretty damn impressive ..."
Despite the privilege of travel, travellers love to complain about everything from late aircraft to crowded airports. But stop and think about it for a minute. Moving thousands of people ? with their thousands of bags, baby-carriers and paraphernalia ? across cities, countries and continents, with only a tiny fraction of things going wrong? When you think about the logistics of it all it's pretty damn impressive.
Sitting here sipping on my latte I was hard-pressed to think of many times in my travels when airports have truly become a nightmare. Granted, Nairobi International is a bit of a dump, but a few delayed fights and the occasional night on a cold steel bench (usually self-inflicted, by not forking out for an airport hotel) is the tally of my misfortune.
I've heard the horror stories of bags taking a detour via Middle-of-nowhere-Stan, but in all my travels I have ? touch wood ? never had bags go missing and only once been hit for a bribe. That was in Madagascar, for carrying a gramophone of all things, but that's another story.
And don't forget that moving passengers and their bags through the airport is only a fraction of what needs to be done. Planes arrive, get cleaned, refueled, checked by engineers and sent merrily on their way. They also need to be restocked with everything from food and cutlery to newspapers, blankets and bathroom spritzers.
Shopping malls with planes?
When I visited behind the scenes at Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong last year I learnt that an average 747 will be stocked with a staggering 40 000 items before it is ready to fly. Now you know why planes are such a mess when you land!
If there's a complaint to be made it's that airports are veering dangerously towards shopping malls with incidental parking spaces for planes. Putting a few extra chairs (hell, maybe even give them cushions?) isn't going to stop me browsing the shops, I promise, but at least give me somewhere to sit once I've maxed my credit card on Duty Free whisky and perfume?
And although restaurants have a captive audience, there's really no need to charge me R18 for a coffee that is exceptional only in its ability to be undrinkable. For the record, Vida does not fall into this category.
Speaking of coffee, mine's run dry, so I'd better go back to the shouty-black-guys (perhaps they should tone it down for red-eye travellers?) and order another. But hopefully you get my point?
Douglas Adams once jibed that "It's no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase 'As pretty as an airport" appear'," but I'm inclined to disagree with him.
Complain as we do, I'm pretty impressed with South Africa's airports and an injection of World Cup investment has brought our two main hubs to world-class standards. We might not have the indoor waterfalls of Changi, or the reclaimed runways of Chek Lap Kok, but ? for the next 200 days at least ? we're still the only place in the world with big blue football clocks.
Or am I living in a fool's paradise? Are airports are an incarnation of hell, or portals to an exciting world of travel? Post your comments below?