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Why I love YWG

No. 1 reason? It means I am home

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Debbie Ristimaki likes to people-watch at the airport.


Debbie Ristimaki likes to people-watch at the airport. Photo Store

Don't laugh, but one of my favourite places is YWG, also known as the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

Despite Winnipeg's reputation regarding its weather and the good-natured ribbing I have taken from friends and family for having moved here from Montreal, it has not been about it being an escape route. There are, of course, exceptions. Having endured the coldest winter in years in my first year as a Winnipegger, this may have been the case -- but I digress.

Reflecting on the not-so-distant past, my first impression of this beautiful city was, of course, the airport. A modern and surprisingly large one that, the Winnipeg Airport Authority says, welcomes 3.5 million travellers each year. That is a lot of foot traffic and should you find yourself embarking or disembarking at gates 11 or 12 for example, foot traffic is what you will experience.

I love to people-watch, and as a frequent traveller, I get to do that at airports across the country. But there is something to be said about indulging at one's home airport. It's that familiarity with the environment. You wonder about your fellow travellers and their stories. What is their draw? Work? Play? Family vacation? How long has their journey been? Of course, tired and/or screaming children might hold other clues as well.

There is definitely a lot to take in and that is not even considering the shops and restaurants.

Speaking of shops and restaurants, some weeks I am torn between two of my favourite pit stops. When the day calls for something smooth, then Timmy's does the trick. Or, if truth be told, it might just be a case of running short on time and Timmy's is closest to my gate. If, however, a jolt is what is called for, then the Starbucks at the opposite end is the draw. Everything in between, be it the views, the fellow travellers and even the merchants, are what I consider to be snapshots of my journey that I file away to share and reflect on at a later time.

When arriving at YWG, there is no doubt that taking that first step onto the bridge to the parking garage in winter can be a shock to the system even when expecting it. But then again, it means that I am home and it reminds me I should have done my coat up.

It never ceases to amaze me that the distance to the baggage carousel always seems to be twice as long as the distance from the carousel to the gate when I left. I am still trying to get my head around that. At the end, the escalator ride awaits -- one that offers a clear view of the waiting area and its usually impatient visitors. Even before I am down and into the fray, I can feel the emotions and the excitement in the air.

There are parents and grandparents, spouses and partners, all waiting for their loved ones. You can see them pacing and stretching to see who will be next on the escalator to descend. Even the children join in. You see the disappointment when it is not who they are waiting for -- and the joy when it is.

Cameras are ready; bouquets of flowers are held like precious cargo. Perhaps it is corny to admit, but the best gifts I have seen given and I have received are the ones from the heart -- the smiles that extend from ear to ear and the hugs and kisses that follow. Then, there is the Hug Rug, which many lovers shyly take advantage of. It's a mat I am too shy to use, but one that nevertheless brings a smile to my face. Those not comfortable with public displays of affection gingerly skirt it and hug and kiss to the side, where they think nobody is looking. They are, of course, kidding themselves; there are many more people-watchers out there just like me!

What I love most about my favourite place? Knowing I am home.


Debbie is a facilitator and leadership coach with a major financial institution. She continues to enjoy experiencing the diversity of the country as she travels for work while exploring everything her new hometown of Winnipeg has to offer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2014 A8

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