Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Soho's Ba Shan: Hunan cuisine full of fire and flavour

Review by Leyla Kazim

Chinese restaurants get a lot of stick. At least, they do from me. This is because most of them are appalling. 

Greasy piles of substandard meat and carbs swimming in radioactive sauces, slopped onto plates or stuffed into tin vessels, with a side of self-loathing big enough to make you want to drain the MSG directly from your veins. Menus read of generic fried vegetables with a stock protein in a thick sauce, dozens of chow mein options, and a selection of sweet and sour dishes and fried rices; plates of fodder adapted to be blander, thicker and sweeter for the Western palate. This is not what Chinese people eat. 

These routine menu items do nothing to accurately represent the full repertoire of Chinese cuisine: the country is enormous, as is the range of cooking that goes on there. Food is regional and style is distinctive, with influences taken from resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle.

The province of Hunan is located in the south-central part of China; a little piece of it can also be found in Soho with the name of Ba Shan above the door. Owned by the people who run the Szechuan sister, Barshu, over the road, it boasts an all Hunanese menu developed with Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop. If your idea of a great meal is having your chops whalloped with fire and flavour, there is little need to entertain the thought of dining anywhere else in town.

"This is food that doesn’t just pay a visit to your taste buds, it conquers them outright." 

Piquant preserved yard-long beans chopped into chewy segments provided an unusual but stellar texture for the vegetable. Stir-fried with stiff boards of salty Chinese bacon and slithers of preserved crisp garlic, it was a piled high plate of spicy and savoury splendour. 

Square slabs of crispy fried tofu with soft middles saturated with black bean sauce squelched between the teeth, the dark viscous extract coating the inside of the mouth with its sloppy fermented pungency. Both plates were furnished with festive chunks of hot green chillies and even hotter red and both had me at their complete mercy - these are precisely the sort of flavour sensations my palate craves for on a daily basis.

A heap of aubergine mush pounded into submission with garlic and sesame presented still in its mortar, and a plate of slippery wood ear fungus, did wonders at pacifying blistering tongues. The glistening quivering dark mushrooms looked freshly hauled from a sea bed; dressed with vinegar, garlic and chillies they were cool, tangy, crunchy and slipped down barely touching the sides.

The restaurant decoration keeps with tradition, with Chinese lanterns, dark wood and walls adorned with images of Chairman Mao. Service was perfectly acceptable; whilst perplexity flashed across the faces of several waiters at the request of additional coriander (a request left unfulfilled - ‘it’s just for decoration, we don’t have any more’), tea was topped up, words were said smiling and despite advance warning of a 1.5hr time limit for the table, we were there for two with no problem. In other words, for a Chinese restaurant, the service was excellent.

The heat from Hunanese cuisine, whilst almost ubiquitous in its presence, is less of the type that leaves a fat tongue hanging out of your mouth in a desperate search for cold lactose. It’s more penetrating than that, permeating through to your core and the very marrow of your bones, leaving a subtle tingling sensation at the corners of your mouth on the way in. I don’t know how they do this, but it’s excellent. 

This is food that doesn’t just pay a visit to your taste buds, it conquers them outright. Planting the flag of flavour firmly into its new found territory to mark its occupation, the food from Ba Shan will leave an impression deep enough that you won’t be able to hold off your next visit for too long.

Ba Shan, 24 Romilly St, London W1D 5AH

Leyla Kazim is T-VINE's chief food critic and a respected food blogger. Follow her work online at: The Cutlery Chronicles or on twitter @LeyLaLaa

Monday, 28 April 2014

Pharmacist Feriha Ibrahim joins the T-VINE editorial team

The Özdemirs, from L-R: Ayşe, Feride, Halil & Feriha 
With a pharmacist father Halil Özdemir, A-grade chemistry student Feriha Ibrahim knew which profession she wanted to pursue before she had even left school. Pharmacy was her ideal career, as it combined her passion for health care with business.

She graduated from Kings College, University of London, with a Masters Degree in Pharmacy in 2004 and did a year of vocational training at Whipps Cross hospital.  She then worked in several chemists in southeast London before taking up a permanent post in her family’s pharmacy in Leytonstone, which has served the community since 1982. 

A few years ago her sister Ayşe also qualified as a pharmacist, and together with their younger sister Feride, they decided to expand the family business. Earlier this year, the Özdemirs opened a second Woodside Pharmacy branch also in Leytonstone E11, which Feriha now manages.

Feriha said: “With it often taking days before patients get to see their GP, people are increasingly turning to their local pharmacists for good advice on a range of health issues.”

She joins our editorial team, so look out for her topical health-tips in T‑VINE’s Wellbeing section online each month and bi-monthly in the magazine.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

London exhibition celebrating Atatürk and children opens today


A visual exhibition opens in London today about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s love of children and the importance he placed upon their role in society. Musical composer Denis Erd and Müge Bakırcıoğlu of Moontop Productions have teamed up to create a photography and video exhibition documenting how the founder of the Turkish Republic gave greater prominence to children. In 1920, Atatürk created the world’s first Children’s Day and in 1921, the Turkish Parliament declared 23 April a national holiday. It has inspired many other countries to join Turkey’s annual celebration of children.

Bakırcıoğlu, a former producer of children’s programmes for Turkey’s national broadcaster TRT and who has been based in London for the past four years, had the idea to pull together a special exhibition on Atatürk and children. She told T-VINE: “He believed children are the future, that children are our hope, so he gifted them this day – the first of its kind in the world. We wanted to let people outside of Turkey see his unique contribution. We have been fortunate in securing photos and film footage of Atatürk with children from the Ankara Mausoleum – the first time such material will be seen in the UK.”

The Mausoleum has also sent key historical books from their archives, which document the importance of National Children’s Day. In addition, TRT have provided video footage of their colourful international Children’s Festivals. They launched the annual event back in 1979 – another world first for Turkey. Since then, the number of children participating on 23 April from countries around the world has grown considerably. In 2012, they came from over 40 countries including Bulgaria, China, Kenya, Indonesia, Russia, South Korea, and Venezuela.

The London exhibition is at the Lifetime Learning Centre and will be formally opened by Ünal Çevikoz, the Turkish ambassador to London, with a cocktail reception this evening. The Turkish Minister of Education Uğur Yıkan and senior diplomats from the TRNC and Azerbaijan London embassies are also expected to attend. The project is being supported by Anıtkabir Komutanlığı (Atatürk Ankara Mausoleum Headquarters), Tas Restaurants, Hey Print and Turkuas UK. The display will be open for public viewing until this Sunday. 

Exhibition Dates:  23-27 April 2014
Address: Lifetime Learning Charity, 223 Marsh Wall, Snowdon House, London E14 9FJ (exhibition is on ground floor)
Opening Times: 10am – 5pm (from Thursday 24-Sunday 27 April)
Entry: FREE

Public transport: nearest station is South Quay (DLR) 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

London Hidrellez Spring Festival


According to Turkish folklore Hızır is a prophet who became immortal by drinking the Water of Life. He is now thought to wander among people in the spring, helping those in difficulty by granting them good health, fortune and other wishes. While it’s not exactly clear when and where Hızır lived, his legacy lives on as the symbol of Spring and new life. 

Each year at the beginning of May, a special festival called Hidrellez is celebrated in Turkey and the wider region, drawing on the rituals and customs of Ancient Mesopotamia, in the hope the prophet Hızır will grant their wishes. Zet Productions brought the festival concept to the UK last year. Expect another explosion of colour, live music and dancing from this year’s party. 

The one-night only event presents a wealth of Turkish, Roma Gypsy and Balkan artists, including the Naci Gören Orchestra, Melisa Yavas, and Hayalet. There will also be food, a bar, stalls and a giant wishing tree. 

Event date: Sunday 04 May 2014

Venue address: Cypriot Community Centre, Earlham Grove, Wood Green, London N22 5HJ
Event starts: 7pm
Tickets:  £10 adv/£15 on door


Monday, 21 April 2014

Go visit the Museum of London

A piece from the Cheapside Hoarde, part of a special display of Tudor & Stuart jewels at the Museum of London
By Muhsin Mustafa

I must confess I hadn’t been to Museum of London until a few months ago: it is now one of my favourites. Its architecture and size doesn’t measure up to that of the British Museum, but it has so much to offer. Set out in a chronological order, it flows smoothly from one era to the next, helping you to live the story of life in London.

The first exhibit is London before London: from the prehistoric age to AD 50, with a vast collection of objects. It leads to Roman London, then to Medieval London. There’s also War, Plague and Fire, each helping visitors to visualise difficult times in the City.

Venture to the lower floor for the Victorian Walk, Modern London and Expanding City for more displays. These include clothes, jewellery, veteran cars and the first mobile phone. In the City Gallery, set your sights on the amazing coach that carries the Lord Mayor of the City of London.

There are often special collections that require paid entry. Currently it’s the stunning Cheapside Hoard comprising around 500 pieces of Tudor and early Stuart era jewels , jewellery and hair ornaments. It is the largest surviving collection from the period – Tudor jewellery was very often reset and reused. This special display ends on Sunday 27 April. 

The museum offers many attractions for all the family to have fun and learn at the same time. There are short videos on the Great Fire of London and the Plague, as well as the pleasure gardens, visual interactive Q&A tables and much more.

Take in one of the regular guided tours and talks available each day for stories and facts that are not available via the exhibit plaques.

Free entry, Barbican. museumoflondon.org.uk

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Atlasjet to resume London-İstanbul-Lefkoşa flights from May

British Turkish travel agents & media get to see Atlasjet & London Luton Airport up close on their tour in March 

Turkish carrier Atlasjet is returning to London to launch scheduled flights between London Luton Airport and Ercan Airport in North Cyprus via İstanbul Atatürk Airport. The new service launches on 2nd May with four flights per week, increasing to daily from June. Entering into a crowded marketplace, the airline aims to lure passengers from its rivals with a promise of high quality in-flight services and low fares.

Atlasjet’s flights from Luton will depart at 12:20, arriving in İstanbul at 18:05, before the same airplane proceeds on to Ercan in the Turkish Cypriot capital of Lefkoşa. Flights into the UK will arrive at 11:20. The airline’s Ekonomiplus fares to İstanbul start from £68 and to Ercan from £108, which include all taxes and service charges. Tickets can be booked at atlasjet.com and from authorised agencies.

Standard for all Atlasjet passengers are generous 30inch leg-room, complimentary food and beverages, 25 kg luggage allowance and allocated seats. Passengers can choose from a complimentary soft drink, beer or wine served with their in-flight meal. Each aircraft also has a dedicated Business class section with even roomier seats and 30kg luggage allowance.

Those wishing to fly on to other destinations in Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia will be able to take advantage of Atlasjet’s extensive network. The airline offers convenient connections from İstanbul to Antalya, İzmir, Bodrum, Dalaman, Adana, Gaziantep, and internationally to Erbil, Tehran, Tbilisi, and many other destinations.

"There’s no doubt Atlasjet is a quality carrier, but they do have to prove they are here to stay”

Launched in 2001, Atlasjet boasts a strong safety record and a positive reputation for its customer services. It has previously twice tried to launch UK flights, but on each occasion the service was short-lived.

The new services came soon after the collapse of Cyprus Turkish Airlines (CTA) in 2010. Atlasjet stepped in initially to help fly stranded CTA passengers. However, when the national Turkish Cypriot carrier failed to refund passengers that were unable to fly that summer, Atlasjet found itself the target of a law suit from unhappy British consumers, putting a halt to their UK flight plans.

Adnan Demiray from long-established travel agent Alternative Travel told T-VINE, “There’s no doubt Atlasjet is a quality carrier and we look forward to working with them. However they do have to win over the British public and prove they are here to stay given their earlier failed attempts.” 

The airline also needs to win market share from its well-established UK rivals. They currently make 126 weekly flights to destinations in Turkey or North Cyprus, with 75% of these from London’s three main airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

According to figures released by trade publication Anna.aero in February 2014, Turkish Airlines remains the clear market leader serving six British airports and commanding 71.6% of seat capacity. A distant second is British Airways with 17.4% of the 24,000 weekly seats available. Pegasus is on 11.0% with its daily İstanbul Sabiha Gökçen to London Stansted link.

Just 20 minutes north of London, it takes 5 minutes to clear security and reach the aircraft at Luton airport 

Last month, Easyjet ended its Luton to İstanbul flights, leaving the cost clear for Atlasjet. However, with less than 4% of passengers to Turkey flying from Luton, the airline has its work cut out to lure passengers to London’s fourth airport.

A spokesperson from another travel agent, Happy Days, said: “Getting passengers to travel out from Luton will be the biggest challenge. Our customers are used to flying from Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow. If Atlasjet can keep their prices low and do a big marketing campaign, it will certainly help boost trade.”

To help inform prospective customers, Atlasjet has launched a major print and outdoor advertising campaign. Their adverts are now appearing in various newspapers and magazines, as well as on the sides of London buses and in key tube stations across the capital.

Mustafa Ebgü (R) with Luton Airport's Simon Harley

In March, the airline also invited British Turkish tour operators, travel agents and media, including T‑VINE, to tour London Luton Airport to see first-hand the facilities and benefits of being a smaller airport. Luton is a 20 minute drive up the M1 motorway and also boasts excellent train links from the capital, with journey times of just 21 minutes to London St Pancras. While home to a wide range of duty-free shops and restaurants, the small size of the terminal building means passengers can clear security and reach the aircraft in 5 minutes.

Mustafa Ebgü, Atlasjet’s UK Manager said: “We were able to take the group through security and on to a waiting Atlasjet plane, and the whole process took little more than 5 minutes. We will be carrying our passengers on the 200-seat Airbus 321-200, so it was great to be able to give them a little preview of the comfort and quality that we offer on Atlasjet.”

Historic Easter church service in Famagusta gives hope to Cyprus


A church in Famagusta held its first Easter Mass in nearly 60 years. Hundreds of Greek Cypriots crossed the Green Line on Good Friday to attend the ceremony at St. George Exorinos in North Cyprus.

Preparations had started at 5.30am with volunteers arriving early to decorate the church in the Orthodox tradition, using flowers to create a symbolic body of Christ. By the time the three-and-a-half hour ceremony started at 5pm, thousands of people had arrived, including many locals and foreign ambassadors who wanted to witness the historic event.

Good Friday is one of the holiest dates in the Orthodox calendar and the service was the first in the town since 1957. The EOKA-inspired troubles had resulted in island-wide inter-communal violence and forced the two ethnic sides apart. Friday’s historic ceremony was warmly greeted by civic and political leaders on both sides as a significant step towards the peaceful reconciliation of Cypriots.

Bishop Vassilis, wearing robes embroidered with gold and white, was accompanied by Dr Talip Atalay, the Turkish Cypriot Mufti. In accordance with orthodox traditions, Vassilis first led a night time procession around the gardens of the 14th century church in Famagusta's medieval walled city, which had been lit by candles.

Crowds of worshippers pressed around as the bishop delivered a mass urging reconciliation on the divided island. After the service, both Vassilis and Atalay spoke of the peace that could be accomplished through religion, saying the Famagusta service was a testament to that. Pavlos Iacovou, who helped organise the service, described the mass in the Turkish North as, “like a miracle”.

The mass was attended by some three thousand people including former Greek Cypriot leader George Vasiliou, AKEL leader Andros Kiprianu, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Cyprus Advisor Lisa Buttenheim and a host of other Greek Cypriot politicians. They were joined by the American, British, Irish, Italian, Portuguese and Dutch ambassadors to Cyprus, along with various MPs from the Republican Turkish Party (CTP) and Famagusta City Council leader Oktay Kayalp who was instrumental in helping to make the service possible.

Famagusta City Council leader Oktay Kayalp
After the mass, Kayalp said: “This is an important day for Christians and for it to be celebrated in a church in Gazimağusa meant a lot of attention for this symbolic event. Although there are differences between the two sides, it showed the world we can treat each other with tolerance.” He added that he hoped a similarly successful event can be held for Turkish Cypriots in the South.

A massive security operation had been organised with some 450 Turkish Cypriot police and ambulance crew on duty. The event passed peacefully, although a group of people calling themselves the “Young Freedom Fighters” held up a banner bearing the faces of Turkish Cypriots who had been killed in Famagusta by Greek Cypriots between 1963 and 1974 and condemned the Turkish Cypriot authorities for allowing the service.

Photos from HaberKKTC.com

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

We Remember: Mimar Sinan, one of the world's greatest architects

Mimar Sinan's masterpiece: the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. Photo by Enver Şengϋl


Mimar Sinan, born 15 April 1489

Considered to be one of the greatest architects of all time, Mimar Sinan served several sultans during the classical Ottoman period: Süleyman the Magnificent, Selim II and Murad III. The son of a stonemason, Sinan grew up in Kayseri where he received a technical education. He became a military engineer, rising to the rank of commander in the Janissary. During this time, he refined his architectural and engineering skills, constructing military forts, roads, bridges and aqueducts.

At the age of fifty, he was appointed Chief Royal Architect, building some 300 civic structures – many of which still adorn the Istanbul skyline – including fine religious buildings, palaces, inns, fountains, aqueducts and schools. His most famous work is the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. However his masterpiece is the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne (pictured above), with its stunning dome, interior and minarets (83m high).

The Maglova Aqueduct runs across the Alibey River in Istanbul
Pictured on the left is the Maglova Aqueduct in Istanbul. It runs 850 feet long across the Alibey River in Istanbul and is nearly 120 feet tall. The aqueduct also has a path above the first level of arches for travellers to use. 

Completed in 1563, it was the second aqueduct Sinan built in this location: the first one was destroyed in a flood. Learning from this first experience, he designed the Maglova Aqueduct to be extra-strong with thicker triangular buttresses. 

Below is the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, which crosses the Drina River in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is made up of eleven arches that span nearly 600 feet in total and was completed in 1577. 

Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge
Sinan was commissioned to build this hamam (below) by Chief Admiral Kılıç Ali Paşam, whose name it now bears. Part of a mosque and school complex, the hamam was constructed in 1580 to serve the levends (marine forces in the Ottoman navy). The building is famous for Mimar Sinan’s architectural lines and beauty and is one of the symbolic buildings in Tophane in Istanbul’s harbour district. It re-opened in 2012 after seven years of painstaking and intensive restoration.
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, Karaköy, Istanbul

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Billy Hayes puts the record straight with Riding the Midnight Express


For a time Billy Hayes became the most hated man in Turkey and the Turkish Diaspora. His autobiographical novel Midnight Express charted his time in Turkish prisons following his conviction for drug smuggling. However the Oscar-winning movie of the same name had numerous key departures, making the story far darker and deeply anti-Turkish.

Riding the Midnight Express is Billy Hayes’ attempt to put the record straight. This captivating one-man show starts with how he came to be in Istanbul, falling in love with the city and its people. In October 1970, he was arrested at Istanbul airport following the discovery of two kilos of hashish taped to his body. The Turkish High Court sentenced him to life in prison. In 1975 he escaped from Imrali Island Prison by rowing 17 miles across the open sea in a raging storm.

It’s an incredible story told by a great narrator, and it’s a show every Turk needs to see to understand that Midnight Express was never intended to be anti-Turkish. Rather this is a candid and often emotional human journey of youthful adventure gone wrong, where bravado turns into a harrowing battle to survive and escape. Its re-telling is as cathartic for us Turks as it is for Billy Hayes.

If you can’t make tonight’s final show at the Soho Theatre in central London, look out for details for a new run at the Edinburgh Festival over the summer. 

Final show: Sunday 13 April 2014  
Venue address: downstairs at Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE
Tickets:  £20 (£17.50 concessions).
Start time: 7.30pm (show runs approx 70 minutes).


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Travellers vote Istanbul number one city in the world

The "awe-inspiring" Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul

Holidaymakers have voted Istanbul the world’s top destination. Popular global travel site TripAdvisor announced the winners of their annual Travellers' Choice Destinations on Tuesday. Istanbul beat off stiff competition from last year’s number one city Paris, which this year dropped to seventh place despite the French capital recording record tourist figures for 2013.

Istanbul, a newcomer to the top 10 list, shot its way to the top spot following millions of positive reviews and opinions posted by TripAdvisor travellers. The city’s unique Europea-Asia location, coupled with historic sites such as “the awe-inspiring Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)” and Grand Bazaar, and its contemporary culture formed around restaurants, shopping and nightlife, has helped the city score better than a host of other rivals including: Rome (2nd best destination), London (3rd), Berlin (11th), New York (12th), Barcelona (15th) and Dubai (17th). 

TripAdvisor – the largest travel website in the world – used an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, attractions and restaurants in destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period. Along with recognising the best cities to visit in the world, the American-based company’s sixth annual Travelers' Choice™ awards also announced the most popular places in Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, Europe, China, Middle East, Russia, South America, the South Pacific, the U.K. and the U.S. In total some 500 destinations found themselves honoured.

World's Top 25 Destinations

1. Istanbul, Turkey (+11)
2. Rome, Italy (+2)
3. London, UK (0)
4. Beijing, China (+17)
5. Prague, Czech Republic (+4)
6. Marrakech, Morocco (+13)
7. Paris, France (-6)
8. Hanoi, Vietnam (New)
9. Siem Reap, Cambodia (+14)
10. Shanghai, China (+12)
11. Berlin, Germany (0)
12. New York City, New York (-10)
13. Florence, Italy (-5)
14. Buenos Aires, Argentina (+4)
15. Barcelona, Spain (-10)
16. St. Petersburg, Russia (+4)
17. Dubai, United Arab Emirates (New)
18. Chicago, Illinois (-4)
19. Cape Town, South Africa (-3)
20. Bangkok, Thailand (-7)
21. Budapest, Hungary (New)
22. Sydney, Australia (-12)
23. Lisbon, Portugal (New)
24. Chiang Mai, Thailand (0)
25. San Francisco, California (-18)

Turkish international Kazim-Richards guilty over homophobic gesture


Turkish international and former premier footballer Colin Kazim-Richards has been found guilty of making a homophobic gesture. The offence took place last year on the pitch during a game against Brighton and Hove Albion when Kazim-Richards was playing for Blackburn Rovers.

Brighton supporters complained that Kazim-Richards had made offensive gestures to them during the match last February. He was seen semi-pulling down his shorts and putting his left arm on his bottom as he simulated a sex act deemed to be homophobic in nature. Season ticket holder Darren Hastings told the hearing at Brighton Magistrates court that the gesture was “utterly disgusting”.

The British Turkish Cypriot footballer, 27, tried to defend himself saying he was "having a bit of banter" with fans who has been verbally abusing him. However, Brighton magistrates upheld the complaints and convicted the player of using abusive or insulting behaviour. The player, who attended the hearing, was fined £750 and ordered to pay a £75 victim surcharge and £620 costs.

Sussex Police said it was the first conviction of its type involving allegations of homophobia against a professional footballer. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Turkish company Rönesans helping to complete the world’s longest, deepest tunnel

Construction of Gottard Rail Tunnel, Amsteg, SwitzerlandPhoto: AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd

A Turkish company is part of the construction team that will complete a new tunnel to facilitate a high-speed rail link between Italy and Switzerland. Ankara-based Rönesans Holding is working on the 35-mile (57km) long Gotthard Rail Tunnel under the Alps mountain range. When completed in 2016, the it will not only be the world’s longest tunnel, but at 1.5 miles below ground, also the deepest.

Work started on the tunnel some 20 years ago and the initial work was completed in 2011. In July 2013, Rönesans Holding acquired the Swiss arm of Austria’s Alpine Group, and with it joined the team of specialist firms responsible for completing the remaining works for the new Alps tunnel.

Rönesans is working together with Alpiq In Tec, Alcatel-Lucent Schweiz/Thales Rss, Balfour Beatty Rail to install the rail track, power supply, and telecommunications equipment. The new rail tunnel is due to open at the end of 2016 – a year ahead of schedule – at a cost of some 9.5 billion Euros. The investment will help shave an hour off the existing journey between Zurich and Milan, taking just 2 hours and 40 minutes using trains that will travel at 250 km/h along the new high-speed rail link.

The construction project – the largest currently in Europe – was initiated to protect and preserve the nature of the Alps and to improve travel safety. The Swiss public had long called for the removal of heavy-load freight trucks from the Gotthard Road Tunnel due to the high levels of pollution and the increased risk of major fires when collisions occurred, such as in 2001 when 11 people were killed and many more injured.
Sochi International Airport, built by Rönesans Construction and Strabag AG
Formed in 1993, Rönesans Holding has extensive experience in construction projects across Turkey, Russia, central Asia and the Middle East. The award-winning construction firm has built shopping malls, airports including Sochi International (where thousands recently passed through for the Winter Olympics), and power plants such as Sena Hydroelectric Power Plant in northeast Turkey.

Avni Akvardar, the group’s chairman, said recently the firm intends to compete far more against the world’s leading tunnel construction specialists.