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Bringing The Orient Express Back To Life – Again

Italian train restoration experts bring the legendary luxury railroad back up to standards to feed nostalgic travel buffs

Orient Express (D McG)

SANTHIÀ - The biting chill of Magliola di Santhià"s open-air workshop masks the warm and romantic interior. Here, encircled by the rice fields in this small northern town near Vercelli, the Orient Express — the famed train immortalized by Agatha Christie, with its signature dark blue cars and velvet seats —has rolled into Santhià to begin its return to former glory.

This slice of history – and nostalgia -- comes with several layers. In 1982, the Venice Simplon Orient Express gave new life to the legend of the Orient Express, which had carried the rich and powerful, princes and 007s across Europe in style since the 1880s. Having acquired and restored actual vintage cars from the heyday of the Paris-Istanbul line, the company offered the chance for taste the experience of bygone luxury train travel.

But now the fancy old cars are in serious need of new polish, and the London-based company has entrusted the restoration of the entire convoy to this small-town company. Magliola's team of local train technicians and furniture artisans will be working through February on 14 train cars with their white roofs and tobacco scented interiors. This is part of a larger restoration which will last from March to October of 2011 before the convoy returns to serving passengers seeking the nostalgia tours.

For the next three months, this firm specialized in the restoration of locomotives, will transform itself into a kind of beauty farm for the grand princess of luxury trains. "There is a lot of work to be done and it is going to require a skilled work force," says Giorgio Cabrio, who is overseeing the work for Magliola. "These are luxury cars that need to be treated with the utmost detail by highly trained technicians."

Beyond the trained mechanical engineers, the job requires experienced furniture restorers, who must bring the right sheen to the interiors of red and green tea colored velvet, silver finish and carriage embroidery. Around one dozen workers will be dedicated solely to working on the Orient. Magliola is set to replace all the pipes, adjust the furnishings, clean all the velvet and the carpets, refurbish the bathrooms with marble counter tops, wash the exterior coaches, polish all the badges and license plates that are gold and silver.

Specific mechanical work will be dedicated to the motors and the wheels. The motors will be removed and tuned up, while all the wheels and the rolling mechanisms of each car will undergo a complete check-up. "The train favors one side over the other, so we have to rebalance everything," says Cabrio.

The passion for restoring the past can be traced to James B. Sherwood, founder and chairman of Orient Express Hotels Ltd, who three decades ago tracked down the original 17 authentic cars for restoration. The usual itinerary these days is London-Venice, though once a year travelers can make the six-day trip to experience the original route: Paris-Budapest-Bucharest-Istanbul. The next departure is slated for Sep. 2, 2011, with a ticket going for 3,460 euros.

But for many it's worth it. This vintage train that was the setting for Agatha Christie's most famous mystery novel now carries a unique mix of history and charm, luxury, power and technology. Within each of the 50-ton cars, every minor detail counts: the carpet that climbs up the steps or the glint of light reflecting off the silver fixtures on the walls. There are the halls, the single bunks and the suites, the restaurants with renowned chefs but also room for tea and, of course, a good old-fashioned chat. What is currently covered by a wisp of dust is in reality counter of the shop where travelers can buy jewelry and luxury watches during the trip, to share a smile with your wife or girlfriend, or perhaps a glance at fleeting love.

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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