China-to-Europe cargo train in Chengdu
Sébastien Falletti

CHONGQING — Every day since 2014, a train leaves from the western German city of Duisburg. It winds its way across Europe and Asia to finally reach Chongqing, a megalopolis of 28 million inhabitants in southwestern China. Huge cranes there extract gigantic matchbox-like containers from the train. BMW cars made in Germany are taken from the train while HP laptops and iPads produced in the Chinese Foxconn factory nearby make their way to Europe.

The Old Continent has now become a lot closer to this western Chinese enclave. Most of the products here have been brought from Europe by train. This railway line is one of the first tangible achievements of Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious new Silk Road strategy. Xi hopes to stretch the railway to the Belgian port city of Antwerp as early as this year.

The train journey across Eurasia, which includes passing Russia and Kazakhstan, is still chaotic and lasts between 12 and 15 days. But this path is still a lot faster than the 25 days the journey takes by ship, which is often further delayed by customs on the Chinese coast and travel into Chongqing. By road, it can take up to 60 days door-to-door from western Europe to the Sichuan megalopolis.

This railway line has enabled Olive Zhang to raise funds to build a "Euro Shopping Park," a 72,000 square-meter warehouse that uses a locomotive-shaped logo and is located in the outskirts of Chongqing. In a brick building constructed in a vaguely British style, Orange Le Creuset casseroles costing 1540 yuans ($220) take center stage on the immaculate shelves. Under the spotlights, Victorinox Swiss knives are displayed on shelves next to German UHT milk cartons and French Dodie baby bottles. Outside the window, a fog partially conceals the Sichuan mountains.

"Chinese mothers want the best brands for their children," explains a vendor at Euro Shopping Park. Chinese consumers want European products, which are seen as safer and healthier, and this warehouse helps meet that demand.

Zhang, Euro Shopping Park's chief executive, has also developed an e-commerce application on which shoppers can find more than 500 European brands, including 80 French ones. "70% of the transportation costs are covered by government subsidies. Without those, this business wouldn't be viable," says Zhang, who took over her father's old business to turn it into an international operation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Duisburg on March 29, 2014 — Photo: Rao Aimin/Xinhua/ZUMA

If the new railway line beats the sea route in terms of speed, it's nonetheless more expensive and less competitive. Still, the young woman, who opened a branch in Germany, sees the rail as a way to distribute European products directly to consumers.

She's sure of the New Silk Road's prospects and has traveled with Prime Minister Li Keqiang to Lithuania and Kazakhstan in November to persuade these countries to invest in the sprawling railway network.

But Beijing is having difficulties in convincing its partners to modernize their stretch of the railway, which has been affected by technical issues especially in central Asia, where refrigerated containers are threatened by power shortages and frequent delays.

"There are doubts about governments' political will to invest and bring the railway up to date," says Kevin Martin, a representative of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, which is based in Chongqing. Brussels, which fears that Xi's project might be a one-way road that benefits only Chinese exporters and infrastructure companies, has made its reluctance clear.

It's true that Chinese authorities, after having multiplied the number of highways and high-speed rails, are now looking for new prospects. Zhang, whose warehouse lies next to an amusement park that reproduces Europe's most famous monuments in miniature, hopes to convince Brussels that the Old Continent, and not just China, can benefit from the president's new Silk Road.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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