Kicking over the statues in Spain, Istanbul's Tehran trippers and an overdue fix for Balkan rail travel.
Route: Istanbul to Tehran
Airline: Turkish Airlines
Plane: Boeing 737-800
Frequency: Up to four a day
Every day around 10 flights connect Istanbul to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. The three-hour journey crossing the Anatolian plateau is flown not only by Turkish Airlines but also by Aseman Airlines, Iran Air and Mahan Air, as well as budget carriers Atlasjet and Pegasus. The Turkish metropolis has become a favourite spot for middle-class Tehrani tourists for shopping and celebrating Iranian festivals such as Nowruz, traditionally the start of the new year. Around 1.6 million Iranians travelled to Turkey last year – up 30 per cent on 2013.
Heading the other way are business hopefuls keen to get a foothold in an emerging market, as Iran enjoys sanctions relief and eyes the economic fruits of a pending nuclear deal in June. Turkish entrepreneurs already supply electrical goods and cars to their neighbour (to the tune of €3bn in the first 11 months of 2014) but a new trade agreement leaves scope for more investment; Istanbullus well versed in gentrification will find opportunities in Tehran’s underdeveloped hotel stock.
Despite being at loggerheads over the war in Syria, the two countries have vowed to strengthen trade ties. Last year, Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Tehran to sign a preferential trade agreement with president Hassan Rouhani and declared Iran “a second home”. The deal aims to boost bilateral trade to €27bn this year.
The frequent air connections between the commercial hubs of Tehran and Istanbul will help hit that target. In 2014, Turkey’s national carrier increased its flights to the Iranian capital from 21 to 28 times a week. It is also likely that the Iranian aircraft serving the route will improve as the country gains access to much-needed aviation hardware. Boeing and GE have already been granted US Treasury Department licences to export certain spare parts for commercial aircraft to Iran, where technical faults often ground the fleet and vintage Fokker aircraft still take to the skies.
Spanish officials with a penchant for expensive construction projects have also been fond of emblazoning their own names around their prefectures. However, after several mayors and governors landed in jail for corruption-related offences there is pressure to remove the plaques, statues and street names honouring them. Many have become stinging reminders of political disgrace. Castellón’s €170m airport may lack any aircraft but its 24-metre sculpture commemorating Carlos Fabra is a fitting monument to the former governor’s excess. Fabra, who commissioned it for €300,000, was recently sentenced to four years in prison for fraud.
In Valencia, new legislation aims to wipe the slate clean. Any disgraced politician convicted of wrongdoing here will see their bronze nameplates or stone-hued likenesses removed from view – if not from public memory.
A revival of the Belgrade-to-Budapest railway promises to update a route formerly served by the Orient Express. Once the setting for Hercule Poirot’s luxury sleuthing, in recent years the line has been anything but glamorous; the only mystery has been why anyone would want to endure an eight-hour schlep in dilapidated rolling stock. By 2017, 200km/h trains should zip between Serbia and Hungary in less than three hours, with a possible high-speed extension to Athens. To that end, China is providing funding with an eye on its shipping giant Cosco in the Greek port of Piraeus.
Date: 1 March
Candidates: Polls suggest that prime minister Taavi Roivas and his centre-rightish Reform party will continue to lead the government. Also competing for seats in the Riigikogu are Reform’s coalition partners the Social Democrats and their principal opponents in two conservative parties.
Issues: Estonia, like many former reluctant components of the ussr, has been spooked by Moscow’s recent adventurism. Domestically however, the country continues to impress, recording economic growth despite a dramatic decline in trade with Russia.
Monocle comment: Estonia has succeeded through the commendable application of stolid common sense. It could now afford to extend that approach to better accommodating the country’s Russian-speaking minority.