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Pole to Pole

Day 24: Helsinki to Tallinn

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleI have tried to learn some Russian but this is not how I wanted my first stab at the language to be.

'I am from London, making a television programme,' I blurt out.

I don't think he understands a word, for his expression doesn't change. He climbs back in his car and drives scornfully away.

The feeling of being watched persists later as I take my first stroll away from the hotel. Both soldiers and police are much in evidence. The soldiers are thin, scrawny conscripts, some with the dark, smooth-skinned features of far-off Asian republics. They look lost compared to the police, who, while being no less thin or scrawny, patrol the streets more purposefully in groups of five or six, holding nightsticks. I feel myself being sized up on all sides. Some lads approach and offer to change my dollars into roubles at an absurdly generous rate. This is because the rouble is almost useless. When I tried to acquire some at the hotel earlier the cashier thought I was mad. She asked me how long I was staying in the Soviet Union.

'About three weeks,' I replied.

She pointed to an English five-pound note. 'That will be enough.'
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 24
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Tallinn
  • Book page no: 52

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