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Full Circle

Day 15: Petropavlovsk

Petropavlovsk, Eastern Russia 
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Petropavlovsk. Official welcome, but not for me.
Michael Palin - Full CircleWake to the sound of lowing cattle. Slept well but was chilly. One thing that hasn't changed since I was last in Russia is the width of the bed sheets, a little wider than the human body but a little narrower than the bed, so you tend to wake up like a badly-wrapped mummy with the sheets coiled around you. Similarly, the curtains, if there are any, are always a half-metre narrower than the window they have to cover. Which means, I suppose, you waste less time drawing them back. Looking outside this morning I see the rain has passed over, the day looks settled and pale sunlight is catching the damp, thick grass on which Friesian cows are munching unhurriedly. Wooden fences heighten the unexpected similarity to an English pastoral scene. But then, Petropavlovsk is on practically the same latitude as Stoke Poges.

To breakfast. No sooner have I poked my head round the door of the dining room than I'm met by Igor who thrusts a spoonful of fresh raspberries into my mouth.

'Tradition!' he shouts. 'Start the day with a raspberry!'

He enjoys it that we laugh, though I don't think he understands why we laugh so much.

He is also highly satisfied with the weather for today we are to visit the Kronotsky Nature Reserve. It covers one and a half million hectares around Petropavlovsk, and the only way in is by helicopter.

I drive to the nearby airstrip with Sergei Alekseev, the director of the reserve. He is a slim, good-looking man in his late thirties, dressed in jeans, thick rubber-soled boots and a bright green fleece. He pulls on a pair of sun-glasses as we climb into his four-wheel drive Subaru. He swings it expertly around pot-holes and stray dogs screeching to a halt only once to buy cigarettes. His car, he tells me, is second-hand from Japan. Does anyone buy them new? I ask him. Sergei flicks out a lighted match, pulls on his cigarette and smiles at me as if I'd asked if he knew anyone who owned a Picasso.

There is quite a crowd waiting by the lumbering ME-8, a twin-engined helicopter operated in the new Russia by a private company. Apart from the pilot, there is a co-pilot, an engineer, the pilot's six-year-old son, a lady called Svetlana who is going to prepare a picnic for us, Konstantin our interpreter, and Igor's assistant, Sasha. It feels more like a family outing than a commercial enterprise.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 15
  • Country/sea: Eastern Russia
  • Place: Petropavlovsk
  • Book page no: 31

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