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Pole to Pole

Day 40: Odessa to Istanbul

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleIt's 12.48 by the digital clock in the main passenger terminal of the port of Odessa. As far as I can remember it's the only public clock I've seen in the Soviet Union that is still going. After a day of rest, the crew and myself are in transit again, bound for Istanbul. At the moment we are in the limbo land of Customs and Immigration, waiting for something to happen. They have tried to brighten up the arid bureaucratic wasteland in which we are confined by sticking travel posters to the walls - rugged mountains, ski slopes, folk dances and children gambolling on beaches. The pleasures of these places may be beyond the range of most of the Soviet people and yet they do represent one of the more acceptable aspects of this country, an ability to relish, whenever the opportunity arises, an escape from the surrounding gloom. We have seen the petrol queues and the empty shops, the shabbiness of the surroundings and the hard face of privilege, but we've also seen spontaneous delight in the countryside (as on the train to Kiev), happily packed beaches, and just this morning, holidaymakers on the Potemkin Steps asking me if I would mind taking a family snap for them. All you can say is the Soviet Union is never quite what it seems. We have eaten old, tasteless bread in hotels, but found, here in Odessa, a shop around the corner baking fresh baguettes. We have seen one bag of fruit costing over twenty per cent of a weekly wage and country gardens groaning with produce. We have looked into stony faces but never been hugged as hard.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 40
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Odessa
  • Book page no: 88

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