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  The Chatter Box : Messages from Michael
Never Knowing When to Stop by Michael Palin on 18 September 2006 2:59pm
Dear fellow travellers,

The film crew and I, bloody but unbowed, are slowly but surely working our way through the twenty or so countries on our New Europe itinerary. Starting back in May we've covered most of the Balkans and the Baltics as well as Hungary, Ukraine and Moldova. For some reason I'd harboured the illusion that because we were travelling closer to home everything would be easier. Wrong. The airports of Europe are as congested as anywhere else in the world and we've been sorely tested by delays, lost bags and all the usual traveller's trials and tribulations. On the plus side I have added at least six new countries to my world list and have been able to get back to see my new grandson Archie. And everywhere we've been, from Tallinn to Transdniestria, has delivered fascinating material.

The general impression I have about the countries of East and Central Europe is of independent nations desperate to celebrate their own identity after so many years of occupation following World War 2. Local historians and archaeologists are working overtime to uncover their country's treasures (sometimes, as in the case of the pyramids of Bosnia, a little desperately), and local culture, tradition and language is being re-discovered. All of this is great for our cameras and our microphones and we've recorded some terrific music sequences. I've had to do a bit of dancing, never a pretty sight, and not all the four-star hotels we'd been promised have materialised! Still, we've had some four-star tents.

We're just over halfway through the filming and though it's too early to make any generalisations, I have a feeling that the series will be an eye-opener. I certainly have been impressed by the richness and diversity of the far side of Europe, both in its landscape and its heritage and fascinated by how close much of their history and way of life is to our own. The series could be called Neglected Neighbours, because, for so long, certainly in most of my life, it was so difficult to visit these places. So there's a feeling, on both sides, of hurrying to make up for lost time. Now I can see we have a lot in common and for once in my life the history of Europe as a whole begins to make sense.

The problem with all this is the amount of homework I have to do. This week I've come back from truffle-hunting in Istria to get to grips with Polish language, history and geography in five days flat. (And if I hear one more wag tell me there's no-one left in Poland, they're all over here, I might get violent). But I tend to believe that however much preparation you do nothing prepares you for the real thing like the real thing itself. So get the pierogi and the barszcz ready, we're on our way.

Happy travels everyone, and Na zdrowie !

Michael Palin, London, 18th September.

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