Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Michael Palin: New Europe

(UK, 2005)

Poor Michael Palin! Imagine, traveling to some of the world’s most remote and fascinating places with an advance crew to book your transportation and lodging and hire expert (and in this case, at least, often beautiful and female) guides and interpreters. Imagine the nuisance of having to stop off for a little chat with people like the Dalai Lama or Lech Wałęsa on your travels. Imagine being one of the small number of people who have been to both the North and South Poles. Imagine having a crew of grips to carry all your luggage, so that you have to get along with just a little shoulder bag. Imagine!

In truth, of all the jobs in the world, I think Michael Palin’s appeals to me the most. He’s been everywhere, and has always had interesting things to say about the places in these BBC documentaries, of which this is the latest to be released on video. We have seen Around the World in Eighty Days (1988), Pole to Pole (1992), Himalaya (2003), and Sahara (2002) (the only journey I’d have opted out of, but I’m glad he let me see the hardships involved), and loved them all. In a few months his longest trip, Full Circle (1996), in which he goes around the Pacific, will come out on DVD. I intend to watch it immediately upon release. That leaves only the Hemingway Adventure (1999) that still isn’t available on DVD, but I hope it comes out soon.
There is actually something called the “Palin Effect,” which means that shortly after one of these shows is aired on the BBC or comes out on video, there is a noticeable uptick in tourist going to the places he visited!

This time he stays closer to home, explaining that for most of his life, the countries behind the “Iron Curtain” were tough to visit, and might almost have been on another planet. He wanted to know more about his native continent, and so here visits 20 countries, some of them very new, some of them not even recognized by any other countries. Many of them are still adjusting to capitalism, and some are having a rough go of it. He discovers a certain nostalgia, especially among older folks, for the communist days. Sure, you didn’t have freedom and you had to watch what you said, but life was predictable and orderly. You had a job for life, and a reasonable pension, and you knew where your next meal was coming from, even if it was just turnips and cabbage and you had to wait in line for it. Now … who knows what’s going to happen next? There’s been at least a half-dozen wars among the former SSRs and in ex-Yugoslavia, some of which I’ve barely heard about. Did you know that there was a war between Moldova and Transnistria in 1992? Did you even know there was such a place as Transnistria? I admit, I didn’t, I barely know where Moldova is, but even though no one recognizes them, they look healthy and happy, and have some very sexy-looking female soldiers who really know how to goose step!

Episode 1 War and Peace – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania.
Episode 2 Eastern Delight – Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey, Cappadocia.
Episode 3 Wild East – Transnistria, Moldova and Romania. Palin celebrated Transnistrian National Day, met a Moldovan self sufficient old woman, worked with Romanian lumberjacks, interviewed a Romanian tennis player (Ilie Năstase) and visited Transylvania and Bucharest with its Palace of the Parliament.
Episode 4 Danube to Dnieper – From Dniestr to the Danube, Hungary and Ukraine.
Episode 5 Baltic Summer – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast). Palin joined in the festivities with some Neopagans.
Episode 6 From Pole to Pole – Poland.
Episode 7 Journey’s End – Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany.