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Pole to Pole

Day 24: Helsinki to Tallinn

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThe man with the Daily Mail is English. His father, an Estonian from the town of Tartu, left at the end of the war to escape Stalin's ruthless purges of Estonian nationalists. In one night in 1944, he tells me, sixty thousand people from the Baltic states were rounded up and taken away.

'It may be that my grandfather was amongst the sixty thousand, or my relatives were amongst the sixty thousand . . . I'm not raising my expectations, but I do feel . . . it's an adventure out there . . . '

He looks out over the flat calm sea, and in a sense I know what he means. Three weeks in the empty untroubled wilderness of the Arctic and cosseted by the comfortable materialism of Scandinavia has done nothing to prepare me for what lies ahead in a land that has been on the receiving end of so much violence.

The Georg Ots has a shiny chrome and mirrored bar serving beers, vodka and coffee. American-made MTV pop videos run remorselessly on a screen. Everyone at the bar looks like a mechanic. Peter is a young Estonian who's done his two years' compulsory service in the Soviet army, who has a currency shop and a very smart briefcase which he bought in Singapore. He teaches me to say 'hello' in Estonian, and proffers other advice.

'Russian girls very good . . . '

'Do you have a Russian girlfriend?'

'Yes . . . ' he glances around to where the crew are sitting, 'but not in front of camera, I have wife too.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 24
  • Country/sea: Finland
  • Place: Helsinki
  • Book page no: 50

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