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WELCOME TO NEW EUROPE

Like all my journeys, New Europe was largely the product of an insatiable curiosity. I thought I knew my own continent, but I realised that almost half of it had been closed to me, by politics and ideology, for most of my life. The closer I looked at the eastern half of Europe the more I felt that it had been misrepresented, or even ignored during this time, lumped together in a great blur called Eastern Europe. The predominant colour was grey, the predominant images were of scarcity or conflict. I couldn’t believe that Eastern Europe was as depressed and lifeless as the clichés portrayed it and set out to make a series which would hopefully show the other side of the far side of the continent.

We began filming on May 16th 2006 in the Julian Alps in Slovenia and I delivered my last piece to camera on Rugen Island in the Baltic almost a year later. Our total filming time was just short of six months, approximately the same time it took me to write the book. As soon as we arrived in Slovenia I knew that we were not going to be short of natural beauty and throughout most of the filming the sun shone and revealed eastern Europe as anything but grey. The Danube Delta, the Carpathian Mountains, the Curonian Spit on the Baltic Coast and Cappadocia in Turkey were strikingly beautiful locations. But the main bonus of this journey was the rich variety of people and countries. Since the collapse of the Soviet Empire , a host of new independent states has emerged , all anxious to establish their own identity, parade their own culture and celebrate their own history. The filming and the writing of the book was an intense experience, but an uplifting one, as I learnt so much about my fellow Europeans and came away from it all feeling a cautious but encouraging optimism. As I conclude on camera at the end of the series, there does seem a real hope that Europe could, for the first time in many centuries, be united by co-operation rather than conflict.

We visited twenty countries, twice as many as in Sahara and Himalaya combined, so there was no way that this series seemed tight or constricted. Six one-hour episodes turned into seven but despite that there wasn’t time to do justice to every country we went through. I can only apologise for those that felt hard done by, but everywhere is covered in much more detail in the book and in the DVD.

My account of New Europe is made up as ever from the contents of hand-scribbled note-books which are my most precious travelling companions. For the first time in seven series I lost one of my books, stolen, together with my shoulder bag at Budapest airport. It contained my notes on the Baltic states. But the experiences were so vivid in my memory that I was able to piece most of them together, and with the help of impressions recorded into my personal recorder( as used by Jack Bauer in 24) the damage was not fatal !

I've called eastern Europe New Europe because I had a strong sense of vigour and vitality and hope in the countries liberated from years as anonymous pieces of someone else’s empires. They want to speak for themselves and I hope New Europe gives them a voice.

Europe is a much more tangible concept than I thought when I set out. East and west share a heritage and a history going back over centuries. We need to find out more about each other, to learn respect for each other and to do away with the old ideas of Us and Them. The future will be that much more secure if we can all be Us.


Michael's signature

Michael Palin, London. September 2007.

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