Monday, July 25, 2011

Michael Palin's New Europe


John Paul Davidson, Roger Mills, 2007
Starring Michael Palin

Long after leaving the Pythons, Michael Palin built up a reputation as a world traveler. He made a number of BBC sponsored documentaries and television programs, including 2007's New Europe. In short, it's amazing. If you're as obsessed with Monty Python or Michael Palin as I am, or you really love travel shows, this comes highly recommended.

There are seven one-hour long episodes, all focused on post-communist Eastern Europe, countries that were closed to tourism and trade under the communist regime. He breaks neighboring countries down into episodes, visiting Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, the Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, and East Germany, among others.

What's interesting about this show is that the focus of each episode is on whatever Michael Palin finds interesting from history, food, music, art, architecture, tourism, etc. The broad scope and easy narrative style keeps it from ever being boring, plus he gives enough of a political background to keep even the most historically illiterate up to speed. And if you're someone who loves Eastern Europe and wants to see more of it, this show is informative and inspiring.

Palin does a weird mixture of things on the show. Sometimes he acts like a bourgeois tourist, other times he learns from the natives. He often gets involved in things you would only find out about with research, planning, and rudimentary language skills, like the amazing pagan festival he joins in on. There are also a couple of episodes where he does things that only Michael Palin could hope to do, like learn how to drive a train or host a fashion show. He does some truly amazing things that normal people could probably also do with some sweet talking or bribery, like taking lessons on how to drive ex-Nazi tanks in East Germany. I'm not kidding. Apparently they're run by a guy who thinks that tanks are too interesting to junk, so he keeps them in good shape and takes people out for rides.

Keep in mind that this was made in 2006-2007, so most of the information is still current and relative to any near-future travels you might have in mind. Check it out streaming on Netflix or as part of the 3-disc BBC box set and while you're at it, flip through his book, which includes material and photographs that didn't fit into the program. You can also go to his travel page and see what he's up to in more recent years.

I made it a whole review without making a single Monty Python reference, so I will leave you with this:

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