This is an excerpt from the closing chapters of my account of our travels in Eastern Europe in Communist times. (Michael Palin has a current programme on his travels in Eastern Europe!) This journey took place in 1993 by car – three years after our first visit to Estonia, and two years after the collapse of the Communist system. Tarmu had headed a State Farm and enioyed many privileges. Now he and his family were living a very simple life in a country cottage outside Tartu. The reader already knows that a salesman friend of ours had given us two black bin liners full of assorted flower and vegetable seeds, over 2000 packets in all! I am aware that this part of the story needs editing, but for the moment it is recorded to preserve the account of what actually took place. ***************** Tartu was our next destination. Saima and Tarmu welcomed us to their country home which provides as blissful an existence as any on earth. At our first meeting they had been diffident to welcome us as overnight guests because of the „facilities‟. The „facilities‟ included hot water scooped from an old fashioned copper at the end of the barn, a wonderful wood burning sauna, and a spotlessly clean earth closet. In our book that was near to bliss in comparison to much of the other Eastern European plumbing that we had encountered in our travels! Two years into independence Tarmu was in pensive mood. Though all Estonians were passionately in favour of independence the cost for some was hard, especially for those like Tarmu who had managed to prosper under the Soviet system. The State Farm of which he had been manager was no more. We asked what had happenned to the dairy cows of which he had been so proud. He drew his hand across his throat. The market for their milk in the former Soviwr Union was now closed to all Estonian produce. One or two of his cows had found their way into the hands of local peasants, but most had perished. Tarmu no longer cut a figure in the town. The loss of privileges and the task of building a new life in middle years weighed heavily on his mind, presenting a considerable challenge. The creed in which he had put his trust all his life long lay in tatters. He was having to search for new values. In contrast young Vahur, Tarmu and Saima‟s son-in-law, had met that challenge by pioneering a group called „Express Hotline‟. Because all telephone conversations had been controlled in Communist times there had never been any telephone directories, let alone Yellow Pages. Here was a niche waiting to be exploited. Vahur‟s Hotline Express provided the first ever Yellow Pages published in Estonia. Near to Tartu we visited a rather run down Arboretum besides which there was an old School Room of the 1930s, now turned into a Museum. The warden outlined the history of education in Estonia until its Sovietisation after the war. On hearing of our intention to circumnavigate the Baltic she beseeched us to terminate our journey in Riga. Almost falling down on her knees she warned us of the dangers we would face at the Lithuanian/Polish frontier where tourists were not only being robbed and mugged but were also at risk of losing their lives. It was by now common practice to travel to the West to purchase a good car. Tarmu and Saima‟s son was expected back with his car at any moment and arrived the next morning. He had a sorry tale to tell of his experiences at that frontier. Thugs had forced open the rear door of his newly acquired car with a crowbar and taken everything that had any value. He considered himself lucky to have been allowed to return home with his car still in running order. That experience fianlly persuaded us to abandon that part of our journey. In Tartu a new private Travel Agency had sprung up, organised by a young lady called Piret Horne Not only did she make enquiries by phone to confirm the sailing time of a ferry from Riga to Kiel; in addition she rang up a friend in Riga with whom we were to stay the night before the boat sailed. Latvia was unknown territory. In comparison to Estonia, the villages seemed more remote and it was not difficult to imagine the feeling of isolation that must have encompassed so much of the lives of their inhabitants in Communist times when so little communication was allowed with the outside world. Among our cargo of gifts, including two scooters and a bicycle acquired in Leningrad, there still lay buried a considerable number of packets of seeds. We were determined to disperse them in one way or another even if it meant sowing them by the roadside! An unexpected opportunity was about to present itself. Tarmu had given us a handful of Latvian roubles. Their value was practically worthless as we discovered when we went to buy coffee and cakes at a newly opened little cafe. The five hundred rouble notes were only sufficient to buy two small cups of black coffee. Our request for milk and sugar was politely set aside! In addition to our worthless roubles we were clutching some of our seeds that were so much in need of a suitable home. Good idea! Why not offer them some? “Skolka Roublei?” (How much do you want for them?) “They are a gift. Have as many as you like!” We took our two cups of coffee outside and seated ourselves at a table in the gleaming sunlight. Within moments the milk and the sugar arrived followed by some cakes; moments after that the Ice cream also arrived! We were living in barter land. As we sipped our second cup of coffee we noticed a beautifully tended garden opposite. Undaunted, and clutching more of our seeds, we sauntered up the path and knocked on the front door. Pointing to their lovely garden we offered a charming elderly couple our packs of seeds. Sign language and embracing was the only language we could share. In return for our seeds we received a beautiful little carved candle mounted on a wooden plinth and kept company by a rather cheeky looking little wooden bird. Every time we look at that candle we sip another cup of milky coffee laced with sugar and eat another ice cream! Further down the road was another another beautifully tended garden. Emboldened by our previous escapades we once more knocked on the door. Language was less of a problem this time. The occupants spoke some German. Seeds of the quality we possessed, even though last year‟s crop, were unknown. We were soon seated and it was not long before we were enjoying our third and fourth cups of coffee and some homemade cake. Latvia was beginning to bloom! We left laden with gifts and another large newly baked cake. The latter was soon to be our life line. Early evening we arrived in Riga, the capital of Latvia and a city with which we were to become much more familiar in the years ahead. For now, armed with our little hand drawn map we set about locating Olga‟s address. Olga turned out to be a young University student. Her parents were University lecturers. They had been in the habit of entertaining foreigners. Olga expressed considerable concern for the safety of our car. An American friend of theirs had watched his being stolen before his very eyes. Thieves had removed it from in front of the Cafe window where he was sipping coffee. Having no insurance he had not been able to obtain any redress. Our car was also momentarily uninsured while we were in Latvia! Once Olga‟s parents had returned it was placed safely inside the gates of their house. We felt it wise to confirm the sailing time of the boat to Kiel the next day. In Tartu we had been informed that it sailed at 15.00hrs; so down to the harbour. The harbour carried an air of neglect about it. The office was shut but a workman assured us that there was a boat sailing for Kiel at 11.0am. Early the next morning we made further enquiries at the harbour office. An air of communist indifference and inefficiency prevailed. They seemed to have little idea that there was a boat sailing to Kiel, and had still less idea of when it would depart. We were directed to a travel agent in the town. There, after a long wait, we were told that the boat was due to sail at 9.30.am the following day! Their office could not issue tickets. These had to be obtained from one of Riga‟s Hotels. Perestroika had not yet penetrated these vestigial remains of the communist system! Feeling a trifle more confident we booked ourselves into the Hotel Riga at some exorbitant charge, and provided a fairly substantial tip at reception for someone to keep a weather eye open in the direction of our car. Having made prolonged farewells to Olga and her family we felt in no position to prevail further upon their hospitality. Relaxing over coffee in our room at about 11.0.am I was suddenly minded to search out the Hotel where we were to obtain our tickets. It was only a block or two away. More delays but on enquiry we were informed that the boat was sailing at 1.30.pm that very day! It was now well after mid-day. There was no time for them to issue tickets! We must leave at once! Jill went straight to the Harbour by taxi while I rushed to the Hotel to retrieve the car and our few personal belongings that lay scattered around our hotel room. In the rush underpants and knickers that had been hung up to dry got left behind, as well as a piece of cheese in the frig. The devushka looked on in bewilderment. The thought of our devushka considering the possibilities of our underwear and nibbling our cheese still fills me with unimaginable nightmares, but they were as nothing compared to the nightmare of racing to the harbour across the unknown one-way Riga street system with no passenger to act as map-reader. The Television mast I knew was located close to the harbour. That was effectively the only credible signpost I possessed.. I arrived from the totally opposite direction to that from which my wife was expecting me to appear. The next task was to persuade two cargo lorries to reverse to allow me access to the Ferry. Happily 1.30.pm turned out to be boarding time. Our friend in Tartu had been correct all along. The boat was due to sail at 15.00hrs just as she had said. We were aboard the Riga to Kiel ferry all right but with no tickets and very little in the way of dollars! At the purser‟s office we were ordered to purchase a cabin. “No passengers sail on this boat without a cabin,” the lady bawled. “The Ferry takes two days to reach Kiel. All the cabins are booked.” she continued, “Please report again once the boat has set sail. Maybe there will be a cancellation.” Time passed, the boat slipped anchor. We were aboard, that was all that mattered. We once more reported to the Purser‟s office. “The master cabin is the only available cabin and you must purchase tickets for the master cabin,” the pursar declaimed as she presented us with the bill. The reason that this particular cabin was still unoccupied soon became apparent when we saw the price. We had already lost several hundred dollars to the Hotel Riga through the incompetence of both the Harbour and Travel Agency officials. This was surely another occasion to see red, communist red, with its engrained pigmentation of nearly seventy years. It was equally another occasion for Jill to treat the poor Purser to „the sort of English that all the world understands‟. Mastercards had not yet penetrated this part of the world and the only valid Visas were those you presented when crossing a frontier! We thrust down our remaining dollars on the table and showed the purser our empty purses! We had to sleep somewhere, so the Master Cabin became ours for the price of a normal fare and we were left with only enough dollars for just one meal in the ship‟s restaurant. The boat on which we now found ourselves was a Russian boat brought up from the Black Sea! The tourist deck looked more like the flight deck of a small aircraft carrier and there was not a chair in sight. The vessel had obviously been designed for quick conversion to military action. The master cabin however possessed no less than four portholes, a splendid double bed, a working frig and television and an ensuite shower! Besides our thirty-four dollars we possessed some lemonade, some fruit and the magnificent cake given us in exchange for our seeds! Our cabin became the wonder of our fellow travellers whom we were able to host in style and who supplemented our diet in exchange for the luxury of reclining in our easy chairs with their wonderful panoramic view of the Baltic. ************* I leave the following for your interest but it adds too much length for tomorrow Our journey from Kiel afforded us one more skirmish with the DDR. From a campsite near Luneburg we made a day‟s excursion among some of the remoter villages and towns of the former Democratic Republic. The rusting cans and the bottles of greasy vegetables had all disappeared. Everywhere new drains were being installed. New tarmac was being laid. Many buildings were surrounded with scaffolding with rooves stripped bare for retiling. In the town of Gardelezen a very efficient lady pastor gave us a guided tour of her church. After reunification church administration was amalgamated and the Churches of the former East Germany suddenly found their accounts being swollen by credits from the tax office! In some instances this had caused a degree of pleasant bewilderment as these welcome contributions often appeared in church bank accounts without any prior indication. It is difficult now to recall the strange atmosphere that prevailed in those days This was a society that had become divorced from all the progress of the post war years, and which was now suffering both the joys and the pains of re-entry to the modern world. During our years in Stockbridge I had noticed a couple looking for a parking space for their home-made Motor Home, a curiously drab looking vehicle with limited window space that would always have stood out from among its peers. Having ourselves received so much hospitality abroad we always went out of our way to welcome others who shared the same spirit of adventurous travel. So often in life debts of hospitality are often paid to new acquaintances. Helen and Wolfgang from Schweinfurt in West Germany soon found themselves seated around our dining table, and a safe home was found for their Motor Home. So now our final port of call was their home in Schweinfurt. Over supper we discovered how their son, a violinist in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, had met a young Romanian girl when on tour to Bucharest. She had corresponded for some years but before 1989 she had no chance whatsoever of obtaining an exit visa. When the frontier was finally opened in 1990 she turned up at a concert in which the younger Wolfgang was performing in Vienna. But she was not alone. By this time nature had provided her with a young son. Perhaps against his parents wishes he eventually married this persistent admirer. Despite their initial anxieties Helen and Wolfgang have lavished affection on this little boy and treat him just as they would have treated their own flesh and blood. For us this story was the wheel of our East European adventures during the cold war turning full circle. The odyssey of those years is now past. With the destruction of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 a whole dimension that had been part of our lives for nearly twenty years disappeared. No more frontiers to battle through, though waiting can still be the order of the day at the "Waiting Frontier"! No more compulsory exchange of currency, no barriers remaining on the Frederikstrasse Station, no need to dial umpteen times to make a connection on the telephone, wondering all the time if your conversation was being monitored. A whole edifice had come tumbling down almost in one night. In retrospect had the whole system of government in the Soviet Union and East Europe not been riddled as it was with the seeds of its own decay the system would inevitably have collapsed once the communications revolution had taken place. Barbed wire, concrete, and armed sentries would have been no protection against the Internet. But the tearing down of that curtain has brought mixed blessings and so called democracy has been bought at a price. The many failings of the communist system; the lack of incentives, the brutality and pettiness often practiced by the state police, the restrictions on travel designed to shield the inhabitants of the sattelite countries from all the bad influences of the West (and to prevent them from seeing the benefits of a consumerist society); all these have gone to a greater or lesser degree. But somehow so has something of the charm and the graciousness of a society that lay hidden behind the mask of communist authority. Vice and crime are on the increase. Foreigners can no longer travel safely in many parts of the former „evil empire‟. Among some there is even a nostalgia for the „good old days‟, though most regard their present problems as a price worth paying for their new freedoms.