Episode 4 - Danube to Dnieper
Danube to Dnieper
Michael journeys by road, rail and river through Hungary, and the Ukraine, ending in the Black Sea resort of Yalta.
After a lazy cruise down the River Danube from the Slovakian
Border, he arrives in romantic Budapest.
At the historic Gellert Hotel, he is engulfed in the outdoor swimming pool by a 1930s wave machine before a tour of the city which incorporates the ornate riverside Parliament Building. His guide is Peter Zwack, who survived Nazis and Soviets to become Hungary's first ambassador to the USA after the fall of Communism. Thoughts of that era prompt Michael to visit the House of Terror on Andrassy Street, where he is reminded of the uprising of 1956 and the grim fate that befell its instigators.
He is relieved as evening approaches and he can go for a fitting to the chic salon of couturier Katti Zoob. Later that week, Michael is to model an outfit designed by Katti for her Summer Collection before Budapest's fashionistas.
Next day, Michael leaves Budapest on the Tisza Express eastward-bound to the Ukraine. His first stop is the National Park at Hortobagy, where Attila the Hun is reputed to have rampaged across the Great Hungarian Plain. Then he visits the community around the little town of Mad, where Hungary's great gift to mankind is grown and manufactured - Tokaji dessert wine: "The King of wines and the wine of Kings".
At the border town of Chop, Michael has, literally, an uplifting
experience as his carriage is hoisted up and transferred onto
bogies compatible with the old Russian railway system.
Then, after damp passage through the Carpathians, he arrives at Lviv ("Florence of the East"), and thence Kiev, which he last visited in 1991, when he made Pole to Pole. During that rail journey in Soviet times, he met Vadim Castelli, who sensed change coming. Now - 15 years on - Michael meets Vadim again, post Orange Revolution, with the Ukraine in a state of political paralysis. But Vadim is optimistic and points out that this is merely the process of the new democracy in action.
Much more interesting to Ukrainians is the marriage of Eugenia, the prime minister's daughter, to Sean Carr, a Leeds market trader and leader of the heavy metal rock group the Death Valley Screamers. Sean gives Michael a lift on his Harley to meet his new bride, who was educated at Rugby School. Then Michael is on his way again, via Simferopol and the 65-mile route in the number 52 trolley bus ("The longest trolley bus route in the world"), to Yalta.
At this famous Black Sea Riviera resort, Michael visits the
Levadia Palace, home of the last Czar, where Stalin, Roosevelt and
Churchill agreed a carve-up of post-war Europe, a fateful decision
for so many countries in this series.
But unable to remain sombre for long, Michael notices that Yalta is twinned with Margate and does what any holidaymaker will do of an evening - enjoy all the fun of the fair.