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Pole to Pole

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This is the second of Palin’s ‘Great Twentieth – Century Adventures’.

Setting out to travel from one end of the earth to the other, Palin and his team, using aircraft only as a last resort, endured extremes of heat and cold, as they crossed 17 countries on trains, trucks, ships, rafts, ski-doos, buses, barges, bicycles and balloons.

 

Much of the journey was made between July and Christmas of 1991. It was as if history was waiting for Palin, planning some of its biggest days for his arrival on the scene. He came to Ethiopia at the end of a thirty-year civil war, Zambia on the day of Kenneth Kaunda’s downfall and he witnessed the end of apartheid in South Africa and Communism in the USSR.

 

If you’ve seen any of Palin’s travel series you’ll know exactly what to expect from this book. His sense of humour shines through and so does his never ending genuine joy and love of life, his obvious pleasure at meeting new people and being in strange but fascinating places. He is an excellent companion for such an arduous journey.

 

The Egyptian theory of driving is simple – everyone else on the road is in your way.

 

One of his Egyptian guides round Luxor is 83 year old Tadorus (but he insists Michael calls him Peter!) who as a boy of fourteen ‘was present when archaeologist Howard Carter first pushed open the door of Tutankhamun’s tomb’. Despite his many, many years spent around these ancient buildings with scholars and archaeologists, he still finds some things unexplainable.

A statue of Rameses 2nd, 97 feet high and made from a single piece of granite, weighs 1000 tons. Cranes nowadays can only lift 200 tons, yet this massive statue was brought to Luxor from Aswan overland, 3000 years ago.

 

And he goes on to say.

The temple of Abu Simbel, was aligned by the ancient Egyptians so that the sun shone onto the face of Rameses twice a year – once on his birthday and once on his coronation day. When it was re sited in a 40 million dollar operation to save it from the rising water of Lake Nassir, all the calculations of the world’s experts could not enable the sun to shine on Rameses face more than once a year.

 

Informative and entertaining, if you like to travel the world in the company of someone erudite and ebullient but all from the comfort of your armchair then this is a book for you.

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I've listened to this and others in the series as audiobooks. They are read by Michael Palin himself. Who else could do it? The books (or diaries) contain more detail then the television programmes and often provide insights into the recording process.

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