Michael Palin explores former Eastern Bloc countries. He travels from the Slovenian alps along the coast of Croatia, into Bosnia and Serbia, and then sails to Albania.
Browse content similar to War and Peace. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Throughout most of my lifetime,
an Iron Curtain has divided Eastern Europe from the West
preventing me from really getting to know it.
I've flown over it, I've peered at bits of it.
But I've never really travelled through it.
Now the Iron Curtain has lifted, I am going to make up for lost time
and explore the other half of my continent, Europe.
Here on the Slovenian Alps, I'm turning my back on Western Europe
and heading east to a world which is changing at a remarkable speed.
Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, the number of countries in Eastern Europe has doubled.
Ten have already become members of the European Union,
and even countries like Turkey are keen to join them.
What lies ahead is, for me, a voyage of discovery,
an exploration of the people, the places, the mood and the spirit
that is transforming old lands into a new Europe.
As we meander through the tranquil countryside of Slovenia,
it's hard to believe that this was the country whose walk out from a Communist conference in 1990
began the break-up of Yugoslavia,
one of the cornerstones of post-war Europe,
and put six new European countries on the map.
I'll be travelling through them, to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia,
and beyond them to the mysterious land of Albania.
CHURCH BELLS TOLL
My first port of call is Slovenia's southern neighbour, Croatia,
whose beautiful coastline stretches languorously along the Adriatic.
Like many of the countries of New Europe, Croatia has a very old history.
Here in the port of Split, off a square built at the time of Napoleon,
Goran Golovko teaches children about the city's most famous son, the Roman emperor Diocletian.
HE SPEAKS LOCAL LANGUAGE
Goran's way of bringing history to life is to portray
the Romans as just one of the many peoples who've occupied Croatia over the years,
very much like present-day tour groups
that flock here every summer.
And they can see girls wearing tanga... Beautiful!
Of all the ex-Yugoslav countries, Croatia is the one that seems
most comfortable with international attention.
Qu'est que c'est?
You could say the idea of East and West Europe began here.
It was Diocletian who took the momentous decision to divide the Roman Empire in two.
He ruled the East from a mighty palace here in Split, which is still inhabited.
The palace is still alive, people still live within it.
And we can see architectural changes from medieval time onwards.
There hasn't been any attempt by municipal authorities to get rid of all the parasitic buildings
on this beautiful thing, because many people would think that was a bit of architectural desecration.
Well, not any more. This is also part of traditional culture.
This is how Split was developed.
That washing looks very old indeed!
Yes, it's Roman actually. They didn't advertise it but it's...
-It's still not dry.
-But it's still there.
So now we are at Peristil, which is the main square of the palace
where the emperor was appearing to his subjects.
And we see this great colonnade of Corinthian-style pillars.
This extraordinary feeling, you've got modern buildings,
-with aluminium windows.
-Yes, this is my bank over there.
That's your bank, indeed.
Where I shake in front of my bank manager.
I don't think I've been anywhere quite like this
where you get the feeling of a great empire which has just crumbled,
and been absorbed again by somebody else. And been adapted.
'I spy a piece of more recent Croatian history,
'the name of the local football club.'
Famous name for us football lovers.
If you are born into being a Hajduk fan,
then you are a Hajduk fan for the rest of your life.
The word "Hajduk" means a bandit, but in the good sense of bandit
as patriot, fighting for his country against Venetians and Ottoman Turks.
Goran takes me to meet Zdravko, a modern Croatian patriot
who also happens to run one of the best restaurants in town.
Are you happy the way it's happening now with the tourists here?
Of course, absolutely. You see, I always say to everybody, I'm very, very happy.
Of course I'm very critical.
But imagine, living, the fall of the Communism,
the creation of the free Croatia, modern Croatian state, for the first time in modern history.
Winning the war and still I'm here, at the age of 60.
You know, it's... Croatia is a state... It's a fantastic feeling.
Of course it's very emotional.
On the other side, I am of course critical, why not?
At the very beginning, I was very, very mild, because my Croatia was like a baby in cradle.
Now you can kick it in the... You know!
Now you can take it apart a bit!
In the '90s, in the war, I wouldn't do that. Now, I'm very critical.
You sound as though you were a bit unhappy in the Communist times?
You know, Communism, I didn't like Communism because it was very limiting.
You see, people felt much more secure in ex-Yugoslavia
because you get a job, and you keep it for life.
You get what you get, but, you see, they didn't have
so many possibilities to work. Like this one.
Like I'm working now, you see.
What sort of things define Croatia now,
its sort of... Its role in the world?
Yes, you see, when we look at it now,
-it is the first time in history that we have our modern state.
For example, in ex-Yugoslavia I could not express my patriotism as freely as I do now.
It has to be some kind... It fit into Yugoslavia, whatever.
But now, I am Croatian.
It's a fantastic feeling that you can say openly
without any fear, without any consequences. That's the point.
These days, self-expression breaks out just about anywhere in Split.
Improvised, energetic and, after a few beers, embarrassingly irresistible.
'Can't wait to get home and tell the wife about this!'
CROWD CHEERS AND APPLAUDS
One of the most seductive attractions of Croatia are her islands.
I take the ferry to Hvar, which comes highly recommended.
What can we expect to see there?
-A paradise? Oh, we are not allowed to go to paradise.
You are, you are.
In what way? Just the look of the place?
I mean the sands, the flowers, the flowers on the islands, the colours, you will love it.
I'm sure you will love it, everyone does.
Hvar beckons you before you even reach it,
with a heady scent of lavender, oregano and the broom that seems to cover the island.
Attractive as this might be to the tourists,
it hasn't done much for the locals who have, over the years, left in droves to find work abroad.
One man who says he'll never leave is Igor Zivanovic.
Raconteur, bon viveur and all-round character,
Igor has his own bar and restaurant in a back street of Stari Grad.
This is the premier house, because the family is here 500 years.
It is steeped in history.
Do you know about all that slow food that they write about in Italy?
Sometimes when we are friends in the bar and we are drinking wine,
we are talking about the wine, about my grandmother, about your grandmother,
about the time when you were 16 or 17.
And the stupid tourist, that's really stupid, not the friend, he wants to eat something.
I say, if you have 20 kroner, you can go to fast food.
-I have no time.
-So if you want a quick meal, don't come in here.
You are the Basil Fawlty of slow food.
I enjoy it! To cook, to make the joke.
What can I do for you now?
You can bring me a glass of white wine from the island of Hvar, please.
-There on the bar, my glass is on the left, yours is on the right.
It may take a few hours but I will do my best.
HE READS LABEL ALOUD
-Igor, is this all right?
-And where is your glass?
Well, I've got a bottle and a glass. You are the most important person at the moment.
I'm taking it slowly today.
According to your philosophy, there was no need to hurry.
There you are.
-One for you, one for me.
-Is this the right one? OK.
This is the wine from the island here.
-This is a table wine.
The meal, peppery lamb stew and fresh grilled sardines is delicious,
and I find myself helplessly drawn into Igor's world, which includes opinions on everything,
from Marshal Tito to McDonald's.
If you are going to try your own you should obey and accept the terms.
If they make here McDonald's, I will hang.
The first McDonald's martyr!
There's clocks all over.
They are all at 3.04.
Look, there's some more.
They're all at 3.04?
This is a story, my dear.
In that time, it's my ex-president who is dying.
-Tito died at 3.04?
Maybe not. But so it was on TV.
They said, now he is dying. And then I put all the clocks on 3.04.
He was the biggest hedonist in the history of modern civilisation. He was wonderful.
'After our lunch, Igor takes me out of the town to see the farms
'deserted by those who couldn't make these stony fields pay.'
They are from 16th century, 16th-17th century.
This is from the 17th century.
Yes, this one. Because you can know in the middle, you notice this triangle, how do you say?
-Bravo. You know everything about our architecture!
-I've cracked it!
At last, something I know about!
-Would you be happy to stay here in this paradise for the rest of your life?
-What have you said?
You have said "paradise".
Then the question is stupid, I am sorry.
Because if this is paradise,
then you mustn't make the question.
-You have come to the end of your life.
-Well, somebody called it paradise.
-You have said paradise.
A girl I met on the boat.
You are for a short time here.
I am sure that you will come back.
I feel I've just got out in time.
There was something dangerously tempting about Hvar that made me want to stop the journey right there.
But the local fishermen make sure my ride across the water to Bosnia is as painless as possible.
A half pint of white wine, freshly-caught anchovies, and oil made by the captain.
This is the way to get around the world.
I'm afraid someone has to do it.
It's a short-lived celebration.
Beyond the mountains lies Bosnia-Herzegovina, where things are a lot more complicated.
What I least expected to find in a country which probably suffered more from the break-up of Yugoslavia
than any other, was a quiet line of pilgrims from all over the world, wending their way up a mountainside
to a place where, 26 years ago, a group of local teenagers met and spoke with the Virgin Mary.
What those children saw has transformed the village of Medjugorje
into a boom town which has already attracted 25 million visitors.
Despite the fact the Pope has refused to endorse the visions, or apparitions as they call them here,
Medjugorje is now the third most popular Catholic site in Europe.
Mirjana Dragicevic, is one of the children who saw the Virgin... and still does.
She's in her forties now, married to a builder and living to all intents and purposes a quiet suburban life.
She told me what happened on the mountain when she was 15.
At first we just ran away.
-We didn't go close.
-Were you frightened?
Yes, because I didn't know what happening to me.
Nobody explained me that this can happen.
Because our religious life in Communism was being in the homes.
Having had this experience was there a change in you, did you feel different somehow?
I understand that happening to me something beautiful.
Because to be with Blessed Mary, I think that this is like in Heaven.
Because give you one example, I am the mother of two daughters and like all normal mother
I'd give my life for them, but when I am with Blessed Mary even my children don't exist.
It's only inside of myself the wish that she bring me with her.
And you can imagine how big pain is when she is leaving and I see that I'm here on the earth.
And I always need to pray one hour, two hours in my room to be able to understand that this must be.
-This is what God wants.
-Do you still see the Blessed Mary?
Yeah, she tell me every 18th March in all my life
that I will have this apparition every 18th March.
But she also said that I will have apparition every second day of each month.
But she didn't say how long.
And every second of each month is most like a prayer for those who don't feel love of God yet.
What we saying unbelievers. But Blessed Mary never say unbelievers.
Does she call you by your Christian name?
She always saying, my dear children. Always.
Is it a burden to have the weight of these apparitions upon you?
Is it a burden to be the person who has seen the Blessed Virgin Mary?
If you seeing one time the face of Blessed Mary you cannot say
it is difficult for you, because when you are seeing the love,
the pain, everything on the face of her for all her children.
And how I can say that for me it's difficult when I think what's she doing for all of us -
when I saying "us" I'm thinking of all the world -
how I can say what I'm doing is difficult for me,
I cannot say, because she is the one really doing everything.
Mirjana and her friends have made Medjugorje into a focal point for Catholics.
My next stop, Mostar, has because of recent events, became equally important to the Muslims.
CRIES AND CLAPPING
In November 1993, in one of the most callous acts of the war,
this bridge behind me, which has stood for over 400 years
and has now been immaculately restored, was destroyed by Bosnian Croat guns within seconds.
It was a single act,
one of many which, following the disintegration of Yugoslavia,
brought terrible suffering to a land
where Muslims and Christians once lived in peace.
And, so this is the peak. Wow!
The highest peak in Mostar.
I feel my stomach is down there already.
Oh, my God! Unbelievable.
The re-building of the bridge has enabled members of the select Mostari Divers Club
to resume the perilous tradition of hurling themselves 70ft, into just 15ft of water.
And the idea is you've got to jump well clear of the bridge, really throw yourself out.
-You have to be away, you have to throw yourself out from the bridge.
CHEERS AND WHISTLES
The destruction of the bridge became a symbol of the pitiless brutality of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
My friend Kamel and his family lived through those times.
What was it like when this bridge was destroyed,
what was the immediate psychological effect?
Was everybody distraught?
For we Mostarians it was like they have lost their child
because they had been born in Mostar, they'd been raised in Mostar.
They lived, they breathed, their first love.
Everything what Mostar represented, represented the bridge.
They felt like they lost their child or they lost their father or mother.
That's how people who really loved this city and this bridge felt about it.
But it was only one act in a bitter struggle.
As races and religions jostled for power, this city of tolerance and tradition was torn apart.
Looking out there now, Kamel, everything looks...
The wooded banks and the little terraces with their tables out.
Do you find it hard to remember that only a dozen years ago
there was such bloodshed around here, there was a war on?
I think that's really nice question and quite a bit hard for me.
Yes, it's beautiful. It's amazing nature, amazing structures,
amazing houses and people, of course.
But going back 12 years, going back in 1993 when I was 14 years old, a teenager...
It looked really, how can I say, unrealistic to me.
Like that I would be, let's say, sitting today here
having discussion with you
because at that time I was more like, "OK, how to survive?
"Where to escape in case of bombing?", and so on.
I was, like, afraid, afraid for my future.
Afraid because we could not see an end to this bloodshed that we had here.
Before I left Mostar, I went with Kamel to one of the Muslim cemeteries,
where all the graves looked very new.
So many young lives ended in 1993.
They all end with "1993".
That was the height of the fighting.
That was the height of the fight.
Yes, it is...
But I would say one thing that I hope that these heroes haven't died in vain.
MAN SINGS DEVOTIONAL SONG
I'm going to be leaving Mostar by train, which is going to take me deep into the heart of Bosnia
and to the city that's perhaps more synonymous with all the events
that have happened in this area than any other...Sarajevo.
This is the Mostar-Sarajevo Express.
When Bosnia-Herzegovina rose from the ruins of Yugoslavia,
the various ethnic groups that made up the country -
Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats -
felt vulnerable and began to fight to safeguard their territory.
Nowhere was the fight more prolonged and destructive than in the capital, Sarajevo.
I check in at the Holiday Inn, famous for being the only hotel
that journalists could stay at during the war.
Frequently shelled, its most sought-after rooms
were those WITHOUT a view.
So, Sarajevo from here is just a city in a most spectacularly beautiful location.
It's almost unbelievable to think
only a little more than ten years ago,
they were coming to the end of the longest siege
in modern European history.
There'd be no cars, no trams, even if you'd tried to cross that road
out there you'd be shot by snipers from any of these buildings.
Today, the wounds are healing,
the trams are running and the city is gradually re-building.
Sarajevo is a tough, resilient working city whose inhabitants just want to get on with their lives.
Most of them don't want to talk about the war, though, sooner or later, everybody does.
I take a tram to the outskirts of the city
to see one of the reasons why what happened only 12 years ago can't be easily forgotten.
The countryside where Sarajevans used to go for walks and picnics is now a death trap.
As a mine clearance squad works away I talk to its leader Damir, once a soldier himself.
This particular part was territory controlled by the Republic of Srpska army.
The Bosnian government army was further down in the field and further up the mountains.
So the Bosnian Serbs moved their armies...
Yeah, this was part of the sort of ring.
And if you look at Sarajevo you can see the minebelt...
-Right along the hills.
-Yeah, completely surrounding the city,
enclosing down. And this the old centre.
And we are now in this area, just under the mountain.
So during the conflict, at that time
we did not think about what will happen with Bosnia after.
But its effect that now we are paying the price, big price...
for use of land mines.
When you see all this painstaking work that has to go on
and the endless amount of time it's going to take, how do you feel?
Do you feel very bitter about the people who laid these mines and created the situation?
It's difficult to say because I was part of it.
And...for many people at that time
was perfectly normal to use land mines.
The conflict was so long and so difficult that I understand why
if we had ten times more land mines those would be used.
If you are facing a really powerful army on the other side and you expect something to happen,
you're going to use everything you have in stock just to stop them from entering your trenches.
And land mines were used for that.
Land mines were used as a protection for the front lines.
It is sad that now we are paying the price for that.
But at that time we did not think about long-term.
At that time you had to think, I'm going to survive no matter what,
and I'm going to use everything I've got to protect myself.
It's such a beautiful place.
In England this would be a nature reserve.
They'd say, "Oh, it's wonderful!"
The farmers' agri-business hasn't cleared all this, we'd value all this.
It's only here... because of the war really.
In a local school a Serbian theatre group, helped with money from UNICEF,
uses puppets and jokes to put across the deadly serious message that a walk in the woods could be fatal.
HE SPEAKS LOCAL LANGUAGE
The group, organised by Diana here, turn the class room into a courtroom
where land-mines and other weapons are put on trial,
with the children as the jury.
CHILDREN SHOUT OUT
Maybe half a kilometre or kilometre outside of this school you have lots of land mine fields.
Some of them are marked, some are not.
So that's why we try to keep children aware that they should be careful where they go,
especially when it comes to going to nature, mountains.
What sort of...
What does it do to the community to have these mines all around,
with the fields and the economy?
It's very negative impact on the economy.
This particular part of Bosnia was very famous for the wood-cutting industry.
People used to go to the forest to cut woods
or collect medical herbs or mushrooms.
Now they can no longer do it.
Or they have a choice.
Either basically to starve because they have no income,
or to go to the forest and risk being killed or injured by the land mine.
It's kind of depressing for the future of these children.
You are right. That's why many families are leaving this town.
This school was built for 600 pupils. Now it has a bit over than 120 pupils.
That means some due to the war but mostly due to the economical reasons.
Families are just leaving this community because they have no jobs.
It's very sad, it's a beautiful part of Bosnia.
The good news is that thanks to work like this, the deaths from land mine accidents are less than 20 a year.
The bad news is that it may be another 70 years
before it's safe to walk in the Bosnian countryside again.
Sarajevo's dramatic location, at the focal point of north-south and east-west trade routes,
has made it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe.
Its years as part of the Ottoman Empire have left behind
a legacy of fine buildings and religious tolerance.
I walk through the old Turkish quarter with Ademir Kenovic,
a film director who kept working here throughout the war, risking his life
to fly in and out to show the world his films.
He's teaching me a lot about the city, including what street-wise Sarajevans should drink.
Here we can get our drinks.
Can you repeat it once again?
-Erm... Bo, bo...
Boza, it turns out, is a fermented corn drink, a local speciality.
So, you first tell me how it tastes.
Boza. I keep wanting to put an "R" in it.
-Unusual taste, that.
Lemony, almost a lemon taste but it's thicker than a lemon juice.
What was this area like during the siege, was it still operating,
were people still going to the mosque
-and still buying their Boza?
-No, no, no. This was all closed.
Most of these places were devastated.
It's empty most of the time because you can see the hills from these places.
Wherever you can see the hills from you wouldn't dare to go there.
So there was sometimes very fast walking through these places
but it was mainly empty during the war.
People were hidden.
Did you feel...
very, very frustrated that this was happening to your city, a civilised city?
You have no electricity, no water, and it went on for three years.
-How did you keep yourself going?
I understand you being British using the mild words like "frustrated"!
It was more than outrageous.
Nobody here could believe what's wrong with all these people letting all these idiots,
maniacs, and that system to go and destroy the people.
And destroy all what's good about this place.
Mosques and churches were the first buildings to be repaired
after the war, reasserting Sarajevo's tolerant tradition
and helping to breathe new life into the old town.
ACCORDION MUSIC PLAYS
My last meal in Sarajevo is memorable...
for good wine, good humour, good company
and the enchanting sound of a singer called Amira,
whose voice seems to echo all the pain and pleasure of this remarkable country.
SHE SINGS IN LOCAL LANGUAGE
It's only a few hours' drive from Sarajevo to Belgrade.
Once the capital of all Yugoslavia, Belgrade is now, after defeats in three wars against the Croatians,
the Bosnians and the Kosovans, the capital of a Serbia
that's not only reduced but blamed squarely, if not fairly, for all the recent troubles.
Set impressively on the Danube, Belgrade bears few obvious scars of war.
I cadge a ride on the river with a charismatic DJ
and critic of the Milosevic regime who thinks I can sail.
..As are we at the moment.
The old arthritis!
'A man of many names, his current handle is, modestly, Rambo Amadeus.'
What was the war like for you, did you have to fight?
No, no, I was like...you know...
For me, it was like...
everybody tolerate me to be like
his brother, you know.
So you didn't raise a gun in anger?
No, quite opposite.
We had in Belgrade here a huge...
peace organisation who struggled against... To stop the war.
It was quite a bad time in Serbia for a long time
because you were involved in a war which you couldn't win.
It was a bad time for all of the former Yugoslavia.
If you throw your TV through the window you didn't notice anything.
But actually nobody throw TV through window.
Too precious. What was your feeling about Milosevic?
When he was alive and he was in power, I had some thoughts about him.
Now he is dead
and I don't want to tell anything.
But you can ask around what I...
was thinking about him.
Somehow I think it is polite.
Serbs know how to party and Belgrade is renowned for its music,
available at all kinds of clubs, at all hours of the night.
In one of the clubs I meet Tijana, a DJ and singer, and her friend Jelena, a TV presenter.
We end up back on the Danube, this time navigating the tricky waters of Serbia's recent past.
There was never a real war in Serbia
so you don't get the same feeling
as if you go to Bosnia or parts of Croatia that were at war.
-We've seen that.
-So that's why...
Belgrade was always...always had this metropolitan glitter.
It was the capital city of Yugoslavia, too.
I think the tradition of this city is, in a way, kept.
There is also ironic side of this nation so everybody is making jokes about their history.
So you have absurd things like celebrating the battle that we lost.
Are things improving now?
I don't think that things are going to change for better with the new generations.
I think new generations are really...
Because they grew up in the way they did
and it's going to be really confusing and crazy.
I really don't know, I have no idea what is going to happen.
So the prejudices are still there, you think?
I think there is not a big hatred towards other nations in Balkans.
Not even among the younger generations.
Although they grew up in a very aggressive environment, they did not actually know what was happening.
They were not aware. They just knew that there was a problem.
But there is something that... this Serbian mentality that is always coming on the surface.
This fleeting impression tells me the Serbs are well aware of the contradictions of their history.
They're also rather proud of them.
In the hope of finding transport on through the Balkans
I've come south to the busy port of Dubrovnik, jewel of the Adriatic.
Even this treasure was not spared the violence of the war.
For half a year, Bosnian-Serb artillery shelled the city from up on these cliffs.
Thanks to its beauty and its harbours, Dubrovnik is once again flaunting its attractions,
though there are many locals who worry that their city is becoming too popular,
and that the cruise-liner crowds are tarnishing the very beauty they've come to see.
Someone who still loves the atmosphere of the old town is Edin Karamazov,
a Bosnian who plays the lute so sweetly that Sting has made an album with him.
But he's kept the busking job, just in case.
Edin that is, not Sting.
As a storm, blowing up from nowhere, clears the stone-flagged streets of the city,
Edin, with true Balkan hospitality, offers me shelter in the apartment he's been lent by a friend.
Do you go back to Bosnia?
Oh, yeah. Of course.
I just started loving Bosnia.
It's a nice country.
It's your homeland.
Do you feel at home there?
Oh, yes, let's say.
Although I don't feel at home... nowhere.
At the moment.
Home is everywhere.
-You are indeed a wandering minstrel!
-It seems so.
When I look back,
I travelled most of my life and I played everywhere
and I think it's...it is my way in the end.
Although I never wanted to be a minstrel.
I think it is so.
On this suitably soulful note, my time here and in Croatia
and, indeed, in the former Yugoslavia has come to an end.
With some difficulty, we've found a boat that will take us down the coast to Albania.
Her captain is a part-time opera singer who's just played Judas
in the Zagreb production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
He doesn't really want to go to Albania, but he listens politely as I burble on.
I rather like the idea of the mystery of Albania. I like the fact of it being secret.
Everywhere is opening up but it...
still seems to be the reclusive country in Europe.
It was one of the closest European country.
So in our minds, it is still some kind of black hole, really.
I would say maybe...
..50 people from Croatia even go there.
It is very complications.
Some businessmen, they start maybe some little business or something like that.
The captain does everything he can to avoid reaching Albania too quickly,
raising only his smallest sail and singing a lot.
LOUD RENDITION OF "O Sole Mio"
I'm not complaining, but we've another 17 countries to get through.
-What's for supper?
-Is that...? I heard some echo.
Very good. Very good.
Cooking supper gives him another reason to slow the boat down, but the mussel risotto is superb.
You can put this in the sea, back.
OK. I suppose that's... I don't want to lose any risotto.
I accept now that the captain's not going to hurry,
and after washing my smalls, I settle in and surrender to the night.
I must say, there's...
something to be said for this way of getting round Europe.
Bobbing along the Adriatic,
along one of the most ancient trade routes of the world,
with this lovely symphony of creaks and groans.
You just don't get hotel rooms like this.
And tomorrow, Albania. Ahh.
LOUD SINGING ECHOES
Amazingly enough, we do eventually reach Durres, Albania's main port and second city.
We're now heading into the heart of the Balkans
and the first port of call is Albania, surely the most quirkily inscrutable country in Europe.
I know they had a king called Zog and, for 45 years, a hardline communist dictatorship
where even having a map could land you in prison.
But now they are open for business. We can see the reality for ourselves.
With Italy, her main trading partner, only 70 miles away,
Albania's isn't exactly cut off, it just feels that way.
On the beach at Durres, there's surreal evidence
of the paranoid rule of Enver Hoxha, the dictator who embraced first Stalin, then Chairman Mao.
One of the first things you notice when you come ashore in Albania are bunkers everywhere.
Apparently, there are about 400,000 of them scattered across the country,
a symbol of the paranoia during the Hoxha years.
But now some of them have been recycled rather nicely
and certainly make British beach huts look rather pathetic!
You could have a nice holiday and repel an invasion from here.
And what can you say about Dunsleepin' and all those little Balmorals?
This is a proper decent beach hut!
I take the train from Durres inland to the capital, Tirana.
It's about an hour's ride away.
Under Communism, investment in Albania stagnated
and afterwards things got even worse when a huge pyramid selling scheme collapsed taking savings with it.
The villages we passed through show a bruised economy making a fragile recovery.
In the capital, evidence of hardship is less immediately apparent.
The Albanian's car of choice appears to be a Mercedes.
Almost everybody has one, though no-one seems quite sure where they've all come from.
I get a part-time job with some young Albanian couriers.
They've been given the task of delivering some of the city's bills and business letters
as the postal service and the traffic is so bad.
My fellow worker, Ilya, seems to know just what to do,
including wearing a helmet and getting a proper bike.
The natives are not friendly.
CAR HORN BLARES
-Ilya, do you want some water?
-You'll need it after that.
It's dangerous sometimes, isn't it, out there?
Yeah. With a bike it is.
Were you born here?
-Yeah, I was born in Tirana.
-Was it a good place to grow up?
It was before a good place.
-It was before?
-Before it was a good place.
-Before 15 years.
Do you prefer it when the communist...?
Yeah. It was better. No cars, nothing, no troubles.
No troubles! A bit of nostalgia for the old days.
Albania's national hero, Skanderbeg, fought the Turks.
But today's hero is fighting for his city.
Hello, Mayor. It's nice of you to meet me, Michael Palin.
And what a fantastic office.
I've just noticed! It's not really an office, it's an art gallery!
Have a seat.
Edi Rama is an artist who became mayor of Tirana.
His notebooks, doodled on during council meetings, give him inspiration for improving the city.
All these colours you have here,
were they part of how you approached changing the city? The look of the city, by painting buildings?
Colours are a part of our life.
It's really a pity that cities are not really reflecting this.
And I think Tirana has a big potential to develop on colours.
I would like the city to become
like an open-air contemporary art living space.
It's like people living in an art space.
So if every building would be painted, every corner would be painted, it would be amazing.
It could be a really extremely attractive city.
So the idea for the painted buildings comes really from you?
No, the idea of painting buildings came in the beginning.
When I came in, and we had no money, and people had big expectations
after ten years of greyness and lack of hope.
Tirana was like a transit station where everybody wanted to leave for somewhere.
Dirty, and no communication.
So we had to give a sign, and how?
We thought, colours are the best way.
You grew up here presumably during the Hoxha years and all that.
It must have been depressing for someone with an artistic colour sense.
A little bit depressed, yes. It was like a concentration camp.
Private life was totally controlled.
Cafes didn't exist.
We didn't have cafes.
What sort of education were you getting?
It was a Stalinist country.
We were isolated from both West and East.
So it really was, there was no other country in the same situation as Albania?
-Kind of unusual.
When it all finished,
was there a great feeling, did you feel a great spirit of excitement and opportunity and liberation?
Sure. It was... like the end of a nightmare.
To escape Tirana's turbulent traffic, I take a taxi out of town to see what life's like beyond the city limits.
This involves negotiating the infamous Blackbird roundabout,
named after a brothel that used to stand on the site.
Maybe still does for all I know!
The mayor is doing his best to beautify Tirana but there are times
when a city needs something more than art, like roads that work.
Until you get the infrastructure right, I think Tirana is never going to thrive.
As a friend of mine once said about a British city which tried
to paint its way out of trouble, you can't polish a turd!
Albania, like most of the Balkan peninsula, is mountainous.
And here in the town of Kruja, the 15th century hero Skanderbeg
used natural defences to fight off three Turkish sieges.
In a country without a lot to celebrate,
this has made Kruja a national shrine and leading tourist attraction.
But Illir Mati, my guide, has something rather different to show me.
He invites me to accompany a young man who is taking a sheep to be sacrificed at the local monastery
in the hope that it will make a dream come true.
Tell me about this dream.
Yeah. In the basis of this procession...
Yes, pilgrimage, the basis is the dream.
People have dreams
about the person who are working in Europe.
Oh, I see.
So their family who are working in Europe, they pray for them.
They pray for them in this mountain.
-What do they pray?
-They pray have documents, and work.
Documents and work. That's a simple goal for your prayer.
There don't seem to be too many people on this particular pilgrim trail this afternoon.
However, I dare say our reward will be greater...
The monastery belongs to the Bektashi religion, one of the offshoots of the mystical Sufi order of Islam.
Its position, on the very top of the mountain,
is good for devotional contemplation but hell on the thigh muscles.
Very pleased to meet you.
It's difficult to get here.
-Yes. Where do we go?
I am honoured.
Ooh, it's so nice to sit down.
'The holy man, known as the Baba, doesn't initially look thrilled to see us.
'But after a tumblerful of the local raki, he seems to perk up a bit.'
Baba, very good to meet you.
In the mountain, the villagers like to have raki.
'Regrettably, the main business of our visit cannot be put off any longer
'and the pilgrim hands his sheep over for the sacrifice.'
News of the successful sacrifice has cheered up the family no end
and I'm invited back for a party
at which my pilgrim friend plays celebratory music with his father and brothers.
Albania does seem different from the other countries of the Balkans.
It may be looking increasingly to the West, but at heart it feels Oriental.
And I have to remind myself that not only am I still in Europe, but I've a lot further east to go yet.
Michael Palin explores the countries that were for much of his life hidden behind the Iron Curtain but now are very much part of the new Europe of post-Soviet times. From high in the Julian Alps of Slovenia, along the magical coast of Croatia and deep into Bosnia and Serbia, he discovers new countries coming to terms with the bloody wars that created them and now enjoying the peace that prevails. From Dubrovnik, he sails to Albania where he finds a country adapting to a new openness.