Next Episode of Great Continental Railway Journeys is
Michael Portillo travels on the great train routes of Europe, as he retraces the journeys featured in George Bradshaw's 1913 Continental Railway Guide.
Armed with his 1913 Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide, Michael Portillo ventures to the northernmost reaches of Europe, where he braves the freezing temperatures of the Baltic Sea and finds peace paddling a canoe on the lakes of Finland. On his journey from the Latvian capital, Riga, to the Manchester of Finland, Tampere, Michael encounters medieval knights in Tallinn, grills sausages in Helsinki and samples cloudberry liqueur in a hot tub by the light of Finland's midnight sun.
A hundred years ago, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were part of the Russian Tsar's vast empire, but as Michael discovers, each country had a vibrant identity and culture of its own. Aboard a beautifully restored tram built in 1901, Michael finds that Riga in 1913 was one of the Russian empire's most important cities, where industry was booming but workers unhappy with their lot were rebelling.
After a picnic of chewy dried fish and beer on board a Soviet-era train, Michael arrives in Estonia, where in the magical setting of a ruined 13th-century cathedral, he hears a choir sing the nation's most important song and learns how, more recently, the Baltic countries demonstrated their desire for independence from the Soviet Union with a singing revolution.
Seasoned members of the Tallinn Ice Swimming Club introduce Michael to their sport before he crosses the Baltic Sea by ferry to Helsinki, where he discovers the music of the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and learns how his masterpiece Finlandia spurred Finns toward their independence.
North of Helsinki in Tampere, Michael takes to the water again to explore one of Finland's 180,000 lakes.
Steered by his 1913 Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide, Michael Portillo heads for the Netherlands, where he roots around the world's largest flower auction in Haarlem, operates a crane in Europe's largest container port, Rotterdam, and investigates Amsterdam's famous red-light district.
Following in the footsteps of early-20th-century British tourists, Michael tours this compact country, which boasted a mighty navy and a global empire to rival that of Britain. He discovers the magnificent art and architecture of the Dutch Golden Age and marvels at the engineering ingenuity of this fiercely independent nation.
In Rotterdam, Michael finds the 'great commercial activity' mentioned in his guidebook has reached epic proportions through the port's automated terminal. He takes a water taxi along the New Maas river to the windmills of Kinderdijk to see how the Dutch conquered the waters which threaten their land.
In Delft, Michael learns how the city came to specialise in pottery and finds out the secrets of its success. Michael is in his element in the Hague as he discovers the beautiful government buildings known as the Binnenhof and begins to understand the origins of the Netherlands' famous reputation for tolerance.
In Haarlem, Michael goes behind the scenes to see how 21 million stems and two million potted plants are auctioned every day from a vast complex roughly the size of Monaco.
Plucking up Dutch courage, Michael takes to two wheels in Amsterdam's fast-moving cycle lanes and heads for the Indies district, where he samples a delicious 'rijstafel' of dishes from the Dutch empire.
Arriving in Utrecht, Michael discovers the main hub of the Dutch railway network and its busiest station. He finds that the first constitution of the Netherlands was signed here and hears what the locals think about Dutch tolerance today.
With his Bradshaw's 1913 Continental Railway Guide in hand, Michael Portillo ventures east to a land which a century ago was part of the Russian Empire and today is the independent state of Ukraine. Beginning in the capital Kiev, Michael explores the city described in his century-old Bradshaw as the Jerusalem of Russia. At Kiev's beautiful St Sophia Cathedral he seeks to understand the history behind Ukraine's current conflict with its vast neighbour and discovers how Ukraine adopted Orthodox Christianity.
Steered by his 1913 Continental Railway Guide, Michael Portillo travels one of the most stunning rail routes of the world, through the former Russian empire from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, taking in present-day Georgia and Azerbaijan. Following the historic Trans-Caucasus Railway, Michael begins in the port of Batumi on the dazzling Caucasian Riviera. He savours the soul of Georgia in its wine and discovers a surprise 19th-century tea plantation in the West Georgian countryside. The seat of power beckons in Kutaisi, home to the wonderful glass dome built for the Parliament of Georgia when it moved here from the capital, Tbilisi, in 2012. At the medieval convent of Gelati Michael sees how magnificent frescoes are being painstakingly restored and finds out about the most powerful king in Georgian history.
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