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Published: April 14th 2010
We flew in on the red-eye from Almaty to Riga, and as the sun came up over the Russian Steppe I gazed out of the window onto parts of the world that hadn’t previously existed even in my imagination. We’d planned months before to cross Kazakhstan to Russia to Europe, overland. But time had caught up with us. China will do that to you. I had one overriding wish driving into Riga on that overcast morning on the airport bus, and it appeared it had been granted. Europe in all its autumnal glory, that beautiful bittersweet season marking the end of summer and nature’s retreat; its glorious decay merging poetically with some of the abandoned buildings of a now increasingly distant Soviet past.
The past is something we carry around with us, just waiting, it seems, for that moment it can enlighten the present. And as we explored that first city on the first morning of that short Baltic States sampler, I could literally hear the leaves of memory rustling in the corridors of my mind. I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from. Though to be more accurate, where my history comes from; I was born in
London, over a thousand miles from here, and in Europe that’s about as far as it gets. Yet like an internal rumour, my former lives lived in Europe make these Baltic countries seem familiar in myriad ways. A dusty box of old memories, locked away in an attic. Yet like déjà vu it’s easy to mistake memory for imagination; they become intertwined the one feeding the other.
Europe has enough on the menu to satisfy the hunger of the most ravenous wanderlust, yet I’ve always preferred those little restaurants without menus. But the truth is these days it is Europe that is exotic, Europe that is the Other. And oh how she stands bold and proud; familiar yet increasingly distant, unexplored, changing and unknown. On the last of our fortnight in Baltic Europe, in Tallinn, I wandered the streets of that unknown vaguely familiar town at night, in the rain, the lights glistening off the cobblestones. It was one of the pleasantest travel sensations I can recall. Absence makes the heart grow fonder but after a little less than two months back visiting family it was time once again for us to go for another little wander...safe in the
knowledge that nostalgia is everything it used to be.
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