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I'm in the Arctic Circle at the start of a spectacular journey, an amazing adventure. I'm both exhilarated and daunted, because this is not only the largest country in the world, but it's name is Russia. This is the Arctic midsummer, which means literally the sun never sets. It's daylight for 24 hours. Conversely, in winter it's bitterly cold and you never see daylight at all. And in a way, I suppose, it's a metaphor for my journey, because the story of this country and of its people is one of extremes. Nothing is ordinary here. I started my journey across Russia in the far northwest of the country. I've been to Russia before, but in a very different era. Then, in the Cold War, the Russians were on the other side of the Iron Curtain. And daft as it may seem today, I was always a little fearful of them. 'But my first port of call has quite the opposite associations.' I took the ferry across to Murmansk, a city which became famous in the Second World War when the Soviet Union was not an adversary but our ally. Murmansk was once a tiny fishing village, but during the last century it grew into a mighty commercial port and naval base. The reason - the flow of the Gulf Stream means that the sea here never ices over, even in the harshest winter. In the darkest days of the war, Murmansk became a crucial link in the supply chain from the western allies to the Soviet front line against the Nazis. I found my way through the city, which is rather down at heel in a Soviet way, until I came to a little allied war cemetery. 'On one headstone, I read the words, "JB Anderson. ' "Steward's boy on the SS Induna. Aged 16. "His leaf perished in the green, blasted by Arctic gales." 'The conditions on the Arctic convoys were unspeakable.' Frozen decks, violent storms, but worst of all the Luftwaffe and the U-boats. In all, more than 50 allied ships were lost on what was called the Murmansk run. But the people of the Soviet Union suffered far, far more. Overlooking the harbour today, there is a gigantic statue of a soldier in Soviet uniform. Massive he may be, but he looks surprisingly gentle. He's a memorial to those many, many thousands who died when the German bombers raised Murmansk almost to the ground. Those who survived were starving. When the bread ran out, they lived on sap from trees and boiled shoe leather. Russia's history is one of terrible suffering in both war and peace. But on this journey, I want to explore not only the past but the present and the future of this richly turbulent nation. It was Winston Churchill who talked about the Russians in terms of riddles, enigmas and mysteries. And one of the reasons for that is, of course, that there's been a long period of great secrecy in Russia which has only just really, in historical terms, come to an end. Then, travelling on a train like this for a reporter would have been a complete nightmare - passes, permits, minders, people viewing you with a lot of suspicion. And the difference between then and now is...is quite extraordinary. '' Now, I could talk freely to anyone. 'And, this being Russia, offer a little inducement as well.' Da. Da. Thank you. 'My producer, Teresa, saves me from getting lost in translation.' Karin was saying that in the White Nights you can talk to friends all night, because from midnight till eight in the morning all telephone calls are free. Is that true! Yes. So you talk on the phone all through the White Nights? Yes, with friends. ' I wanted to explore the changes since the collapse of communism.'