There is an opportunity this week to travel, see new things and make amazing discoveries – all from the comfort of your own home. While many of us are still reluctant to get out and about due to the coronavirus pandemic, let the world come to you via your television.
Actress, presenter and much-loved travelling companion Joanna Lumley returns with this brand new three-part series – Joanna Lumley’s Unseen Adventures – to share her previously unseen travelling adventures.
Joanna goes back as far east as Japan and all across the world to Cuba in the west, to share her treasure trove of unseen stories and give viewers an insight into how her travel programmes are made and why she loves to make them.
Featuring behind the scenes footage and outtakes, we join Joanna at home as she recalls some of her most memorable journeys and hidden gems from her travels.
The series offers viewers the chance to escape back to some incredible countries and enjoy their breath-taking scenery, with the added joy of witnessing what really happened along the way – from translation struggles, to filming with an overzealous dog and the challenges of extreme weather conditions.
In the first instalment, Joanna explores the incredible islands of Japan, before jumping on board the Trans-Siberian Railway into Russia.
Joanna explains: “Japan was a country that had intrigued me for a very long time and I was very excited about going there in 2016.
“It proved to be a fascinating place. We covered so much, that there were lots of sequences we just couldn’t squeeze in the first time around.”
After starting her journey in the frozen sea of Okhotsk in the north of Japan, Joanna recalls the challenge of filming the opening sequence of the series, on the slippery ice-incrusted deck of the boat in howling wind.
As she gets behind the wheel of a Japanese car to begin her journey, Joanna shares the total joy of the futuristic Japanese lavatories on her journey south through Japan.
“What I love about travel is just watching and learning. Before we go on these great journeys I do a lot of research and I look at photographs and I study maps and things.
“But somehow a picture starts to form in your mind and for some reason – maybe because of the news items we see of Japan, it’s always about Tokyo, teeming with people. So to visit Hokkaido was absolutely magical… It’s like driving through Narnia.”
Joanna is delighted to experience a festival celebrating the fire god Kangutusuchi, but slightly less keen on the health and safety arrangements as flaming sticks are swung around just metres from the watching crowds.
In March 2007 a tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant resulted in catastrophic nuclear meltdowns.
When Joanna visited the area it had been an exclusion zone for over five years. She meets some of the animals that were abandoned there and the man that stayed behind to care for them.
Joanna explains the challenges of filming interviews using hidden translators, to prevent viewers being distracted by the language barriers in the countries she visits and the difficulties of nodding and pretending to understand the answers to her questions before they have been translated for her.
“The terror is that they are going to say something quite sad and you are going to laugh. I’ve been tripped up by that.
“Or indeed they are telling me a very funny joke and I have gone ohhh, because I haven’t understood yet.”
Joanna visits the snowy hills of Nagano, famous for its boiling hot natural spa waters, enjoyed not just by humans but by wild monkeys too.
She suffers for her art by taking to the beautiful warm, mineral waters, her blushes spared by a strategically placed beige towel underwater.
She insists: “I didn’t want you to think my enormous body was starting to flake off under the water! This is a beige towel I’m wearing. But normally, if I was here on my own I’d be stark naked and swimming like a fish!”
In Kyoto, Joanna previously met the fascinating Maiko girl and timed her visit to enjoy the much heralded arrival of the cherry blossom season, hoping to learn more from the Don of Japanese gardening. But her arrival was not entirely as she had expected, thanks to a perilous situation with a colossal piece of granite…
Next we go all the way back to 2014 and the Trans-Siberian series. Overlooking Hong Kong harbour, Joanna’s introductory piece to camera is interrupted by a trombone, followed by some unhelpful nearby building work.
Joanna lived in Hong Kong as a small child while her father was on duty with the Gurkhas.
With the current news headlines about Hong Kong, Joanna’s memories of that time feel more poignant than ever. She visits Hong Kong’s famous Peninsula Hotel to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea. “I can remember being here when I was about three-and-a-half. This huge lobby, it hasn’t changed has it? This place has seen it all.”
It was here in 1941 that the British surrendered to the Japanese, who’d established their headquarters on the third floor of the hotel. The Japanese had surprised the British colony with an attack on the same day as Pearl Harbour.
From here Joanna begins her journey to mainland China and the Trans-Siberian Express. She recalls her time in Beijing and battling the midday sun to visit the former residence of the Emperor of China before experiencing the more contemporary world of the Chinese fashion industry, by meeting the Editor of Chinese Vogue magazine.
After frantically hauling all of their luggage onto the train from Jining, Joanna and her crew travel to Mongolia, with nothing to eat on route but a decidedly unglamorous pot of dried noodles.
In 2014, Mongolia was just finding its political feet. Joanna visits a local TV news station in the capital UIan Bator to find out more, before meeting the man behind the colossal nearby statue of Gengis Khan and learning of his plans for a new eco-city, featuring the largest Buddha statue in the world. The reality of which turned out to be a slight disappointment at the time.
Joanna also recalls meeting Mr Battulga, who incredibly just a year later became the President of Mongolia.
Joanna experiences the biting chill and beauty of a Siberian winter and travels to Lake Baikal, the biggest fresh water lake in the world, to help feed the fattest and cutest seals imaginable.
She recalls: “It was pretty much thrilling to help feed the seals but to my horror, they were very afraid of me.”
n Joanna Lumley’s Unseen Adventures, ITV, Tuesday, 9pm.