East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Planning a Silk Road adventure with (and without) Google Maps

I chanced on one of those things that happen on Facebook, a guy asking his followers

If you cold go on a big adventure, what would it be?

Or something to that effect.
Now I don’t have to think a lot about it – granted, it’s a big world and there’s adventures everywhere, but my first, instinctive response is the usual

From Paris to Shanghai by car, following the Silk Road

If you’re here, you know I love the Silk Road, its history, its stories – going along the old road, driving leisurely in my car, would be a dream come true. Stop to look at the landscape, take a few photos, eat a bite…

Fiat_panda_1_v_sstAnd when I say car, I’d mean my old reliable Panda – a tin can on wheels if ever there was one, so basic and stripped down it did not even come with a radio tuner, but in my experience the best, most reliable, more easily maintained ride I ever had.

But alas, Google Maps at this point lets me down

Sorry, we could not calculate driving directions from “Paris, France” to “Shanghai, China”

But please!
Google can provide me with a flight from Charles Degaulle Airport to Shanghai, for as cheap as 80 euro, but its Maps/Earth tools won’t calculate my route by land.
OK, let’s do it the old way. Continue reading



A story of two books

I mentioned this story in the past, but never wrote about it in detail – here goes.

I’ve been reading about the Silk Road for ages.
I started as a kid, with a much-edited and simplified version of Marco Polo’s Il Milione, and then with the Arabian Nights and then all the rest.
Journey to the West was another instigating read.
Then, one day, during a raid in a Turin bookstore, I chanced upon Luce Boulnois’ La Via della Seta, the Italian translation of a book called Silk Road: Monks, Warriors & Merchants. The book had actually been written in French, and published in 2001, as a summation of the research the author had carried out since 1963, and has been translated in a number of languages (nine, according to Wikipedia).
Boulnois was probably one of the top researchers on the subject of the history and culture of Silk Road, and the book is a classic. She was fluent in both Russian and Chinese, and she had traveled extensively, when she worked as a translator, in places often forbidden to Western scholars, collecting a wealth of information that she used as the basis for her studies.
But let me tell you about that Italian edition. Continue reading

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Silk Road Food

Something fast, silly but possibly of interest.
After all, the Silk Road is one of the themes of this blog, and food is one of the most accessible, and often surprising, facets of culture.
So, here goes – a small collection of Silk Road inspired foods, on Pinterest.
Some authentic, some shamelessly counterfeit.


Finding a good bad guy

Ungern-sternberg_rThe gentleman you see portrayed here on th eright is Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg.
And the word “gentleman” is probably not the right one.

Also known as “the Mad Baron”, Ungern-Sternberg is one of the blatant proofs that history can best pulp fiction any day of the week, and without trying.
There is no Bond villain, no dime novel Yellow Peril, no fictional bad guy that can go head-to-head with the Baron in terms of madness and cruelty, and hope to win.

And all this is just fine because, you see, I’m doing the final draft of my novel, and I need to make my bad guy… worse.
The eating-babies-alive sort of worse. Continue reading

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Travel guides

A map indicating trading routes used around th...

A map indicating trading routes used around the 1st century CE centred on the Silk Road. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everything finds its use, sooner or later.
And if one’s a writer, everything finds a writing-related use, sooner or later.
Back when I was planning my after-graduation Silk Road adventure that never happened, I got me a few maps and guidebooks.
These went to form the core of my still-growing collection of books on the subject.

As of now, I’m also sort of a Travel Guide collector – as Blondie used to sing, dreaming is free.

Now, almost fifteen years later, I dug out some of the stuff to document a story I’m writing.
Guidebooks are great for local detail – and one can even find out how things change through time by comparing guidebooks from different decades.

Continue reading