Roads Yet Travelled

Thanks to Dr Sam Willis’ recent wonderful BBC4 series on the Silk Road, I’ve been daydreaming about obscure expeditions – although I draw the line at canoeing up the Amazon in an old bathtub, which I have previously threatened to do on a number of occasions. * Having seen the wonderful sights of Samarkand, Persepolis, Bukhara and the like, I really want to trek the Silk Road now.

One of the things about the Silk Road is that because it runs through countries which were previously very difficult to get to for political reasons (Most of Central Asia was part of the Soviet Union and essentially closed to the West until the late 1980s; China opened up a little earlier but travel was heavily regulated and quite restricted) or religious reasons (Iran) and more recently due to conflict (Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria) it still feels like a real challenge and unless you have a small fortune to spend on personal security, it’s probably not really a very good idea. Which is a dreadful shame, because it looks gorgeous.

So I thought about expeditions that were, to my mind, equally interesting but hopefully a little less dangerous. For a while I floated with the idea of following the spice trade from India, but that potentially would also take me through the Middle East overland, or skirting the potentially pirate-infested west coast of Africa by sea. Travelling by sea the other way would take me through the Malacca Straits, which I know has a dreadful piracy problem. Perhaps that’s not such a good idea.

This left me with the Amber Trail, which I fear I may have invented. This would start in the Baltic, hopefully with collecting a bit of amber myself, then trekking down through Europe to the bazaars of Istanbul (or probably Cairo), via St Petersburg, the Czech Republic and all those wonderful European countries I’ve been wanting to tick off my list for years. And if the UK don’t leave the EU, I shouldn’t have too much trouble making the travel arrangements.

I just need to get my passport sorted out now…

* It’s all right, I was drunk at the time.

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