Trading & Travelling along the Silk Road

Trading & Travelling along the Silk Road

A long time ago, I’m not really sure when, I stumbled upon the story of the Silk Road. Not Marco Polo but Herodotos made me read the first travelogue about this ancient trade route. Of course, I knew about the route. Even though I didn’t pay attention during history classes in school (hate myself for that) soon after I graduated started getting interested in routes like this.

Trading & Travelling

The Silk Road has something in particular that I love, it’s the travelling through different places. And because of that experiencing all types of food, unknown habits, beautiful languages. When the Silk Road was truly a trade route one didn’t travel through countries but through lands, often not owned by a government but by a tribe. There were bandits along the road, now there are groups we often call terrorists, but they are just bandits developed in time. The road was and still is dangerous but also adventurous and a revelation. 

Products from East to West and vice versa were done. The trade route brought us silk, spices and gun powder, and also religion, languages and diseases. Not much has changed right?

From West to East the goods included:

  • Horses
  • Saddles and Riding Tack
  • The grapevine and grapes
  • Dogs and other animals both exotic and domestic
  • Animal furs and skins
  • Honey
  • Fruits
  • Glassware
  • Woolen blankets, rugs, carpets
  • Textiles (such as curtains)
  • Gold and Silver
  • Camels
  • Slaves
  • Weapons and armor

From East to West the goods included:

  • Silk
  • Tea
  • Dyes
  • Precious Stones
  • China (plates, bowls, cups, vases)
  • Porcelain
  • Spices (such as cinnamon and ginger)
  • Bronze and gold artifacts
  • Medicine
  • Perfumes
  • Ivory
  • Rice
  • Paper
  • Gunpowder

The black death

We are now one year in a pandemic. One year in which millions of people got ill, many died, many more survived but we all were hit by the virus. You do not have to get sick to be hit. Restaurants, pubs and shops closed. People lost their jobs, their freedom and their friends. 

Well, that’s not new. Along the silk road came many deseases, one of which we know as ‘the black death’. Venice, being the end of the silk road – or the beginning, got hit three times by the Black Death. The last time, in 1629, more than 50,000 people died. That’s one third of the city’s population! One third! 

The ancient trade route

But, let’s focus on the good stuff. Of which one is definitely the silk that came to Venice. Besides silk there were lots of products being traded along the Silk Road, but still the road is not called ‘The Tea Road’ or ‘The Road of Spices’, not even ‘The Ivory Road’. 

Silk in particular was very valuable and one of the most beautiful products that was traded along the route. Still, spices such as pepper (in that time called ‘The Black Gold’) were also quite expensive. It is said that the uncle of Marco Polo left him spices in his will. 

Back to silk. It was called the Silk Road simply because one of the major products traded was silk cloth from China, nothing more and nothing less.

Let’s explain silk

💥 What is Silk?
Silk is a natural fiber produced by insects as a material for their nests and cocoons. There are several types of insects that produce silk, including silkworms (the most common type of silk) but also beetles, honey bees, bumble bees, hornets, weaver ants, and many more.

⚡️The history of Silk
The earliest example of silk fabric comes from China when it was used in a child’s tomb to wrap the body. China dominated the silk industry for many years, and initially the material was reserved for the Emperor. The Chinese used silk as a form of currency, and cost was measured in lengths of silk.

What is the Silk Road?

It’s the route linking China with the West, that carried goods and ideas between the two great civilizations of Rome and China. Like I wrote before, silk went westward, and wools, gold, and silver went east. China also received Nestorian Christianity and Buddhism (from India) via the Silk Road.

Venice and Silk

Situated in the heart of a lagoon on the coast of northeast Italy, Venice was a major power in the medieval and early modern world, and a key city in the development of trade routes from the east to Europe. Its strategic position on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, within reach of the Byzantine Empire and traders from the Near East, allowed the city to become a hub of trade in the west, receiving goods from the east by sea and disseminating them into the growing European market.

A trade treaty between Venice and the Mongol Empire was established in 1221, illustrating their ambitions to extend their trading capacities across Central Asia. Both luxury goods and daily necessities were exchanged in the markets of Venice, from salt and grain to porcelain and pearl. Similarly, gems, mineral dyes, peacock feathers, spices, and a profusion of textiles such as silks, cottons and brocades from Egypt, Asia Minor and the Far East all passed through the ports of Venice, and were taken on by Venetian merchants to Europe, where they were becoming highly desirable and valuable items.

Marco Polo

It was from Venice that Marco Polo, himself a Venetian, set off on his famous expedition to the east in 1271, returning in 1295 with stories about eastern cultures, peoples and traditions that were considered unbelievable by contemporary audiences. His journey demonstrated the possibilities of travelling to the east, and did much not only to create a western fascination with the east (especially through his travelogue The Travels of Marco Polo), but also to put Central Asia, India and China on the western medieval map and thus to encourage further trade and communication in this direction.

Silk weavers in Venice

The Venetian Republic became the centre of a maritime empire of unequalled power, extending over the entire length of the shores around the eastern Mediterranean, to the islands of the Ionian Sea and to Crete. By the end of the 13thcentury, it was one of the most prosperous cities in Europe.

During this time there were about 30.000 silk weavers in the city. Now only 1 survived and we arranged a visit to this silk weaver in Venice; Tessiture Bevilacqua. We got to see their workshop and how they make beautiful fine fabrics for high quality fashion. They got requests from the Kremlin, the White House and many more. The production is extremely complex and still carried out by hand on 18 looms of the 18th century. It feels like stepping into history.

So, silk came from China and ended up in Venice where weavers made the most beautiful products from it. Like we always do things differently we made Venice the starting point of our Silk Road Advanture.

💫 Is there something you’d like to know about the Silk Road, our trip or Venice? Leave a comment!

Love, Milene & Yuri

Experiencing a unique Venice

Experiencing a unique Venice

We are sitting at the grand canal of Venice. Just ate a delicious pizza and drank a home brewed beer of the same place. We are looking at the beautiful architecture while the gondolas make ripples in the water. The church bells ring in the distance and the seagulls are fighting for the little food they find on the street.

It is our last night in this wonderful city. The city that breathes history and is founded on cultures from afar and close by. The tourists are gone and so is the rush. Tranquility and peace has returned to the city, as did the clearness of the water and the fresh sea air. The prices went down and the lines for museums disappeared. The gondolas are no longer conquering the little canals of the city as they lay covered in blue sheets waiting for the pandemic to end.

We are sitting here, at the grand canal, very conscious of the present. Now and here is where our journey starts, it’s where Marco Polo brought us and the Silk Road made us venture. As travel is restricted it might not be the most logical time but it is a unique one. One we might not experience ever again. 

It’s getting dark and the buildings in front of us turn on their lights. The sound of people eating comes from the tiny alleys and less and less boats are sailing the canals. The world turns dark and the city turns silent once again. The few tourists that did venture to the city search desperately for food while the Venetians return home to their families. Now the streets belong to the runners who finally are able to jog through alleys and over bridges in their hometown. 

Wow! I’m sure our trip East couldn’t start any better. Until now we have ventured south, now it’s time to follow the footsteps of an adventurer and the many merchants migrating along the Silk Road. The advanture just started ♥️

Love, Milene & Yuri

The city of love

The city of love

“Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.” 

Those wise words are written by Shakespeare (and we take them very serious on this journey). To be more precise, the words are written in the beautiful love story ‘Romeo and Juliet’. You probably know where I’m going now. Well, we didn’t actually. After walking the streets of Verona in search of the tourist attraction we got lost, amazed by the beauty of the city and awed by incredible buildings we wouldn’t see if in normal times we would follow the flock of tourists to a tiny alley. That tiny alley leads to the reason of tourism in Verona. But, I think that would not do Verona justice.

Romeo and Juliet

To be honest, I do not know much about Romeo and Juliet, even though I got the complete works of Shakespeare in my home. But, I do know of the balcony in Verona and the wall covered in, not love notes but gum. Luckily the walls are cleaned and no tourists could be found anywhere near the balcony. We had the whole place to ourselves, we could’ve written as many love notes as we wanted. We didn’t write any… We also didn’t touch the breast of the statue of Juliet. Normally I find it kind of weird to touch the breast of a woman I do not know and that feeling doesn’t change with a statue, whether it brings luck or it doesn’t. Also, it is not allowed to touch her breast at the moment. Not because of a #metoo initiative but because of Covid-19.

Whether this is the balcony Shakespeare writes about is not known, still many many tourists come to this particular part of Verona just to see the balcony.

The military defence architecture of the city

However, Verona is more much more than a balcony and touching the breast of Juliet. There are amazing buildings, tombs and churches and there is even an arena! Not as big as the Colosseum but still, pretty impressive. Verona also has a castle, cute squares and two city gates to enter the old town. You can find good food, nice drinks and very kind people in the city.

The history of the city spans more than 2.000 years! Already in the first century BCE a Roman colony was established at this strategic spot. Isn’t that amazing? Verona belongs to the Venetian Republic from 1405 to 1797.

The tusk of the elephant

Something I found rather interesting is the tusk of an elephant hanging below an age. Of course that has a story, so here it comes; it is said that the elephant tusk would fall on the first bypassed who is free of sins. So, of course it hangs there for centuries and will keep hanging there for centuries. But, a fun fact is that thousands of tourists, including popes from Rome, are passing through the arch. We did as well and guess what? It still hangs there.

We visited Verona just for a day and I think that is enough but I’m sure when all the museums are open you can stay here for a weekend, enjoy some opera, eat your way through the city and get to know all about their buildings and the strange stories like the Elephant Tusk Story.§

Love, Milene & Yuri

The most beautiful valley in the world

The most beautiful valley in the world

Whether you like him or not, when a person like Hemingway says “it is the most beautiful valley in the world” you have to check it out. And so we did. After visiting my friend in Turro we headed to celebrate Easter in the Trebbia Valley, which was only a 45 minute drive.

Around Milan there is honestly not much to see. The landscape is flat and filled with industry. But then, less than an hour below Piacenza there is suddenly this green lush valley through which the Trebbia flows. A beautiful valley which separates the flat landscape surrounding Milan from the sea.

Corona free Bobbio

The first stop on our trip to our stay for the night is Bobbio. Bobbio is just a small town at the beginning of the valley. The main attraction is the Roman bridge, Ponte Gobbo or Ponte del Diavolo, built entirely of stone from Roman times, which connects the village to the other side of the river.

We didn’t spend much time here but we did walk around, had a coffee, visited the market and were surprised by the amount of people on the street. If it weren’t for the face masks – which you have to wear everywhere in Italy – you wouldn’t know there was a pandemic.

Easter in Italy during Covid-19 regulations

The pandemic is something different here in Italy, and especially in this region. This is actually the area (Piacenza) that was hit the hardest last year. Many people died and even more got ill. But, also here people get tired of the restrictions, people want to move on. Nevertheless, the government has learned from last year. This year there will be no Easter celebrations, travelling to other municipalities is forbidden and only two people can come to visit.

Which means, we were also forbidden to drive to another municipality. Thus, we decided to explore the region and see for ourselves if Hemingway was right.

The artist village Brugnello

As soon as we left Bobbio the road went up and around the mountains, deep down the Trebbia River was visible. We had lunch at a very nice picnic place but when police told us we weren’t allowed to stay here we moved on to find another spot. And we are very thankful for the police to urge us to find another stay for the night because this way we ended up in Brugnello. The cute and beautiful little village on top of a cliff overlooking the river whirling through the mountains like a snake.

Brugnello is also known as ‘artist village’. It’s a tiny cluster of stone houses and perched on top of a 464-meter rocky spur jutting above the river. The origins of this villages dates back to 560 A.D. someone tries to tell us in his best English mixed with Italian words. The village is inhabited by artists who are restoring the houses and streets, hand-carving each home’s shutters and using local stone to decorate the lanes and make chairs and benches. Thus, artist village. “It looks good but we are not done yet” the owner of the only restaurant in the village tells us. Normally the area is packed with tourists from Milan, now the streets are empty. And so is the parking lot.


We asked the villagers if we can stay there for the night and they give permission. Well, who would say no to such a cute van! A parking lot sounds a bit boring but this one is actually amazing. It’s the parking lot of the hotel and has a magnificent view not only on the village but also on the river down below and the green all around us makes this the perfect Easter hide-out.

After a couple of nights spending at this beautiful village it’s time to hit the road again. We are on our way to Venice and before we reach the amazing city of canals, gondolas and bridges we will check out a very famous balcony. Can you guess which one?

Love, Milene & Yuri

The first van problems

The first van problems

While driving in Switzerland, from Liechtenstein to Zürich to be precise, the battery light started flickering suddenly. Not being panicked right away we continued driving towards Uster where a friend of us lives. Here we parked the car somewhere to check where we actually needed to go. When we wanted to move the van she didn’t start. But, like I told you in a previous post, after some pushing her engine started running again. 

What to do when your battery light flickers?

Normally you stop but I am actually very happy that we continued driving and by accident stopped on a somewhat empty and not flat road. This way we could easily push her when she didn’t want to start. If we would’ve stopped on the highway right after the light started flickering we probably needed to call the road services. So, what do you do? That depends on you and of course the sound of the engine. Alexine sounded fine, we also know that we often have problems with her regarding electricity cables. That’s why we didn’t panic. It’s good to know your car so you will know what to do. 

Then what happens?

The first thing we did was checking what we knew is sometimes the issue with her. Like I said, we had problems in the past. In England we were actually standing still on a very dangerous corner on a hill where people were driving crazy! Luckily a police officer came by and helped us out. He actually towed us to a parking place where we could fix her. The issue? A blown fuse. (I only knew because I called my father, who is my road service from a distance).

So, we first checked the things we knew; all fuses were okay, cables seemed to be fine, battery didn’t make a crazy noise and when the engine was working it sounded fine. So far no idea what the problem could be. We forgot our voltmeter so couldn’t measure the electric circuit.

A voltmeter is an instrument used for measuring electric potential difference between two points in an electric circuit. It is connected in parallel. It usually has a high resistance so that it takes negligible current from the circuit. So it measures voltages of either direct or alternating electric current on a scale usually graduated in volts, millivolts or kilovolts.

When do you go to a garage?

We believe that before going on a trip like this one needs to know the van. So, last summer we followed a course of a week getting to know our van. We checked the engine, set valves, changed bougies, oil & brake fluid. We learned what to look at when things go wrong, how to change a tire and how to change our breaks. We got to know how an engine works and had time to actually work on our van and do these things. So, we learned a lot but of course not enough and you forget things as well. But it’s a start.

What I would always do is check everything you know and rule things out. It’s good to know what it cannot be so the list of what the problem can be becomes smaller and when you go to a garage you can actually tell them what you’ve already figured out, so they don’t have to. Saves a lot of time and money. 

However, in some cases, like ours, you end up in a garage anyway. While driving from Zürich to Lucarno we had to go over mountains and through tunnels. Especially in the tunnels the light started flickering. So, there was a problem with our battery but only in tunnels. That means, our solar panels are working, and they are actually charging our battery. Wow! We are driving hybrid now. You think that’s great right? Well, not when your engine is not made for this. Our van is old and she needs to drive on old and bad fossil. 

Where do you go when your van has a problem?

Firstly, we went to a garage in Switzerland in a tiny village. They often have more time, are cheaper and sometimes still work with old cars. But this time we had no luck. He sends us to an electric car shop in Lucarno. So, we went there, but he didn’t want to help us. They all told us immediately that the alternator was broken even though they did not measure it. Which to us sound a bit strange so we went to another one, and another one, and another one. 

The problem is electric which means you need to go to a garage that has knowledge of the electric system, often you see signs with ‘Bosch Service’. And then you need to find the one that you feel okay with, which is sometimes quite difficult. I often feel garages just want my money and they aren’t waiting for my knowledge on the car. 

In Switzerland we didn’t find a garage that could or wanted to help us, which I guess was a good thing. Cause, in Italy we found a garage via a friend. These are always the best ones! A friend of a friend works with cars and he had worked at this garage. Because these are small villages, they of course know each other. We brought the van there, they did some measurements and figured out it indeed was the alternator. Changing the alternator isn’t a cheap fix, neither a quick one. So, the van was standing at the garage for a full day, and in the end even the night. Because we felt we could trust these people we left her there. If we wouldn’t trust them, we wouldn’t leave the van there. You want to see what they are doing on your car, not only because you have to pay for it in the end but also because you learn from what they are doing. If something goes wrong later on you can fix it yourself.

Tip: always take a photo before they start, and during is also nice. I take photos and video’s all the time when people are working on my van.

What is an alternator and how can it cause a problem?

Pfoe I’m really getting into detail here so if you are not into cars and you don’t care about fixing problems like these or even know about them, do continue to scroll. If you are interested do read and if you know more or better do leave a comment below. 

So, here we go. I’ll try to keep is as basic and simple as possible. To be honest not so difficult as I only know the basics.

Anyway, your engine has a battery. Without this battery the engine is not doing anything. But a battery needs to be connected to the engine otherwise it doesn’t make sense, right? 

So, the alternator is a generator whose purpose is to distribute electricity to the car and recharge the battery. All vehicles with a standard internal combustion engine will have an alternator. The alternator is about the size of a coconut and is generally mounted to the front of the engine and has a belt (the V-belt) running around it.

The alternator provides the car with the bulk of its electricity and helps recharge the battery. But to do all of that, the alternator must first turn mechanical energy into electricity. The belt’s movement — the mechanical energy — spins the alternator’s rotor at a high speed within the stator.

Electricity is made as the rotor spins. The magnets surrounding the rotor are deliberately placed so that as they pass over the copper wiring in the stator, a magnetic field is created.

This magnetic field, in turn, produces voltage that is captured by the stator. This power then reaches the voltage regulator, which disperses electricity to the vehicle and manages the amount of voltage the battery receives.

So you can see that many things can cause problems for an alternator. 

From one problem into the other

Sometimes a garage thinks they know the problem but then find out it wasn’t actually the problem and something else is causing it. That happens, because like I said before fixing a problem is ruling things out. Also for a garage.

So, when the garage told us it’s the alternator that’s not working we were doubting it. But they are the pro’s in the end. So after a full day of work on the car they didn’t fix the problem. Luckily we could stay at our friends place because sleeping in the van wouldn’t be an option. Normally we wouldn’t leave the van at a garage but like I wrote before, as these were friends of our friend we trusted them. 

They changed the alternator for a new one but suddenly her engine worked on 3 not 4 cylinders. What are cylinders? Every engine has cylinders, there are cars with 3 cylinders but normally it’s four, or six, or eight. Our van has four. Working on three cylinders means there is something wrong. The people at the garage didn’t know what was wrong and neither did I. As they speak in Italian it’s quite hard to understand what they are talking about. 

But the next day when we woke up, after a not so good night of sleep, we got a call that the car was fixed. Happily we went to the garage to check it out.

In the end it wasn’t the alternator at all, it was a cable that was broken which connects the alternator with the battery. A problem that could’ve been fixed easily. So, the kind garage said that we did not have to pay anything except for the new alternator. Which is very kind actually cause we didn’t have an appointment and it was right before Easter so they were very busy anyway. 

All good in the end. Now we have our van back and are able to hit the road again! On our way to the valley of Trebbia!

Love, Milene & Yuri

The land of dolce!

The land of dolce!

After one and a half week exploring the Swiss alps with their snowy peaks, magnificent lakes and cute villages it was time to cross into the land of dolce.

Welcome to Italy

Before we crossed the border with Italy we checked the Covid-19 situation in the country. Italy being hit quite hard last year, has learned from the past. But like in every country on the planet people get tired of regulations, lockdowns and keeping their distances. And I think Italians even more. The Italians that I remember are not only very passionate people they are also very social people. Having long lunches together that flow over into diners, standing in long lines to eat the best ice cream of the city and hosting parties like the one and only real Carnival. 

Anyway, the regulations were strict; keep your distance, wear a facemask in public places – also outside and do not host parties. To enter the country one needs a negative PCR-test result and an country entry form. However, when you are on transit through Italy – like we are – you do not need those things and are free to roam. Still, we were a bit scared about entering the country from the North. We would enter in Como and these regions are the ones being hit very hard when covid-19 arrived in Europe. 

While driving to the border city we decided to take a b-road. Not only is it easier to cross a country, but it’s also often a lot less crowded. And we were right. While we were driving to our border crossing, lots and lots of people were on the highway trying to cross a border. An immense line of trucks, cars and some campers stood there, waiting for their turn. Of course, the screening is a lot more serious at these highway border crossing than it is at the border crossing we were heading to. We already feel we made the right decision.

Just before crossing the border into Italy, we had a small stop and saw the border control stopping some cars. Whereas we had nothing to fear somehow, we did get a little nervous. After eating our lunch, it was our time to cross. Driving up to the crossing I looked around but there was no one to see. No police officer, no border control, no one stopping us. We just drove into Italy like ever before.

From Como to our first park for the night

We wanted to stay in Como for the night, however, the city was so crowded and it was hard to find a good relaxing spot to park the car and stay for the night we decided to move on. A friend of mine invited me to her place, about one hour from Milan. We headed towards her direction and stopped halfway for the night on a small road in a forest. 

It was our first night in Italy and we couldn’t have find a better spot, surrounded by nature and hikers passing by greeting us in Italian so we’d be reminded we were in Italy. Actually a group of people passed by and asked me about the van. We got to talk a little and one of them is from Kazakhstan, so she gave me all the good places to go when we are there. Another one invited us for diner the next day, which we unfortunately had to skip because we were heading south. How kind of him, right?


The next day we woke up and relaxed a bit. Cleaning our dishes in the stream, washing ourselves in the same stream, reading a book, editing some photos. After a relaxing morning we headed more South to Turro. 

Turro is a very tiny village near Piacenza, which is one hour driving from Milan. It took us a little longer, but 1.000 roundabouts later we arrived in this tiny village. Clelia my friend was waiting for us with a wonderful and typical lunch. Ravioli with spinach and cheese inside. Oh and let’s not forget the focaccia. We love bread!! And wherever we go we try the local bread, but I think the focaccia is our favourite up to now.

Clelia’s family lives in this village for a very long time now. And with ‘her family’ I mean, the whole family. Her grandfather was a chicken farmer and the farm where he had his chickens is now transferred into homes. Her parents live next to the ‘Palazzo de Turro’ a beautiful mansion.

Clelia tells us it’s a typical village where the mansion is built at the front of the village and the homes behind it are for other family members and the workers. A typical Italian village blueprint.

Not only did we learn about typical Italian villages we also learned that this is the region where the tomato paste, we use in our pasta sauce often comes from this region. It’s a bit too early to see the tomatoes grow but it’s nice to know where the wonderful sauce that I buy in a Dutch grocery store come from. 

After lunch we headed back to Piacenza to do grocery shopping before we headed back to Clelia and get ready for diner. A couple of her friends would also join – enough space here. We had a nice aperitivo and when the sun was setting in the bee friendly field in front of the house we set down for diner. Diner being rice with delicious salmon from the oven, lots of wine and of course ice cream for dessert! 

We headed towards the van, tucked ourselves in and were soon dreaming of gelato, pizza and well most of it about tiramisù of course. 

Love, Milene & Yuri