Upon retirement at the age of sixty-two, and grieving his deceased wife, renowned journalist Bernard Ollivier felt a sense of profound emptiness: What do I do now? While some see retirement as a chance to cash in their chips and settle into a comfy armchair, Ollivier still longed for more. Searching for inspiration, he strapped on his gear, donned his hat, and headed out the front door to hike the Way of St. James, a 1400-mile journey from Paris to Compostela, Spain. At the end of that road, with more questions than answers, he decided to spend the next few years hiking another of history’s great routes: the Silk Road.
Out of Istanbul is Ollivier’s stunning account of the first part of that 7,200-mile journey. The longest and perhaps most mythical trade route of all time, the Silk Road is in fact a network of routes across Europe and Asia, some going back to prehistoric times. During the Middle Ages, the transcribed travelogue of one Silk Road explorer, Marco Polo, helped spread the fame of the Orient throughout Europe.
Heading east out of Istanbul, Ollivier takes readers step by step across Anatolia and Kurdistan, bound for Tehran. Along the way, we meet a colorful array of real-life characters: Selim, the philosophical woodsman; old Behçet, elated to practice English after years of self-study; Krishna, manager of the Lora Pansiyon in Polonez, a village of Polish immigrants; the hospitable Kurdish women of Dogutepe, and many more. We accompany Ollivier as he explores bazaars, mosques, and caravansaries—true vestiges of the Silk Road itself—and through these encounters and experiences, gains insight into the complex political and social issues facing modern-day Turkey.
Ollivier’s journey, far from bragging about some tremendous achievement, humbly takes the reader on a colossal adventure of human proportions, one in which walking itself, through a kind of alchemy, fosters friendships and fellowship.