A video impression of a visit to the shop of tobacconist Willem Schimmel in the beautiful city of Zutphen.
A video impression of a visit to the shop of tobacconist Willem Schimmel in the beautiful city of Zutphen.
This is a video impression of the Dutch/Belgian Pijprokers Forum meeting in Heukelum, October 2019. Sorry about the shaky contents, I made the clips with my mobile phone. If you have any tips about recording and editing videos (I just started learning Adobe Premiere), please let me know!
Adieu, vaarwel, goodbye café De Waagschaal… For years your smoking room was the last refuge for the smoker in the region I live in. Myself and other pipe smokers had so many great and cosy meetings there over the years. Also I just liked to sit there alone with a good cigar/pipe, read a book, have a cup of coffee and look at the people outside walking over De Brink (the central square in Deventer). Now a (grumpy) owner closed it down due to recent regulations, although those are not enforced until April 2020. I was hoping for one last warm winter of smoking but unfortunately there is a small club of anti-smoking people here (Clean Air Nederland) who sued the Dutch state about their smoking room policy, and won… Unbelievable… I fetched my own drinks in the café below and carried them to the old smoking room, personnel did not even had to come there, and I bothered no one. Civilisation, don’t make me laugh… Luckily I still have the pictures, thanks to all who took them.
September 21st it was once again time for one of my annual highlights: The Inter Tabac fair in Dortmund. For those of you who missed the blogposts I made of the visit the last couple of years; the Inter-Tabac (which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year) is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. Last year 625 exhibitors from 54 countries presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This included cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, E-shishas, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shishas, shop equipment and spirits. And yes, one is still allowed to smoke inside. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Like the previous years I was able to secure a ticket through Fred. The saying goes, the more the merrier, so (with approval of Fred) I invited good friend Ed. A couple of years ago he should have went with me but unfortunately had to cancel at the last moment because of a migraine attack. Now we agreed to meet each other at the McDonald’s in Apeldoorn near the highway. About the same distance from home for each one of us so very convenient.
I got there first and after 10 minutes Ed followed. We grabbed an invigorating cup of coffee and stepped into Ed’s car. Or to be precise, the lease car from his wife. A big luxurious Peugeot (don’t ask me which model, I’m a car noob, I own a 1996 Toyota Starlet and am very content with it) with a German environmental sticker which you need in most German cities. The main reason he did not bring along his own vehicle. Thanks to the modern navigation system in the Peugeot the ride to Dortmund went smooth. Part of highway we had to take was closed down which the intelligent navigation knew and effortlessly guided us through an alternative route. Also the weather was heavenly, blue skies, sun, a beautiful late summer’s day. When we arrived at the Westfalenhallen we could park near the entrance. Which had changed somewhat. Last year there was a big renovation going on and now we could see the result, modern and spacious.
Like the years before the first stop was Danpipe. Simply because I know a lot of people there and they always serve coffee. We were greeted by former masterblender Andreas Mund and his charming wife. Former masterblender? It turned out that Andreas’ wife has that job now. “Her tasting palate is way better than mine.” Andreas explained with a grin. “But I still do things like buying in raw tobacco.” I asked how Danpipe was doing and while winking if they had something new which I could smoke. Last year they had a new blend which no one could smoke because they had only a prototype with them. You know, like sucking on a joint and don’t inhaling it. Andreas answered: “We are doing fine, I am busy as hell, only Herr Behrens (one of the directors) is not here because he has to undergo surgery for his hip. He is getting old… But we have two new blends (which were put on the table by his wife), Okapi and Kiboko. Okapi was created by my wife and Kiboko by Michael Apitz.” I took a sniff of both, Okapi is Virginia based, a bit of a rubbed out flake with some rose leaves but still pretty natural. Kiboko is a full frontal aromatic and to be honest I forgot what was in there.. It was nice to see the new division of roles at creating new mixtures at Danpipe. Andreas’ wife for the more natural tobaccos, Micheal Apitz for the aromatics. I asked if I could fill up a pipe with Okapi which was graciously allowed. A fine blend, smooth despite being very young, could be an all day smoke.
Andreas and his wife had to attend to some clients (a Davidoff representative who, hopefully for Danpipe, wants to have another year-blend made there) so another, tall, woman came standing with us. Damned.. I recognised her but could not lay my finger upon it. “You don’t recognise me??” she said almost offended. “Last year when you visited our shop in Lauenburg I sold you some cigars!” “Oooooh, of course!” I said with a fast reddening face. “Did you know we don’t bring out our (famous) catalogue anymore?” she said. Well, normally the catalogue would be on all the tables and now it wasn’t I noticed. “We decided to skip it and put the money in a larger and better website to crank up our sales, it is going to be fantastic.” In the mean time Fred had joined us, always very nice to see and speak to him. He is busy growing his own Virginia leaf in The Netherlands near where he lives. I sometimes see pictures on his Facebook page and it is looking well. Last year I smoked some of his first batch and it was amazingly good! He grinned because he had a good adventure with the Dutch tax authorities. He said to them he grew so and so much of his own tobacco. They had nooo idea what to do with that. Tobacco is taxed when it is sealed in pouches or tins, but raw tobacco?? Just go on, they said to the amusement of Fred.
When I took a look at the Danpipe assortment I was approached by a man. “Excuse me, but are you the Dutch Pipe Smoker? My name is Torbjörn, I am from Sweden and I read your blog and sometimes comment on it.” Wow, I got recognised! A very friendly man, he was looking for a good Danpipe Virginia so I gave him some advice, being a bit familiar with the assortment. We chatted for a bit and had our picture taken for the Swedish Pipe Club of which he is a member. I just love this kind of meetings with pipe smokers from another country. Back at the table with Ed and Fred I suddenly felt some hands on my shoulders, it was Michael Apitz. Always a delight to speak to him, you put in a dime so to say and he keeps on talking, wonderful chap. He makes a blend for his own which includes tonka bean essence and explained how to make the latter. “Very easy, you take a lot of tonka beans, put them in a towel and bash them to pieces with a hammer. Those you do in a large mason jar and fill it up with pure alcohol. Then let it rest for about 4 months. After that when you have a blend you put in 5% of it, put it away for a while and ready!”
At one point Fred said, let’s go to Elbert (Gubbels, of Big Ben amongst others). Elbert has a bit of a lounging area at his stand so we sat there. Despite being very busy he took the time to speak to us. Of course we know each other longer because of the whole forum tobacco Flatlander Flake project. Elbert is been having a rough year. The pipe-making part of his company he had to let go bankrupt. He had way too much stock and everyday new pipes were added to it. So with lots of pain in his heart he had to fire several employees and shut down production. Now he is selling his stock and looking for companies in Italy to produce pipes for him. That is to be said, only the less expensive lines. The high end ones are still going to be made at the Dutch factory. I wish him all the best of luck with that!
Fred wanted to go somewhere else so Ed and I strolled through the alleyways. I have been many times at the Inter Tabac but it could be that this was my last one. As far as pipes and pipe tobacco goes I have the feeling it is going downhill. It always amazes me how Danpipe and Gubbels can cough up the costs for their stands each year. Samuel Gawith no longer attends the fair since Bob Gregory left. I read on PipesMagazine the following: “Chris (Gawith) has recently taken over the company with the passing of his father and is now in the process of applying his expertise in engineering (he’s an engineer by trade) to the company with process improvement and oversight.” Well, I know Bob left for a reason, mainly because he was fuming that the company wants to do things wholly different than the last 200 years and he could not stand behind it. So I hope Chris understands that the quality of the Gawith product still has to be spot on because otherwise I think he is going to lose a lot of customers and murders a centuries old company.. Also MacBaren was not present, they held court at a nearby hotel. But I had made an appointment with Per Jensen later that afternoon. Planta was also not present, the reason of it I heard later that day. Walking through the halls I noticed an increase in cigar companies, the cigar is booming as far as I can tell (almost every damn brand has some Cuban cigar-roller at the entrance of their stand). To the delight of Ed because he likes them a lot. It was like wonderland for him sometimes. “Oh! I know that guy! I follow him on the internet!” He exclaimed several times. Drew Estate had a large stand with some good looking girls. I don’t smoke cigars that much but I like a lot of their offerings, especially the Kentucky Fire Cured range. “Look! There is Jonathan Drew, the co-founder and president!” Ed said awestruck. Jonathan, while grinning because he saw the pipe in my mouth, patted my shoulder and said “hello mate!” “I don’t think I would wash that shoulder for some time.” Ed said with a wink.
After lunch (I told Ed to bring lunch with him because food and drinks are very €xpen$ive at the Inter Tabac but he left it in the car and opted for some fries) we went looking for Cornell & Diehl (Laudisi). Last years they had just a small desk and that was it. This time there was a bigger stand with lots of Peterson pipes and beside the always friendly Ted Swearingen owner Sykes Wilford was also there. I really wanted to shake hands and speak with him but he was busy with a client and you know, business first! Luckily Ted was talkative about the new Peterson pipes and tobacco situation in the USA. Last times I was at Peter Heinrichs in Bergheim there was no new Peterson stock. Which surprised Ted because nothing changed distribution-wise. The USA tobacco situation is a bit on hold. They even began with taking of the warning labels from the tins again. They had some loose tobacco in a container without label. I smelled it and immediately recognised it; Autumn Evening, one of my favourite aromatic blends. When I asked if he had the newest GL Pease offering, Penny Farthing, with him he said no. “But I do have an aged tin of Bayou Night with me that you can have.” “Excuse me? Wow, wonderful, thank you very much!” I blurted out. Thank you very much Ted!
Then we went to the stands of Kohlhase & Kopp and Vauen. At the former you could really notice the rise of the cigar and the “downfall” of pipes and tobaccos. It is getting a bit less each year. Despite that, I have to say the stand was well visited. Vauen is one of the few pipe makers who try to innovate each year. This time they had the Edgar model, a sporty designer pipe with cooling ribs made of ceramic composite. Ed and I wanted a drink so I opted to go the huge stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group. One of the places where you can sit relaxed, have a (free!) drink, smoke and no one bothers you. Of course we went to see the Winslow, White Spot (No, no Dunhill.. White Spot! Idiots…) and Stanwell pipes first. As usual Poul Winslow had a whole range of beautiful pipes, some really big! When we sat down with a drink (brought by a lovely lady with one pair of the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen, no picture unfortunately) I put my pipe-bag on the table, filled with several Winslow pipes, and we had a smoke. I tried the Bayou Night and it was excellent! I am going to enjoy smoking up that tin. Suddenly Poul Winslow himself spotted us, or to say, his pipes on our table. He asked if he could take a picture from us for his Facebook page. Of course, go ahead! And indeed, a short while later my fat head was on his social media: Winslow fan! Between the halls there also was an interesting stand: Cigar Rights of Europe. In short, they advocate the right to smoke a cigar (or a pipe) in Europe which is becoming increasingly difficult because of all kinds of laws and regulations. So I would say, go to their website and become a member!
We took a fast stroll through the water-pipe and e-smoke halls, which amazed Ed. “Like walking in the Middle East or India! Those people and smells!” he exclaimed. Then the time had come to go to the mighty MacBaren, who were located in a private room in the nearby Dorint hotel, only a short walk from the Westfalenhallen. We were greeted by product manager Per Jensen, who was glad to see us. “The sales-representative guys from us have enough work, but I just sit here..” Per recently got married so as a present I gave him a bottle of genuine Dutch jenever saying that as a married man he probably now needed this. We sat down, Per got us some drinks and I asked him why they were in the hotel instead of the Inter Tabac. “Well, as you know the previous years we were in a large stand together with Arnold Andre. This year they decided they did not want to have a stand in the Westfalenhallen and opted for a room in this hotel. We still could have gone but then we would have nothing to say about the location of our stand..” said Per. So this was a better option indeed, can you imagine MacBaren between the water-pipes? He asked me if we visited the Inter Tabac. “Of course” I said “but it is going downhill.. I mean, no MacBaren, no Gawith, no Planta..” Per veered up “Ah! It has a reason Planta is not there.” At which he guided me to a big sign at the entrance (which I did not see) which read: “Planta, we are delighted to bid you welcome to our MacBaren family.” Holy sh*t! MacBaren had bought Planta! For a moment I thought I had a scoop but later I read the news on PipesMagazine.com which I totally missed. Bummerrrr…
“Besides other things they had trouble implementing all the European regulations. The factory in Berlin will be closed and production will go to Denmark. Which is a good thing! Not to bash Planta but they were pretty old-fashioned. Not a single recipe was written down, all in the heads of the employees!” Per said while shaking his head. “Of course the most well known Planta brands will stay, but some I had to let go. The first being McLintock Syrian Latakia Blend. They did not have Syrian latakia for years!” Which I already thought, not too long ago I smoked a couple a Planta blends which said to have the Syrian dark leaf. To my taste it absolutely wasn’t. And what about Presbyterian? I know Planta had 2 versions, one sweetened 100 gr. for the German market and the original 50 gr. for the rest of the world. “I have to look into that, but Presbyterian always has been about the latakia for me. A great entrance into the world of the dark leaf.” Per said. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. “Talking about latakia, I am working on a project with a whole new kind of latakia, but I can’t say anything about it yet. Next year when you are here” Per said with an evil grin. Damn! Then he fumbled in his backpack and took out a blank tin with something written on it. “This is a another project on which I am working. It is a blend which also contains Nicotiana rustica. I like you to smoke it.” Normally the tobaccos we smoke are from the Nicotiana tabacum variety. Once I had a snuff tobacco which had some rustica. Lets say it kicked like a mule, very potent stuff. So a pipe tobacco with it.. Whoah… It was a flake so I took my smallest Dunhill pipe, filled it halfway and lighted it. The taste was good but after only a few puffs I could notice the potent rustica. I did not finish the bowl. “Excellent!” said Per. “It is then precisely what I wanted. A kick-ass blend for the American market.” I wished him luck while sipping on a sweet beverage to counter the nicotine.
Time flew by while talking to Per. Very enjoyable and very informative I can say you! It got to dinner time, our bellies were grumbling so we said we had to go. “I can’t leave you without anything!” Per said. He reached back and produced two pouches of new Amphora mixtures: English blend and Kentucky blend. “They are for the American market and next year they will also be available in Europe.” Ehrr, thanks!! And that was not the only thing he gave us. Tins of snus (for my good friend Rob) were put on the table, the whole (!) HH range and 2 tins of the (excellent) new Three Nuns. “Do you want something from the Planta assortment? Pouches only I am afraid.” “Ehmm.. Danish Black Vanilla please!” I squeaked with a high voice. Unbelievable! Per, thank you so very much!!! Of course I divided the stash between Ed and myself. “Let’s make this a yearly tradition, see you next year!” Per said while guiding us out.
“Wow, what an experience, this whole day! Everything! The companies, the people, the water-pipe hall, Per Jensen..” Ed said on the way to the El Greco Greek restaurant in Herne. The traditional dinner stop. I totally agreed with him. Despite the downhill feeling at the Inter Tabac itself the few pipe (tobacco) companies that remained still were going strong. And of course the MacBaren experience in the hotel was mind-boggling. The weather was still warm so we sat outside at El Greco with a tasty German beer and a big plate of grilled meat. At that moment life could not have been any better.
Some years ago I did an interview with stone-cutter extraordinaire Martin Romijn, who makes pipe-accessories out of stone. Throughout the years we kept in touch and saw each other at meetings. It was at the end of 2016, beginning of 2017 that I learned that he also was making pipes. This piqued my interest because I know that Martin has a feeling and eye for lines and shapes. Something one can not learn. With his first pipes I had to laugh a bit, he treated the wood like stone but his style was undeniably unique. A bit further along the way his talent really began to show and his pipes became more refined. Always trying to show off the beautiful patterns of the briar just like he did with the fossils in the stone. Now I consider him one of the best if not the best pipe-maker in The Netherlands.
So last month I paid him a visit. Martin still lives in the city of Leerdam and behind his house he has a shed where the magic happens. I have been at the work places of several pipe makers and where some are pure unadulterated chaos Martin absolutely has one of the tidiest. Everything is neatly and orderly arranged and the machinery looks reasonably clean. Talking about equipment, Martin has a wood turning lathe in stead of a metal turning one. It was a gift from his parents when they saw his pipe-making talent. Besides that he thinks he has more freedom shaping pipes on it. Also he has a sanding disc and a slack belt sander, which he took over from another pipe-maker (Vandaahl) who had stopped. Further you can find in his workplace a bandsaw, dremel, some hand work tools (files etc.) and a polishing machine. Last but not least on one of the shelves stands a laptop that powers a loudspeaker which blurts out non-stop music of the great Johnny Cash, one of Martin’s heroes.
When I asked how and where he did learn to carve and shape briar wood he answered that he is mainly a self taught pipe-maker. In previous years he refurbished quite a lot of estate pipes. Also because of his stonecutting day-job (and all the tampers, ash-trays, stands etc. he made) Martin has 25 years experience of shaping and modelling. At one point he started experimenting with some briar blocks and when it turned out he did pretty well it became more serious. Nowadays Martin uses briar from Italy and in the future he wants to try his hand at olive wood. His mouthpieces are made from ebonite and acryl and some have the craziest colours and patterns. But Martin makes sure that visually the stem goes together with the bowl.
Martin has a pretty unique way of making pipes. Other pipe-makers decide what shape they want to make and begin. If a sandpit surfaces, well too bad, next one! But not Martin, this is what he has to say about his method: “I start with watching, studying, “reading” the briar. Every block has its own story. How does the grain go, what can you expect when you cut it in a certain angle etc. It can be that I have had the briar piece in my hands dozens of times before I know which pipe it hides. And even then, sometimes the wood has its own plan. When I come across a sandpit or another irregularity I have to adjust my plan to fit the briar. In such a case I always say that the briar speaks to me and that I should listen. This way you often get the most surprising and beautiful results.” I have to agree with Martin. All his pipes are showcases for the stunning grains they possess. Because of this he does not make shapes on request. It would be a waste of a piece of briar to make a pipe out of it which does not agree with the grain. When asked what is the most favourite pipe he ever made Martin hesitates. “That is a tricky one.. They are all my favourite. The process of making a pipe takes up lots of hours of hard labour. When you work that long on a piece you get attached to it. It is your design, your creation, born from your creative thoughts and moulded by your hands into something tangible. But if I really have to pick one it would be the Twisted Pickaxe. Recently made, beautiful organic shapes, stunning grain, a pickaxe but with a twist. My twist.”
Martin, when did you start smoking pipes? “30 years ago I began smoking pipes. My first one was a Tattoo pipe, made by Dutch pipe maker Gubbels/Big Ben. I saw it at someone and decided to also give it a try. I liked it and soon I bought a regular pipe to go with it, and another one, and another.. Well, you know how it goes.. Of course then also began the search for the finest tobaccos. A journey which never ends but which I enjoy to the max.” Ok, so what is your favourite tobacco? “Ehrrr… Can I name two? Esoterica Stonehaven and GL Pease Embarcadero. Oh! And Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader and hmmm.. Damn, there are so many delicious blends, hard to pick out one.”
What are your favourite pipes and why? “My collection is rather large, about 75 pipes. They all have something special, that can be their smoking qualities but also some have their own story that makes them special. I especially like to smoke Winslow pipes. Good smokers, nicely shaped, good open draw and handmade by a pipe-maker I admire very much. In 2018 I got to meet Poul Winslow himself at his home and saw how he worked in his workplace. Very special and informative! What an experience, I watched with growing admiration how he creates a stunning pipe with breakneck speed. Since then I like these wonderful pipes even more.”
Do you have any famous last words for the readers? “I hope to make pipes for many, many years. I hope my creations will find their way to the people who love them. That they will find owners who will experience delightful moments of relaxation and pleasure thanks to good tobacco and a pipe I worked on with love and dedication.” With that our conversation was over for the time being. Martin began working on one of his new creations while I sat back sipping a good whisky, smoking a pipe, listening to the soul-wrenching voice of Mr. Cash and watching the magic hands do their job on the immortal briar.
See here for part 1.
This day was going to be special. Before we left I searched on the internet if there was a pipe smoking club in Istanbul and to my delight I found one, İstanbul Pipo Derneği (Istanbul Pipe Club). I mailed to them and asked if there was anywhere I could buy some tobacco and pipes and if it was possible to meet up somewhere. Soon I got a reply from Mr. Turgay Ocak who turned out to be the founder of the club. He answered that no pipe tobacco is sold in Istanbul because off all kinds of government regulations but that I was welcome to smoke some pipes with them. We arranged a date and time. The location, I later found out, was at a pipe shop called Pipo Market based in Perpa, a huge trading centre near the Beyoğlu district. And guess who is the owner of that shop: Turgay. At the beginning of the afternoon Ellen had her own program (mainly walking through the city) and I had to take a cab to Perpa. When I was there all I had to do was app Turgay and he would come and fetch me. But the ride was a rough one. I just had stepped in the taxi and the driver took off at breakneck speed through the wobbly, windy streets of Sultanahmet. I have been in Cairo where the cab drivers also can ride like crazy so it was not a big surprise. The thing was that I got carsick.. It only was 8.5 km but man, when you are feeling very ill that is a long way, especially in twisting Istanbul with a Max Verstappen wannabe at the steering wheel. Just when I was about to spill the contents of my stomach over the leather taxi interior we thankfully arrived. I sat down on a low wall before the Perpa entrance for 5 minutes, just slowly breathing, before I apped Turgay.
Soon I was picked up by Turgay and another IPC member. First of all, even with Dutch names I am bad in remembering them, let alone foreign ones. So sorry! Anyway, now I understood why I had to app, Perpa is one big giant maze. I could have wandered aimlessly there for hours without finding the shop. Soon we were there, a surprisingly nice looking medium sized store with lots of pipes, especially corncobs and Italian brands. And indeed no tobacco at first sight except for some cigars. All the tins I did saw were empty and hung on the walls or were standing in displays as decoration. The shop has 2 rooms, the main store and one with couches which functions as the IPC hideout where other members sat. One of the first things that I was shown were all the medals that Turgay won. It turned out that he is a competition pipe smoker and a damn good one, top of the world! He asked me if I knew Cornelius from the Dutch Federation for Pipe Smokers. I explained that I have met the man on one or two occasions but that I am not a member, I don’t do competition pipe smoking. I am a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum, who only are active on internet and on some meetings.
When I was sitting down I was offered some water and coffee, which was very welcome because I still felt a but queasy from the car sickness. I had a brought a gift with me for the IPC, which I presented them: a tin of Samuel Gawith Flatlander Flake. Which was received very well. I discovered that Samuel Gawith almost has a godlike status at the IPC. Everyone has friends abroad who send tins of the old English brand or bring them in the country themselves. Especially the flakes are popular, Balkan Flake, Navy Flake, St. James Flake etc. Turgay and the others also had some gifts for me. First of all a beautiful Sultan meerschaum pipe! Wow! Further I got a mug, button and bag all printed with the IPC logo. Thank you again so very much!!!
I was just thinking what I should smoke when one of the members put a tin before me I did not know, Bosphorus Balkan Flake. Hmm, Virginia, latakia and Turkish orientals, interesting! It was opened and smelled delicious. I put it in my pipe and started smoking. Very, very nice but whoah, a real nicotine bomb. I said I was confused because I thought no pipe tobacco was made or sold in Turkey. Well, it turned out that there is a guy in Istanbul (later I found out his name is Birol Salman if I am correct. I tried to contact him but sadly to no avail) who makes these Bosphorus tobaccos with mainly ingredients from Turkish soil. For example the Turkish oriental is called Adiyaman. A name which rang a bell inside my head. Pipe smoking friend Kees used to go to Turkey on holiday many times and on such an occasion he brought some Adiyaman with him of which I got a sample. And indeed, from what I could remember was that Adiyaman packs a vitamin N punch. Turgay and the others said that some tobaccos also came from Syria. Huh? I thought that because of the war nothing came from there. Nono, in the North there is no war so tobaccos is grown there according to them. Interesting.. About my story of Cyprian latakia made in the Izmir region and then shipped to the Turkish part of Cyprus they were not sure, it could be.
The rest of the afternoon was spend chatting, smoking and looking at all the wares in the store. Damn, they even had an estate Lord of the Rings Aragorn and Gimli pipe! Just when my belly started to grumble I was kindly invited to have dinner with them. Just before we left I luckily was able to buy some Bosphorus tobacco tins, the Balkan Flake I already had, Navy Flake and English Mixture. I could ride with Turgay and another member to the restaurant they picked. In order to get to the car we had to walk through a traditional Turkish market. Busy as hell but no tourists, a real sight! The restaurant called Olimpiyat turned out to be beautifully located beside the Bosphorus near the Galata bridge with stunning views over the water and Hagia Sophia. Turgay had reserved a large table on one of the upper floors and the best thing was, we could smoke there. Some more IPC members joined us (who spoke English). I had also brought some real Dutch De Olifant Brasil cigars with me which I handed out and were eagerly accepted. Soon all kinds of delicious appetizers were served under which samphire/picklegrass, something I never had but tasted great on toast with some Turkish cheese.
To drink I had to try one of the national beverages, rakı. At first I kindly declined (I had not eaten much at that point) but no, I had to drink it. So a generous amount was poured in my glass, then some some water and ice-cubes (always in that order!). It reminded me of the Greek ouzo, also anise-flavoured, yummie! After the appetizers Turgan asked me what I liked to eat. Wel, uhmm.. Something typical Turkish, I answered. We all got pieces of lamb meat which tasted very good. But during the interesting conversations about all kinds of subjects and after my second glass of rakı the alcohol really started to hit me. Hmm, that is strange, I thought, I am used to Dutch jenever which has an alcohol percentage of 35%. That rakı can never have more than 30%. So I asked for the bottle and saw to my horror and the amusement of the members that it was 45%! While laughing they poured in another glass. Let’s say I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening except that suddenly my understanding of the Turkish language became much better. Especially Turgay had some hilarious stories about his endeavours during the pipe smoking championships all over the world. At the end of the evening the inevitable bill came. I fetched my wallet but no, I was their guest. So very friendly and hospitable, thank you! Seeing me in my inebriated state they also decided to drop me off at my hotel. Once we got there I hugged the old Turgay like we had been friends forever and thanked him for a splendid day.
After a good night’s rest I felt reinvigorated. Which was good because we were going to visit the beautiful Princes’ Islands, to be precise Heybeliada. Together with Ozan from the hotel reception we looked at the best options to get there. Which was to go by tram to the ferry boat terminal of Eminönü and there take the public ferry. Public transport costs almost nothing in Istanbul, for the two of us the round trip was about €3.. Earlier we had bought an Istanbul Card which works as an all-around public transport boarding pass, very handy. Going to and finding the correct ferry was surprisingly easy. On the large boat we went upstairs and sat outside at the stern. All around us were Turkish families with children who clearly went for a day out. The trip to the Islands was very enjoyable. There was constant “entertainment” from salesmen and women and there was a guy selling simit bread, which we took, very yummie. When we arrived at Heybeliada we wanted to hire some bikes. All the Princes’ Islands are car-free and despite the presence of the traditional horse and cart we were advised (I heard from the IPC members that the horses are ill-treated..) not to take those. Soon we had our bikes and started climbing. I thought there was only a bit of it but man, it was more hilly than I expected. Out of breath we were glad when the road starting going down.
After an hour of biking we decided we had seen enough (the island is pretty small) and head back to get some lunch at a seaside restaurant. When we got there some tout tried to lure us in. Normally I walk past restaurants who have that kind of people but we were hungry and thirsty. Sadly I can’t remember the name of the place.. Immediately he started to push the sea-bass dish; fresh, fresh! To convince me he took me to the kitchen where he showed me the actual fish. All alarm-bells rung in my head because the eyes and skin of the fish looked dull, an indicator that freshness has long past. We should have walked away then but foolish me opted for a different fish dish. Ellen was smarter and took the köfte meatballs. Afterwards Ellen wanted some ice-cream, there was a seaside café which sold it so we sat down there. While Ellen enjoyed her ice I got some shooting pains in my stomach. Oh oooh… Despite that the trip back with the ferry went smooth, except for one incident. When the boat wanted to moor at one of the jetties of the islands something happened and it started rocking sideways. The motion only grew stronger up to the point we were or going to capsize or smash into the pier. The deck below almost made water, everyone was holding on and big waves were splashing over the pier, making the people wet who could not get away fast enough. Just as I was seriously contemplating jumping off the ship the captain got it back under control. Phewww, everyone laughed nervously. The rest of the journey there were no incidents until someone started to shout and point to the sea. Jeeeez, what now? Someone fell overboard? No, he pointed at a wonderful sight: dolphins! Just magical! Less enchanting was the night, the shooting pains in my stomach worsened and I spent a lot of time on the toilet. No further details.
In the morning thankfully my stomach felt a little bit better. Good, because we were going home. After breakfast Ozan called a cab, we thanked him and the wonderful, friendly hotel staff and went on our way. The taxi ride to the airport was amusing because the driver had another, much larger, car horn build in which he was not afraid to use. In the plane I had a precarious moment when I was on the toilet (my stomach acted up again). That space is so damn small so when I pulled up my pants I hit some emergency button with one of my body parts. Immediately the crew knocked on the door. “Sir! sir! are you ok??” “Yes I am, I am!” I shouted while I hastily tried to make myself look decent before they would smash the door. Luckily the train ride home went smooth. All by all Istanbul had been an amazing experience. We met so many nice people (and sadly less nice ones too) there. But it is such an enormous city that I felt we only scraped the surface. Also I expected more of a Cairo experience but Istanbul is less rough around the edges, cleaner and more European. I will be glad to come back one day to see more of it and all the sights that were under renovation now.