The eternal city on two continents: Istanbul, part 2

See here for part 1.

Day 4
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.

Part of Turgay’s shop

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.

Looking into the IPC room

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!!!

Bosphorus Balkan Flake

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.

Day 5
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.

The things I got from the Istanbul Pipe Club

Day 6
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.

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The eternal city on two continents: Istanbul, part 1

© CartoonStock

For this year’s vacation Ellen and I were supposed to go to beautiful Burgundy, France. Already in January I rented a nice, rustic holiday house there where I (of course) could smoke inside. About a week before leaving I took a look at several weather websites and was not amused. Auwtsch, it was going to be rainy every day in Burgundy and even colder than in The Netherlands… I told Ellen and immediately her face became like the weather it was going to be. I don’t mind sitting inside somewhere for a week. There was a hearth, I could smoke, read etc. But Ellen needs to be able to go out, take long walks and she hates rain. Later that day she sneered that in Seville (where we have been before) it was going to be sunny and warm. Ok, that did it for me. I cancelled the holiday house and went searching for a location where the weather would be better. Seville was an option but we had been there before (twice) and the flight times were very inconvenient. Then I thought about a place I always wanted to visit, the eternal city on two continents (Europe and Asia), formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople: Istanbul. It ticked all the boxes. It was going to be sunny and warm there, lots of things to do and see (after all I have a love for the (romantic) Middle East) and the flight was not too long. Ellen immediately said yes when I proposed it.

© Tobaccoreviews

Day 1
In the train on the way to Schiphol Airport I closed my eyes and imagined I was on the once famous Orient Express. Which got me slightly annoyed because the evening before I had turned my tobacco closet upside down in order to find a tin of Cornell & Diehl Star of the East Flake (with beautiful artwork of the Orient Express with mosques on the background) I thought I had to take with me. Sadly I could not locate it so instead I went for a tin of Sutliff Bosphorus Cruise. Also very fitting. In the plane I already got in the Middle Eastern mood. Ellen and I were sitting in the same row but the seat in the middle of us was taken by a very handsome young Muslim woman, wearing elegant clothes and a headscarf. When we were up high in the blue sky the sun was scorching the aircraft, it became hotter inside. Suddenly the woman began taking off her first layer of clothing and then even a second. Out of respect I did not plainly look but in the corner of my eye I could see she was doing it in a way so that she retained her dignity as a Muslimah. She even did not remove her headscarf! And her odour.. She smelled like exotic spices mixed with only a hint of musky sweat. I am a bit ashamed to say this but it almost was an erotic experience. Later she fell asleep practically against my shoulder, so sweet.

View from the roof terrace of the Dersaadet Hotel

When we arrived at Sabiha Gökçen Airport the best option to go to the hotel was to get a taxi. Sadly Turkish cab drivers are well known to try to scam foreigners. I wished there was an app like the Bluebird one I had in Bali where you could order a taxi, see which driver you were going to get, afterwards leave a review and get a mail in which you saw the route you drove and the amount of money you paid. We took the first cab we saw and crossed our fingers. Luckily taxis in Turkey are not expensive. The starting tariff is 4.50 Turkish Lira (± €0.65) and per km 2.50 Lira (± €0.35). I very roughly knew the route we had to take, the E80 highway to Istanbul, about 1 hour and 50 km to the hotel. After almost 1.5 hours, 73 km and going over some toll-road (which we of course also had to pay) we finally arrived at our destination: Hotel Dersaadet. Which I had picked because of good ratings/reviews and the central location in Sultanahmet, the old city. At the reception desk my foul mood about the cab-ride disappeared like a puff of smoke. We were welcomed warmly with a hot glass of apple flavoured çay (tea) and some Turkish delight sweets. If I had any stress left it went away when I later smoked a pipe on the panoramic roof terrace of the hotel with stunning views of the Sea of Marmara and the Asian side of Istanbul.

Hippodrome

Day 2
We had a busy but exciting day ahead of us since we were going to visit some of the major old “highlights” of the city. Normally a long time before the trip I would have read everything I could find about the subjects in such a way that I was able to almost professionally guide Ellen and myself through them. But now I only had less than a week and besides, I am on holiday, come on, no need to extra pressure my brain there. So before we left via a tip from the hotel I booked a private tour guide for a day, the charming miss Didem Tan. We met in the morning in the hotel and she said “You are a rare breed nowadays. Very few Dutch come here now. These days it are more Russians and Asian people.” Which could be correct because on the streets we heard a lot of Russian and saw many Asians. The reason I kept more or less before me, politics is not a nice subject.. First on the to-go list was the ancient Hippodrome which is now called Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square). Only a few fragments survive today under which the mighty Obelisk of Theodosius, the stripped Walled Obelisk and the mysterious Serpent Column, brought from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. We came to Istanbul during Ramadan so the square was covered with wooden benches and tables where people could enjoy the iftar (the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast) at sunset. Next was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque. I was really looking forward seeing it having recently watched the Turkish Netflix The Protector series where you see some great shots of the breathtaking building. Sadly the outside and especially the inside were under heavy renovation which totally killed any magical vibe. Almost nothing from the beautifully decorated ceiling and walls could be seen.

Hagia Sophia

For me one of the highlights of the trip was seeing and visiting the magnificent Hagia Sophia. When I was a boy I had art class on high school and one of the subjects was architecture. There I heard the story of the building and saw pictures, which totally mesmerized me. Some of the perks of having a licensed private guide in Istanbul is than you can bypass waiting queues, which speeds up the process of visiting something tremendously. We were quickly inside and one of the first things you see is the large Emperor Door, which is said to have been made out of wood from Noah’s Ark, with above it a brilliant mosaic of Christ as Pantocrator. Then when you go over the molten wax looking doorstep you walk into the jaw-dropping building’s main space. Famous for its dome, huge nave, marble pillars (some come from the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), gold mosaics and coverings of great artistic value. In fact it is so richly and artistically decorated (I also loved the two large alabaster Hellenistic urns that were transported from Pergamon) that I could easily understand why emperor Justinian proclaimed: “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” I won’t go further into describing Hagia Sophia, you just will have to see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Imperial Hall

Next on the list was the subterranean Basilica Cistern, which you can know from movies like From Russia with Love and Inferno. Normally you can see the mysterious mirror reflection of the 336 columns in the water but due to an ongoing renovation it was all dry.. Luckily the eerie, dark atmosphere, otherworldly Hen’s Eye column and the Medusa head column bases made up for it. Our bellies grumbled a bit so it was time for lunch. Didem directed us to the famous Pudding Shop (Lale Restaurant) where we had an ok meal. Personally I thought the food was not that great and the price was on the high side. Soon we were off to the last and biggest stop of the day, the enormous Topkapı Palace, the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. Having seen Muslim architecture at the Alcázar of Seville, Mezquita of Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada (Ok, all examples of Moorish architecture, not Ottoman architecture, but nonetheless..) my expectations were almost off the scale. Skilfully we were guided by Didem through the vast complex. Renovation seemed to be a keyword here also because parts of the Harem and Imperial Treasury were closed. Damned, I really wanted to see the famous Topkapı Dagger, the ebony, walnut and gold-plated thrones, the valuable Spoonmaker’s Diamond etc. etc. Oh well.. Despite that there was more than enough to look at. Like the Pipe Room of the Tressed Halberdiers (consisting both of servants used to provide general services to the palace and the Harem and of soldiers forming a part of the sultan’s household troop) where puppets with chibouk pipes were placed. Of course the Imperial Hall was impressive with all the beautiful decorations under which blue-white Dutch ceramics. One of the strangest rooms was where the relics were kept. There the Qur’an was being recited continuously by a mufti and you went like “Oh, there’s Moses’s Staff, and there David’s Sword, oh, a footstep, tooth and hair from Muhammad!” It all felt a bit unreal walking past those legendary relics.

A very rare sight, Ellen smoking!

After the tour we were knackered but satisfied, Didem did a great job. Later that evening we went out or dinner. One of the downsides of being in the heart of the tourist district is that there are many (often foreigner catered) places to eat who range from “mwah” to “ok”. A good one is hard to find and an excellent one, well, don’t make me laugh. Ellen and I walked some streets away from our hotel when on a corner we saw a nice looking restaurant with a small terrace beside it called Lale Sultan. Being tired from a day of sightseeing we decided to look no further and sit down there. And boy that was a good choice! The owner Mehmet and staff were friendly and with everything we ate we had something like, whoah, that’s tasty! On top of that we got a free dessert, çay and a trinket that wards off the evil eye. Needless to say that most of the other nights we went there. Afterwards I wanted to go for a nargile (waterpipe). Just past the Lale Sultan there was a café where we could sit, drink and smoke. It took a while for the staff to prepare the nargile but then I was in for some Middle Eastern smoking heaven. And not only me, even Ellen enjoyed it a while, a rare sight! Smoking a nargile is not that different from smoking a pipe. Once you get into a rhythm the (apple-flavoured) smoke comes evenly. After an hour of smoking I felt the nicotine creep up and we decided to go. Apparently an hour was a short time because when we had walked away I looked back and saw the staff enjoying the nargile I paid for. Oh well…

View from the boat

Day 3
The weather was a bit more clouded but ideal for a Bosphorus cruise! Ilhan from the hotel reception had it arranged together with me, very handy. I don’t like boats (seeing a boat passing by already makes me seasick) but Ilhan assured me it would be ok. At the end of the morning we were picked up by a small bus with other tourists, mainly noisy Russians all wearing the same “Istanbul” shirt. At the harbour we waited for the boat until we heard some music in the distance which quickly grew louder. It turned out to be our ship with hip Turkish techno music blasting at full volume out of the speakers. So far for my romantic idea of a quiet Bosphorus cruise. On the boat the noise luckily was turned down and the guide took over. With a funny accent he told us all about the sights we saw on the river banks. And I have to say, it was a relaxed trip, no sea sickness and the breeze was refreshing. There also was a photographer who took pictures of all the passengers. I got a bit suspicious (Didem told us that Turks never actually steal your money but certainly try to hustle it out of you) but Ellen thought it was fun. So to the amusement of an elderly Asian couple beside us (I already noticed in Bali that for some reason Asians find my fat bald head hilarious) we posed in all kind of manners.

View from Rumelihisarı fortress

After a while we moored at a jetty so we could visit the mighty Rumelihisarı fortress. The complex was commissioned in preparation for a planned Ottoman siege on the then-Byzantine city and build in only 4 months and 16 days. All by all it was nice to see and after some climbing the views were very good but to me it was not really noteworthy. Back in the boat the photographer approached us again. In the time that we visited Rumelihisarı he had printed out all the pictures he took and put them in a book which he gave us to see and moved to the other tourists. The photos were good but not that good that I would buy one. So I quickly took some snapshots of them with my smartphone. Later when the photographer came back I understood that 1 picture would cost us €7. €7!!! I can have a full meal for that money in Istanbul! I declined and did not feel like bargaining. But he had seen me taking pictures of the photographs and insisted I deleted those from my phone. Which I did, I showed it to him. What he did not know was that after I delete a picture it is saved for 30 days on my phone. Hah! I hustled the hustler! Don’t feel sad for the man, he sold many pictures to the noisy (and quickly getting pissed drunk) Russians. In the end when we had some more time to look at the snapshots we did not like a single one and I permanently deleted them all.

One of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar

When the cruise was done we were dropped off near the Spice Bazaar. In one of the streets there we had a tasty lunch consisting of a dürüm filled with döner kebab and some veggies and my first Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee) of the trip. After that we went looking for the enormous Grand Bazaar because I wanted to buy some Meerschaum pipes. Finding the “covered market” is not too hard, just go towards the omnipresent Süleymaniye Mosque and almost directly beside it the bazaar is located. It was a weekday, Ramadan, but still the narrow streets and alleyways were bristling with activity. I had found a Meerschaum Pipe shop in the bazaar on internet but navigating there was a different story. I discovered that Google Maps did not really work in the covered market..

Looking at some Meerschaum pipes

After some walking and watching at all kinds of displayed wares I knew I was getting close. One of the salesmen saw I was looking for something and approached me so I asked him where the Meerschaum shop was. “Aaahhh, Meerschaum! Over there!” He pointed to a nearby small shop, basically a glass desk with some glass shelves behind it all filled with indeed, Meerschaum pipes. Not the one I was looking for but ok. When I asked Didem before about buying things in the bazaar she said to first compares prices if you wanted to buy something. Fine, I was not going to purchase anything there, I was just going to ask how much the pipes were. I had to buy 2, one for myself and another for pipe-smoking friend Mark who knew I was going to the Grand Bazaar. The salesman showed me some fine high quality block Meerschaum examples and I picked out 2. One beautifully decorated with a silver rim for me and one “golf-ball lookalike” for Mark. He gave me a price, saw my face and immediately made a “special” price. I calculated a bit in my head and thought “Fine, I now roughly now the prices.” I thanked the not so happy man (no one likes to see a customer go) and said I was going to look elsewhere.

The two Meerschaum pipes I bought with the tin of Bosphorus Cruise

A few turns later I finally found the shop I was looking for, but no one was there. The guy opposite it had the number of the salesman and called him. Soon he came and let me see his pipes. Some were very beautiful but all or too big or too small. In the end he smiled and asked me to follow him. “Ok, probably we go to his storeroom or something like that.” I thought. After some more turns I had to laugh out loud because he led me, and was pointing at, the first shop I visited where the salesman was grinning diabolically. Of course I had to then haggle down his “special” price. After a while of going back and forth I gave him my final amount. Nonono, I can’t do that, thisthatsuchandsuch etc. Fine, I shook his hand again and walked away. “Hooo!” I heard behind me “When I shake hands with someone that means the deal is done, I accept your price.” Yesssss!!! While feeling high from the bargain I was almost literally pulled in the shop of another vendor, his business was scarves. By chance I was looking for a light, summer one. I am not sure what happened then, it is all a bit blurry, but in the end I walked away with an in my eyes  beautiful scarf and an annoyed Ellen who said I paid way too much and that I should have listened to her…

Click here for part 2 in which I visit the Istanbul Pipe Club.

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Inter-Tabac 2018 impression

It was early in the morning..

September 22nd 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 is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This 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. 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 Jef, who is an enthusiastic Three Nuns tobacco fan (more about that later) and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. Sadly just a day before the fair Fred told me he could not make it. So on the early morning of the 22nd Jef drove from the West of The Netherlands, where he lives, to the East, where I live. To be precisely, to the MacDonalds in Deventer. There is a big parking lot just near the highway so I could park my car there and Jef and I could drive together. He was already there when I arrived and asked me the magic words on an early morning: “Do you want some coffee?”

We arrived well on time at the Westfalenhallen, the location of the fair, but when we wanted to go to the main entrance we could not find it. Turned out there was a big renovation going on so we had to walk through some sand and mud to get inside.. I proposed to first go to the stand of DTM/Danpipe because, well.. They have coffee there. And excellent tobaccos of course! We were greeted by master-blender Andreas Mund and his charming wife (both DTM employees) who, by the way, is responsible for many of the new DTM blends. Apparantly she has good taste buds, a good smell and some creativity. Jef knew of a perfume site where a lot of smell-combinations are explaned so he told her about it in spotless German. My German is just ok, I can understand it and make clear what I think and want but that’s it. So I looked at Jef and he smiled and shrugged “You probably did not know I am half German right?” No I didn’t but it was damn handy to have a walking translator beside me.

Andreas brought us all some coffee and I asked about new blends. DTM only had one called “The Untouchables”. A collaboration between DTM’s Michael Apitz and Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco. Very interesting! Andreas handed me the jar containing the blend and I first read the label: The Untouchables Special Mixture: The basic mixture consists of mature ready rubbed Virginia and a pinch of smooth Black Cavendish. Aroma of cedarwood and roses are added as a final seasoning, which marry perfectly with the tobacco’s original flavours. Untouchable – incorruptable in terms of quality! Ok, I opened the jar and it smelled inviting, so I grabbed my pipe and wanted to fill it with the blend. “Whooh! No you can’t!” Andreas said. “Huh, why not?” “Well, ehm.. We were a bit late deciding which aromas would be used so we only have this jar and nothing more..” “Ehrr.. Ok, so you have a new blend and no one can sample it?? You had loads of time to prepare for the fair!” With a laugh Andreas said: “Well, here it goes like, damn, the fair is in a week, let’s come up with something!” Ok, I opted for some tasty Fred the Frog instead. We talked some more about the company and we all believed it is a company that has “soul”.

A lot of Three Nuns vintages

Next we went to the big stand of the mighty MacBaren. This was a highlight for Jef because he is a big fan of the Three Nuns blend (and he knows all about its history) which is made by MacBaren now for a couple of years. Recently 2 new Three Nuns blends came out: Three Nuns Green (containing Kentucky, Perique and Virginia) and Three Nuns Yellow (containing Virginia). I did not have tried any of them, in fact, I did not have tried Three Nuns at all in my pipe smoking life. Until some months ago when I received a full envelope from Jef containing samples of different vintages. Some tasted better than others but still, very good! Jef even brought some of those old blends with him to show to product manager Per Jensen, who greeted us warmly. I just had to say “Three Nuns” and almost like a magician he made the 2 new blends appear on the counter. After an extensive sniffing I decided to load my pipe with the “Green” version. It was fresh as a young virgin but it tasted damn mature! Yummie! Per said: “We never looked back when we created the new blend. We never tried any of the old Three Nuns. Reason is that the tobacco manufacturers back then could lay their hands on does not exist now any more.” We talked some more when the subject came upon Burley. I said I seldom smoked Burleys but was willing to try some. So I asked if I could have a sample of the HH Burley Flake. Promptly I was given a full sealed tin. “That is how we do samples at MacBaren!” said Per with a wink. His next gift was a very special one, a big heavy book called “The Pipe, A Functional Work of Art“. It looked absolutely stunning with beautiful pictures. Thank you very much Per!

Love all the curlies ^^

When we were chatting and smoking the fabulous Three Nuns a man walked up to the counter. He had an unsmoked corncob pipe in his hand and said to Per he came for his pipe-smoking lesson. It turned out he came from Switzerland, was a cigar aficionado but wanted to explore the world of pipe-smoking. Ah, a possible new convert! Jef had some experience teaching new pipe-smokers so Per and I gave him the thumbs up to go ahead. And I have to say, Jef did a very, very good job. Per and I stood mesmerized while Jef explained all the basics to the man. Beginning with what the man liked to eat and drink in his regular life. Sweet? Not sweet? Smoky? Based on that Jef thought the man would prefer a more natural tobacco. So he let him smell some to show the difference between blends. On my advice the man also held his nose above a mixture with some latakia (some people immediately love it and want nothing else) but he did not like it very much. In the end Jef advised the man to try Amphora Virginia, because it is natural and uncomplicated yet tasty. He then told how to fill a pipe with the 3-step method (first putting in the tobacco like a child, softly, then as a woman, a bit harder and finally as a man, firmly press it). The Swiss man then lighted his pipe and began puffing contently. Jef explained some more basics on how to smoke and clean the pipe. The man loved it, “I can taste my favourite whisky!” he said with a big smile. Later we would bump into him again and he would repeat that he “really liked it, really liked it!” Mission accomplished.

The stand of Gubbels (Big Ben)

It was already time to lunch and on our way outside we passed the stand of Big Ben. As always Elbert Gubbels was very busy but he took the time to greet us. When I asked how things were going his face contorted: “All those damn EU regulations! Now they want that the Samuel Gawith tins I import no longer have a golden colour. Instead they must have an aluminium look because the gold looks too fancy!” Talking about Gawith, when we were outside having some lunch (which we brought with us because the food prices at the Inter Tabac are utterly insane) I spotted a grey man trying to sneak past us. When he saw I noticed him he tried to get away but to no avail, I gave him a big hug, it was Bob Gregory. “You bastard!” he said, “Every time I look at the bottle of beer you gave me last year I have to laugh! What’s inside huh? Belgian ale? Strong stuff!” Yes Bob, the stuff that makes you grow even more chest hair! Less funny were sadly his stories about, yet again, the EU regulations. I asked him if there was a chance Flatlander Flake would be released worldwide. “No, because the sky is blue.” “Excuse me?” “The sky is blue in the tin art which is not allowed any more. It strikes a too positive note about smoking.” Completely bonkers if you ask me.. “By the way, do you know a place in The Netherlands called Ootmarsum?” Bob asked. “Yes I do, in fact it is not too far away from where I live.” “Good, you should go there to a brewery, forgot which one, and take a good look around.” “Why?” “Because all the old Samuel Gawith machinery and equipment from the Kendal Brown House is there.” “What??? You mean amongst others the legendary old snuff mill from around 1750? The oldest, longest working piece of industrial equipment in Great Britain, perhaps even the world?” “Yup.. After the move to Gawith & Hoggarth we really tried to keep it all in Kendal, in the country. I phoned museum after museum, even the British Museum but no one wanted it.. Such a shame.. In the end a Dutch friend of mine who has a brewery in Ootmarsum bought it all to put in his little museum.” Back home I looked on the internet, the brewery in Ootmarsum must be the Othmar brewery. I think I will visit them soon.

One of Poul Winslow’s favourite pipes

After lunch Jef and I went to the stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group. Inside were pipes of brands like Peterson (! I had expected they had gone elsewhere since Laudisi took over the brand), Stanwell, Dunhill and Winslow. Stanwell had some new pipes made out of beech wood. According to the friendly spokes-lady they would last about 300 smokes. Hmm.. That does not add up to much for that price, I thought.. My corncobs are much cheaper and they already last far more than 300 smokes. Peterson had nothing really special and Dunhill had some weird pipes with a bend stem so you can smoke it around a corner or something like that.. Mr. Poul Winslow himself was present and I took the opportunity to thank him for repairing one of my favourite Winslow pipes. Some time ago I bit through the mouthpiece, I contacted my seller and he said to just send the pipe to Denmark for repair. So I did and only a couple of days before the Inter Tabac I got it back, with a new stem and polished. Mr. Winslow immediately recognized the pipe when I showed him, “Ah, the pipe with the broken mouthpiece right?” Further we had a pleasant conversation, he is such a gentleman.

Me and Lasse Berg

At a side of the stand I spotted a friendly giant: Scandinavian Tobacco Group master-blender Lasse Berg. On a table before him were jars with all kinds of loose tobaccos; Virginias, Burley, Kentucky, Latakia, Perique etc. It turned out he was blending mixtures for whoever who wanted them. That was an opportunity I would not miss! “What do you want?” He asked me. “A good balkan blend please!” With the speed of an experienced blender he put together some orientals, Latakia and Virginia. “Would you like some Perique?” “No thank you.” “A bit of Black Cavendish?” “Yes please.” He deposited it all in a tin and asked me what the name of the blend should be. “Balkan Arno, please”. Later that afternoon I smoked it and I have to say, it was better than expected!

Next was the stand of Kohlhase & Kopp. What struck us the most were the new “just-like-Dunhill-but-different” blends under the Robert McConnell banner with names like Early Bird (Early Morning Pipe), City of London (London Mixture), Majesty Elizabeth (Elizabethan Mixture) etc. I don’t know what to think of it.. Creative, yes, but also a bit of an insult to the old Dunhill blends. Anyway, Dunhill tobacco already died for me when Murray’s took over. I had the opportunity to smoke several sublime 1970’s versions and they were superior to the later blends I had, Murray’s and Orlik. At Vauen there were few new items. I think a new Auenland and I saw some pipes with weird psychedelic spots on them.

Jef had spotted a brochure that somebody held advertising CBD oil. What the hell does someone want with oil made out of the cannabis plant? Well, sadly Jef’s father has cancer, a very lethal version. The doctors had given him only 6 months but because of the use of CBD oil and Curcuma extract pills he has been going pretty strong for 19 months already! Jef is busy with setting up a business that can import, and perhaps later make, CBD oil in The Netherlands. But he did not expect to find suppliers on the Inter Tabac Fair. So we visited several of them. Pretty interesting, one company even had a vaping device which allowed you to inhale the CBD into your lungs. Handy with patients who have lung cancer for example.

Because the visits to Danpipe, MacBaren and the CBD companies took so long we could not see the entire fair. But I don’t think we missed much. Oh wait, there was one thing, I missed some scantily dressed promotion babes! It all was very, decent, this year. Until we were in one of the Vaping halls and we saw a stunning bodypainted beauty. Yesss!!! Around 5 o’clock we decided to call it quits and find something to eat. Like every year there was only one location we could go to; El Greco in the town of Herne. The friendly owner more or less recognized me from the other years (“Netherlands, right?”) and the meal he made was as good as ever.

I want to thank Jef for keeping me company and for all the interesting conversations we had. All pictures were made by Jef and myself.

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De Graaff tobacconist

Nowadays a truly good tobacconist sadly is a rare thing here but decades ago The Netherlands boasted lots of them. Specialist stores where the knowledge of the salesmen was of crucial importance because the clients relied on it. These days we can simply look up information on the digital highway but back then you had to trust the expertise of your tobacco vendor. One of the most well known and respected tobacconists in that time was G. de Graaff in the political heart of our small country: The Hague.

Churchill at the Congress of Europe in 1948 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

Founded in 1928 by Gerard de Graaff (who was later joined by his son Frits de Graaff) the business was located at the Heulstraat no. 27. Not far from Noordeinde Palace, Council of State, Council for the Judiciary and the Binnenhof in the old city centre. They got well-known both at home and abroad very quickly, mainly because of their excellent house-brand G. de Graaff cigars, which were made by 5 different cigar factories in The Netherlands. Even the legendary Winston Churchill had heard of them. Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum member Willem tells: “My father, who had a high ranking job at the Ministry of Finance, knew De Graaff very well because he always bought his cigars there. So when Churchill visited The Hague for the Congress of Europe in 1948 my father arranged some special Cuban cigars for him which came, of course, from De Graaff.” Other famous people who visited the store throughout the years were amongst others Bill Clinton, prince Bernard, Josip Tito, François Mitterrand and Konrad Adenauer.

Frits de Graaff 1978 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

After the war the sons of Frits, Robbert and Gerard de Graaff, entered the business. But soon father Frits realized that letting Gerard and Robbert work together was not a good idea. So Gerard kept himself busy with the production side and Robbert took care of the sales in the store. Frits de Graaff was a remarkable man, a real old world salesman. He lived above the store and was always impeccably dressed, like the true gentleman he was, with his trademark bow tie. Also he was a man of principles, if he did not believe in a brand he would not sell it. Willem tells: When I had my practice in The Hague, around 1976-1980, the De Graaff store had something special, something chic. In that time I smoked MacBaren. When I asked for such a tin at the store Mr. Frits always said that the tobacco contained too much glycerine “Which is not good for your throat!”. Like the polite man I was and still am I then bought a tin of Flying Dutchman, which was much better according to him. 

Frits de Graaff 1982 ©Haags Gemeentearchief

Also I know that De Graaff did not sell Peterson because of the P-Lip mouthpiece, the often shabby finish, the many fills and because of the long time it took to break in a pipe. I think he liked Dunhill better, Dutch Pipe Smokers Forum member Rob tells: Once I was in the store together with Mr. De Graaff. While talking he took a Dunhill pot-shaped pipe out of his pocket and told this was his father’s favourite pipe. You could see the pipe was old and that it had once been a heavy sandblasted Shell Briar but because of the use the surface had become smooth. After his death he kept the pipe and smoked it several times a week. As far as tobacco went Frits de Graaff liked latakia very much. Rob tells: I remember well that I was a boy of about 18 years old when I stepped inside the store to buy a pipe. When the conversation drifted towards pipe tobacco he pointed out “the only tobacco” latakia to me. Besides the pipe I let myself be persuaded to also buy a tin with latakia and indeed, I was swept away. Back in those days that fine tobacco was significantly more expensive than e.g. Mac Baren so I smoked latakia in moderation, because I had to pay for it from the proceeds of my newspaper round. Sadly Frits de Graaff passed away in 1996, Robbert took over the business but he sold the store in 2005. The new owners tried their best but the grandeur of days past never really came back. Just recently I learned that the shop at the Heulstraat no. 27 is closing, the owners want to merge it with another store of them at another location.

Klaas and myself

My own story with De Graaff began in 2011. I was just discovering the realm of the dark leaf when I began exchanging messages and tobacco samples with Klaas. Because of him I was able to try wonderful blends like Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture, GL Pease Westminster and De Graaff Kegelbaan Mixture and Back in Town. The last 2 were house-blends. I knew sh*t about pipe-tobacco in those days but what I noticed was that they were all of very high quality. Klaas saw that I really enjoyed the De Graaff tobaccos, generously gave me some tins and told the following story: I discovered the De Graaff house-blends fairly late, in the 90’s, but I was immediately smitten. I really invested in them and bought loads of tins. Suddenly at the end of the 90’s I was told in the store that the house-blends were being discontinued. I panicked a bit and decided to buy all the tins I could get my hands on. In the store and in other tobacco shops in The Netherlands who also carried the De Graaff house-blends. Of course during the years I smoked a lot of them but I still have some left. The only thing I always wondered was where those fabulous tobaccos were made. It was a well kept secret that De Graaff never told to anyone..

Louis

Throughout the years I smoked some excellent De Graaff blends which were given to me by Klaas and another forum member. Also whenever I was in a tobacco-shop I asked if they had some old tins stashed away somewhere. Now and then I even got lucky and I was able to buy some old De Graaff tobaccos meant for home-blending, which I did and created lovely blends with them. But when I heard that the actual shop at the Heulstraat was closing down I decided to write a blogpost about De Graaff and do some research. At that point all I had were the names of the 2 sons of Frits, Gerard and Robbert. So I asked yet another forum member, Rudi, who had a tobacco-shop in Middelburg for years, if he had a contact address or something like that. He didn’t but he pointed me towards a Belgian man who made cigars for Gerard. I contacted him but he knew very little, only that, very sadly, Robbert had passed away a few years ago. Damnit! Robbert was the mastermind behind the pipe-tobaccos, so I was pretty gutted when I heard that. Then I decided to use an old contact of mine, Louis Bracco Gartner, founder of the Historical Tobacco Museum in Delft and the Tobacco History website. He helped me before with my Diepenveensche Tabaks Centrale blogpost and when I mailed my questions to him he responded with “call me, I know more.” So I phoned him and he turned out to be friends with Gerard de Graaff. I got the mail-address of the latter, contacted him a couple of times and got no response besides a mail which said I had the wrong man and that he did not know anything about pipe-tobacco..

So I phoned Louis again, told him this (according to him the mail-address was correct) and said I only wanted to know where De Graaff house-blend pipe tobaccos were made. “Oh but I know that!” “Ehmm.. Excuse me??” “Yes I know that, the house-blends were made by Dunhill in London.” Wowwww…. I was gobsmacked.. Made by Dunhill.. Hmmm, the 60’s and 70’s ok, Dunhill was still Dunhill, but during the 80’s and 90’s Dunhill blends were made by Murray. Those tobaccos were not highly acclaimed, not just by me (I smoked some) but also by others. The De Graaff blends I smoked dated from the 90’s and were of exceptional quality, way better than Murray-era Dunhill. Then from out of the back of my head I remembered I read something on the Dunhill page of the great late John Loring. Something about blends still being made (in the 80’s and 90’s) at the Dunhill Duke Street shop: One exception to the 1981 blending transfer (from Dunhill to Murray) should be noted. The Dunhill Duke Street shop continued to offer custom blending for the next two decades and as part of that continuation, a small batch blender in London (I suspect with Dunhill associations) continued to produce a number of My Mixture blends available only from the Duke Street shopSo it could very, very well be that that was the way the De Graaff house-blends were made.

Now about those house-blends. I don’t know precisely when the first pipe-tobacco house-blends were made but Rob has to say this: It must have been 1967 when I first visited De Graaff. I remember that in the room where the pipes were there also was a display with pipe tobaccos, sold under their own name. A couple of years ago I luckily had downloaded through the Wayback machine the original house-blend descriptions from the old De Graaff website. Here they are with notes from myself and pictures:

-Abu Riha-
Exceptional aromatic flake with a good deal of Latakia, as well as Turkish, and Red Virginia tobaccos. Excellent composition over a glass of Single-Malt whiskey. I smoked some tins of this one and I can best describe it as the prefect marriage between Smoker’s Haven Krumble Kake and Esoterica’s Penzance. In fact, it looked and tasted so much like those blends that I decided to mail J.F. Germain (and added some pictures) and they responded: These are very interesting pictures, we did not make any tobacco for De Graaff but I understand why you ask the question the tin and the tobacco look like Penzance from years ago.

-Back In Town-
One of our most successful mixtures, an ex-cigarette-smoker assisted in composing this blend. A fine composition of light and dark Virginia’s, Syrian Latakia, Kavalla (Macedonian tobacco) and Carolina Cavendish. A medium mixture with a pleasant flavour. A pleasant flavour indeed! This is one of the De Graaff classics, Syrian latakia, Kavalla, nomnomnom! Perfectly blended, very harmonious.

-Carl’s Own Blend-
Carefully composed by the HOUSE OF GOOD TASTE. Is the choice of a man of FINE TASTE. Born and bred in the THEATRE OF ROYAL TASTE. Full-flavoured mixture on the basis of Virginia tobaccos (Flue Cured East Carolina and Georgia) and a small quantity of Latakia. Sadly I never smoked this blend.

-Coronation-
This blend has been already produced for more than a century for the discerning smoker. Very mild, not burning the tongue. For the morning. I once had a sample of this blend but can’t remember it any more..

-De Kegelbaan-
An unique blend of first class tobaccos: Syrian Latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and Turkish tobaccos (Yenidshe). Mild taste, cool, slow burning. This is another big classic, I just finished a tin and only 1 word: exceptional. And not just a couple of times, no every time! The Yenidje is immediately recognizable (for those that have smoked Yenidje Supreme) and sings together nicely with the Syrian Latakia and Virginia’s. The Brown Cavendish mellows it all out a bit. I think that the creator Robbert De Graaff tried to imitate the old Balkan Sobranie with this one if I see the ingredients. And for me he absolutely succeeded!

-Golden Virginia-
Cool, somewhat sweet Virginia Bright Leaf. This is one of the oldest varieties of “flue cured” tobacco. Pleasant taste. I used this blend a couple of times in home-made mixtures. It reminded me a bit of Dunhill Flake, but then in a ribbon-cut. I had several tins but threw them away in a fit of cleaning rage before I could take a picture..

-Latakia-
Jebeli is also called “Abu Riha” (Father of the pleasant smell) by the Syrian population. The flavour is acquired by drying the tobacco over a fire of camel-dung (nice commercial story but not the truth..). Tobacco especially for mixing. And that is precisely where I use it for. When you open a tin, whoaaa… It smells so damn good! Also when you smoke it straight it is very yummie. On the tin it says Mountain Blue Syrian, of course made famous by Balkan Sobranie 759, the stuff of legends.

-No 27-
This tobacco gives evidence of craftsmanship. Composed of the best Golden- and Middle Belt Virginias, Corolina Cavendish, completed with a pinch of Lousiana Perique, for the perfect taste. Especially made for those smokers who prefer a Virginia blend. This tobacco is particularly aromatic and yet mild of taste. The only thing I can remember about this one is “tastes a bit like Dunhill Elizabethan“.

-Perique-
The Perique tobacco is unique, its history is dating back to the Choctaw and Chicasaw Indians. It adds a spicy flavour to all tobacco blends. It is without “bite”, although it is far too heady to be smoked straight. Well, Aleister Crowley did! I use it only for home-blending.

-Seamen’s Club-
Matured dark Virginia. This warm, dark tobacco is mild in taste and can be smoked pure or in mixtures. Unadulterated Red Virginia, I used it many times in home-blending for some Virginia backbone.

-Turkish-
Excellent burning qualities. Suitable for mixing, can also be smoked pure. Extremely mild with sweet undertone. I used this once in home-blending, it tastes like there is some Kavalla in it.

De Graaff also had house-brand pipes. Several Dutch Pipe Smokers members have such a smoking device. They were made in London and later in France. But where? No idea.. So I mailed Louis again, he asked around and came with a name: GDD! Ehrrr, I guess you mean GBD? He wasn’t sure but I now know it was GBD indeed, just look at the picture beside this paragraph. Where the pipes were made in France I sadly do not know..

Of course there is much more to tell about De Graaff, especially their cigars, but since this is a pipe-smoking blog it is enough for now. One last thing, here is a PDF document of 2 interesting old booklets/flyers from De Graaff, in Dutch.. I would like to thank all the forum members and people who have helped me and made this blogpost possible!

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