Pleasures of life in Belgium 2016

Group picture

Group picture

Like every year for me the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium) halfway March always marks the beginning of spring. The lengthening days, the slowly rising temperatures and the anticipation of the meeting make all the shadows in my mind from the dark, grey and rainy winter disappear. For some reason (probably the location in Belgium near the Dutch border and cheap beer) the Wuustwezel meeting always has been the best attended one. This year about 70 people applied and like last year Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there. Tobacconist Rudi even brought a special guest, more about that later.

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Gates at the Deventer train station

The day of the meeting began at 07.30 am but I was already awake because of my bad back… Great, ageing… But when I came from under the shower and had a small breakfast (their would be plenty of food and drinks during the day) I felt re-energized and ready for the day. Normally good friend Ed would have picked me up but he moved away from his old town near me to a location pretty far away due to some private stuff. So now I had to first pick Mark up at the train station in Deventer. I parked my car there and texted him where I stood but no response. And I waited, and waited.. In the end he turned up. At the train station they have small gates and Mark’s public transport pass malfunctioned so only after a lot of trouble with the security guards he could get through. That soon was forgotten and we drove to a parking lot somewhere beside the highway where Ed waited for us together with Johnny.

Pipe-smokers munching away

Pipe-smokers munching away

After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel where, just like the other times, our first stop was the local liquor store. Only once a year I get the chance to properly re-fill my beer basement and I take that chance with both hands (while carrying a stocked beer-crate of course). “No cash payment  because we got robbed” said a sign on the door. How sad.. I mean, Belgian beer is so delicious that one could steal it but to actually do that.. Bastards.. Inside the store I noticed I was not the first Dutchman there that day because the shelf with the delicous St. Bernardus Abt 12 was already half empty. Luckily there was enough left and together with my standard favourites and a few tips from Johnny my beer basement bulges out again now. Then we went to the snack-bar. Unfortunately Zodiac from last year closed down permanently. No not the recession, the owners were old and decided to quit. Thank the fried-heavens another snack-bar was open, the one we went to in 2014: Fritsnack, with the remarkable choice of Dutch (sweet) and Belgian (sour) mayonnaise. I went for the Belgian one this time together with a snack called “Twijfelaar” (doubter), which includes small bits of all their meat snacks on one stick, very yummie! Half the establishment was already taken by hungry familiar looking pipe-smokers under which Matron and Florian (this time with no hang-over from the previous evening). Matron had brought the prices which I won at the KPC raffle with him: a tin of Bothy Flake and Holger Danske Royal Navy Flake. Thanks! I sat across Arjen who had a big portion of fries (and in Belgium that is BIG, I had a medium fries which was too much for me..) together with two more snacks. While we were talking I watched with amazement how he devoured it all in no time. Wowzers!

Rob and his home-made tin-guitar

Rob and his home-made tin-guitar

When we arrived at the Bellekes Hoeve, the location of the meeting, organiser Jan sat beside the door to collect the money for the traditional Belgian sausage rolls and rent of the place. Which by the way was only €1 per person due to the fact we drank so much last year. Jan used the profits he made then to keep the entrance fee low for us. First thing I did when I put away my belongings and shook a few hands was order a Vlaamsche Leeuw at the bar. Utterly delicious! Which was also the opinion of Matron, Florian and Ed who all praised the Belgian beer. Then I bumped into Rob who had made a guitar out of an empty tin of WO Larsen Indigo, hilarious! On a table I made some space to place a mason jar which had to serve as a money box. In September my girlfriend Ellen is going to climb the Mont Ventoux in France for a cancer fund. Louis, one of the forum members, suggested that I put a money box at the meeting so people could make a small contribution. Well, small, in the end €131,60 was put in the mason jar! So unbelievably great! By the way, supporting Ellen is still possible through this site.

Marielle

Marielle

For Marielle I had some Amphora pouches. The evening before the meeting she asked on the forum if anyone had some and could bring it to Wuustwezel. Last year on the Inter Tabac PipesMagazine.com host Brian Levine gave me some Amphora pouches since MacBaren produces them. I never smoked Amphora and to be honest the blend not really seems my cup of tea, so giving hem away to a lovely lady was pretty easy. And in return she gave me a tin of one of the only aromatics I smoke: DTM’s Sweet Vanilla Honeydew. But I had more for Marielle. For some years I own a small 1980 Dunhill group 1 pipe which in essence is a ladies pipe. It came from the time when I snatched up every Dunhill below a certain price but I never had a click with it. So Marielle could have it, I mean, a pipe is meant to be smoked. But surprisingly she did not want it. What I did not knew was that Marielle is a filter-smoker and the Dunhill is non-filter. So she said “Give it to someone who really wants it and is really going to smoke it.” Ok, so if any female pipe-smoker reads this and you want this Dunhill, mail me at arnovangoor@gmail.com with a picture of yourself while smoking pipe and perhaps you are the lucky one! And gents, please no pictures of yourself in a dress or lingerie while puffing away ok? Thank you.

Per Jensen and his wife

Per Jensen and his wife

Talking about Amphora and MacBaren, Rudi tapped me on the shoulder, “Look there, our special guest, he wants to speak you”. I turned around and saw Per Jensen, the product manager of MacBaren who I already met at the Inter Tabac. Wow! I know he goes to big American meetings but a humble Dutch/Belgian one.. So nice to see and speak to him again. He brought all kinds of MacBaren tobaccos that are not for sale here so we could try them out. I lit up a pipe filled with the excellent HH Pure Virginia. Per had a question for me, he was busy with re-creating an old Amphora blend but he could not find any info of it. So if I perhaps could dig up some information. I’ll do my best Per! Of course I also had question for Per. This year I am busy with a new forum tobacco made by Samuel Gawith, but over 2 years perhaps MacBaren is a nice option. So a bit hesitant I asked Per if he was interested in producing one of our forum tobaccos. Hesitant because I know MacBaren only produces large quantities and around 250 tins is just total peanuts for such a company. But surprisingly he was willing! I get back to you in 2 years Per!

Freek

Freek

The generosity of the people on the forum never ceases to amaze me. I saw Freek sitting and he motioned for me to come closer. Last year at the Heukelum meeting I got a bottle of Westvleteren blond from him. One of the best blonde beers I ever drank. But now with a sly smile he produced 2 bottles of the mythical Westvleteren 12! “Here, these are for you. They were a gift to me but I don’t really like the beer.” Wowowowowowow!!! I mean, Westvleteren 12 is chosen as best beer in the world multiple times. What Balkan Sobranie is in the pipe-tobacco world, Westvleteren is in the beer world in my opinion. Last week I drank one bottle and I must say, a truly exceptional brew! Thanks Freek!

Klaas on the left

Klaas on the left

Still with a smile I bumped into Klaas, one of my pipe tobacco mentors. “Arno, I enjoyed your Upper Ten blogpost so much, here is a tin of De Graaff Kegelbaan for you.” Wow again! One of the earlier latakia blends I smoked through Klaas was the no longer made Kegelbaan, one of the house-blends of the once famous tobacconist De Graaff in The Hague. This mixture is really something special and spoiled my taste buds. It contains Syrian latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and the elusive Yenidje. Thanks Klaas! Later I spoke with Andre, who has a very good site where he sells refurbished estate pipes for beginning pipe smokers or people with a small budget. At Heukelum he gave me a blasted Orlik bulldog, a surprisingly fine smoker, and now he produced another Orlik, a good looking billiard. I could also have that one. Thanks Andre!

print-19-mar-2016_em5-7612Suddenly every one was being hushed to silence. Nick took the floor and directed himself towards Arjen. In a couple of months Arjen is getting married with a lovely Canadian woman called Misty. Behind his back the forum members collected money so we could give them a dinner at a restaurant. Well, we ended up with giving the soon to married couple a 5-course meal at the fancy Las Palmas restaurant, a night at the Hotel New York Rotterdam and two glasses and a bottle of bubbles.

WinslowYou probably know the feeling when you see a pipe and that it just speaks to you like in, I am beautiful, I will smoke good, buy me! I got that when I looked at a pipe amongst Rudi’s wares. A gorgeous D-grade Winslow bamboo. It was precisely what I was looking for, a small to medium sized pipe in which I could smoke Virginia or VaPer mixtures and flakes. And Winslow bamboos are relatively rare. I already have one (a B-grade) which is a terrific smoker. I must say, all my Winslows are excellent smokers and I can’t say that of all my Dunhills.. Rudi saw me (almost drooling) looking at the pipe but the only thing holding me back was the price. But Rudi knew he had the fish on the hook and only needed to haul it in. He made me an offer I could not refuse, a discount. I immediately shook his hands, the deal was closed.

IMG_0138I am a big fan of Lemmy from Motörhead and so is Matron. When we heard about his death we were both devastated. During an e-mail conversation we came up with the idea to bring a toast to Lemmy in Wuustwezel. Of course that would happen with the favourite drink of Lemmy, a Jack Daniels/cola. So I brought half a bottle of Jack with me (the other half I drank on the evening of the day I heard Lemmy died..) and to my delight I saw that Matron had taken 2 Motörhead shirts with him. His shirt was without sleeves. “You know, this shirt once had sleeves. But on a day when I was hiking I realized I forgot to bring tissues with me when I just had taken a shit. So I ripped off the sleeves of my shirt…” The shirt he had for me was a perfect fit, “size fat bastard” he said to me with a wink. We filled our glasses and raised them in honour of our fallen hero. R.I.P. Lemmy!

My acquisitions

My acquisitions

In the morning when we drove to Wuustwezel Johnny said “Always when I go to a meeting time suddenly goes very fast from the moment I enter the building until I leave it.” I also precisely had that. It was a fun day as always, I had spoken with lots of people, also did not speak with lots of people (better next time!), the sausage-rolls were delicious, the tobaccos great, the beer tasty etc. Around 20.30 we shook hands with the remaining forum members and half an hour later (you know how it goes..) we finally sat in the car on our way home. After a long journey which seemed short we arrived at the parking lot beside the highway. It appeared our cars were well guarded by some men around and in a van who were.. Ehmm.. Jerking off. So we hastily said goodbye to each other (and of course wished the masturbating men a pleasant evening) and went on our merry way.

I want to thank Jan, Sas, Miep and Dirk for organising the meeting and keeping us all hydrated. All pictures were made by Klaas, Jan, Dirk, Nick and Jef.

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oremy_28oremy_71EDIT 09-05-2016: The Dunhill ladies-pipe has a new owner! Lots of pictures of ravishing pipe-smoking ladies were send in. Some even showed me totally new and quite interesting ways to smoke a pipe.. And no you pervs, I won’t show those photos! In the end there was a clear winner: Italian pipe-smoking lady Emilia. She is the vice-president of the Pipa Club Italia and owner of one of the biggest pipe-smokers website communities: Fumare la Pipa. She started smoking when she was 21 years old. Her first pipe, a Savinelli, was given to her by a friend. Her second pipe she bought at the Peterson factory during a study-holiday in Dublin. Today Emilia attends many events where she had the opportunity to meet many pipe-smokers and pipe-makers (like Tom Eltang and Manduela). For 90% Emilia smokes Italian made pipes. Her favourite is the Kronos pipe, made by Bruto Sordini from Don Carlos. Surprisingly (for a woman) Emilia likes the taste of latakia! Her favourite tobacco is GL Pease Maltese Falcon and she often likes to smoke Tuscan cigars. Emilia is also participating in the slow smoking Italian Championship for several years. Last October she even contented in her first World-Championship in Italy near Venice: 71st out of nearly 300 participants. Currently she holds the women’s title in Italy. Emilia, I wish you lots of happy smokes with your Dunhill!

Inter-Tabac 2015 impression

Entrance to the Inter Tabac

Entrance to the Inter Tabac

September 19th 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 there were more than 500 exhibitors from over 50 countries who presented themselves in 5 huge exhibition halls. Renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Luckily Fred, now mainly one of the retailers of Big Ben, was willing to drag me along once again. And I was not the only one, he also had asked Rob (forum name Robbie-San) to come along. Which was pretty convenient for me because I could drive together with him.

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New Peterson tobaccos

After a smooth journey we arrived at the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund. Fred texted me, he already was inside waiting for us. When Rob and I met him he was in the process of ordering some miniature pipes meant for a short smoke. A funny looking partly retractable thing but ehmm.. not for me. What was for me was the stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipe-brands like Winslow, Peterson, Dunhill and Butz Choquin are shown. Once again Poul Winslow was not there but we bumped in to him later. Fortunately I was just smoking one of his pipes which he immediately recognized. We shook hands and I thanked him for doing what he does best: the making of most excellent smoking pipes. Back at the stand I shook my head in disbelief that Butz Choquin still had the same bright fluorescent yellow and dark blue pipes with yellow spots. As an employee at a marketing department I wonder at which group of people those awful creations are marketed. Well, perhaps it is also a case of “tastes differ”.. Being a big fan of everything that has to do with Ireland Rob already was talking with one of the Peterson salesmen. Apparently they had some new tobaccos: Founder’s Choice (the re-release of the successful 2015  St. Patricks Day tobacco), Signature Flake (in the vein of Capstan) and Original 1865 Mixture (a classic English blend). Dunhill had some special pipes with a silver cap in the form of a bulldog. Really beautiful but also really expensive..

The new

The new “Curvy” pipes of Gubbels

The next stop was the stand of Dutch pipe-factory Gubbels, makers of brands like Big Ben, Hilson and Bentley. This year they had an innovative new pipe: a short reverse calabash named “Curvy“. Not my kind of model (once again tastes differ huh?) but I recognize and applaud the will of Gubbels to innovate and be different than the rest, to think outside the box. And they were well rewarded, I heard they had so many orders that they could barley cope with the production. For me there also was another reason to visit the Gubbels stand. I am busy again with a new forum tobacco for the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. This one will be made by the immortal house of Samuel Gawith but… The Netherlands had no importer for the brand. HAD, because Gubbels almost certainly reached an agreement with the old British brand to import their wonderful tobaccos. Elbert Gubbels jr. was very happy about the coming collaboration and of course Fred and I added fuel to his enthusiastic flames.

Rob talking with miss Behrens

Rob talking with miss Behrens

While walking the appetite for a chair, something to drink and to smoke arose so like last year we headed towards the stand of Dan Tobacco. We were warmly greeted and the lovely daughter of director Heiko Behrens immediately asked what we wanted to drink. She even made quite an effort to arrange some earl grey tea for Rob. They had 3 new offerings: one I forgot (sorry!), one which smelled like winegums (not my cup of tea) which name is Tumblin’ Dice and one with a bergamot flavour called “Jirsa, magister Kelly’s mixture”, interesting! So we all filled our pipes with the Jirsa blend and to be honest, it surprised me in a positive way. Last year I smoked a then new mixture called Choo Choo Train and I did not like it much. It bit me like Ellen on a wild night and just.. No.. The Jirsa blend behaved very well and halfway the bowl the subtle but clear taste of bergamot prevailed. Miss Behrens so much liked to see us enjoying the new mixture that we were all gifted a tin! Besides that she made small sample-bags of all kinds of tobacco for us to enjoy after the fair. Suddenly Michael Apitz appeared, responsible for creating many of the aromatic tobaccos of DTM. And a walking encyclopaedia of everything that has to do with pipes and tobacco. He sat down with us and immediately an interesting conversation followed about how to store your tobaccos for a long time. Apparently he now and then turns a tin upside down and let it stay like that for a while to evenly distribute the little oxygen inside it. Also an older man joined us for a short while. A real character with vocal chords which have seen lots of tobacco and spirits. “I am the least known pipe-maker of the world!” he croaked. He had brought some pipes of his own making with him and showed them. “They are rejects, I only smoke those, never the ones I sell.” And even those rejects looked amazingly beautiful. He had a straight grain which he had been smoking for 20 years which had a wonderful brown patina. And I still don’t know his name..

IMG_3770We had gotten so hungry so we went outside looking for the stand that sold heavenly grilled mega-burgers last year. And it was not there! The bastards! Leaving me standing there with an empty belly! Fred and Rob gently guided me back inside while I kept on swearing in German.. Donnerwetter! Apparently some of the catering had moved to a (non-smoking…) part of one of the halls. We found a stand there that also sold burgers but sadly they were not as big and tasty as those of last year. And the price! 9 euros for a double cheese burger! Grrrrr… And on top of that some Chinese bloke sneakily tried to nick my chair while I was waiting in the queue. My flaming eyes communicated the Chinese words for “keep your f***ing hands off!”..

IMG_3773Rob loves Savinelli pipes so that was the next stand we went to. He had a malfunctioning mouthpiece and told that that to the friendly saleslady. Of course this was not a problem for her, she told Rob to send the pipe to Italy with specific instructions and then all would be fixed. Savinelli also had some really cool looking pipes with a silver skull ring that I really liked. So back home I looked up the prices and ehmm.. Nevermind.. Waaaaay out of my budget.. 1500 – 1700 euros… They also had pipes in the shape and colours of a football. No not a soccer-ball, a football. Not really my cup of tea.

IMG_3780After seeing a lot of other Italian pipe brands we ended up at the stand of BriarWorks International. This year they are making the 2016 Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum forum-pipe. Very nice folks at the stand and while I held the forum-pipe model in my hands I slightly regretted not ordering one. We moved on besides stands of Mr. Brog and Chacom. One of Rob’s favourite pipes is a Chacom so he thanked the salesman for making such excellent pipes and in return the salesman thanked Rob for buying them. We shuffled past the stand of Samuel Gawith, I had to speak with Bob Gregory about the coming forum tobacco but alas, he was busy making advances on an Asian looking woman who apparently was interested in his.. Tobaccos.. As always the space of the stand was shared with Ian Walker from Northern Briars. While chatting away Rob pulled out his beloved Chacom and sighed: “I wish I had another one..” Being the businessman that he also is Ian Walker grabbed his sketchbook and began drawing the Chacom from different angles. When he was done he named an absolutely reasonable price and asked for Rob’s email. I wonder what will come out of this.

IMG_3791Like every year German pipe-brand Vauen had made an innovative pipe. Last year they had a black diamond shaped pipe fittingly called “Diamond“ Now their newest creation was called “Spin“. A pipe that at first looks like a big joint but because of a rotating bowl can be used normally. A nice feature, but in my personal opinion noting special. What was special once were the Lord of the Rings pipes made by Vauen. Sadly they lost the rights to use the LOTR name so instead they founded the “Auenland” series. Really good looking pipes, absolutely, but I have been searching for a LOTR Bilbo model for years and I can’t find one for a decent price. So every year I ask the Vauen salesmen the same thing: Can you please bring out the Bilbo model under another name? And each year the polite answer is the same: no..

Brian Levine and myself

Brian Levine and myself

At the Mac Baren stand I had 2 things to do: sample a bit of their new tobaccos and meet PipesMagazine.com radio-show host Brian Levine who did an interview with me some time ago. Tobacco-expert Per Jensen was busy with a retailer so I looked around if I saw Brian and found him at the entrance. He did not immediately recognize me, in real life I am much better looking than on my pictures *ahemmm*, but when he did he warmly greeted me. We all sat down and a girl provided drinks. We talked a bit about my blog, I showed him my old Samuel McLardy pipe and we just had a great time, Brian really has a wonderfully wicked sense of humour. Gradually the conversation drifted toward their new tobaccos: HH Pure Virginia and HH Bold Kentucky. Since Per Jensen was still busy Brian asked me to wait, hurried to the side of the stand and came back with a tin of HH Pure Virginia and HH Bold Kentucky. Those were for me! Thanks Brian! We talked further and the subject came on the new brands Mac Baren recently acquired. Amongst those brands is a classic Dutch one: Amphora. So Brian asked if I would like to have some pouches of it. Ehhr, sure, yes!! Thanks again! Apparently with the new brands Mac Baren also acquired some nasal snuff tobaccos. They did not even know that until just before the Inter Tabac so they had to quickly buy some of the snuff in England. The last couple of months I now and then sniff some nasal snuff and Rob also likes to do that very much. So we took it upon ourselves to test the new additions to the Mac Baren product range. Must have been a funny but perhaps disturbing sight to see a couple of full grown men snorting away like there was no tomorrow. When Per Jensen finally shortly joined us I dared to ask him if it was possible to visit and see the factory. Normally they don’t do that but if I mail him far enough in advance it surely could be done! Of course we thoroughly thanked Brian and Per before we left the stand. Great guys!

Wallenstein pipes

Wallenstein pipes

Inside the posh and luxurious stand of Kohlhase & Kopp it was busy. We had a quick look at some pipes, they had a nice rack of Wallensteins, but for the rest there was nothing special to find. So we decided to see if Bob Gregory was available at the Samuel Gawith stand, and he was. He did not have much time, the next appointment was already breathing in our necks, but I did not need long to explain to him what I would like with the forum tobacco. To him it all sounded good, it all could be done. Great! He gave me his email and before we shook hands and said goodbye Rob managed to secure a tin of Celtic Talisman snuff. Talking about snuff, we even saw at a stand that they had the famous snuff offerings from the renowned  Dutch snuff-mills. Cool! But more about those in a coming blog.

Rob and the girls

Rob and the girls

After all the pipe-smoking and sniffing we all felt like trying out a water-pipe. The espresso water-pipe company of last year also was present so we decided to sit down there. We were the only customers at that moment so the girls were glad to see us and fired up the shishas. Fred once again had troubles to get the water-pipe going but Rob and I were happily puffing away. We tried all kinds of flavours but both of us liked the regular apple-taste best. One of the girls asked if we regularly smoked shisha, no, but we do smoke pipe often! She got a bit intrigued so Rob pulled out his pipes and tried to impress the (poor) girl. He even got the girls so far they posed with him for a picture, the lucky bastard! Oh yes, the girls.. Last years I very much enjoyed the sights of scantily dressed ladies trying to promote products or just sitting in front of stands to attract customers. But now it seemed that there was some kind of dress code.. Most girls were very neatly dressed, no cleavage whatsoever, no ultra-mini skirts. Only one (water-pipe) stand had girls that showed some more flesh, but still.. So vendors of the Inter Tabac, next year I hope I can feast my eyes once again on pipes, tobacco and scantily dressed girls! Thank you!

image21Of course the day ended too soon, just before 6 o’clock the loudspeakers told us to head to the exits. Brian had asked if we wanted to drink a beer with him at his hotel but to be honest I forgot the name of it… Next year Brian! Besides that we all were very hungry so we took off in search of a restaurant. We did not wanted to eat something in Dortmund but in a smaller town (restaurants are often cheaper there). So we at random picked a town when driving on the highway. It was called Herne and when we got there we went to the first decent looking place to eat, which proved to be a Greek restaurant. And an excellent one! Good beer, lots of meat for a reasonable price, just perfect! All by all I was at home precisely at midnight. I can’t remember hitting the bed but I sure had some nice tobacco dreams.

All pictures were made by Rob and myself.

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Inter-Tabac 2014 impression

Entrance of the Inter-Tabac fair

Entrance of the Inter-Tabac fair

Last year a dream came true for me, I got to visit the Inter-Tabac fair in Dortmund, Germany. For those of you who missed the blogpost I made of the visit; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year there were more than 400 exhibitors from 51 countries who presented themselves on an area of over 30.000 square metres! In 5 exhibition halls (1 more than last year) renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Last year I was lucky, I got a ticket through an anonymous person. Well, that person was Fred, the Dutch importer of Mr. Brog and Country Pipes and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers forum. Now he yet again had a ticket for me and on top of that he was visiting the fair the same day as myself. A good thing because Rudi and Paul, with whom I went last year, preferred more privacy now despite the good times we all had. Apparently Rudi noticed that a big crew of consumers did not go well with the exhibitors, after all it is a fair meant for retailers. Luckily, for Fred my presence was no trouble at all.

Waiting with a nice view for the halls to open. See that guy checking out the boobs of the girl?

Do you see that guy sneakily checking out the boobs of the girl?

On the sunny morning of September 19th I once again drove to the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund. Luckily there was no Stau (traffic jam) on the way so I arrived in time. When I walked to the main entrance (no anti-smoking nazis this time) I saw Paul and Rudi standing there. We all went inside and chatted a bit while I was texting Fred if he already had arrived. To my utter delight I saw signs that smoking was allowed inside the halls. This because last year I heard that that maybe was the final time inside smoking was still possible. Of course the exhibitors protested and I guess that helped. I mean, you go to biggest smoking trade fair of the world and you can’t smoke inside?? Suddenly I got a SMS from Fred that he was in hall 8 so I said goodbye to Rudi and Paul and went on my way.

Midwakh pipes

Midwakh pipes

Soon I found Fred at the big yellow Clipper stand, we greeted each other and started walking while chatting. Some exhibitors handed out presents and information so near a stand Fred got a bag pushed into his hands. He checked out the contents and saw something inside which looked like a small pipe. Fred likes new, innovative things that no one has so he headed back to the stand. The pipe appeared to be a so called “Midwakh“, an arab pipe. An enthusiastic salesman showed us how you fill the pipe with tobacco made in Oman and offered us a smoke. It tasted a bit like cigarette tobacco and the salesman explained that the pipe is meant for a quick enjoyable fix if you have little time. Even quicker than a cigarette. But I thought like (did not express it), well, you had your quick fix and then you still have to clean the pipe. So all by all it takes more time than a cigarette.. And besides that, being a full-blood Dutchman, the pipe looked to me like a hasish-pipe..

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Brebbia stand

An interesting stand we passed by was that of Brebbia pipes. I already knew from Fred that they have no Dutch importer and he was asked a couple of times if he wanted that job. But it was too much work. Despite that Fred was hesitating if he should buy some pipes because we saw some really nice ones. What I love about the Italian pipe makers is that they have some kind of passion and fire in their eyes when they talk about their creations. Fred asked if he could buy low quantities and if they shipped to the Netherlands and with busy hand-gestures and thick Italians accents they said that was no problem at all. So who knows..

Fred at the Dan Tobacco stand

Fred at the Dan Tobacco stand

While we walked through the halls the appetite for a chair and some coffee arose with the both of us. “Let’s go to the stand of Dan Tobacco, we can get some coffee there” Fred said. Good idea! When we arrived I saw to my disappointment that master-blender Andreas Mund was not there. Last year he was present and we had a warm conversation. For me Andreas is the living soul of Dan Tobacco besides the old director Heiko Behrens who was present but looked a bit old and fragile.. Anyway, the charming daughter of Heiko presented us 3 new blends: Bulldog Roper’s Roundels, Salty Dogs and Choo Choo Train. The last one was so new and fresh that it could not be smoked yet. From what I could see and smell it is a light Virginia flake with a topping of chocolate and some kind of vanilla-butterscotch. My eye fell on the label of Bulldog Roper’s Roundels and Salty Dogs: Manufactured in the E.C. for Dan Tobacco Germany. Hmm.. The Roundels smelled and looked precisely like Peter Stokkebye’s Luxury Bullseye Flake and there are not many tobacco factories on Europe mainland that can make plugs like Salty Dogs. So my guess is they were made in a big factory in the North of Europe.. Choo Choo Train is fully made at Dan Tobacco. As it should be. While sipping the coffee I also asked the daughter of Heiko how the waterpipe tobacco business (see the blog of last year) went: most excellent.

IMG_2054So our thirst was quenched but now our bellies grumbled. Last year I had lunch at the restaurant of the fair itself and it was expensive and baaaad.. Luckily Fred knew that outside was a stand where they sold grilled mega-burgers. It was easy to find because the fumes from the grill rose sky-high and the queue was long.. But it was 100% definitely worth the wait! A mouth-watering very tasty 20 cm. diameter (!) burger between a bun of the same size with sauce and salad was our reward.

Prime examples of Mastro de Paja

Prime examples of Mastro de Paja

Back inside we passed by the stand of Mastro de Paja and saw the most exquisite pipes of the day. We just had to stand in awe and admire the displayed beauties. “For you just 10 dollars”, joked one of the salesmen who saw us drooling. Well, for that money I would have taken them all home! When we learned the real price we sadly understood that we would take none with us.. But the silverwork and innovative use of egg-shells in some pipes was very, very professional. And also here the fierce Italian enthusiasm for their products was hearth warming. If only I had the money..

Per Jensen showing a tin of HH Latakia Flake

Per Jensen showing a tin of HH Latakia Flake

One of the stands I definitely wanted to visit was that of MacBaren. Last year I had some trouble finding it (a stand within a stand) but now we easily marched to the small counter where the very friendly master-blender Per Jensen was just helping some clients. While waiting we looked at the range of MacBaren tobaccos in small sample jars and it occurred to me that I was missing one, their latest creation: HH Latakia Flake. So I asked Mr. Jensen (when he was available) where it was. Quickly he went to the back, grabbed a tin of it from a cabinet and opened it. Fred and I approvingly sniffed the delicious smelling flakes inside. Earlier this year I smoked a small sample of the HH Latakia Flake and found it to be pretty tasty and smooth. But the German health-labels on the tin puzzled me somewhat. Was it already available in Germany? Fred said that I have blog about pipe-smoking. Mr. Jensen nodded approvingly and replied that if I mentioned that HH Latakia Flake is going to be available in Germany in the spring of 2015 he was going to give me the tin. My blog is non-commercial but this opportunity I would not let slip through. So you see Mr. Jensen? I said it. I also had a question about one of my personal favourites, HH Vintage Syrian. As you perhaps know it is one of the last blends with the original Syrian Latakia and I was wondering how long the stock of MacBaren would last. Mr. Jensen very honestly answered that he guessed that in about 7 or 8 years they would run out of the Syrian dark leaf. So grab your tins while you still can!

Fred wondering why Dunhill pipes are so expensive..

Fred wondering why Dunhill pipes are so expensive..

We also had to go to the big stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipe-brands like Winslow, Peterson, Dunhill and Butz Choquin are shown. Of course the main attraction is Poul Winslow himself and.. He was not present when we were there, he was walking around the fair. Oooh damn.. So we just looked around and marvelled at the beauty of the Winslow and Dunhill pipes. Two totally different brands but each beautiful in their own right. What was not so beautiful were some pipes by Butz Choquin. They had a couple of bright yellow, almost fluorescent ones. Pipes covered with jeans-fabric and dark blue ones with yellow spots. Let’s just say I expected the French to have more of a good taste.

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Sergeant Matron from the Kearvaig Pipe Club

The Italians surely had a better taste on the fair as we noticed when we shuffled beside the stands of Lorenzo, L’Anatra, Ser Jacopo and Savinelli. I am even surprised that I don’t own an Italian pipe.. Hmm.. When we turned around the corner we saw the combined stand of pipe-maker Ian Walker and tobacco institute Samuel Gawith. The Gawith guys were busy and Ian Walker did not recognize me right away until I put the forum prince under his nose that he made last year. “Aaahh! I already thought it was you! Pipe nr. 13 right?” He has a good memory for sure! I asked how business went and he enthusiastic told me that he already had 80 orders for pipes that morning! Wow! He also was so kind to get the latest offering from his neighbours for me so I could enjoy it: Bothy Flake. Apparently the smoke summoned the physical body of Sergeant Matron of the Kearvaig Pipe Club, one of the originators of Bothy Flake. I did not recognize him because I only knew him as a zombie. I said who I was and I was glad to hear he is a regular reader of my blog. I told him I loved the magazines he makes for the pipe club with crazy pictures of wasted Scotchmen in kilts who show their bare asses. He countered with “Well, I saw the blogpost with you guys wearing those strange coats and you say we are crazy??” Lovely chap! If I ever get to Scotland I will surely try to survive an evening in a bothy with the KPC members and copious amounts of tobacco and whisky.

Look daddy! Two girls, I did it!

Look daddy! Two girls, I did it!

Talking about bare asses, sex still sells at the Inter Tabac Fair. But not with the “old-fashioned” tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars and pipes/pipe tobacco. No, the hordes of attractive scarcely clad young ladies were present at trendy water-pipe (tobacco) and E-cigarette (liquid) stands. And it works! Fred and I walked by a stand where they sold some espresso water-pipe stuff and a good looking girl asked if we wanted to try some. Ehrrrr ok! The girl explained with a sly smile that we really had to suck hard on the pipes to get them going. Owkeeej.. I have some water-pipe experience from my visits to Cairo so I was fuming (and coughing) away in no time. When we were done we passed another stand with a girl who had, let’s say, two major unique selling points. She made some kind of water-pipe cocktail with real fruit for us and I have no idea how she did it because I was trying to look at (and photograph) something else.. I am a bad man, I know. In front of an E-cigarette producer stand were a couple of girls active with handing out goody-bags. I snapped a picture from the scene while talking to Fred. One of the girls heard me and said in Dutch “Oooh, you are Dutch! If you like you can let a photo be made with me and my girlfriend”. Ehrrrr ok! She softly pushed herself against me and another stunning girl with even less clothing joined us. Fred had a big grin on his face when he took the picture.

Vauen Diamond

Vauen Diamond

To cool off we went to the stand of German pipe-producer Vauen. Our eyes immediately went to a black diamond shaped pipe fittingly called “Diamond“. I didn’t and don’t know what to think of the shape. Vauen are surely thinking out of the box with this one. What I did not like were the facts that the pipe was pretty heavy because of the used plastic and the not so tight fit of the mouthpiece. I rather have Vauen design some more shapes for their magnificent Auenland-series. They also had a new tobacco, “English Blend & Vanilla“. I looked at it, smelled it and told a salesman that it reminded me very, very much of Sillem’s Black. He did not know that one..

New Samuel Gawith: Blend it and Bothy Flake

New Samuel Gawith: Blend it and Bothy Flake

It was getting late and I just had one more thing to do at the fair: speak with the Gawith guys. First of all I wanted to compliment them with Bothy Flake. I smoked a large sample before the fair (thanks to Huub!) and I can say it is one of best tobaccos Samuel Gawith brought out in the last couple of years. Second I asked about their new concept: Blend it. Which means that you can buy tins with flakes which also contain a small bag containing some ribbon cut blending tobacco. That way you can mix your own creation. I hope the concept will take off and be successful.

IMG_2115The main reason I sat there was that I perhaps had some business for them. Last year I had some forum tobaccos made in cooperation with Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco and a German tobacco factory. In about a good year from now I am thinking about creating one new forum tobacco together with Samuel Gawith. I asked them if they liked the idea and they did! From their side I can expect full cooperation. But there are other things I must take account of first.. Will the Dutch/Belgian forum once more order a lot of tins? How will the tobacco route go, through The Netherlands or Belgium? We will see. The last thing I wanted from the Gawith guys was some Bothy Flake, but unfortunately they brought not much with them. Sergeant Matron (who was sitting beside me) took a pity on me with my pleads for a sample and he put his own tin of Bothy Flake in my bag. Thanks sarge!

The big Heinrichs truck

The big Heinrichs truck

With just 15 minutes to go before the fair closed Fred and I left the building. We were saying to each other that the water-pipe and especially the E-cigarette business was booming. “Maybe next year all the halls will contain that stuff” Fred said with a wry smile.. He might be right, in some halls there were so many Japanese/Chinese stands with E-cigarettes and liquids that I felt like walking through a shopping street in Tokyo/Shanghai. At least of one thing we can be certain next year, that the big truck of Heinrichs will be standing in front of the Inter-Tabac Fair.

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Nourishingly Normandy

Our holiday-house in Notre-Dame-De-Courson

Our holiday-house in Notre-Dame-De-Courson

Traditionally for Ellen and me June is the month to go on vacation. One has a good chance that the weather is fine, it is not high-season so the prices are reasonable and the really big tourist crowds have not yet arrived. Because of financial reasons we decided to go away for just one week. But where to? We soon choose a location not too far from home: the region of Normandy in France. Well, still a 700 km. drive.. I went searching for a suitable holiday-house (read: good and cheap) and after a few evenings of Google-Fu I found one! An old 17th century home, formerly a cider-press barn, build in the typical style of Normandy and situated in the small village of Notre-Dame-De-Courson. Luckily the owner was an Englishman (a lot of British expats live in Normandy) which saved me the troubles of writing in French (my French is sooo bad..) so the process of booking went smooth.

Pont de Normandie

Pont de Normandie

What not did go smooth was the last part of the journey to the holiday-house. Damn TomTom! I did not study the map of Normandy too well, trusted the navigation device and as a result we got sent over the Pont de Normandie! Beautiful, really, but also expensive (€5,50 to cross 1 bridge!) and a big detour. Once in the villages near our destination I relaxed. I did not expect Normandy to be so hilly, rustic and beautiful! Instant holiday feeling. Of course while driving through the picturesque towns I kept an eye out for tobacco-stores and to my delight I spotted several shops with “Tabac” (tobacco) written above the door.

"Tabac" in Livarot, close to our holiday-house

“Tabac” in Livarot, close to our holiday-house

The “Tabac” is a national institution, a shrine to French culture encapsulated by French cinema, part of the café society and a social necessity. Besides tobacco-products a “Tabac” (they describe themselves as a nationwide 28.000-strong “convenience store” chain) also can sell national lottery tickets, strong black coffee (called “café noir” and yes it is STRONG), cold beer, newspapers, magazines and fiscal stamps. In smaller villages they can act as a post office, headquarters of village sports and cultural associations and even as informal banker when no ATMs are to be found. So it is not strange that anyone planning to set up as a tobacconist first needs clearance from the customs authorities and then must undergo an initial training to enter the craft and after that continuous ongoing refresher courses at regular intervals.

A "Tabac" in Lisieux

“Tabac” in Lisieux. Despite the sign, no pipes..

Smoking is as deeply rooted in French society and culture as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, escargot (snails), high fashion, wine, (smelly) cheeses and champagne. Not even efforts by the government’s health authorities to ban public smoking and educate people about the dangers of tobacco consumption have put a dent in the insatiable craving of France for the smoky leaf. Particularly the famous Gauloises and Gitanes brands. So with that in mind I expected a lot in the pipe-tobacco department. Boy, was I disappointed.. I visited several “Tabac” shops in the towns we went to and everyone of them had more or less exactly the same pipe-tobacco assortment: Saint Claude, Le Supérieur, Amsterdamer and some MacBaren offerings. And all of them vacuum sealed pouches, not a single tin to be found. Perhaps “Tabac” stores in the big cities sell more but the single row of “tabac pour le pipe” in the smaller shops was a bit of a disillusion. And then you have the price.. Wowww.. Dutch prizes, and that means expensive. Since 2000 tobacco prizes have tripled!

IMG_1658Despite that I decided to buy some Le Supérieur (€8,10 for 40 gr.) at a “Tabac” in the picturesque sea-side town of Honfleur which even had some pipes! The only shop I visited in my vacation that had those but alas, nothing special.. That evening at the balcony of the holiday-house in the last rays of the setting sun I broke the seal of the Le Supérieur pouch and what I smelled and saw was no disappointment at all. My first thought was “Semois“, but with a twist. That being a light topping of I believe to be chocolate. Because of this when smoking the taste is sweeter than that of its Belgian cousin. It is a mellow smoke for sure, no tongue bite and although the level of “cigar-ness” rises throughout the bowl the tobacco never becomes overpowering. So I was a bit surprised that the tobacco packed a good punch of the ol’ lady nicotine. Although I could have known this because Semois also has a lot of vitamin N. I loved the rustic side of this blend, it is a no-nonsense tobacco, a true all-day smoke.

The e-smoke shop-window in Honfleur

The e-smoke shop-window in Honfleur

Also in Honfleur I stumbled upon a modern and sterile looking store with strange, colourful things in the shop-window. When I came closer I saw to my utter horror nothing but e-smoke products, there even was an e-pipe! With a hand in front of my mouth, preventing me from painting the store-front with vomit, a quick look inside revealed it was the only stuff they sold. Aarghhh! It seems the e-cigarette market has exploded over the past two years in France. For a fraction of the cost of a pack of cigarettes or a pouch of pipe-tobacco smokers can choose an e-liquid flavour, preferred level of nicotine and even personalize the damn thing itself. A survey carried out by Ipsos in December 2013 revealed one in five French people (that is around 10 million!) had tried an e-cigarette. At the same time sales of traditional cigarettes dropped by just over 7%..

A no-smoking sign and an ashtray.. Hmm..

A no-smoking sign and an ashtray.. Hmm..

Despite the success of e-smoking the French keep on consuming tobacco. The number of French smokers is actually increasing! Since 2005 the percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 75 who smoke has gone from 28% to 30%. The biggest “problem” with French anti-smoking laws is the lack of enforcement. People still smoke in places where it is clearly banned. For example, in Ireland the smoking ban was followed by more than 25.000 inspections in the first year. In France there were only 600 inspections. Way to go! Also about one-fourth of cigarettes consumed in France are believed to have originated from foreign countries. The French (like the Dutch) know their ways better and better to the borders of Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany where tobacco is much cheaper.

Anyway, enough with the smoking, now something about the other good things of life. I named this blogpost “Nourishingly Normandy” because the region feeds you with everything that you need: food, drinks and culture. Here are ten tips about those three things.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

1. Visit Mont Saint-Michel, one of the big tourist traps of France but of such awesome beauty that going there is mandatory. Try to arrive as early in the day as possible to avoid the large crowds. If you go by car do not park it at the big parking-lot of the Mont, it is €xpen$ive.. In stead put it in a smaller parking lot a couple of hundred meters before the one of the Mont. Also take your lunch with you. Most restaurants inside the Mont are not cheap to say the least.. Besides, you will never forget eating your baguette sitting on the outside walls of the Mont while watching the sea and avoiding the not-so-shy seagulls.

The local boulangerie in Notre-Dame-De-Courson

The local boulangerie in Notre-Dame-De-Courson

2. Talking about baguettes, every French village of a certain size is required by law to have a “boulangerie” (bakery) or some other place where you can buy bread. So every morning I awoke at 7 a.m., hit the shower and drove to the local boulangerie to buy still warm baguettes and croissants. When I got back Ellen had set up the table and we could have a tasty breakfast.

Me paying respect to the fallen at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Me paying respect to the fallen at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

3. Visit the beaches from D-Day and the American Cemetary and Memorial (featured in the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan) at Colleville-sur-Mer. It is a more than impressive and touching sight to see all the graves of the brave men who gave us our freedom. “Think not only upon their passing, remember the glory of their spirit”.

Bayeux cathedral

Bayeux cathedral

4. France is all about beautiful and well preserved ancient churches and cathedrals. Ellen and I visited the cathedrals of Lisieux and Bayeux. Just soak up the sacrosanct atmosphere while you silently shuffle besides centuries-old altars, paintings, statues, stained glass windows and graves. And while you are in Bayeux pay a visit to the almost 1000-year old Bayeux-tapestry, very much recommended! If you want to see a stupendously big building, go to the Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux.

The Livarot cheese I bought, very yummie!

The Livarot cheese I bought, very yummie!

5. Normandy is THE region for soft cheeses like Camembert, Livarot, Pont-l’Évêque and Boursin. All supermarkets will have an assortment of local cheeses but the most fun is to buy those directly from the farm. Alongside roads there are usually signs (“ferme laitière”). I bought a Livarot cheese from the Thébault farm, my first experience with a soft French cheese besides the well-knows President Camembert and Boursin. Livarot cheese is pungent, spicy, earthy, full of flavour and it makes your refrigerator stink for weeks. Ellen would not touch the stuff, I loved it.

The Vieux Bassin, Honfleur

The Vieux Bassin, Honfleur

6. Visit the picturesque, most charming sea-side town of Normandy: Honfleur. Long a favourite with painters but now more popular with the Parisian jet set. Even though it can be overrun with tourists like myself in the summer months, it is hard not to love its graceful beauty. The heart of Honfleur is the Vieux Bassin (Old Harbour), from where explorers once set sail for the New World. This part of the port is surrounded by a lot of brightly coloured buildings that evoke maritime Normandy of centuries past. Beware, if you want to have a good meal, do not eat in one of the restaurants around the old harbour (expensive and lacking in quality). In stead go to a restaurant in the town centre. I personally recommend Le Corsaire, which brings me to my next tip.

Escargot (snails)

Escargot (snails)

7. Have lunch and dinner in a local restaurant. The French like a warm, savoury “déjeuner” (lunch) so when in Honfleur Ellen and I visited Le Corsaire. Most restaurants have a couple of menus, that means you pay a fixed price and choose between several appetizers, main courses and desserts. We choose the cheapest (€15,50) and got real value for money. Try the “Moules à la crème ou mariniére” (Mussel marinated with cream), di-vine yummieness! On the last evening of our stay we went to Le Tournebroche in Notre-Dame-De-Courson to have dinner. They serve excellent local cuisine with a modern twist. I asked for a side-dish, the infamous Escargot (snails), because I never had those. They look unappetizing but taste surprisingly delicious thanks to the garlic-sauce in which they bathe.

Château de Saint-Germain-de-Livet

Château de Saint-Germain-de-Livet

8. Visit Chateau de Saint-Germain-De-Livet. A very picturesque castle build for a part in typical Normandic-style between 1561 and 1578. There are guided tours in French (with printed sheets in several languages) and you also have access to the surrounding garden.

Market hall in Saint-Pierre-Sur-Dives

Market hall in Saint-Pierre-Sur-Dives

9. Go to a local market in one of the surrounding towns. We went to the market in Saint-Pierre-Sur-Dives. It has an ancient market hall dating from the 11th century which was bombed during WWII but has been completely rebuilt using the traditional methods. The market itself is loaded with local food and drink products such as vegetables, fruits, cheeses, ciders and calvados. You can also find flowers, livestock, clothes, bags and accessories etc.

The owner of ferme Belleau packing some bottles of his cider for us

The owner of ferme Belleau packing some bottles of his cider for us

10. Buy local cider at the cider-press barn itself. Look for signs with “cidre” on them alongside roads. We went to one situated next to a crumbling house just outside Notre-Dame-De-Courson, ferme Belleau. The owner was having lunch but welcomed us nonetheless. I asked “Je voudrais acheter cidre?” (Can I buy cider?) and we were led to a large barn. Inside there was a pungent but inviting smell of apples and alcohol and a lot of equipment. The owner asked us which varieties we wanted and I choose several. Price per bottle: only €2,50. Vive la France!

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Lohmar pipe-show 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast year when all the business with the forum tobaccos had been taken care off German master-blender Hans Wiedemann of HU Tobacco asked if I was coming to the next Lohmar Pfeifenmesse (Lohmar pipe-show). We then finally would be able to shake hands after the loads of mail-contact we had. Hans lives in the South of Germany which is far away from where I live in The Netherlands and according to him the Lohmar pipe-show was the closest to my home. I looked it up and indeed Hans was correct, it was a 230 km. ride for me. He also asked me if I could promote the pipe-show a bit on the Dutch/Belgian pipe-smokers forum, which I of course did. At first there was not much response so I decided to ask if fellow forum-member Robbie-San (real name Rob but there are more Robs in this story) was willing to go to Lohmar with me. We had met before at several meetings and I knew he was a good guy and pleasant company. In the end another forum-member, Smoking-Rob (behold, the other Rob), asked if he could join us. Of course, the more the merrier! Also a couple of other forum-members said they would come.

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Villa Friedlinde

It was going to be the 9th edition of the Lohmar pipe-show organized by pipe-maker Volker Bier and his friend Jürgen Hofer. The location is the same every time: Villa Friedlinde in the heart of Lohmar. This year a large section of the surrounding park also was part of the show. To my delight I read in the announcements on a German forum that Volker closely works together with the local authorities who are proud to host the event. Even the site of Lohmar-town promotes the pipe-show. I mean, these days here in The Netherlands you won’t easily see towns supporting a smoking-event. In fact, we don’t have smoking-events any more..

Yess, the Force was with us!

Yess, the Force was with us!

After a few messages back and forth Robbie-San and I decided that he would drive to Germany. He has a car that runs on diesel and that is cheaper. We’re Dutch remember? But that meant I had to come to Brabant first because Robbie-San lives there. No problem, I work there every last half of the week and have an address where I can spend the night. Saturday 10 May at 08.30 sharp Robbie-San rang the doorbell. I grabbed my belongings including some cheese-sandwiches that I made for the road. I had to laugh when I stepped into the car because on the corner of the dashboard stood a miniature Yoda. So the Force was going to be with us! We drove to somewhere along the edge of the city of Nijmegen where Smoking-Rob was waiting for us. After the handshakes he presented a tin of MacBaren HH Old Dark Fired to Robbie-San as a thank-you for driving. For me he had a tin of vintage (1980’s) Capstan Medium Navy Cut that I traded with him for some Janneman Flake.

The Force let us down a bit, Stau! (traffic-jam)

The Force let us down a bit, Stau! (traffic-jam)

On the way to Lohmar it seemed the Force let us down a bit. In The Netherlands it already was raining a bit but the roads in Germany were a gigantic water-ballet so we were forced to drive slowly. On top of that we encountered some “Stau”, which translates as “traffic jam”. Oh well, Robbie-San and me were enjoying the cheese-sandwiches and Smoking-Rob his pipe while we all chatted away. So a bit later than expected we arrived at the site in Lohmar. It was pretty busy with cars but we saw a place where we could park. Behind us stood another Dutch car and it turned out that it belonged to a fellow Dutchman, André. He already had been inside and was just going to put some new acquisitions in his vehicle when he spotted us

My

My “new” Dunhill shell cherrywood shape

“Arno, quickly come with me” he said “I have seen a gorgeous estate Dunhill!” So he literally dragged me through the masses in Villa Friedlinde  to an outside tent in which a vendor had displayed numerous estate pipes. First my eye fell upon a good looking Dunhill shell prince but that was not the one André meant. “No no, here, this cherrywood shape, look at this one! See the blast and how crisp it still looks?” I could not argue with him and felt the Force was with me! Although it was not a patent-era Dunhill the pipe (birth-year 1976) was stunning and the price was ok. My godfather had given me some money for my birthday so I was able to buy it. Sadly I did not have enough cash to also buy the Dunhill prince, other things also had to be purchased.

Robbie-San looking at some pipes in the busy tent

Robbie-San looking at some pipes in the busy tent

Before going back inside we went to the farthest tent where Hans Wiedemann should be. Should, yes, he was just taking a smoke outside the narrowness of the tent. We politely waited until he got back and in the meanwhile admired his tobacco-range on the table. He had three new blends: Red Sparkle, White Dog and an unique blend, Fayyum Kake. The first cake to come from German soil as far as I know. Hans has invested in a tobacco press at his home and this is the first creation to come from it. He had a bar of the blend laying on the table so I decided to slice off a piece and put it in my new Meindert prince. I looked around and decided to walk around the tent. I noticed it was BUSY, people stood shoulder to shoulder but no pushing or things like that. Everybody was really polite. I admired several pipes and snapped pictures of them and their makers. Germany is a big country but it still surprises me how many pipe-makers it has. And also female pipe-makers! Behind one of the tables sat a shy looking short haired woman: Maike from Maike pipes. When I asked if I could pick up and admire a couple of her pipes she even shrank back more behind her table. No need because what she makes is beautiful. To my delight, when I came back later, I saw that she had sold some of her pipes.

Peace man! Thank you brother! (Robbie-San and Hans)

Peace man! Thank you brother! (Robbie-San and Hans)

When Hans came back we were finally able to shake hands. It was a real pleasure to talk to him in person after all our mutual correspondence. Unfortunately it was busy so we we had to keep the conversation short. I also wanted to buy a couple of tobaccos including his excellent Sunset flake. When I pulled my wallet he asked a lower price for the tins, “because it is you”. Well, thanks Hans! “Come back later when it is more quiet, we talk more then” he said. Check! So Robbie-San, Smoking-Rob and myself walked back towards the villa. Just behind the villa was a tent which included a beer-stand from a local brewery. We were all feeling like having a nice cold German beer so we asked the voluptuous woman behind the bar what our choices were. Dark beer and bright beer was the answer. The two Robs took the bright beer and I the dark one ( I love dark beer). De-licious! We had to laugh with the friendly lady because for some reason she thought we were from England and spoke German so well. Robbie-San played his English gentleman role perfectly.

The metal-rod system of Gigliucci

The metal-rod system of Gigliucci

After the beer we went inside the villa and almost immediately bumped into fellow forum-member Robert Jan who was anxious to see the displayed wares. Loads of pipe-makers were lined up beside each other and we shuffled from table to table admiring the handicrafts. We stopped at the table of a man who made the shanks of a lot of his pipes very thin. That is not possible I thought, the shank would be very delicate and prone to breakage. It turned out that the carver, Andrea Gigliucci from Italy, made a system with an metal rod inside the shank to give it strength. I saw a pot-shaped pipe of him which with a little tweaking would make a formidable prince. In English with a thick Italian accent he told me that he had never tried to make a prince-shaped pipe. I hope I can give him the order someday!

Holger Gunia pipe

Holger Gunia pipe

We also passed the table of a pipe-maker who seemed to have specialized himself in the making of short stubby pipes: Holger Gunia. I immediately had to think of another fellow forum member, Huub, who has a vast collection of this type of pipe. I myself am not a fan of these shapes but I surely could appreciate the handicraft and especially the rustication of some pipes which almost seemed to sparkle, very strange but very nicely done. Inside the villa there also was a kitchen which served food and beverages for little money. We all were a bit hungry so decided to go for some typical German food, Bockwurst, which tasted delicious. A must-try when you visit Germany.

The bracelet Robbie-San bought

The bracelet Robbie-San bought

Outside in one of tents there was a table on which all kinds of leather goods were for sale. All 100% handmade in Germany and unique. Robbie-San saw a stunning bracelet which he had to have. Very un-Dutchlike he did not haggle when he heard the price. “I know all the handicraft in the bracelet is worth the money” he said. I wanted to buy something for my girlfriend Ellen so I opted for a dark blue bracelet. You know, I believe that a man has to keep his woman content. If I come home with an expensive (in her eyes) pipe her mood will be much better when she is given a nice present.

The German gentlemen

The German gentlemen

Robbie-San and I wanted to drink something hot (all the rain did not exactly make us feel any warmer) so I got a coffee and he a cup of tea. We sat down at a large table where some Germans already had taken place. I looked at the pipes of one the men, nothing special, but then saw a tobacco I did not know yet, Exclusiv Royal. I asked if I may have a look and the tin was given to me. I looked at it and smelled it, yummie! A granulated cut, interesting. Robbie-San was given permission to fill a pipe with the blend so I pulled out a tin of McClelland Pebblecut and asked if the German gentlemen knew it. They had never seen an American tobacco before and happily filled up a sample bag with it. I wonder what they thought of it when they eventually smoked it.

Fltr: Smoking-Rob, myself, Hans and Robbie-San

Fltr: Smoking-Rob, myself, Hans and Robbie-San

After the hot beverages we went back to Hans because Robbie-San had to get some tobacco samples for another forum member. Smoking-Rob was sitting outside the tent and talking to Rainer, the “little finger” (helper) of Hans. Inside Robbie-San could fill up his sample-bags the blends of Hans while I further talked to the master-blender. I asked him if he had any new projects and he told me he was, amongst other things, working on an oriental-heavy mixture. Interesting! I hope I get a sample of it before it comes out. He also complimented me with this blog and was a bit shocked at how much viewers I had so far, about 90.000. Hell, I am also shocked at how many people read my humble writings. Hans then got momentarily busy with a client who ended up with a gigantic bag full of tobacco tins. He told me that he only buys tobacco once a year, at the Lohmar pipe-show and all blends of HU Tobacco. Impressive! To my utter delight I also saw a tin of Brullende Leeuw in his bag. The forum tobaccos were selling well, Hans told me. When Smoking-Rob once again joined us we did make a group picture with Hans. Smile! And after that it was time to go home. We comprehensively thanked Hans for the time he took for us and walked to the car.

At the restaurant in Kleve

At the restaurant in Kleve

On the way home we decided that we would have dinner in Kleve, near the Dutch border. Unfortunately before we got there Robbie-San was flashed by a speed-trap camera, I hope for him that the fine is not too high.. When we arrived in Kleve it was raining cats and dogs. We got out of the car, went looking for a place to eat, could not find one, got soaking wet and went back inside the vehicle. We drove to another part of the centre and passed a decent looking restaurant. There we all opted for another typical German (ok, typical Austrian..) dish, a Wiener Schnitzel. When, after a looong wait, the waiter finally brought the plates my Schnitzel was clearly smaller than the others to the amusement of the Robs. What, did I get less because of my fat looking head?? Hmzzzgrumble.. After dinner we drove back through the beautiful region of Nijmegen where I was born and said goodbye to Smoking-Rob. Robbie-San then dropped me at my sleeping address  in Brabant, we shook hands and we thanked each other for the wonderful day. Once home I kissed Ellen, said I got her a beautiful, handmade and expensive present and gave the bracelet before pulling out the Dunhill. She shook her head while smiling at me.

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Inter-Tabac 2013 impression

IMG_0064The Inter-Tabac in Dortmund, Germany, is the leading (and biggest) trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. More than 380 exhibitors from 45 countries present themselves on an area of over 30.000 square metres! In 4 exhibition halls renowned companies from all over the world present trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop fittings, press and spirits. The average reader of this blog must now think like “Yeaahh!! I am going there next year!!” Well.. It is a fair for retailers, not for consumers. Since I belong to that last category, how did I get in?? I got lucky, I was able to secure a ticket through someone I know and who wishes to remain anonymous. Fortunately I was not the only Dutchman there, Paul, Rudi and Martin from the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum also attended the fair. The more the merrier!

Westfalenhallen

Westfalenhallen

In the morning of Friday September 20th I arrived at the Westfalenhallen (where the fair is held) in Dortmund after a relaxed two hour drive. Around the building people were guiding the coming cars smoothly to their parking spaces. Leave it to the Germans to organize such a big event. After a few text messages I knew Paul, Rudi and Martin also had arrived and were waiting for me at the main entrance. I already had a ticket and I chatted with the group while Rudi got their tickets. The group was even bigger than I thought, a small friendly Belgian man also named Paul (nickname Polleken) had joined the ranks. When we entered the halls I noticed that indoor smoking was allowed! It turned out that an exception had been made for the fair. Despite the severe anti-smoking laws I still could light up a pipe, such a blessing!

Poul Winslow (right) talking with Tom Palmer of Peterson while holding the flyer Martin gave him

Poul Winslow (right) talking with Tom Palmer of Peterson while holding the flyer Martin gave him

First we rushed off to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group stand. They represent pipe brands like Dunhill, Winslow, Stanwell, Peterson and Butz Choquin in Europe. Paul always picks out good looking high grade Winslows which he then buys through Rudi. Rudi had a tobacco-shop in Middelburg for quite some time but sold it a couple of years ago. Now he just runs an online store, tobaccoshop.nl. As soon as we entered the stand we recognized the unmistakable figure of Poul Winslow himself. Whoaaahhh!! While I stood there practically drooling Paul and Rudi warmly greeted mr. Winslow, they are year long acquaintances. Soon I got introduced to mr. Winslow and we shook hands. I must admit that I was too shy to talk to the good man.. I wanted to say I am a big fan of his pipes and wanted to thank him for fixing my Winslow Harlekin a year ago. Oh well.. Martin wasn’t shy and he offered a handout of his work to mr. Winslow (Martin makes exquisite hand crafted stone ashtrays, pipe-stands and tampers). “Very nice!” Poul Winslow murmured while looking at the handout. “You know, I got a lot of connections, maybe I can hook you up with someone!” Martin’s smile never left his face for the rest of the day. Further it was a shame to hear that mr. Winslow had a rough year health wise. He is approaching retirement age and sometimes has troubles coping with the stresses and demands of his profession.

A perfectly timed picture of me before the Dunhill wall

A perfectly timed picture of me before the Dunhill wall

In the same room a big part of the wall was taken by The White Spot: Dunhill. As a huge Dunhill fan I felt like a kid in a candy store. Dunhills in all shapes and sizes, with all the know finishes. When looking closer I noticed the stamping of the pipes had changed. Up to 2011 one i.a. saw the well known oval Dunhill stamp. Since 2012 that is replaced by the text “Alfred Dunhill’s The White Spot”. I know there have been discussions on online fora that the Dunhill name was eradicated from the pipes. As far as I could see, that was not the case.

The Kohhase & Kopp 2014 Limited Edition: Rio

The Kohhase & Kopp 2014 Limited Edition: Rio

After Paul picked out the Winslows he wanted we could move further. For the first time I had the time to properly look around. The halls were huge and packed with all kinds of stands. From very big ones with multiple levels to small ones with just a couple of white walls with some tables. The stand of Kohlhase & Kopp certainly belonged to the first category. Roughly one side of the stand was dedicated to pipe-tobaccos and the other to cigars. They even had some old Cuban guy making cigars at the spot. I am not a cigar-guy but it was impressive to see skilled age-old hands swiftly pack the filler-leaves and roll them into the upper leaf. The newer Kohlhase & Kopp tobaccos were all aromatics which smelled ok, but nothing special in my honest opinion. What was special were the exquisite looking tobacco-tins, collectable objects which would look good in the house of every pipe-smoker.

Rudi doing business at the Designer Berlin stand

Rudi doing business at the Planta/Designer Berlin stand

Another large stand was that of Planta, which also included the Designer Berlin pipes. They had a big wooden barrel standing there of which, when opened, the contents smelled very, very aromatic. It turned out it was filled with the Planta year-tobacco which was free for everyone to sample. Which we of course did. I smoked it that evening when I was back home and my first impression was that it was an “ok” mixture. Not good, not bad. On the tables stood little glass jars with other blends and while I was a bit reluctant to sample some Rudi pushed me to do just that. “That is one of the reasons we’re here!” He said grinning.

FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul

FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul

While Rudi was doing business Paul, Martin and I walked by the stand of Northern Briars. A British family concern led by third-generation pipe maker Ian Walker. As soon as he saw us he pointed with gleaming eyes to the pipes Paul and I were smoking from: Dunhill, British pipes! As it happens to be Ian Walker is going to make the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum  2014 forum pipe. He was delighted to see a small delegation of the forum and enthusiastically began to tell about the pipe. It is a prince shape (he pointed to prince I was smoking from) with pretty thick bowl-walls, we are going to get his best wood with a very nice grain, silver bands (which he makes himself, a skill taught by his grandfather) and cumberland mouthpieces. Ian is really a very, very amicable fellow and I will be delighted to smoke from a pipe made by his experienced hands. The picture you see on the left was made by one of the men from the next stand: Samuel Gawith, another British company.

Four Seasons: a new range of tobaccos from Samuel Gawith

Four Seasons: a new range of tobaccos from Samuel Gawith

Most of the stands of the well known pipe-tobacco manufacturers were large or very large. The stand of Samuel Gawith was shared with Ian Walker and consisted of just three tables. One to sit at and two with the complete tobacco and snuff range. As if saying, f*ck you, we are Samuel Gawith, we are making tobacco for centuries and we don’t need big and many adornments and decorations. I complimented the men with their company and confessed that I am a big fan of their tobaccos and that I have almost their entire pipe-tobacco range at home. I looked at the displayed tins and suddenly saw a couple I did not know. “Yeah that is our new range, it is called “Four Seasons”. One tobacco for each season of the year. All very natural.” The last few Samuel Gawith outings were pretty aromatic so I asked if I could smell the Winter Time Flake. I just say one thing, if this one comes out I will definitely buy it!! On the right you see a picture with all the new Four Seasons tobaccos. They still had to find an European distributor but more or less assumed that Kohlhase & Kopp would going to do that. Besides the Four Seasons I sniffed at the new Limited Edition 2014 mixture. Luckily pretty natural. I really think the company should stick with their more natural outings instead of trying to jump on the aromatic bandwagon. That is done enough in Europe.. I also asked if they expected to produce tobaccos for a long time to come, bearing in mind the very strict British tobacco laws and including witch-hunt. “Oh we pretty much fall under the radar of the British government. They won’t really bother us, a small and old company. They aim at big companies like Imperial Tobacco. So don’t worry, you will be able to enjoy our tobaccos for many, many years to come!”

Waterpipes

Waterpipes anyone?

One of the halls we walked through Paul called the “not-interesting hall”. Here were mainly stands of smoking accessories (lots of lighters), waterpipes, waterpipe tobaccos and electronic cigarettes and pipes. Especially those last items seem to be booming business. Lots of young people like it and… I really don’t know why..  Oh cool, blowing out flavoured water vapour with some nicotine.. Ehrr… Like having missionary-position sex with your longtime girlfriend or wife while she’s on the pill and you are wearing a condom plastered with semen-killing pasta and just before your climax you pull out. Just not exciting..

IMG_0882

Girl, girls, girls

Talking about sex, what a lot of manufacturers still believe is that sex sells. At the entrance we were greeted by beautiful girls who were handing out brochures and samples. At quite a lot of stands luscious ladies were trying to lure you inside. While walking through the halls we saw all kinds of stunning women in all kinds of sexy outfits handing out flyers with big tempting smiles. The price for best costume went to the lady in the tight-fitting catwoman/ninja suit. No idea what it had to do with tobacco but eey, you won’t hear me complaining! Even Penthouse had a stand, complete with a woman in lingerie and a muscled Chippendale macho-man..

Part of DTM stand

Part of DTM stand

Back in the more interesting halls we came across the Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM) stand. Since my forum-tobacco adventure last year I know a few people there. Of course year long company figurehead Heiko Behrens was the first to greet us followed by managing director Maria Sousa. Then I suddenly saw DTM master-blender Andreas Mund who guided us through the factory and with who I worked together for a short time last year. Unfortunately Andreas knows no English and my German is shaky at best. Despite that using hands and feet we had a long nice talk, it felt like seeing an old friend again. Like me Andreas is someone with a passion for tobacco and that is where we really connect. I complimented him with the superb flakes he made together with Hans Wiedemann for HU tobacco and got a heart warming smile. Also he was busy with new aromatics for HU Tobacco with new flavours. I’m very curious about that project! Business-wise I think DTM is going through a rough time. With a sad face Andreas told me that they are taking a shot in selling water-pipe tobacco.. Luckily DTM got some business from Rudi so that is why Martin and I discreetly went searching for…

MacBarenMac Baren. And we could not find the stand.. We looked on the information monitors and got the hall and stand number. Still no sight of the famous Danish tobacco brand. Then through a kind of window I saw the Mac Baren logo. Aah, they had a stand within a stand. Lots of people were sitting and talking inside. We walked to a small counter with little jars of the whole Mac Baren pipe tobacco range. I pointed at the HH Vintage Syrian, in my honest opinion the best blend they have and Martin pointed out his favourite, HH Old Dark Fired. Behind the counter stood a middle-aged men, thankfully nodding while hearing our favourites. I also complimented him with the new Capstan, which Mac Baren now makes. And then a question popped up inside my head; the last couple of weeks I heard from several Dutch tobacconists that they could no longer order Capstan. A bit logical because the Dutch importer changed. From the Pronk company, which imports all Orlik/STG products to Van Landewijck, which imports Mac Baren. But still, the change to Mac Baren already happened at the end of last year. So I asked the friendly man why Dutch tobacconists no longer could get Capstan. With a questioning look he said that it should be available in The Netherlands and found it strange that it wasn’t. But he did not have a straight answer so asked me to come back later. Unfortunately I did not made that in time.. Back home I discovered that the friendly man I spoke to was no one other than Per Jensen, Mac Baren Product Manager and master-blender. Fortunately another forum member, Godfrey, went to the fair on Sunday. So he went to Per Jensen for me and came back with an answer. Unfortunately the fault lies not with Mac Baren, but with their Dutch importer Van Landewijck. They decide which Mac Baren-made tobaccos get imported. So the best thing we can do according to Per Jensen is moan and complain with a lot of people at Van Landewijck. But to be perfectly honest, I talked a bit with Rudi who knows much more about the Dutch tobacco trade then I do, I think that Capstan no longer will be available here.. Too small a market, too high prices.

inter-tabac_025At the end of the day Martin and I tried to score some free cigars. I don’t smoke them, but Martin does. We saw that Rudi and Polleken had sample bags with some kind of Chinese cigars so we went to look for them and came out by a huge stand called “Big Wall of China”. Yup, looks like this is the place. By the way, one of the things I noticed at the fair during the day was the large number of Eastern people. The Chinese economy is growing and apparently so is the their tobacco industry. At a desk with a couple of nice looking long filler cigars on it I talked to a Chinese guy. I kept on chatting away while taking out one of the long fillers and praised its appearance. Unfortunately the guy did not take the bait and I had to put it back.. But we did get two other cigars! Whoohoo!!

Around 5 o’clock my feet were killing me and we all decided to go home. I thanked the group, said goodbye and went looking for my car. The trip home went not as smooth as I hoped, I stood in a traffic-jam for over an hour.. Oh well, back at home I fell into the couch next to Ellen and gave her a big hug. Dream – Visit the Inter Tabac Fair: Check! So anonymous ticket-provider, thanks!!! And also thanks to Rudi, Paul, Martin and Polleken for a wonderful day!

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Awesome Austria

View from our Austrian house

View from our Austrian holiday-house on the Dachstein-plateau

Grüß Gott! After a relaxing two weeks I am back from holiday. Because my girlfriend Ellen and I have not been on vacation last year because of financial reasons we really wanted to go this year. But to where? At first I was thinking about the cottage in the south of France where I have been before. But actually I wanted to go to Austria, the country where I was conceived (my parents went their yeeaars ago and my mother came back pregnant).

Our holiday-house

Our holiday-house

So the search began but it was a lot harder than I thought. A wide range of holiday houses, yes, but all (far) above or below our budget with no shower, electricity etc. Eventually I gave up. After fruitless having browsed through a lot of websites France was once again a good option. A little after New Year the movie “The Sound of Music” just had been on TV and parts were filmed in the Salzkammergut region. I did one last search for a holiday house in that part of Austria and finally found a picturesque cottage outside the town of Bad Goisern! And it fit all the “requirements”: budget, remote location, quiet, traditional appearance, toilet, shower and hot water. Only thing: no internet .. Oh well, I like to read so with some books I was sure I could bide my time.

The pipes that made the trip

The pipes that made the trip

The evening before departure it was time to pack. Clothes and toiletries were sorted out quick enough, but pipes and tobacco… On my holiday to Belgium two years ago I took almost every pipe and tobacco with me that I owned back then. This year I gave it some thought. From what I could see the weather would be nice so the tobaccos I would be smoking the most would be Virginia’s, VaPers and aromatics. And perhaps some latakia in the late evening. In summertime my use of the dark leaf is very low. So some of the tobaccos I took with me were Capstan, Luxury Bullseye Flake, Germain Medium Flake, HU Tobacco Olaf’s Favourite English, My Own Blend Arno Mixture 665, Sweet Vanilla Honeydew and Planta’s Black Vanilla Mixture. A couple of months ago I bought some new corncobs at Aristocob with my vacation in the back of my mind. They smoke well, can take a beating, if one is broken or lost it isn’t a big deal. So, ideal. Further I brought along three of my favourite latakia pipes, two Dunhills and one old Peterson. Those pipes gave me a big scare by the way. When we left it was approximately 18°C in The Netherlands. When we arrived in Austria a heatwave just had begun. So the first days it was about 35°C! When I wanted to smoke one of the Dunhills late on the second day I saw to my horror that the pipe had begun to sweat. There was moisture on it and the black of the ebonite stem was fading. Both the Peterson and the other Dunhill had the same. Luckily I remembered that wood is subject to temperature changes. Travelling orchestras with wooden instruments often have difficulties to keep those in shape. The next evening the moisture was gone, the stems were black once again and they smoked great. I had no problems whatsoever with my corncobs.

Inside the holiday house

Inside our holiday-house

One of the advantages of the holiday-house was that indoor smoking was allowed. Well, actually I did not ask if I could light up a pipe inside but there very clearly was an ashtray on the table. Also the owner paid us a couple of short visits and he could not have missed pipes and tobacco lying around. He said nothing of it. Luckily Austria is a pretty tolerant country towards smoking. Where the rules in Germany recently have been tightened up (Grrr…) their Southern neighbour keep things pretty relaxed. Smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public spaces with certain exceptions for eating and drinking establishments. A law from January 2009 mandates that all restaurants, bars, discos, and pubs larger than 50 m² must either be non-smoking or introduce separate smoking rooms. Below 50 m² the owner has the option to make the establishment a smoking or non-smoking place. I really wished the Dutch government also opted for this, just let the owner decide. The Austrian smoking ban has been a subject of controversy. This because the rules are widely ignored by bar owners and are not actively enforced by the authorities (just as it is in The Netherlands).

Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth (Sissi)

Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth (Sissi)

In Bad Ischl Ellen and I went to the Kaiservilla, the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I (of Sissi fame) which he described as “heaven on earth” for himself and his family. The Imperial Villa was also a stage on which the great powers of the 19th century carried out their diplomatic manoeuvrings. It was here, on July 28th 1914, that Franz Joseph signed the declaration of war on Serbia thus starting World War I and changing the world.. I looked at the desk in his office on which he wrote that ill-fated piece of paper and to my surprise I saw on the right something that looked like a small meerschaum pipe. It turned out to be a long cigar-holder because when the Emperor was working he did not like smoke in his eyes. Well, well, Franz Joseph smoked!

The Emperor's cigar holder

The Emperor’s cigar holder

Of all the monarchs of his time, Emperor Franz Joseph I was perhaps one of the most modest as far as his personal needs were concerned. His daily routine was strictly regulated (he got up every day at 3.30 AM!) and his private life was free from any extravagance apart from the occasional visit to the theatre and the pleasures of the hunt (you can see MANY stuffed animals in the Kaiservilla). He drank and ate only in strict moderation. Nevertheless, he did have one vice: smoking. One Ketterl, the emperor’s personal servant, reports this in his memoirs: “When the Emperor sat alone with Count Paar in the train compartment, intercourse between the two was limited to the creation of huge billows of smoke, with the result that emperor and general adjutant were hardly to be distinguished any longer in the thick fog of tobacco smoke”. Tobacco had already played an important role for the Austrian monarchs long before the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The first Habsburg to appreciate the financial advantages offered by tobacco was Leopold I. In 1670 he needed money in order to fund his expensive hunting excursions. Count Khevenhüller, his Grand Master of the Hunt, suggested leasing the monopoly for the cultivation and sale of tobacco to him to cover the imperial hunt expenses. From then on (whatever the personal preference was for tobacco of the individual rulers) the tobacco monopoly was placed under varying degrees of state control. Joseph II eventually decreed an exclusive state monopoly over tobacco production in 1784, thus founding the Austrian Tobacco Monopoly (Austria Tabak). But because of European Union requirements it was partially privatized in 1998. Austria Tabak was acquired by Gallaher, a member of the Japan Tobacco International family, in 2001.

A Tabak Trafik sign

A Tabak Trafik sign

In Austria you can buy tobacco in shops called “Tabak Trafik”. They are a point of sale for (of course) tobacco products, newspapers, magazines, stationery, postcards and other small goods. In Vienna, for example, these can be parking tickets and tickets for public transport. Only Tabak Trafik shops are allowed to sell tobacco products at the regular price. Only when there are not enough shops available in an area, other businesses get a sales permit. Since restaurants and gas stations refer to the Tabak Trafik prices, pubs are at least 10% more expensive. I visited every Tabak Trafik shop I could find in Bad Goisern and other nearby towns. And I found that their pipe tobacco assortment was somewhat.. Disappointing.. Maybe I am used to the well-stocked German tobacco-shops. Ok, it is wonderful that those little Austrian shops have pipe tobacco in the first place. But they only sell pouches from brands like MacBaren, Clan and WO Larsen and some shops carry some of the Dunhill tobacco tins. I could only find one positive exception in Bad Ischl. There was a Tabak Trafik which had some Wellauer Latakia and a couple of Rattray tins. I also saw a pouch of DTM’s Sweet Vanilla Honeydew. I never knew that was sold outside of the Danpipe store in Europe. Tobacco is pretty expensive in Austria, only just below the Dutch prices. As far as pipes goes I also grumbled somewhat. A couple of souvenir pipes and a few shops in Salzburg had some Vauen and Savinelli smoking gear. Also pretty expensive..

Souvenirs from Salzburg

Souvenirs from Salzburg

When Ellen and I were in the beautiful city of Salzburg we walked into a fantasy/souvenir shop. Besides cuckoo clocks, swords and tankards they also had some nice ashtrays. Since I have something with skulls I bought an ashtray with a skeleton inside. Smoking is lethal right? But I still wanted a pipe.. On the Mozartplatz there was a Tabak Trafik which had some souvenir pipes made by Salzburg-based company Kemperling. They all were (yes you guess it right) expensive and not really well made (some plastic pieces) so I picked the cheapest one. A nice looking pipe with an engraved Edelweiss flower and the word “Salzburg”. And I don’t know what got into me, I really must have been tired, but I forgot to haggle and paid the full price of €34 ($44). Waaaay too much for a pipe I could not even smoke. The stem was made of cheap plastic and the smoking channel.. Well.. The drilling was off and it was so narrow I could barely put a pipe cleaner through it.. But back home it looked nice in my pipe-cabinet! Really!

My girlfriend Ellen and I

My girlfriend Ellen and I

All in all the two-week holiday to Austria really had been a total blast. Apart from two days of rain Ellen and I had beautiful weather and we saw and did lots of things throughout the Salzkammergut area and a bit beyond. If you visit the region do not miss Salzburg, Bad Ischl and Hallstatt. If you travel a little further go to the Admont Abbey with its stunning library and take a day-trip to the awesome panoramic Grossglockner High Alpine Road. Auf Wiedersehen!