Yes, this is the last post, dear reader. As you undoubtedly have noticed I am hardly posting anything any more. Not that I quit pipe-smoking, oh no! The truth is this: After my severe burn-out some years ago I find it extremely difficult to write for this blog. I think because one of the reasons I went overboard was pushing myself to write a blog every month / 2 months. Many evenings spent thinking, researching, writing, photoshopping beside a hectic full-time day-job and busy weekends was too much. Then I got unemployed, depressed, addicted to alcohol (the beer on the left is alcohol-free) and to a lesser degree addicted to medication. Up to the point I wanted to throw myself before a train. As you have noticed it did not came to that. I underwent psychotherapy, found the correct medication, kicked the addictive medication, kicked alcohol, found a new nice job and am a much more positive person these days. I am very grateful for what I have right now and try to live in the “now” as much as possible.
But this all means I had to make some tough decisions. The blog was draining me in the end, while a hobby is supposed to give you energy. Making music has always been my love, but it had been pushed to the background for a lot of years. Last year I re-discovered my passion for it and now I play guitar daily and try to write and record songs. For this I have set up a musical project, VanGore, which includes me on guitar and musicians from all over the world on the other instruments/vocals. Long live the internet.
Picture from Wuustwezel meeting 2022
Because of this I no longer have the time or energy to write for this blog. Besides, I think I have told all I wanted to tell. Of course there are always meetings, new tobaccos and new pipe smoking products. But to be able to write a good blog you have to be on top of that. Scavenge sites, books and forums for information. And I don’t want to do that any more. I took pride in the fact that I always wanted the best information for my readers, and I refuse to write half-hearted, unsatisfactory blogposts. But I’ll always be a pipe smoker in heart and soul.
One of the last things I want to tell you is that Dutch pipe maker Gubbels is doing fine. They made the last annual Dutch Pipesmokers Forum pipe and besides being a beauty (see the first picture), it smokes excellent! I picked it up myself at the new factory. After the bankruptcy of several parts of their company they pulled through and found a new, better and cheaper location. Gone is the big machine that could produce many pipes per day. Gone are the contracts with pipe-selling sites like Al Pascia. They couldn’t make pipes for the prices they wanted any more. What is left is an enormous stock of vintage raw unfinished pipes, a true treasure.
Lounge at the Gubbels factory
Elbert (Gubbels) doesn’t have to worry about money any more, because now he gets his income from making pipe-cleaners for al kinds of markets. In fact, he even can’t keep up with demand, which is a good sign. So he can think of and create new pipes peacefully with the help of some employees. Soon there will be a CNC machine, so they are no longer dependant on old stock. Visitors are very welcome to visit the new factory, walk around and smoke a pipe in the beautiful lounge while enjoying a glass of whisky or wine. Perhaps in the future you can even create your own pipe there!
I want to thank my readers for all these years. I had a blast writing the blogs and afterwards reading your comments and reactions. I did it all for you. I also want to thank all the people in the industry that helped me. Like Brian Levine, Per Jensen, Bob Gregory, Hans Wiedemann, Greg Pease, the Dan Pipe people, Elbert Gubbels, Martin Romijn and many, many others that aren’t in the industry but found the time to share their knowledge with me. And don’t worry, I am not taking the blog offline and I will still respond to comments and questions.
The Rustica story begins
For me this story began at the Inter Tabak fair in Dortmund last year. Or better said, in a private room in the nearby Dorint hotel, only a short walk from the Westfalenhallen. There the mighty MacBaren was holding court and when the doors swung open we were warmly greeted by product manager / master blender / tobacco ambassador Per Jensen. One of the highlights of the conversation we had was when he produced a blank tin while telling that it was another project on which he was working. It was a blend which also contained the powerful, vitamine N rich Nicotiana rustica. He asked me to smoke it, a prototype, which I did in a small pipe. Of course I said it was good but the truth was that my tasting palate was totally shot after a day of smoking at the Inter Tabak. Not to mention my stomach was pretty empty so the nicotine wreaked havoc on my body. I did not finish the bowl. But I made a firm mental note to keep an eye out for it in the time to come. It had certainly piqued my interest. I mean, I had Nicotiana rustica before in the shape of snuff (Toque USA Whiskey & Honey, which kicked like a mule) but never as a pipe-tobacco, unique!
Ancient “creative” uses of tobacco
Most tobacco consumed by us humans is from the Nictotiana tabacum variety, a tall broad leafed plant. Nicotiana rustica looks alike but is shorter with slightly thinner leaves. Both species are native to the Americas where mankind stumbled upon them roughly 18,000 years ago. But the first area where tobacco was cultivated was the Peruvian/Ecuadorean Andes around 5000-3000 BC. Throughout the years the use of it moved northwards. It was used by all kinds of cultures and civilizations for all kinds of purposes in all kinds of ways. For rituals but also purely for personal pleasure. I can’t begin to describe how “creative” the South-American tribes were in the use of tobacco. It was chewed, snuff was made out of it, it was smoked in the form of cigars or in pipes etc. Even some kind of tea was made of it which would be “drunk” anally with the help of a clyster/enema, like a bulb made of animal skin and a tube made of bone or reed. Or a man would flay his gentleman sausage and soak up the blood in pieces of paper or strips of cloth, add some tobacco and then burn it as an offer to the gods. I am glad that nowadays we only smoke, sniff or chew it orally…
John Rolfe and his wife Pocahontas
The savior: John Rolfe
By the time Columbus discovered America in 1492 tobacco had reached every corner of the continent. At 14 May 1607 a group of settlers from the Virginia Company of London established the Jamestown settlement in the Colony of Virginia. In May 1610 John Rolfe arrived there after a long and difficult journey and he was shocked by what he found. The Virginia Colony was almost destroyed by famine and disease. They had tried selling the local tobacco smoked by the Powhatan and Chesapeake Indians (hint: that was Nicotiana rustica) but the settlers themselves and more important the English market did not like it. It burned poorly and hot, tasted bitter and was very strong. THE tobacco back then was called “Spanish Tobacco” (Nictotiana tabacum) because Spain had the monopoly on it. But somehow John Rolfe had obtained seeds of the Spanish Tobacco, even though Spain had declared a death penalty to anyone selling such seeds to a non-Spaniard. In 1611 he was the first to commercially grow Nicotiana tabacum in North-America. And in 1612 the export of this sweeter tobacco, called “Orinoco” by Rolfe, made the Virginia Colony a success. And what about the Nicotiana rustica? Well, it still exists today, it is known as ucuch in southern Mexico, mapacho in South America, thuốc lào in Vietnam and makhorka in Russia. Also it is used for Swedish snus and chew bags.
Nicotiana rustica leaf
And those snus and chew bags is where the MacBaren part of the story begins. It is damn difficult to make a decent pipe-tobacco out of Nicotiana rustica. But at the end of 2018 MacBaren began producing chew bags. The ingredient was Nicotiana rustica although different from the original tobacco smoked by the Indians. These leaves were sun-cured which means there is more sugar in them. It was then that the idea sprang into Per’s head to create a blend from the original tobacco that made smoking popular in the Western world. But the journey was long and difficult because he did not know how to combine the rustica with other tobaccos, a process of experimenting, trial and error. In the end a dark air and fire cured Virginia in the style of the old colonists was used, which was a big step forwards. The use of some modern Burley to balance out the tobaccos was the final ingredient. Last but not least the result was steam-pressed, so all the flavours could optimally meld together, and cut in flakes.
Package / tin: MacBaren Rustica comes in a pretty plain flat 50gr. tin with artwork in the vein of the other HH blends. You see the MacBaren lions on a dark background with in the middle the HH logo with underneath it “Rustica, hot pressed flake”. My tin is German and on the backside it says (translated): In order to make this strong pipe-tobacco Nicotiana Tabacum and Nicotiana Rustica are being blended together. Since the beginning of pipe-smoking in the 17th century this style of tobacco is rare. The tobacco is being hot pressed to let the natural aromas blend together perfectly.
Contents / Cut / Ingredients: As I open the tin I am greeted by a classy golden MacBaren wrapper. Inside that are neatly stacked thin brown flakes with lighter spots throughout them. One thing I have never seen before, the top flake is laid down diagonally. The ingredients are of course Nicotiana rustica, dark air and fire cured Virginias and modern Burley.
Smell from the tin: When I first opened the tin the flakes smelled like fermented straw (cattle feed) with a slight sour funky undertone. I liked it because it immediately transferred me back to my youth and the farm of my uncle and aunt. However, when I now smell the remaining flakes it is more earthty, woody and I detect a faint BBQ odour.
Taste: First of all I have to honestly admit that I am a bit of a Burley noob. For some reason I rarely smoke the stuff and mostly stick to English / Balkan / Virginia / VaPer blends. And boy, am I at a loss! I was honestly positively surprised when I first lit up Rustica. I expected a full assault of pungent tobacco taste but instead it was, ok, still bold, but round, creamy, cool and inviting. Taste-wise I noticed earth, wood, nuts (sometimes even a bit almond-paste like whiffs), toast with unsalted butter, roast and the gentle perfectly dosed sweetness of the Virginia. There is no roller-coaster of tastes throughout the bowl like with a good Balkan. But in the last half the flavours intensify a bit, more wood, more toast, more pure robust tobacco taste while the Virginia sweetness remains until the end.
Because of the steam-pressing Rustica is smooth like Ellen her buttocks after a hot shower. Of course when smoking I tried to put the pedal to the metal several times by puffin’ really hard but no bite, it keeps smoking cool. The flakes are moist but immediately smokeable from the tin. Fold them or break them into smaller pieces. I choose the latter method. Make sure to not pack the bowl too tightly and try not to tamp too much during the smoke. Now nicotine… Whoooaaaaa….. Nicotiana tabacum leaves have a nicotine content of about 1 to 3%. Nicotiana rustica leaves contain 9%! The curing and steam-pressing processes made the rustica somewhat friendlier but still.. The only way I could smoke and enjoy it was in a small pipe (Dunhill group 1-3) right after dinner with a sweet beverage beside me to counteract vitamin N effects. Then there is the “Limited Edition”. USA pipe tobacco giant Smokingpipes.com says that only 7100 tins of this special edition blend were produced worldwide. Uhmm… My German tin does not mention any kind of limited edition. After some careful reading I found out, the limited USA version is 3.5 oz (about 100 gr.), the regular not limited German version is 50 gr.
Room-note: This is a strong tobacco and has a strong room-note. Most noticeable by the fact that when I had smoked it in the evening Ellen used the Lampe Berger the next morning.
Price: In Germany you pay €12,- for a 50 gr. MacBaren Rustica tin. In the USA you pay $21,- for a 3.5 oz.
Conclusion: MacBaren Rustica really surprised me taste-wise in a very good way. Loved it! Robust, bold, strong, yet refined flavours that make you look out to smoking a bowl of it. Technically it also is a very good flake, well made and when properly handled it burns ok. My own personal concern is the level of nicotine. Each time I smoked it it was like stepping into the ring with Muhammad Ali. You know you are going to be knocked-out but when… All you can do is make the proper preparations, sit back in your favourite chair, brace yourself and go ahead. I swear I grown some extra chest-hair in the past weeks! For some reason when smoking this, perhaps it is the flavour or the hallucinative rustica, I imagined myself sitting on the porch of some farm-house looking out over the fields. Ha! If the Vikings had MacBaren Rustica they would have stayed at home with their blond wives instead of trying to conquer Europe!
Heal your soul, smoke Spark Plug! Life is not easy now in these pandemic Corona virus times. We are limited in our freedom; not seeing friends or family, no open restaurants or cafes, social distancing, no open smoking lounges etc. We have to stay indoors as much as possible, get our groceries as fast as possible (keeping in mind 1.5 meters distance), all hoping we won’t get infected or infect someone else. It also is a huge assault to our mental health; constantly being at home, being at each other’s lips at home, no toilet paper at the supermarket, unsure what the future will bring (for me personally, I am jobless, so if you need an expert Graphical (Digital) Designer / Desktop Publisher / Blog and text writer/ Content Marketeer, let me know!), it all leads to much frustration. Luckily I have a hobby which benefits my mental state: pipe-smoking. Just focusing on the ritual of it while reading a good book heals my soul, lets me forget my worries. And right now I feel extra blessed, because I am smoking the newest offering of the “Dark Lord” GL Pease named Spark Plug.
The Dark Lord himself
Don’t be sceptic, rejoice! Of course it is exciting when GL Pease comes with a new tobacco. But there is always extra reason to rejoice when it is a latakia blend because Greg is the “Dark Lord”, grand master of the delicious smoky dark leaf. And yet I could detect little enthusiasm on the online forums. Even a bit of scepticism.. Come on people! It is the Dark Lord bringing you divine ambrosia for your mortal taste buds! “Luckily” most pipe-smokers agreed with me, when I tried to order Spark Plug at first all shops were sold-out.. Fortunately in the end I managed to secure some tins.
Backstory: Here I quote GL Pease himself from his website: This has been something of a dream project for me, and I’m happy to say that it’s on its way. Spark Plug is the latest blend to find a home in my Heirloom Series. I’ve been smoking prototypes for nearly a year, and am absolutely loving the final product. As always, working with Jeremy at C&D has been a pure and effortless joy, and Calvin has my often impenetrable design briefs and transformed my concept into the wonderful label seen above. My deepest gratitude and appreciation goes out to these guys for their continued willingness to work with whacky ideas and make them a reality. In a conversation with me Greg had to add: Dream project? That might be somewhat overstated; certainly I’ve wanted to do a latakia plug for a very long time, and it had to be just right, so it took some time, and haunted my dreams more than a few times. There were technical challenges to overcome, but we worked hard to get everything sorted, and I absolutely love the result.
Package / tin: Even when you lived under a stone and had no idea about the new Spark Plug tobacco, the tin art with a big Union Jack leaves nothing to the imagination. It almost screams: this is an English blend! On the flag is an image of the name-giver: a spark plug made to look a bit like the caduceus, the staff of Hermes, emissary and messenger of the gods. On the back of the tin it says: Deep and dark. Powerful yet refined. The smoky, leathery backdrop of Latakia is layered with an almost incense-like spice of rich orientals, with fine Virginias added for depth and a subtle sweetness. Like the classic roadsters that inspired its creation, Spark Plug has an alluring charm that invites you to rev it up and take it out for long drives in the country. Sliced thick or thin, it will never leave you stranded.
Contents / Cut / Ingredients: When I open the tin and pry away the carton lids I see a beautiful pressed hunk of dark, brown, red-brown, and lighter tobaccos. The name of the blend is Spark PLUG but in reality it is a hybrid of a crumble cake and a plug. I handled it as the latter, I used my antique Samuel McLardy tobacco cutter to cut off thin slices which I would gently rub out. The ingredients are Cyprian latakia, orientals from Greece and Turkey (I asked Greg which ones precisely, no answer..) and bright and red Virginias.
Smell from the tin: Ooohhh yeah! Ooohhh yeah! Damn this stuff smells good! Best odour from a tobacco tin ever! Well, maybe a tie with that aged Capstan.. Leather, campfire smoke, cedar, spice, sweet, sour. But kind of concentrated, the odour immediately triggers something inside you, awakens your senses. Like you would get a whiff of fresh bread or fresh coffee. It just hits you in a very pleasant way.
Taste: When the first light is done and the curled up tobacco is gently tapped down a bit I get a smoky salt-licorice taste, no bitterness. Then two things strike me a bit. First I detect a floral element, not full blast Lakeland soap sh*t but something subtle, almost refreshing. Second I discern an oiliness in the aroma, it reminds me of working on my old trusty Toyota Starlet. When I told Greg this he was pleased: I like that you discern an oiliness in the aroma, that it reminds you of working on your Starlet. When I was developing this, there were aspects of it that reminded me of the old British cars I have owned, worked on, restored and loved. The smell of grease, oil, petrol, the leather and horsehair stuffing of the seats, all mingling together while driving along winding roads on misty days. It’s not that the smells are the same, but there’s a sort of sensory link, a trigger to something reminiscent of an old Triumph or MG in my garage. I’ve chatted with other gearheads who have mentioned a similar reaction. That’s where the name came from. I don’t think “Smelly Under-bonnet Plug” would have had quite the same charm. Further down the bowl the blend builds in fullness, richness while retaining the balance of all the top notch ingredients (especially the orientals). I detect cedar, leather, earth, smoke, spice, floral, sweet, sour.. All in exotic harmony and without tiring my taste buds. With some blends you really have to “work” to get the most out of it. With Spark Plug you sit back, relax, and go like “Oh I now taste this, oh now that.” And before you know it, way too soon, all that is left in the bowl is grey ash. One tip, smoke it slow to get the most out of it.
Miscellaneous: Spark Plug is smoooooth all the way, no bite at all. Moisture level out of the tin was good. But the last bit of the tin (with any Pease blend) is always the best because it is a tad dryer (so why don’t I just let a little bit of tobacco dry out before smoking??). Nicotine level is mild to medium. I tried Spark Plug in several different shaped and sized pipes. All good smokes. But I got the best results in medium size princes.
Room-note: At first I thought I was doing fine with Spark Plug, no complaints or “I-hate-what-you-are-smoking” coughs from the old battle-axe. But when I dared to ask Ellen how it smelled all hell broke loose. “I almost went upstairs several times when you smoked it, I can’t stand it!” Now this sounds negative, but 1. Ellen did not leave the room, she only threatened. 2. She CAN stand it, she stayed. Besides that, when I come into the living room the next morning after smoking Spark Plug the odour is acceptable, it does not linger for long.
Price: At Cup O’ Joes I paid for a 2 oz. tin $11.48 (± €10,48).
Conclusion: The mark of a good tobacco for me is when I smoke it down to the last crumble in the tin. And I did just that with Spark Plug. Reluctantly I gave away a sample of it, but the rest was mine! Mine! My preciousss! Every day I looked forward to the evening because then I could smoke Spark Plug again (I only smoke 1 pipe per day, preferably in the evening). This was one of the best freshest blends I ever smoked. I am really curious how it will taste with some age on it in about 4 or 5 years. For me Spark Plug ticks a lot of boxes and in my opinion it is another masterpiece from GL Pease.
Oh, I almost forgot, I have a new website! 😀 No more “wordpress” in the internet address. I have my own domain now, I wish daddy could have seen this.. *tears up* And I ditched the banner with that bald ugly bloke smoking a pipe with skulls coming out of it 😉 Special thanks go out to bearded WordPress wizard and coding-nerd Johnny!
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.
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 “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
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..
We 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!”..
Rob 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.
After 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.
Like 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
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!
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
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!
Of 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.
Like I said in my last blogpost “Luxury tobacco from Lauenburg” this year the destination for the summer holiday of Ellen and myself was Germany. Of course I planned to visit several tobacco-shops and the number 1 on my list was the store of Herbert Motzek in Kiel, one of the major maritime centres of Germany. With a lot of you the name “Motzek” will ring a bell.. Motzek.. Motzek.. Ah! From the Strang-Curly (rope-curly)! I first heard of the existence of that tobacco from Dutch pipe smokers forum member and walking pipe and tobacco encyclopaedia Huub, who has been smoking it, to his utter delight, for years. But that excellent tobacco is not the only thing Motzek has to offer..
Tobacco tins stacked up to the ceiling
The store is located at a busy street with lots of traffic and in front of it beside the door the Dannebrog, the Danish flag, proudly flutters. The signal that the business of Motzek, which he operates with his from origin Danish wife Lizzie (hence the flag) since 1975, is open. Inside the store the sound of buzzing traffic becomes even less than a background noise and a relaxed atmosphere prevails. Smooth jazz music is playing through the shop and behind the counter the tobacco tins are stacked up to the ceiling. As soon as I saw Herr Motzek I immediately began to ramble about the Strang-Curly and ask him questions. “Easy, easy! Time enough, do you want some coffee?” Ah! The sign of an old-world tobacconist. We were placed in some soft chairs and the hot dark liquid was served. Motzek sat opposite us and took a good look at me. “An old habit, when a new customer comes in, I always ask myself, what pipe would probably look good with him. But please, fill your pipe and smoke something!”
For me the shop has one big plus,cigarettes are nowhere to be seen! Motzek fulfils the wishes of smokers who smoke for their enjoyment. In 1978 he received a license for (pipe) tobacco production (recognizable by German tax number 12502) and is the only tobacconist in Germany who produces his own tobacco. Well, that is not entirely true, Herr Motzek does not produce tobacco himself. In a factory in a small town just a couple of kilometres outside of Kiel the entire range of Motzek tobaccos is made by his wife Lizzie. “She has acquired loads of knowledge at seminars and trainings, that is why I leave the mixing to her. However, for the final end control I take over again because I want to exactly know what I am selling.”In addition to the finest cigars from around the world in one of the largest walk-in humidors of Schleswig-Holstein, the shop holds a wide range of pipes. Currently about 1000 pieces. But there is something special. Not only can you buy pipes from well known manufacturers like Winslow (a personal friend of Motzek), Peterson, and Vauen but you can also purchase a real “Motzek”. Herbert Motzek is the only pipe maker in Kiel and one of only a few in Schleswig-Holstein.
Together with the opening of his business Motzek learned the craft of pipemaking from Viggo Nielsen in Danish town of Faaborg. “I did not only wanted to sell pipes, I also wanted to know how they are made.” says the trained stained-glass painter (his original profession). The thought behind it was originally that Motzek could offer his customers a low-cost repair service without long waits. From that the pipe making has grown. “At some point I was ready, so I dared to offer my pipes for sale”. 6 to 10 hours, from start to finish and nearly 80 individual steps it takes to produce a pipe in his small workshop. Motzek manufactures about 40 to 50 pipes per year, mostly on order. “First the pipe should smoke technically perfect, second comes the design that can extra delight a customer.” says the 69 year old. Even if the design is of secondary importance, the fact is that the pipes must smoke well and look good. So each piece of briar Motzek takes into his own hands in order to “read it”. To look closely at the wood and its grain before going to work. And sometimes it brings out so much that it is difficult for him to sell the pipe. “I have a pipe that I am working on for almost 13 years. That is perhaps my masterpiece. It has a perfect birds eye but I dare not properly complete it, because there is a small chance it might break..” Motzek gets a lot of recognition and positive reactions from his customers. For him the joy of a customer when he smokes a Motzek-made pipe or tobacco means almost more than the money he gets for his work.
When asked if he had famous people in his store he nods. “Oh yes, Sigfried Lenz, Vanessa Mae, Herbert Wehner, Vicky Leandros, Blacky Fuchsberger… Motzek thinks and sighs wistfully. “I had so many customers in this store. Especially creative people took on pipe smoking. The looking into the smoke, slowly sipping the pipe, the thought and consideration process. That has inspired artists.” says Motzek philosophically. In Berlin’s trendy pubs young hipsters transport pipes in their jute bags back and forth. But whether this trend also goes for the rest of the country? Kiel certainly has not been reached yet. Motzek is increasingly relying on his regular customers. “Every time pipe smoking is a new trend, but it is also politically incorrect. Why do many public persons smoke in secret? The times when Helmut Kohl (former Chancellor of Germany) was still to be seen with his pipe on the election poster are long gone. Once the pipe was a symbol of reliability and dependability. Today society is health conscious and keeps on doing fitness into old age. The pipe does not fit with that.” With his 69 years Herbert Motzek thinks harder and harder about quitting. Only one problem, “I can let go so badly.”
Me and Motzek
The fact that a visit to the store for customers is not “just” shopping almost goes without saying. Things are not “just” bought. There is conversation, there is smoking going on and there are discussions on equal terms. But many customers Motzek does not know personally, a sign of the times. Even on the Internet he sells his wares to customers throughout Germany, The Netherlands, England, the Mediterranean region and several other countries around the world even as far away as Dubai. Asked about the health hazards of smoking Herbert Motzek responds with a sly smile with a quote from Swiss-German physician Paracelsus (1493 – 1541): “Dosis facit venenum. All things are poison. Only the dose makes that a thing is not a poison.”
At the shop I bought two of Motzek’s house-tobaccos. Of course the well known Strang-Curly but also an English blend: Herbst 84. I already knew the Strang-Curly, I received samples from forum-member Smoking Rob from both the cut and uncut version for which I am still grateful! Here is a review of the two blends.
Package/tin description (translated from German): Strang-Curly:A strang (rope),a speciality, rare to find nowadays: finevirginiasfilled with darkburleyarespun together with a spicybutmildperique. This speciality isfor connoisseurs, we deliver it cut or uncut. The strang is packed in a large sealed zip-lock bag of 100 gram. Herbst 84: The classic amongst the English mixtures. Fine oriental tobaccos, brightlight and redvirginias are rounded off with spicylatakia. The slowcoolburnguarantees a highsmoking pleasure. The mixture is packed in 50 gram pouches and sealed zip lock bags of 100 and 200 gram.
Contents/cut: Strang-Curly:Virginias, burley and perique. It is a rope tobacco which is a delight to look at. In general the core of the rope is a bit darker with lighter leaves around it with traces of tobacco-stems in between. Herbst 84: Bright light and red virginias, oriental tobaccos and latakia. Remarkably Motzek still has some Syrian latakia, although not much, only 20 kg is left from his once large stock. “I can’t get it any more these days..” he sighs. When I asked if Syrian latakia was used in Herbst 84 he was unsure. “My wife better knows the exact ingredients of the blends. But if it is in, it only will be a couple of strands..” It is a ribbon cut with a beautiful presentation of light and dark tobacco strands.
Smell from the pouch/bag: Strang-Curly: An earthy but sweet and inviting smell comes from the strang. Hay and figs with a slightly dark nutty undertone are pleasing my spoiled nostrils. Herbst 84: When I opened the pouch I immediately thought that the name of the blend was well chosen. Itbrings fortha pleasant, earthy and slightly salty peatysmell thatis strongly reminiscent ofautumnleaves,forest floorandfreshlyharvested fields. In my head it smelled like a mix of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and Pipes & Cigar’s Magnum Opus. Needles to say, my anticipation grew.
Taste: Strang-Curly: A few puffs after lighting the pipe-bowl the mildly sweet virginias come forth upon a broad earthy, yeasty and slightly nutty layer. The flavour is complex but almost unbelievable very well balanced. It grabs your attention and basically stays the same throughout the bowl. I would almost say it has a signature taste, once you smoked it you can recognize it blindfolded a next time. Towards the middle of the bowl the flavours broaden and become a thoroughly enjoyable symphony of natural tobaccos. In short I would say, think of toasted bread with some walnuts on it and a small splash of honey. I can’t really detect the perique but I guess it adds some zest to the strang. At the end of the bowl an ashy taste begins to appear. A messenger that the fun is almost over. Oh, I very much recommend the uncut Strang-Curly as opposed to the cut version. The taste is just, fuller, better, more intense. Herbst 84: What can I say, like the strang this one is also unbelievable very well balanced. The smoky latakia stays in the background throughout the bowl together with the orientals and both support the dominant and sweet virginias in perfect harmony. Mid-bowl the floral orientals pop out now and then which provide interesting counter-flavours to the virginias. Towards the end of the bowl the well orchestrated blend gradually fades out into grey ash. Like with the smell I also had to think of Samuel Gawith’s Squadron Leader and Pipes & Cigar’s Magnum Opus when smoking it.
Miscellaneous: Strang-Curly: The strang is wetter than Ellen when she sees me coming out of the shower.. I am used to tobaccos that are pretty moist (hello Samuel Gawith flakes) but this one requires some serious drying time. At least 2 to 3 hours. Or less if you nick the hair-dryer of your friend/girlfriend. I tend to rub out the cut coins, it makes packing the bowl easier. Nicotinewise the strang is medium, it won’t kick you off your feet but will satisfy your cravings. Herbst 84:The blend packs and burns perfectly. Although it dries out pretty fast in the pouch. Motzek refuses to use hygroscopic agents like sorbitol, propylene glycol and glycerine to keep the tobacco wet. Only water is used to moisten the tobacco.
Room-note: Strang-Curly: Ellen has no trouble when I smoke this one inside. Although I kind of dislike the cigarette-like odour in the room the next morning. Herbst 84: Because it is not a latakia-bomb Ellen has no objections when I smoke Herbst 84 inside. The next morning only a slight incense odour was left.
Price: Strang-Curly:Tobaccos made by Motzek are relatively cheap compared to other German offerings. 100 gram will only cost you €15,50 (± $17.28) Herbst 84: A 50 gram pouch will set you back at €6,25 (± $6.97). 100 gram costs €12,- (± $13.38) and 200 gram €23,- (± $25.64).
Conclusion: Strang-Curly: I congratulate Lizzie Motzek, this is the best rope tobacco I smoked so far. Period. It has a signature taste that does not get boring. And bear in mind that the strang I smoked was pretty fresh. Imagine what a few years of ageing will do. Ooooh yeah… Herbst 84: For me this is one of the best latakia-blends made on Europe mainland. It utterly surprised me in a most pleasant way. I never expected such an excellent tobacco could come out of a pouch. I will be stocking up on this one. Because it has a more than good price-quality ratio and who knows when Motzek finally decides to quit…
EDIT 01-12-2015: Sadly (for us pipe-smokers) Motzek decided to quit.. This is written (in German) on his website: After a working career of 51 years, 46 years within the industry and 40 years with my own business, I’m almost 70 now and I want to retire. I’m looking for an able successor for my unique shop (Cigar lounge, pipe repair shop, and tobacco manufacturing license) in Kiel. Interested parties please inquire per phone +49 431 554162.
EDIT 18-04-2016: Motzek’s retirement is definitive now. His website states that he will say “goodbye” Thursday 28 April 2016. However, the store is not closing down because Herbert has found a successor who will begin on 1 May. I heard that he is currently learning the ropes of making THE rope, the Strang-Curly. So I have high hopes that the legend of the Strang-Curly will continue.
EDIT 08-05-2016: The successor for Herbert Motzek is pipe-maker Thomas Darasz! He also took over the Motzek name and the tobacco tax-number needed for producing the house-blends (under which the Strang-Curly). So it looks like the future of the store is secured.
Click here for part 1 which describes the history of Seville and how it became the tobacco capital of the world.
For me visiting the Real Fábrica de Tabacos (Royal Tobacco Factory) was a highlight of my journey to Seville. Today a part of the renowned Seville University is located there. Unfortunately the interior has been renovated and “no smoking” signs are everywhere. But until 1959 this magnificent building was Spain’s, no, Europe’s powerhouse for the manufacturing of tobacco. It is also the inspiration and setting for Seville’s most renowned fictional heroine, the free-spirited gypsy girl who embodies the Spanish ideal of the sensual femme fatale: Carmen.
Front of the Real Fábrica de Tabacos
The Real Fábrica de Tabacos was built between 1728 and 1770 and was designed and supervised by several military engineers from the North of Spain and The Netherlands. The works were abandoned for a long period (1735 – 1750) due to financial troubles (the initial budget was clearly not enough) and because the engineers and architects in charge were not fully committed. Its huge size (rectangular area of 27,195 square meter or 292,725 square feet) is just smaller than the mighty El Escorial located near Madrid. With a mixture of architectonic styles the building is divided into 2 areas. One devoted to the tobacco process and a smaller one that included the entrance, offices, depots and apartments for the superintendent and the director.
Painted tiles on the outside wall
The factory was officially inaugurated in 1757 even though the building was not yet completed. Unfortunately, the factory was already out of date by then. It had been designed for the making of snuff, but during those 30 years the export demand for cigars increased and demand was equally high in the domestic market. The shift away from snuff production made a bigger labour force necessary. Cigars could not be ground out by the hundredweight but had to be assembled and rolled individually.
Before 1800 all the Fábrica’s workers had been men because making snuff was heavy work. But these proved to be too clumsy and slow for cigar-making. In 1813 the Fábrica came with a solution by employing single women, whose fingers were nimbler and who would accept a lower wage than men with families to support. The Fábrica recruited its new workforce from the young women of the Triana district. Seville is a hellish furnace in summer and the Triana girls, many of whom were gypsies, were reduced by the heat to working in their underwear. Even hotter became the well-bred European men who visited the factory in search of sexual thrills: This immense harem of four thousand eight hundred women is as free in speech as in words. They showed no reserve in profiting by the tolerance which permits them undress as much as they like in the insupportable atmosphere they live in from June to September. Almost all worked stark naked to the waist with a simple linen petticoat unfastened round it and sometimes turned up as far as the middle of the thighs. And they presented an extraordinary mixture. There was everything in this naked crowd, virgins excepted, probably.
The so called “cigarreras” prepared and rolled the tobacco leaf into cigars, chopped, rolled and ground it for pipe tobacco or snuff and made cigarettes rolled in paper. Cigarettes were initially considered a humble by-product, improvised by the factory girls to enable them to smoke discarded scraps from cigar production. The leaves were dried in special ovens that demanded a constant temperature and humidity apparently was secured by a system of subterranean waterways. The workforce was organized in a sophisticated hierarchy. Ranging from apprentices who started work at the early age of 13, peeling the stalks from the leaves, until (under the watchful eye of a veteran) they perfected the art of “making the baby”, rolling a cigar with the delicacy and precision of a midwife wrapping a new-born child. The aristocrat of this noble profession was the purera or maker of puros (cigars), who received top wages. But by far the majority of the women workers were employed in the humbler, poorer-paid, tasks of making cigarettes and pipe tobacco.
The right to bring babies into the factory was one of the important early victories of the cigarreras labour struggles. These feisty women were pioneers of European trade union rights. The factory even provided high-sided, wooden cradles that the mothers could rock with their foot without having to interrupt their work. Other victories achieved were the 8-hour workday, retirement pensions, working clothes and the custom of respecting the preferences of workers nearing retirement. The only inflexible rule was the absolute prohibition on stealing tobacco. This prompted the much remarked-upon personal searches that each cigarrera had to undergo. However, some were creative and hid the tobacco in a place his Catholic Majesty would have never dreamed of.
But by 1918, it was all over. The United States seized control of the world’s tobacco trade and both the economic reality and mythic reputation of Seville’s tobacco factory entered into decline. New machines improved the process and the cigarreras were replaced. In 1950 it was decided to move the tobacco operations to the Los Remedios neighbourhood and to use the historic building as the headquarters of the University of Seville. The replacement factory built in the 1950’s remained part of Spain’s national tobacco monopoly Tabacalera until that was merged into Altadis in 1999. In 2004, Altadis announced plans to shut the plant in 2007, bringing to an end Seville’s long tradition of making tobacco products. The last day of operation of the factory was 31 December 2007.
In Spain tobacco is sold in shops called “expendeduría de tabaco y timbre” or “estanco”. You can find them anywhere, small and big, and are recognizable by a big banner with “Tabacos” on it. Compared to many European countries tobacco here is still cheap. Still, yes, because prices are rising rapidly because of the taxes. Despite that you pay for example for a tin of Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader €8, in Germany the current price is €12,85. But the assortment of pipe-tobacco differs greatly from estanco to estanco. So I decided to get some local help. After a bit of Googling I stumbled upon the Andalucía Pipa Club and mailed them about my upcoming journey to Seville and if they knew some good tobacconists in the city. I got a reply from the very friendly and helpful Alfonso who lives in Seville and immediately provided me with lots of information.
Estanco at the Calle O’Donnell
The best places to buy pipe-tobacco in Seville are:
– The estanco at the Calle O’Donnell 30B. Google Maps is not accurate, just look for a big sun screen with “Tabacos” on it. This shop has the best assortment of pipe-tobacco in Seville. Basically everything from this list (Scroll to “picadura de pipa”). Just one thing, I had to point out the tins I wanted to the young employee to the amusement of the other customers.. Samuel Gawith? Qué?
– The estanco at the Calle Lineros 11B (Palacio del fumador). More focused at cigars but a lot of pipes and a decent assortment of pipe-tobacco.
– The estanco at Expendeduria 113. Not in the city centre, not so many brands as the first one, but more focused at specialities.
BEWARE: Spanish airport customs are very strict. My bag got searched and they counted the weight from all my tobacco tins, the ones I bought and the ones I brought with me from home. If you live within Europe you may take 1 kilo of tobacco with you and if you come from outside Europe even less.. Also be sure to keep your receipt if you buy tobacco in Spain. When you can’t show it if the customs officer asks for it all tobacco will be confiscated. Luckily all my tins could come with me.
I also got some very useful tips where to eat and drink from Alfonso and asked him if there were places where I could smoke inside. He had to laugh: No problems for smoking your pipe because almost every bar/restaurant/café in Seville has a terrace. That’s the way of life in Seville: if we are living in a sunny city… Why we should stay inside a building? Good point.. We kept on mailing and he told me a story that he on a trip to Amsterdam got conned by a Dutch tobacconist. He paid €25 for 1 tin of Samuel Gawith Perfection! I mean, tobacco is expensive here but that amount was outrageous and nowhere near correct.
Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader Special Edition
We also decided that we had to see each other when I was in Seville. So after a couple of text messages Ellen, Alfonso and I arranged to meet at the splendid Puerta del Pérdon near where we were staying. I put a corncob pipe in my mouth so Alfonso could recognize me but that was not necessary. I saw him first, puffing away under the great gate. We met like we were lost brothers, it really felt that way for me. We opted to go to the terrace of a nearby restaurant Alfonso knew. A bit tourist but Alfonso swore to me the drinks and food were excellent. We sat down and I said I had a present for him. I pulled out an aged tin of Samuel Gawith Perfection to compensate for the Dutch con. Alfonso laughed and thanked me, but he also had a surprise for me. The Andalucía Pipa Club had a blend made by Samuel Gawith: a limited, special edition of Squadron Leader containing perique. And precisely that was what he gave me, wonderful!
Me and Alfonso
Time flies by when you are having fun, we chatted away and were even joined by Alfonso’s charming wife Macarena. They let us try local drinks and foods like shrimps in garlic, Jamón ibérico and deliciously sweet desserts. At the end of the magical evening I wanted to call the funny waiter (he had to serve the terrace alone and was so busy he forgot us several times which resulted in apologies in rapid Spanish and some free drinks) to get the bill but discovered Alfonso and Macarena already paid it. They gently refused my money and just said with big smiles: Welcome to Seville! Once again I thank them both for this unforgettable experience! Gracias!
To round off this blogpost, here are some tips from my own (short) experience about Seville:
View from our terrace
– Hotels can be pretty expensive, especially near the old city centre. But thanks to AirBnB I found a small but delightful penthouse apartment, literally a stone-throw away from the cathedral, with an excellent price-quality ratio.
View from the Giralda
– Visit the large Seville Cathedral where the remains of Christopher Columbus are buried and climb the ancient Giralda tower for a stunning view of the city.
Part of the Alcázar garden
– Visit the Royal Alcázar of Seville which is one of most beautiful palaces in Spain and the oldest one still in use in Europe. A part of season 5 of Game of Thrones was shot there. Also marvel at the heavenly, lush gardens which are a blend of Moorish, Renaissance, and English traditions.
– Stroll along the Guadalquivir River and pay a visit to the old Torre del Oro.
– Visit the neighbourhood of Triana. It played an important role in the history of the city and is a folk, monumental and cultural center. If you want to see flamenco, go here.
– Wander through and get lost in the small streets of Santa Cruz where around every corner is a new wonder.
– Make a day-trip with the AVE high-speed train to Córdoba and visit one of the most awesome sights Spain has to offer: The Mezquita, the more than a millennium old mosque-cathedral, crowning glory of Muslim architecture in the West. In its heyday, a pilgrimage to the great Mezquita by a Muslim was said to have equalled a journey to Mecca. When you are done drooling in the mosque-cathedral you can re-fill your body-fluids at the enchanting Salón de Té.
La Hostería del Laurel
– Eat tapas! These little wonders of gastronomy are cheap and oh so yummie! Just order them randomly and find out what you like. Good places (but there are many, many more) are La Hostería del Laurel, one of the locations in Don Juan and Bodega Santa Cruz, better known as Las Columnas. I especially grew very fond of the latter, cheap and basic tapas but very delicious. Especially in combination with a tinto de verano or a local Cruzcampo beer. And a tip from Alfonso: If you find a bar/restaurant with too much tourism and no locals, or they are offering “real Paella”… It’s a trap!
After a long journey home (no thanks to the Dutch railways) Ellen and I came to the conclusion that Seville certainly had not forsaken us. Olé!!!
In the beginning of the year at the height of my crippling winter depression I decided that I needed something fun to look out to. A short, sunny and warm vacation would just do the trick. I presented my idea to Ellen, who also longed for some sunshine, and she said: “Great! Perhaps the South of Spain is an option? A good chance of fine weather there?” I had been in the North in Barcelona before but that was it, so I was open to her suggestion. “Málaga?” I Googled a bit and nah.. Pretty nice but not quite what I was looking for. Then I noticed Seville on the map, “Ah yes, of course!” I said out loud with a smile to Ellen. “Darling, I know where we are going to.”
Seville is the capital of Andalucia and without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities of Spain. It has often been described as a feminine city and one that is not afraid to expose her charms. I fully agree with that. At the beginning of the vibrant Triana neighbourhood is a statue of a fierce, attractive woman with her hands on a guitar and one foot on an anvil. For me she typifies Seville. I came to know the Sevillians as extremely proud and passionate people. To many Seville is not just a place, it is a way of life. Semana Santa, the April Feria, Don Juan, Carmen, flamenco, tapas, bullfights… The city assaults the senses with its sounds, smells (the divine omnipresent orange blossom) and bright colours. Seville is beautiful and above all, it is passionate. It is a city that must be seen and must be experienced. And so Ellen and I did.
Aqueduct in Seville
The history of Seville has been dominated by its proximity to the Guadalquivir river. First and foremost Seville has been a river port. As with so many cities in Andalucia, the exact origins of Seville are not clear. It is widely believed that the city was founded by Iberians, later becoming a Greek, Phoenician and finally a Roman colony called Hispalis. The first part of the Roman rule was characterised by a series of internal disputes until Julius Caesar conquered the city In 42 BC. Under Caesar’s rule Seville flourished, eventually becoming one of the main cities in Baetica. Nearly all of the fortifications in Seville were constructed during this period. In 5 AD the Vandals invaded the region and were subsequently expelled by the Visigoths. They made Seville the capital of their kingdom until the court was transferred to Toledo.
Seville cathedral with La Giralda
Following the Moorish conquest in 712 AD, Seville came under a long period of Moorish rule which really shaped the city. It was originally under the control of Córdoba. Upon the fall of the Caliphate in 1031, Seville became a taifa kingdom. It was during the reign of Al Mutamid that Seville experienced the greatest cultural developments. Towards the end of the Moorish era around the 12th century, the Almohads eventually took control of Seville. It was during this period that the Giralda tower (the city’s most well-known symbol) and the mosque were built. Later the mosque was torn down for the biggest part and the Seville cathedral (the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world) arose on the site. On the 23rd of November 1248, Fernando III reconquered Seville. Alfonso X the wise was responsible for giving the city its coat of arms to commemorate the loyalty and support he received from the city. The figure of eight in the emblem, creates the motto “No madeja do” or “No me ha dejado”, which translates as “It (Seville) has not forsaken me”.
Seville, 16th century
Things really started to happen with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Seville developed a monopoly on trade with the New World with the founding of the Casa de Contratación. It became the arrival and departure point for every expedition to the newly discovered continent. Seville began to gather a great wealth, palaces were built and expanded (like the jaw-dropping, magnificent Royal Alcázar of Seville), new industries were created and the whole city was a buzzing hive of activity. All financed by American gold.
Plaza de España
In 1649 Seville suffered from a massive plague that decimated the local population. The silting of the Guadalquivir river lead to the transfer of all shipping expeditions to Cádiz. Too bad they did not have the Dutch dredging companies in those years.. In 1717 the Casa de Contratación was formerly relocated to Cádiz. The beginning of the 20th century were characterised by hardship. Plagues, crop failures and the Spanish Civil War all took their toll on the local population. In 1929 Sevilla hosted the Ibero-American Exhibition and in 1992, the Expo. Both of these events had a significant impact on the layout of the city. Seville’s most famous Park, Parque de Maria Luisa, was re-designed just before the Ibero-American exhibition. Also the otherworldly beautiful Plaza de España was build. The 1992 Expo lead to the construction of the Isla de la Cartuja, the site on which the Expo was held. Today it houses both the Isla Mágica theme park and the centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo.
Giant tapestry in the Alcázar of the first journey of Columbus
One of the new products coming from the New World was tobacco. When Columbus arrived in the Bahamas, the natives handed him a gift of dried tobacco leaves. This is documented in Columbus’ journal, he saw a man in a canoe sailing down the river. The entry is dated October 15, 1492: He had a little of their bread, about the size of a fist, a calabash of water, a piece of brown earth (pigment) powdered and then kneaded, and some dried leaves, which must be a thing highly valued by them, for they bartered with it at San Salvador. Of course Columbus brought the plant that resulted in these “dried leaves” back to Spain.
Rodrigo de Jerez
Toward the end of 1492 another story describes how two Spaniards sent by Columbus, walking through a village on the eastern coast of Cuba, observed how men carried in their hands a lighted firebrand and “certain herbs whose fumes they savoured.” “Dried herbs placed in a certain dry leaf, in the form of a musket barrel. And one end is lit and through the other the smoke is drawn or sucked or taken in with inhaled breath. This has the effect of sending the flesh to sleep, almost causing drunkenness, and they say that they do not then feel fatigue. These muskets, or whatever we should call them, they call tobaccos.” The two men discovered the plant, which locals called cohiba or cojiba. One of the Spaniards, Rodrigo de Jerez, brought some back home to the port of Ayamonte, west of Seville and was credited with being the first European smoker.
San Pedro church, in front of this was the first tobacco factory of Seville
Spain became the main importer of tobacco from the Americas. In 1614 King Philip III declared the selling of tobacco grown in the Spanish New World that went for sale in Europe a state monopoly and made Seville the “tobacco capital of the world”. This was underlined by the fact that in 1684 Seville got the sole right to manufacture tobacco and that all leaves had to be shipped to a central location. Initially the first tobacco manufacturers were scattered through the city but were eventually concentrated in one place for health reasons and to facilitate state control of the activities. Seville’s (and Spain’s) first tobacco factory was in the Plaza de San Pedro in the heart of the medieval city. It was more or less dedicated to the production of snuff which originally made by grinding the tobacco using a pestle and mortar and later by mills. Milling was heavy and skilled work and was done by men. The factory was expanded in 1687 and 1714. Finally, in 1725, it was decided to build a new, bigger factory to meet the booming demand throughout Europe…
Click here for part 2 which features the famous cigarreras, places where to buy pipe-tobacco, a meeting with a Sevillian pipe-smoker and general tips about Seville.