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!

Zestful Zutphen 2013



With the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum we currently roughly have two big annual meetings. One of those always is held in the city of Zutphen at the beginning of June. Zutphen is very old, it received city-rights between 1191 and 1196, which makes it one of the oldest cities in the country. With my love for history I very much like to look at all the old buildings and wander around there. And smoke a pipe of course.

The store of Willem Schimmel years ago

The store of Willem Schimmel years ago

The place to stay for the Zutphen-meeting is always the store of tobacconist Willem Schimmel. Willem is a very friendly, although a bit chaotic, host who knows the fine trade of being a salesman. He has just has that gut-feeling, is able to tune in on his customers and make them feel very welcome. A rare talent these days. In 1972 at the early age of 21 Willem started his business in the building in the Sprongstraat where he is still located today. Since 1919 a tobacconist is housed there. Originally the business was founded by the Jewish family Gies. Later Bennie Smolders took over and like I said, Willem himself began in 1972.

The store of Willem Schimmel today

The store of Willem Schimmel today

Since the sixties his father had a cigar store in Doetinchem. When Willem came back from military service he initially did not really know what he wanted. But with a lot of support from his parents and the three Smolders brothers he then started the business in Zutphen as a 21-year-old rookie. Willem had it not easy in those early years. Of course he was still young and a stranger in Zutphen, so he really had to prove himself. It was always all about hard work and making long hours. His parents had put their savings in the business and he got 25 guilders pocket money and 15 guilders petrol money, he had to do it with that. His father was a true entrepreneur. At that time Willem had some candy standing on the counter, but if he took one for himself it was expected of him that he would put sixty cents in the cash register. His father would say that he had to sell a few packs of cigarettes for that money.

Willem and his two colleagues

Willem and his two colleagues © K.H. van der Linde

Willem now runs the business with help of two faithful colleagues. After all these years he is still not tired of his profession. He even can call himself now “Maître Pipier”, a prestigious French title in pipe smoking. “What you do, you have to do with passion and I have that for this kind of business.” Willem says. “You have to, because otherwise you can’t properly advise your clients. You have to love the product and possess the desired knowledge.”

The smoking lounge on the first floor

The smoking lounge on the first floor

That degree of specialization, combined with the authentic look of the store probably made that Willem managed to survive. In the early eighties there was a renovation which was followed by a restoration in 2000. There it was tried to do justice to the old building (which dates back to 1724!) in the Sprongstraat and give it an authentic look as much as possible. Willem: “People are coming in here who do not even smoke, but simply want to see how it looks. We have quite a special historic building with an interior design to match that.” Upon entering you see a large wooden counter and high shelves with cigars, cigarettes and pipe-tobacco tins and pouches in all shapes and sizes. Furthermore, in the back of the store is a real climate-room for the storage of cigars. On the first floor is a smoking lounge where customers can sit and smoke and where activities are organised such as workshops and lectures.

The whole group in Zutphen

The whole group in Zutphen © AJ Verstraten

So last Sunday it was once again time for the annual Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum meeting at Willem’s store. Actually it just was a Dutch occasion since no folks from our neighbour country to the South came over. A pity but understandable since it is quite a long drive from the Belgium border to Zutphen. At half past eight in the morning my good friend Ed rang the doorbell to pick me up. We had to be early at the store because I had all the name-badges. Usually we have a bunch of regulars who visit a lot of the meetings (like myself) and know each other but there also always are some newbies. Then it is very handy to see the forum-names and real names on those badges.

Jos in his pipe-smoking coat

Jos in his pipe-smoking coat © K.H. van der Linde

When Ed and I arrived Willem was not even there, his colleagues were preparing the store for the meeting. Besides the folks from the forum, some people from German pipe-brand Vauen, Dutch tobacco-importer Pronk and a German gentleman with pipes and tobacco also were going to be present. Nonetheless we immediately got some hot coffee and cake. Shortly after nine o’clock Willem walked in, shook hands with us and asked how we were doing. We sat down and I lit up my first pipe, some Sweet Vanilla Honeydew to begin the day with. When I took the first puffs Mark (Deadl0ck) entered the store. Together with Willem he had organised the day. While chatting away it suddenly seemed that the grim-reaper had appeared! It turned out to be Jos in his pipe-smoking coat. At the back of it he had glued a large metal sign of his favourite tobacco brand: Troost. For me he brought a mouse-mat with the Hell’s Pipe Smokers design that I made for some forum shirts a while ago and a couple of home-made peanut-butter pots from the Hartog bakery. Yummie!

Monique and Carro © K.H. van der Linde

Monique and Carro © K.H. van der Linde

After a while more and more forum-folks trickled in and the store got filled up with people. Hands were shaken, pipes were drawn and soon the smoking-lounge saw blue of all the smoke. I approached meeting-newbie Carro (Calinero) because he had a book for me. He is a big bald headed man with tattoos and skull jewellery. Carro lives nearby the store which had that book so I asked him if he could buy it for me a week for the meeting. No problem of course. I decided to give him some extra money for his troubles but he stubbornly refused. Such a nice guy! And from Martin I got the tobacco that was the reason to buy the book. But more about this sometime in another post..

On the "Fluisterboot"

On the “Fluisterboot” © K.H. van der Linde

Somewhat after eleven it was time for us to go the harbour where we were going aboard on two “Fluisterboten” (Whispering-boats), arranged by Willem. These boats are navigated through the canals of Zutphen by volunteers while they point out landmarks and buildings and tell all kinds of stories and facts about the city. We were really in luck with the weather, not too hot, not too cold so it was an enjoyable and educational trip. Once in a while we heard the other boat because Jos then blew loud on his brass ship-horn. So if you ever visit Zutphen with a couple of people, go on a “Fluisterboot” and soak up the history, culture and nature of the city.

Huub at the store

Huub welcomes other forum-members at the store © AJ Verstraten

When we came back at Willem’s store all kinds of sandwiches and drinks were waiting for us. Who was also waiting was forum-member Huub, he arrived just to late for the boats. I wanted to meet him for a long time because he is such a walking encyclopaedia of pipes and tobaccos. He was amazed at how many younger people were present at the meeting. “In my time you were seen as old when you put a pipe in your mouth” he said. “Well, we don’t care!” said someone else smiling.

Ed gestures it's ok!

Ed says it’s ok! © K.H. van der Linde

The rest of the afternoon I spent talking to lots of people. And smoking of course. As always you never get to speak all the folks presents but that really does not matter much. There will be other meetings. Who I did talk to was Rob, he showed me an exquisite gold-banded Dunhill billiard and wanted to know from which year it came. And since I am somewhat of a Dunhill-snob I could tell him that. Also present was a guy who brought some (home-blended) whiskies for us to try. A lot of pipe-smokers love whisky. I heard that the man was interested in trying a latakia-blend because he was curious if it resembled the taste of peaty whiskies. He had almost no smoking experience but brought a pipe with him so I fetched my tin of Penzance and filled up his bowl with it. He lit the pipe and I honestly expected the guy to start coughing and seeing green. To my surprise he actually liked the tobacco, he found it very smooth and recognized the peaty flavour. He kept his pipe pretty well lit and began enjoying it even more when the Virginias and orientals kicked in.

Jorg, Ed and a slightly intoxicated (?) Sander at the restaurant © K.H. van der Linde

Jorg, Ed and a slightly intoxicated (?) Sander at the restaurant © K.H. van der Linde

About half past six it was time to go. We shook hands with Willem and his colleagues and thanked them for the wonderful day. Outside the store one part of the forum-folks said goodbye and the other part made their way to restaurant Oriental. I had been there one time before with Mark and Wilfred (Wowbagger). The restaurant has the best spare-ribs in Zutphen and surrounding area. You know, a nice marinade and properly grilled so the bones fall of the meat. Yum-mie! Several other forum members had heard of that visit so we ended up with 15 people there. Luckily Mark had made reservations.. After the meal we all said goodbye and together with Ed I went home full and satisfied.

So thanks to Willem Schimmel & crew and all the folks of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum. I can’t wait until next year!!!

Here are some more pictures of Willem’s store and the meeting:


On the “Fluisterboot” © K.H. van der Linde


Beautiful nature on the “Fluisterboot” © K.H. van der Linde


Walking through Zutphen © K.H. van der Linde


Zutphen is very beautiful! © K.H. van der Linde


The store was so busy that some forum-folks decided to sit outside © K.H. van der Linde


(Other) Rob and Mark © K.H. van der Linde


A bunch of pipe-smokers © K.H. van der Linde


Pipes and tobacco for sampling © K.H. van der Linde


Some Vauen pipes © K.H. van der Linde


Inside Willem’s store


Inside Willem’s store


Rudi and the German gentleman


Inside Willem’s store


Inside Willem’s store


Jan and Rob © K.H. van der Linde


(Other) Rob, Jorg and Teunis © K.H. van der Linde


Our forum-photographer Klaas who made most of the pictures