The briar listener: Romijn Pipes

Martin

Some years ago I did an interview with stone-cutter extraordinaire Martin Romijn, who makes pipe-accessories out of stone. Throughout the years we kept in touch and saw each other at meetings. It was at the end of 2016, beginning of 2017 that I learned that he also was making pipes. This piqued my interest because I know that Martin has a feeling and eye for lines and shapes. Something one can not learn. With his first pipes I had to laugh a bit, he treated the wood like stone but his style was undeniably unique. A bit further along the way his talent really began to show and his pipes became more refined. Always trying to show off the beautiful patterns of the briar just like he did with the fossils in the stone. Now I consider him one of the best if not the best pipe-maker in The Netherlands.

Martin’s workspace

So last month I paid him a visit. Martin still lives in the city of Leerdam and behind his house he has a shed where the magic happens. I have been at the work places of several pipe makers and where some are pure unadulterated chaos Martin absolutely has one of the tidiest. Everything is neatly and orderly arranged and the machinery looks reasonably clean. Talking about equipment, Martin has a wood turning lathe in stead of a metal turning one. It was a gift from his parents when they saw his pipe-making talent. Besides that he thinks he has more freedom shaping pipes on it. Also he has a sanding disc and a slack belt sander, which he took over from another pipe-maker (Vandaahl) who had stopped. Further you can find in his workplace a bandsaw, dremel, some hand work tools (files etc.) and a polishing machine. Last but not least on one of the shelves stands a laptop that powers a loudspeaker which blurts out non-stop music of the great Johnny Cash, one of Martin’s heroes.

Egg shaped pipe

When I asked how and where he did learn to carve and shape briar wood he answered that he is mainly a self taught pipe-maker. In previous years he refurbished quite a lot of estate pipes. Also because of his stonecutting day-job (and all the tampers, ash-trays, stands etc. he made) Martin has 25 years experience of shaping and modelling. At one point he started experimenting with some briar blocks and when it turned out he did pretty well it became more serious. Nowadays Martin uses briar from Italy and in the future he wants to try his hand at olive wood. His mouthpieces are made from ebonite and acryl and some have the craziest colours and patterns. But Martin makes sure that visually the stem goes together with the bowl.

Twisted Pickaxe

Martin has a pretty unique way of making pipes. Other pipe-makers decide what shape they want to make and begin. If a sandpit surfaces, well too bad, next one! But not Martin, this is what he has to say about his method: “I start with watching, studying, “reading” the briar. Every block has its own story. How does the grain go, what can you expect when you cut it in a certain angle etc. It can be that I have had the briar piece in my hands dozens of times before I know which pipe it hides. And even then, sometimes the wood has its own plan. When I come across a sandpit or another irregularity I have to adjust my plan to fit the briar. In such a case I always say that the briar speaks to me and that I should listen. This way you often get the most surprising and beautiful results.” I have to agree with Martin. All his pipes are showcases for the stunning grains they possess. Because of this he does not make shapes on request. It would be a waste of a piece of briar to make a pipe out of it which does not agree with the grain. When asked what is the most favourite pipe he ever made Martin hesitates. “That is a tricky one.. They are all my favourite. The process of making a pipe takes up lots of hours of hard labour. When you work that long on a piece you get attached to it. It is your design, your creation, born from your creative thoughts and moulded by your hands into something tangible. But if I really have to pick one it would be the Twisted Pickaxe. Recently made, beautiful organic shapes, stunning grain, a pickaxe but with a twist. My twist.”

Martin, when did you start smoking pipes? “30 years ago I began smoking pipes. My first one was a Tattoo pipe, made by Dutch pipe maker Gubbels/Big Ben. I saw it at someone and decided to also give it a try. I liked it and soon I bought a regular pipe to go with it, and another one, and another.. Well, you know how it goes.. Of course then also began the search for the finest tobaccos. A journey which never ends but which I enjoy to the max.” Ok, so what is your favourite tobacco? “Ehrrr… Can I name two? Esoterica Stonehaven and GL Pease Embarcadero. Oh! And Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader and hmmm.. Damn, there are so many delicious blends, hard to pick out one.”

What are your favourite pipes and why? “My collection is rather large, about 75 pipes. They all have something special, that can be their smoking qualities but also some have their own story that makes them special. I especially like to smoke Winslow pipes. Good smokers, nicely shaped, good open draw and handmade by a pipe-maker I admire very much. In 2018 I got to meet Poul Winslow himself at his home and saw how he worked in his workplace. Very special and informative! What an experience, I watched with growing admiration how he creates a stunning pipe with breakneck speed. Since then I like these wonderful pipes even more.”

Do you have any famous last words for the readers? “I hope to make pipes for many, many years. I hope my creations will find their way to the people who love them. That they will find owners who will experience delightful moments of relaxation and pleasure thanks to good tobacco and a pipe I worked on with love and dedication.” With that our conversation was over for the time being. Martin began working on one of his new creations while I sat back sipping a good whisky, smoking a pipe, listening to the soul-wrenching voice of Mr. Cash and watching the magic hands do their job on the immortal briar.

https://romijntampers.nl
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The eternal city on two continents: Istanbul, part 2

See here for part 1.

Day 4
This day was going to be special. Before we left I searched on the internet if there was a pipe smoking club in Istanbul and to my delight I found one, İstanbul Pipo Derneği (Istanbul Pipe Club). I mailed to them and asked if there was anywhere I could buy some tobacco and pipes and if it was possible to meet up somewhere. Soon I got a reply from Mr. Turgay Ocak who turned out to be the founder of the club. He answered that no pipe tobacco is sold in Istanbul because off all kinds of government regulations but that I was welcome to smoke some pipes with them. We arranged a date and time. The location, I later found out, was at a pipe shop called Pipo Market based in Perpa, a huge trading centre near the Beyoğlu district. And guess who is the owner of that shop: Turgay. At the beginning of the afternoon Ellen had her own program (mainly walking through the city) and I had to take a cab to Perpa. When I was there all I had to do was app Turgay and he would come and fetch me. But the ride was a rough one. I just had stepped in the taxi and the driver took off at breakneck speed through the wobbly, windy streets of Sultanahmet. I have been in Cairo where the cab drivers also can ride like crazy so it was not a big surprise. The thing was that I got carsick.. It only was 8.5 km but man, when you are feeling very ill that is a long way, especially in twisting Istanbul with a Max Verstappen wannabe at the steering wheel. Just when I was about to spill the contents of my stomach over the leather taxi interior we thankfully arrived. I sat down on a low wall before the Perpa entrance for 5 minutes, just slowly breathing, before I apped Turgay.

Part of Turgay’s shop

Soon I was picked up by Turgay and another IPC member. First of all, even with Dutch names I am bad in remembering them, let alone foreign ones. So sorry! Anyway, now I understood why I had to app, Perpa is one big giant maze. I could have wandered aimlessly there for hours without finding the shop. Soon we were there, a surprisingly nice looking medium sized store with lots of pipes, especially corncobs and Italian brands. And indeed no tobacco at first sight except for some cigars. All the tins I did saw were empty and hung on the walls or were standing in displays as decoration. The shop has 2 rooms, the main store and one with couches which functions as the IPC hideout where other members sat. One of the first things that I was shown were all the medals that Turgay won. It turned out that he is a competition pipe smoker and a damn good one, top of the world! He asked me if I knew Cornelius from the Dutch Federation for Pipe Smokers. I explained that I have met the man on one or two occasions but that I am not a member, I don’t do competition pipe smoking. I am a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum, who only are active on internet and on some meetings.

Looking into the IPC room

When I was sitting down I was offered some water and coffee, which was very welcome because I still felt a but queasy from the car sickness. I had a brought a gift with me for the IPC, which I presented them: a tin of Samuel Gawith Flatlander Flake. Which was received very well. I discovered that Samuel Gawith almost has a godlike status at the IPC. Everyone has friends abroad who send tins of the old English brand or bring them in the country themselves. Especially the flakes are popular, Balkan Flake, Navy Flake, St. James Flake etc. Turgay and the others also had some gifts for me. First of all a beautiful Sultan meerschaum pipe! Wow! Further I got a mug, button and bag all printed with the IPC logo. Thank you again so very much!!!

Bosphorus Balkan Flake

I was just thinking what I should smoke when one of the members put a tin before me I did not know, Bosphorus Balkan Flake. Hmm, Virginia, latakia and Turkish orientals, interesting! It was opened and smelled delicious. I put it in my pipe and started smoking. Very, very nice but whoah, a real nicotine bomb. I said I was confused because I thought no pipe tobacco was made or sold in Turkey. Well, it turned out that there is a guy in Istanbul (later I found out his name is Birol Salman if I am correct. I tried to contact him but sadly to no avail) who makes these Bosphorus tobaccos with mainly ingredients from Turkish soil. For example the Turkish oriental is called Adiyaman. A name which rang a bell inside my head. Pipe smoking friend Kees used to go to Turkey on holiday many times and on such an occasion he brought some Adiyaman with him of which I got a sample. And indeed, from what I could remember was that Adiyaman packs a vitamin N punch. Turgay and the others said that some tobaccos also came from Syria. Huh? I thought that because of the war nothing came from there. Nono, in the North there is no war so tobaccos is grown there according to them. Interesting.. About my story of Cyprian latakia made in the Izmir region and then shipped to the Turkish part of Cyprus they were not sure, it could be.

The rest of the afternoon was spend chatting, smoking and looking at all the wares in the store. Damn, they even had an estate Lord of the Rings Aragorn and Gimli pipe! Just when my belly started to grumble I was kindly invited to have dinner with them. Just before we left I luckily was able to buy some Bosphorus tobacco tins, the Balkan Flake I already had, Navy Flake and English Mixture. I could ride with Turgay and another member to the restaurant they picked. In order to get to the car we had to walk through a traditional Turkish market. Busy as hell but no tourists, a real sight! The restaurant called Olimpiyat turned out to be beautifully located beside the Bosphorus near the Galata bridge with stunning views over the water and Hagia Sophia. Turgay had reserved a large table on one of the upper floors and the best thing was, we could smoke there. Some more IPC members joined us (who spoke English). I had also brought some real Dutch De Olifant Brasil cigars with me which I handed out and were eagerly accepted. Soon all kinds of delicious appetizers were served under which samphire/picklegrass, something I never had but tasted great on toast with some Turkish cheese.

To drink I had to try one of the national beverages, rakı. At first I kindly declined (I had not eaten much at that point) but no, I had to drink it. So a generous amount was poured in my glass, then some some water and ice-cubes (always in that order!). It reminded me of the Greek ouzo, also anise-flavoured, yummie! After the appetizers Turgan asked me what I liked to eat. Wel, uhmm.. Something typical Turkish, I answered. We all got pieces of lamb meat which tasted very good. But during the interesting conversations about all kinds of subjects and after my second glass of rakı the alcohol really started to hit me. Hmm, that is strange, I thought, I am used to Dutch jenever which has an alcohol percentage of 35%. That rakı can never have more than 30%. So I asked for the bottle and saw to my horror and the amusement of the members that it was 45%! While laughing they poured in another glass. Let’s say I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening except that suddenly my understanding of the Turkish language became much better. Especially Turgay had some hilarious stories about his endeavours during the pipe smoking championships all over the world. At the end of the evening the inevitable bill came. I fetched my wallet but no, I was their guest. So very friendly and hospitable, thank you! Seeing me in my inebriated state they also decided to drop me off at my hotel. Once we got there I hugged the old Turgay like we had been friends forever and thanked him for a splendid day.

Day 5
After a good night’s rest I felt reinvigorated. Which was good because we were going to visit the beautiful Princes’ Islands, to be precise Heybeliada. Together with Ozan from the hotel reception we looked at the best options to get there. Which was to go by tram to the ferry boat terminal of Eminönü and there take the public ferry. Public transport costs almost nothing in Istanbul, for the two of us the round trip was about €3.. Earlier we had bought an Istanbul Card which works as an all-around public transport boarding pass, very handy. Going to and finding the correct ferry was surprisingly easy. On the large boat we went upstairs and sat outside at the stern. All around us were Turkish families with children who clearly went for a day out. The trip to the Islands was very enjoyable. There was constant “entertainment” from salesmen and women and there was a guy selling simit bread, which we took, very yummie. When we arrived at Heybeliada we wanted to hire some bikes. All the Princes’ Islands are car-free and despite the presence of the traditional horse and cart we were advised (I heard from the IPC members that the horses are ill-treated..) not to take those. Soon we had our bikes and started climbing. I thought there was only a bit of it but man, it was more hilly than I expected. Out of breath we were glad when the road starting going down.

After an hour of biking we decided we had seen enough (the island is pretty small) and head back to get some lunch at a seaside restaurant. When we got there some tout tried to lure us in. Normally I walk past restaurants who have that kind of people but we were hungry and thirsty. Sadly I can’t remember the name of the place.. Immediately he started to push the sea-bass dish; fresh, fresh! To convince me he took me to the kitchen where he showed me the actual fish. All alarm-bells rung in my head because the eyes and skin of the fish looked dull, an indicator that freshness has long past. We should have walked away then but foolish me opted for a different fish dish. Ellen was smarter and took the köfte meatballs. Afterwards Ellen wanted some ice-cream, there was a seaside café which sold it so we sat down there. While Ellen enjoyed her ice I got some shooting pains in my stomach. Oh oooh… Despite that the trip back with the ferry went smooth, except for one incident. When the boat wanted to moor at one of the jetties of the islands something happened and it started rocking sideways. The motion only grew stronger up to the point we were or going to capsize or smash into the pier. The deck below almost made water, everyone was holding on and big waves were splashing over the pier, making the people wet who could not get away fast enough. Just as I was seriously contemplating jumping off the ship the captain got it back under control. Phewww, everyone laughed nervously. The rest of the journey there were no incidents until someone started to shout and point to the sea. Jeeeez, what now? Someone fell overboard? No, he pointed at a wonderful sight: dolphins! Just magical! Less enchanting was the night, the shooting pains in my stomach worsened and I spent a lot of time on the toilet. No further details.

The things I got from the Istanbul Pipe Club

Day 6
In the morning thankfully my stomach felt a little bit better. Good, because we were going home. After breakfast Ozan called a cab, we thanked him and the wonderful, friendly hotel staff and went on our way. The taxi ride to the airport was amusing because the driver had another, much larger, car horn build in which he was not afraid to use. In the plane I had a precarious moment when I was on the toilet (my stomach acted up again). That space is so damn small so when I pulled up my pants I hit some emergency button with one of my body parts. Immediately the crew knocked on the door. “Sir! sir! are you ok??” “Yes I am, I am!” I shouted while I hastily tried to make myself look decent before they would smash the door. Luckily the train ride home went smooth. All by all Istanbul had been an amazing experience. We met so many nice people (and sadly less nice ones too) there. But it is such an enormous city that I felt we only scraped the surface. Also I expected more of a Cairo experience but Istanbul is less rough around the edges, cleaner and more European. I will be glad to come back one day to see more of it and all the sights that were under renovation now.

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The eternal city on two continents: Istanbul, part 1

© CartoonStock

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

© Tobaccoreviews

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

View from the roof terrace of the Dersaadet Hotel

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

Hippodrome

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

Hagia Sophia

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

Imperial Hall

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

A very rare sight, Ellen smoking!

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

View from the boat

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

View from Rumelihisarı fortress

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

One of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar

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

Looking at some Meerschaum pipes

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

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

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

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

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Lohmar pipe-show 2019, the last one…

© Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse

One of the highlights of the year for me is always a visit to the Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse (Lohmar pipe-show) the first Saturday in May. So you can imagine the shock when I first heard that this years pipe-show would be the last one. What?? No more Lohmars? Disbelieve.. You know, beyond all the exhibitors with their beautiful wares I mostly enjoyed the atmosphere created by all the pipe-smokers. I met so many lovely people there. Organizer Volker Bier explained it all in a YouTube video. For those of you who don’t speak German, in a nutshell it comes to this: Next year the location where the pipe-show is always held, Villa Friedlinde, is getting a big renovation. So no activities then. Also Volker had enough of organizing the show year in year out. All those years were great, but now it is enough. Luckily two friends of Volker, Kelvin and Toto, stepped in. I was immensely happy to hear that next year a brand new pipe-show is organized by them in Hamm on May 16th.

Mark

Back to this year. Normally I would have drove along with good friend Rob, except he could not make it, he had to work. Regarding pipe-meetings it is “the more the merrier” so I asked Mark (the organizer of the annual Dutch pipe smokers forum Zutphen meeting) if he wanted to tag along. He was happy to go together with me. Only, one day before the pipe-show he texted me and I had to silently laugh a bit. The week before Lohmar Mark started in the gym, his first time ever. Being enthusiastic in trying to shed some weight, gain some muscle and improve his condition he tirelessly outdid himself. Only to discover that the next morning he could not get out of bed because of all the muscle pain. “If this continues I won’t be able to go with you tomorrow.. I can’t even get in the car this way!” he said. “Just relax and let me know early in the morning.” I answered. I was happy that apparently the aches lessened because Mark felt good enough to visit Lohmar.

The Lohmar 2019 pipe-show blend © HU Tobacco

The drive there went smooth despite the whimsical weather. Which was really sad because with almost all the previous Lohmar editions it was good to excellent. We arrived pretty early which had a reason, I wanted to go to the table of HU Tobacco as fast as possible. A couple of days before Lohmar I read on the Facebook page of Hans Wiedemann (owner and master-blender of HU Tobacco) that he was releasing a special pipe-show blend. A mixture of sweet Virginias, Burley and Latakia, advertised as: Is it a Virginia blend with Latakia in the background or is it an English mixture with a pronounced Virginia sweetness? But the thing was, there were only 50 tins! I tried to reserve a tin on Facebook and crossed my fingers. When I had finally reached Hans through the vast crowd at his table I was disappointed. All pipe-show tins were gone.. In fact, lots of Hans’ blends were already sold out! Especially the newer ones that I wanted to try.. So besides some tins that friends had asked me to buy I ended up with Moroccan Bazaar (as a lover of the oriental spice markets I just have to try this blend) and RaiKo InBeTween (formerly known as RaiKo ChocoLat, due to German regulations).

Thomas Nietsche putting some final drops of aroma on my No. 7 blend

Beside the table of Hans there stood a guy with lots of jars filled with all kinds of mixing tobaccos in front of him. It was Thomas Nietsche, the master-blender of Kohlhase & Kopp. I also read on Facebook that he and Hans had put up a contest. You could create your own blend there and let it mix by Thomas. After Lohmar all the entries are smoked and the best will become the 2020 Hamm pipe-show blend plus you get a €50 HU Tobacco coupon. I know I have been not so positive about Kohlhase & Kopp in the past but I have to say this was a brilliant initiative and Thomas is a very nice bloke. While I was waiting for my turn I explained to Mark (in Dutch) the purpose of all of this. “I understood some of that!” Thomas said jokingly while blending some tobaccos. When it was my turn I had a faint idea in my head. I wanted a kind of Balkan blend with a touch of aromatics. Very tricky because Latakia does not do well with added flavours. I instructed Thomas to begin with 30% Cyprian Latakia, then 20% orientals. I asked if he had a good Red Virginia and he did have some aged one, he put in 30%. To round it off I let him add 10% Bright Virginia and 10% unsweetened Black Cavendish. I already saw that he had some small bottles with concentrated flavours so I instructed Thomas to add just a few drops of milk-chocolate and vanilla essence to the mixture. The result was a blend that at least smelled heavenly. Vanilla-like toffee with a smoky background. Thomas saved a sample for the contest (entry no. 7 on the list) and the rest was given free of charge to me.

The Lucifer’s Pipe duke and HU Tobacco’s Moroccan Bazaar

Because of the bad weather it was crazily busy in the tents where a lot of the exhibitors showed their wares. I opted to go to the villa itself, still crowded, but more space to manoeuvre. Almost immediately I bumped into Rudi, Fred and Paul. Especially the last one I had not seen in quite a while. After talking a little bit we discovered we were in the way so I went along. There are many skilled pipe-makers at Lohmar but often the prices they ask.. Woww.. So I was pleasant surprised when I saw a pipe I wanted for a fair sum made by Berlin based Lucifer’s Pipe. It was a nicely shaped duke made of morta. Since I always wanted a pipe made of the dark wood I did not have to think long of buying it. I even got a discount without asking for it! When I turned around a gentleman approached me. “Hello Arno do you remember me?” Although his face was vaguely familiar I could not remember him. “I am Hans-Walter, we met here some years ago, there is a picture of me on your blog. Which I love by the way! The history of for example De Graaff or Capstan blends is what interests me.” Some wheels turned in my head and suddenly I remembered him. If you read this, Hans-Walter, sorry I did not recognize you immediately! I meet so many people… And thanks for your kind words! Hope you will come to Hamm next year.

Me fitting a bracelet, on the left is Adrian

Back in one of the tents I decided to pay a visit to Adrian. Every year he is there with his hand-made leather wares and is he a very nice chap. I always have to think a bit of Blackbeard the pirate when I see him. Well, actually I see him sometimes that way because Adrian loves to celebrate the carnival dressed up as a pirate in his home city of Cologne and puts pictures of it on Facebook. After talking a bit to him I took a look at his leather stuff and spotted a cool bracelet I liked. I fitted it and yes, I wanted to buy it. The price was a tad high but with my inborn Dutch skills I haggled it down. Mark also succeeded in that while buying a pipe at another stand, not my kind of pipe but really something Mark would go for. It is good we don’t all have the same taste.

The Ashton Pebble Grain I bought at Peter Heinrichs

Mark and I almost wanted to go (the weather got worse and worse) when we bumped into some Belgian pipe-smokers forum members: Geoff, Paul and his wife. We told them we were heading to Peter Heinrichs in Bergheim for a smoke in their pipe-museum/smoking lounge and maybe something to buy. The more the merrier so the Belgians agreed to join us. On the way really everything that could fall from the sky (except aeroplanes) hit us. Snow, rain, hail.. Blah.. When we arrived we were greeted by the widow of Peter Heinrichs (who is in charge together with her lovely daughters). I must say the old lady has an iron memory. Once I had mentioned I liked estate pipes, especially vintage Dunhills. So she produced some cases with in them old Dunhills, Charatans, Ashtons and more. I face-palmed myself because I knew this was going to cost me money. Lucky for my wallet there was no Dunhill that really took my fancy. But I did like an Ashton Pebble Grain Zulu like shape, which I bought. I also purchased a tin of Château Henri No. 24; Latakia from Syria (although I beg to differ…) and Cyprus, Virginia, a bit of Burley, orientals and Java-tobacco. In the smoking lounge I could not resist smoking the Lohmar No. 7. It was way to freshly mixed but despite that, not bad, not bad at all!

Dinner!!!

At 4 o’clock Heinrichs closed. I wanted to do some shopping at the German Lidl in Bergheim and afterwards get some dinner. The rest agreed and went with me. I just love to go to the Lidl in Germany. They have many products that we in The Netherlands do not have, they are cheaper and of better quality! Almost every time I am in Bergheim, regardless of whom I am with, I go to Dönerburger for dinner. It is a Turkish style take-away restaurant where you can also just sit and eat. Nothing fancy but the quality of their food is excellent and cheap. I repeat, cheap! That always makes this greedy Dutchman happy. I had a big plate of Döner kebab (lamb meat, I also had the choice to go for chicken) with fries, tzatziki sauce and a cola and I had to pay exactly €10! In The Netherlands you can’t go out and eat like that for that price.

The Belgians at the Rauch Lounge

To round off the day I proposed a visit to the Rauch Lounge in the German town of Wassenberg. I had never been there and since it was more or less situated on the way home (also for the Belgians) we decided to go there. Inside we immediately bumped again into Rudi, Paul and Fred. They had gone there directly from Lohmar. Very nice because now I had the chance to talk to them a bit longer. Rauch Lounge has not been active for long, since November 2015. I must say, kudos to them, starting a tobacco shop in these anti-tobacco times. The store is loaded with all kinds of pipes, tobacco, spirits and cigars. And the best thing, they have a modern smoking lounge which is open late. It was bigger than I had imagined looking at the pictures on their site. Mark and I picked out some cigars in the humidor and together with the Belgians we sat down and smoked. The day had been perfect, a fitting goodbye to the Lohmar pipe-show.

I would like to thank Volker Bier for organising all those excellent editions of the Lohmarer Pfeifenmesse, I will remember them fondly and hope to create new memories next year in Hamm. Further thanks go out to the convivial Belgian delegation, always nice and educational to talk to them and of course Mark, who had to endure my music and farts in the car. Sorry man! All pictures (except the © ones) were made by Mark and myself.

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Happy Easter 2019!

May Easter bring your life color, brightness, joy and, of course, lots of chocolate eggs, pipe-tobaccos, pipes and cigars! 🐇🐣🌻
Also see this post: Smokin’ Easter

My no. 1: Abingdon

Sometimes it is with tobacco as it is with music. You hear songs that are ok or ones that suck until suddenly, whoaaa.. What is that?? You listen to it more closely and slowly feel yourself falling in love with it with every time you hear it. After that the song sort of becomes part of your life and you keep listening to it until the day you die. Luckily I am not yet in that last phase but master-blender GL Pease’s creation Abingdon certainly has ingrained itself in my existence.

Unfortunately I can’t remember exactly when I first smoked Abingdon. My First Pease blend was the then hyped Chelsea Morning. With trembling hands I popped that tin, filled the bowl, lit the pipe aaand… It sucked. Perhaps I was expecting the nectar of the pipe-gods or so but it wasn’t on par with anything I had in my mind. I never had it since, maybe I should because during the years my taste-buds have vastly improved. After that I got a sample of Westminster from a friend and it blew me away. Ok, perhaps this “Dark Lord” Pease-guy does know what he is doing after all, I thought. It must have been after that when I tried my first bowl of Abingdon. Apparently I liked it really, really much because when I look at my tobacco tin purchase history the name “Abingdon” often pops up. Nowadays about once a year I open up a tin of it as a treat to myself. It never fails to deliver.

Thanks to Troy Lloyd

Backstory:
I quote GL Pease here: Some may have caught the hints of the inspiration behind this one when I’ve written about it in the past, but for the rest of you, here’s the back story. When I began to think about what I wanted to do with the Classic Collection, I had it in mind to pay tribute to some of the tobaccos of the past that had inspired me over the years—not to attempt their recreation, which is always something of a fool’s errand, but to produce blends that were reminiscent of what certain blends meant to me. It was my desire to paint something of a leaky memory picture of what the now old 759 was like in its relative youth that inspired me to concoct Abingdon. First, there was 759 and there was 759. The blend went through some changes during its life, and not every vintage is like every other. Too, while many have claimed to “clone” or “replicate” particular blends, I have never once found one of these copy-cats to successfully reproduce one of the old blends. In most cases, they’re not even really close. Later vintages of 759 seem to have been more dominated by Latakia. For those, I think Abingdon may be a little closer, though certainly not identical. Abingdon was named after Abingdon on Thames, the home of the legendary MG motorcar. For me, something about that wonderful, oily, intense smokiness of the tobacco recalled the wonderful smells of my old MGA, so it seemed fitting.

Description from the producer:
Abingdon: Dark, Mysterious and Full. Abingdon is the fullest Balkan style blend in the collection. It is rich and robust, powerful and forthright, yet still possessing subtlety and finesse. Dark flavours of wood and leather mingle with delicate undercurrents of sweetness, and deep earthy notes, while the oriental tobaccos provide hints of their verdant, sometimes herbaceous character. A big Balkan blend, reminding us once more of what these blends used to be. Because of the high percentage of dark and oriental tobaccos, it’s recommended to pack Abingdon a little less firmly than you might a lighter blend. Abingdon was released in July, 2003. And another quote from GL Pease himself: Abingdon is not topped or cased. It, like most of my blends, relies solely on the flavours of the leaf to make it what it is. It’s actually a fairly simple formula, but the result is delightfully complex. It’s an interesting mixture as it is quite heavy with latakia, but the orientals are more subdued. The virginias form the backbone of the smoke, but the latakia makes quite a statement.

Package/tin:
A typical American round pop-lid tin with paper wrapper. I must say that for this review I have an old production tin (from 2012). Not too long ago the artwork changed a bit. But still on the front there is a picture of a bulldog shaped pipe on top of a fountain pen and a piece of writing paper. On the back it says: A full Balkan style blend with a generous measure of Cyprian Latakia, seasoned with fine red and lemon yellow Virginia tobaccos, and enhanced with rich oriental leaf. Abingdon is bold and assertive, while retaining a stylish finesse. The Classic Collection draws inspiration from the great tobaccos of days past. The blends offered are not meant as attempts to replicate them, but to pay them homage to capture some of their essence.

Contents/Ingredients/cut:
Upon opening the tin I am greeted by the light and dark blended ingredients: Cyprian latakia, red and lemon yellow Virginias and orientals. The cut is a kind of rough ribbon cut with chunky pieces throughout it which you sometimes have to rub out a bit.

Smell from the tin:
The smell from the tin is wonderful to my nose. Sweet, salt, leather, smoke, spice, autumn, wood, earth all mixed into one like the instruments of an orchestra. I would have expected to notice more of the latakia. Perhaps it is the age of tin (6 years) so that the tobaccos inside have mellowed but this does not smell at all like the “bold and assertive” which is promised on the tin label.

Taste:
Upon lighting the blend there sometimes can be a slight bitterness, but it usually goes away after a few puffs. I have to think of my old and trusty Toyota Starlet. When I first start it there is lots of smoke and the pungent smell of petrol but after some hitting the gas it runs smoothly. Sort of the same with Abingdon. When the blend awakens and I am lucky I get some dark fruit/raisin/apricot taste-swirls throughout the rising smokiness from the latakia, the Virginia sweetness and the oriental sourness. For me Abingdon is not a complex blend. Once it gets going basically the same taste stays throughout the bowl with some little nuances here and then. But that basic taste is… So damn yummie! The balance between all the tobacco components is unbelievable. Lots of contradictions but somehow they work together like a well composed symphony. The instruments are soft, creamy, smooth, full, leather, musty, earth, sour, spice, wood and smoky. The resulting piece is Abingdon. Like with the smell I had expected more latakia “oomph” but I am glad it is not there. The dark leaf is almost like the conductor who supports the other instruments and let them play better. In some of the Tobaccoreviews.com reviews I read comparisons with my favourite whisky: Lagavulin. And I have to agree! The two make a perfect pair. Like with Abingdon Lagavulin boasts a lot of smokiness but if you compare it to some other whiskies (Laphroaig, Ardbeg) it really is not that much. Also Lagavulin possesses that rich, full harmony of flavours that Abingdon has. Anyway, in the end the tobacco burns down to a fine grey ash.

Miscellaneous:
Abingdon can bite a little bit if you pack the bowl too firmly and the tobacco is too moist. But if you take that into consideration, no problems at all. It stays pretty well lit throughout the smoke, nicotine hit is mild to medium. In my opinion and experience Abingdon performs best in somewhat larger (Dunhill group 4) prince shaped or pot shapes pipes. It certainly is not an all-pipe friend.

Room-note:
Whenever Ellen sees this tin on the table in our living room she starts to shift uncomfortably. “Is this that blend, you know? Well, I am afraid it is darling.. Oh.. Ok, eh, I am going to sleep/play music/do the laundry/get the f*ck away from here/etc.” As I write this I am smoking a pipe of Abingdon, Ellen just came downstairs and immediately got a red face. “Are you smoking it again? Yes darling. Grrr.. I really wish you waited until I had to go away for work. You can write in that blog of yours it is the most vile, evil smelling tobacco there is! I just did that darling.”

Price:
On Smokingpipes.com a 2 oz. tin will set you back at $10.63 (± €9,30). An 8 oz. tin will cost you $35.70 (± €31,25).

Conclusion:
From all the still available tobaccos I like Abingdon the best. Period. Of course I prefer blends like London Mixture State Express, Renaissance or De Graaff Kegelbaan but eejj, I can’t get them any more. Abingdon possesses an old world quality which only improves with age, a timeless mixture. I can totally imagine myself sitting in my living room decades from now when I am old, wrinkled and slightly senile, while smoking a pipe of well aged Abingdon, enjoying the hell out of it and thinking back to the good ol’ days before tobaccogeddon. Just before Ellen whacks me with her walking stick while shouting “You are not smoking it again aren’t you??”

Of course I wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a smoky 2019!!!

Happy Halloween 2018!

Also see The Demon Skull Pipe