My wife and I had the opportunity to visit our former home and place of work in Bulgaria for several weeks in August and September. When we left Sofia last year and relocated to Golden, Colorado, it was amid the earlier COVID concerns, and our departure left many unspoken goodbyes to friends and colleagues. We returned to say a ‘proper’ goodbye before heading up to Kyiv, Ukraine, where we may possibly serve next. Of course, while in Bulgaria, we repeated what had been our annual ‘pilgrimage’ to the Black Sea coast to enjoy time at the beach AND to do some pipe picking at my favorite places. As is our custom, after a day at the beach, often we would go to ‘Old Town’ Sozopol, a smaller fishing town that has become an increasingly popular summer destination. Along with cobblestone streets to stroll, artisan booths and shops provide much to see and do. On one evening we were fortunate to see a ‘Folk Festival’ where several dance troops of all ages demonstrated the cultural artform with traditional Bulgarian dress. The unique stitching on the costumes reveals the historic regions identifying the home of the dancers.Just up the cobblestone street from the Folk Festival was the ‘Antiques & Collectibles’ shop that I have visited many times over the years. This was the first time I noticed the sign written in Latin characters rather than in Cyrillic, obviously catering to the tourist season and the economic benefits this brings. This shop is a collectors dream with the appropriate amount of chaotic order shaping the vistas of treasure on all sides. Whenever I go into shops like this, the adrenaline rush of the ‘search’ goes into gear. I would rather look through stacks and stacks of collectible stuff rather than ask the shop owner for help. The shop’s treasures had been rearranged since our last visit. The tobacciana cabinet on past visits was on the right-side wall about halfway into the shop. My anticipation was a bit deflated when antique silver train tea/coffee holders were where the vintage pipes should have been. Looking to the left, beyond the center coin trough displays, my hopes were lifted when I saw transparent plastic containers with the familiar signs of pipe stems and bowls. Yes! Making my way closer to the trove, my first impressions were that underneath the ornamental pipes, there looked to be some possibilities. I was careful to keep my enthusiasm bottled up inside.Taking my time, I trolled through the offerings looking at each carefully and trying to make out the nomenclature if there was one. This is when having a portable magnifying glass would come in very handy. During the process of examining the pipes, the shop owner began to hover making it easier to get a pricing on an individual pipe. As we began to converse more, he gave us a business card and I found that his name was Evgeni. He was a congenial person, but a good negotiator as well.
After going through the containers, 4 pipes were good candidates to negotiate a ‘complect’ price – all for one price. After some good discussions and some laughs, an agreeable amount was settled. The Panel on the top is a ‘Supreme’ Ropp, with a Comoy’s ‘Tradition’ straight Bulldog next, a hefty VAUEN ‘Dr. Peri’ next, and below, a nice bent Bulldog with a difficult nomenclature to make out – ‘Bru…’? This guy has a horn stem as well. Not a bad haul for my first picking opportunity in Sozopol. After Evgeni wrapped each in pages of somewhat pornographic newspaper and placed them in a plastic bag, we shook hands, expressed final appreciations, and headed back out on the cobblestone streets. These pipes will eventually make their way to the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY!’ online collection benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria.
A few days later, the weather forecast for the beach where we go daily was questionable. For non-beach days, taking day trips to see other sites is always the back-up plan and an opportunity to do more pipe picking. We headed north on the Black Sea coast to the city of Burgas where I have another favorite second-hand shop that has provided many pipe treasures in the past that have helped stock the ‘Help Me!’ baskets in the Pipe Dreamers collection. I was glad that this visit also was fruitful.
In the past, the shop owner, Kaloyan, was the person I bargained with. This time he was out of town and his mother held down the fort. The antique shop is located down the main walking street of Burgas across the street from the beach areas. My wife and I enjoy the simple pleasures of strolling down the street, looking at people and shop windows. As hoped, the secondhand shop was open for business. The outside windows call out like sirens to those searching for treasures. I needed no coaxing. I dove into the one-room exhibit hall with my visual radar tuned in to ping on pipe treasure. My first cursory scan of the shelves and boxes found nothing. Disappointment was beginning to nip at my heels. With ‘Mom’ hovering close by, I asked her (speaking in Bulgarian, of course) if she had any pipes? When I asked for pipes, her eyes lit up in recognition – she recalled my having been there before buying pipes. She went into action and reached around the shelving/displays toward the window display and started digging out pipes and a small 3-man pipe rack. Wow! Altogether, there were about 15 pipes emerging almost by osmosis from the hidden recesses. After spending a lot of time looking at each pipe and creating a short-list pile – I could sense that Mom was getting a bit anxious – that the time was short. When I pulled together my choices, the negotiation began – but not with her but with her son who she called on her cell phone as the mediator. Each pipe was marked individually, but the negotiation was for a ‘complect’ price that I offered – all together. This approach almost always is a way to get choicier pipes for less when purchasing in bulk. There were some VERY collectable pipes among the 7 pipes – I had my eye on the Freehand with the markings ‘Prince Amled’ of ‘Danmark’ – the spelling was interesting from the start. The goliath Oom Paul with the Italian ‘Lorenzo’ marking was also interesting – a huge hunk of briar but was in pretty rough shape.After the son gave his ‘final’ price over the phone, it still was a bit too much for me – not leaving enough ‘meat on the bone’ for my purposes of restoring and reselling to benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria. Mom said that she needed to lock up to get something to eat. I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger, so I said we would come back later after she returned to the shop – I said that we would get something to eat as well. When we came back later, the shop was still closed – it didn’t look like it would reopen so we left without making a deal.
The next few days the weather was pristine on the beach, but I couldn’t get the pipes out of my mind – oh my! I decided to drive back up to Burgas early in the day, leaving my wife to enjoy the beach, to see if after a few days the bottom-line price might have softened. Mom was still manning the store when I walked in. The pipes I had chosen were still in a bunch on the side – I assumed waiting for my return. I had plenty of time to think and I was prepared to walk away again, so I countered with my deal-break price. Mom called her son, and the offer was accepted. Yes!As Mom put the pipes in a plastic bag, I thanked her for the pipes and explained that I restored them to resell to benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who had been trafficked and sexually exploited. She smiled returning thanks to me, she handed me the bag and turned her attention to the patrons waiting to come in and search for more treasures.
Later, I spread the pipes out for a better picture. It was a good haul to be added to the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY! collection – along with the ‘Prince Amled’ of Danmark Freehand and the Lorenzo Oom Paul, (from the top down) was a ‘Big-Ben Royal Silver’, a Meer Lined Bent Billiard with a P-lip stem, a ‘Manuni’ Bent Egg, an ‘Adsorba’ Bent Rhodesian, and a ‘Lorenzo Arceto’ Bent Ball.
Our time on the Black Sea coast came to an end and my wife and I traveled west toward our former home in Sofia. On the way we stopped over a few days with dear friends, Svetly and CC in their beautiful, tranquil village home in central Bulgaria. CC and Svetly love to go flea market picking and have gifted me several pipes both for my personal collection and also to benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria (See especially this gift: Renewing a Treasured Swan Neck Meerschaum, a Gift from Treasured Friends). Our few days went quickly as we enjoyed Bulgarian wines, sitting in their backyard with fruit bearing trees and plants, and touring the ancient Thracian and Roman ruins in the nearby town of Hisarya. The time with CC and Svetly went too fast.Our arrival in Sofia was also filled with meeting with friends and fellow colleagues with whom we have worked during our 15 years in Bulgaria. This was a sweet time of saying ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ as our time living in Bulgaria had come to a completion. Amid all the ‘hellos and goodbyes’ I also took advantage of our center-city Airbnb location on Solunska Street and visited several antique and secondhand shops looking for pipes.
I didn’t find as many pipes as I did on the coast, but I did find a few. The first of these was down the street from the Airbnb. The shop was down the steps with the wall covered with artwork and artistic curios. The small subterranean room was filled with a smattering of collectables, but my radar pinged on the glass case to the right. The shop purveyor was a serious type and was not one for much small talk. I found three pipes in his offerings. The negotiations were brief – his bottom-line was reached very quickly, but overall, a fair price. I found two smaller pipes, a Yello-bole and a Medico Crest which will serve well as Churchwarden bowls. Periodically, I will fashion a Churchwarden by repurposing bowls from smaller bowled pipes (see: A Tale of 3 Churchwardens). The third pipe is a hefty unbranded gently bent Rusticated Pickaxe which is a nice-looking pipe. I visited several other antique/secondhand shops during our time in Sofia, but only found one other shop with pipes that got my attention. This shop was named, ‘Antique Gallery’. After getting to know the shop owner, an artist himself with his works proudly displayed inside and outside the shop, we discovered his personal pride in his gallery of art.Just inside the shop to the immediate right I found his pipe offerings. The collage below gives an idea of the pipe picking treasure environment – I love it! One of the pictures even captures a piece of a hotdog that we discovered later that the shop owner used to feed the cat under the car parked across the street! Digging in and through the curios unearthed the potential acquisitions.Of the prospects mined from the depths of the curios, a stout saddle stemmed rusticated Billiard was the lone pipe culled from the artist’s gallery – another nice addition to the Dreamers collection. There are no markings on the pipe, but the artist shop owner said that he acquired it from a pipe man who said the pipe’s COM was France. The pipe appeared not to have been smoked. A good acquisition.One special day in Sofia was meeting with fellow colleague and friend, Jacob, who not only appreciates his pipes and has a nice collection, but also is a tobacco connoisseur – way beyond my pay grade! Jacob has a vast trove of tobaccos he has collected over the years. Jacob was in Sofia for a few weeks doing paperwork for his family’s soon to be arrival to live and work in Bulgaria. Jacob, and his wife, Suzanne, came to Bulgaria several years ago to do short-term work helping us. They caught the Bulgaria bug and have committed to come back long term to live. We also share the fact that their home church is my wife’s home church in Peachtree City, Georgia, USA. When we discovered we would be in Sofia at the same time, we got together to share a bowl or two and to do some pipe picking at a small outdoor market near a prominent Sofia landmark, Nevski Cathedral.While we were talking and enjoying our bowls, I decided to post our picture on the FB pipe groups that I frequent. Little did I know that this would set in motion events of the day in a very surprising way. Now, it’s important to know, I had posted 100s of times to these FB pipe groups from Sofia over the past several years with The Pipe Steward restorations and never had any pipe men from Bulgaria or Sofia respond! Ugh! Within minutes after posting the picture, Giorgi, or George Boyadjiev, responded via Facebook Messenger with an inquiry to get together later that day to share a bowl! Jacob and I agreed, ‘Why not?!’ Arrangements were made, and after Jacob, my wife and I had lunch, George picked us up with his car in front of Nevski Cathedral to take us to have coffee and to visit his ‘shop’ the nearby Doctor’s Garden district. Through the initial texted conversations, we discovered that George was an artisan pipe carver. When we found his last name on his FB profile (See: https://www.facebook.com/gboyadjiev), Jacob recalled that he had read an article about him in a PipesMagazine.com forum (See: Pipes and Artisans of Eastern Europe: Undervalued and Underappreciated?) and that he was considered a ‘rising star’ among Eastern European artisan pipe carvers. This day was only getting better! After having coffee at a sidewalk café, Jacob, Beth, and I walked with George across the street to tour his subterranean, ‘dungeon-like’ pipe carving shop. This was a first for me to see this side of pipe production – the genesis of a pipe rather than the reclamation and restoration of a pipe. It was amazing.It was fascinating to listen to George’s description of the processes that are involved in sculpting a block of briar into an artisan Freehand – following the grain. George also shaped his stems from rod – nothing pre-formed. He explained that the pipes that he was currently working on were for Blue Room Briars that carries his pipes (See: https://www.blueroombriars.com/collections/gbpipes). Spraying water on the early productions gave a preview of what the finished pipes would be. Wow!With Jacob’s plan to move to live and work in Bulgaria coming, he is looking forward to meeting other pipe men in the pipe club George helped to start in Sofia. We were impressed with George’s desire to produce quality pipes and allowing us into the ‘sacred’ workspace was truly and honor.
After our visit, Jacob contacted George again and acquired his first 😊 ‘George Boyadjiev’ from GPPipes of Sofia, Bulgaria (See: https://www.gbpipes.com), a beautiful workhorse Billiard pictured below.Our visit to Bulgaria ended too quickly. We were blessed by the people there that we have known through the years and are thankful for the opportunity to return for a time. From Sofia we flew to Kyiv, Ukraine, where we renewed relationships with colleagues and Ukrainians that we have known for many years – where my wife and I, along with our 5 children 😊, worked and lived before moving to Bulgaria. Our visit was to explore whether we would return for a time to help. We shall see how our God will lead. We were very busy during our visit to Kyiv and our short train ride down to Odessa, on the Black Sea. I didn’t have time to go pipe picking but I did have time to share a bowl with my long-time friend and colleague, Mel, in a park in Kyiv. Yes, I know my hat was on a bit crooked. 😊The day after our return from our adventure to Bulgaria and Ukraine to Golden, Colorado, where the adventure began a month and a half earlier, our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, whisked us away on another adventure. High up into the Rocky Mountains we went to a town called Breckinridge to enjoy the aspens changing into their fall colors. What an adventure 😊. Thanks for joining me!