Bottles In Our Bags


We won’t be travelling too far for quite a while, due to COVID-19, so I am reminiscing about some of my favorite excursions over the years. And I thought of the times when I, or one of my travelling companions, shoved bottles into our bags so as to hide our alcoholic ambitions. 

I’m not an alcoholic, but there are certainly times when a really good beer, wine or spirit has brought me great pleasure. Or at least some bragging rights. 

On several trips I have taken tours of breweries, wineries or other distilleries and these have usually been very enjoyable. I’ve been to vineyards and wineries in a few parts of the United States, and that heavy sweet smell of crushed grapes was something else. But those brewery tours are especially fun. 

One summer I traveled to a few countries in Europe with my brother, who is about two years younger than I. We visited Berlin and Hamburg in Germany, Copenhagen and nearby areas in Denmark, and Stockholm in Sweden. One of the highlights of our time in Copenhagen was touring the Carlsberg Brewery. It was a bit of a hike to get there, but definitely worth it. But early on we cringed while passing by the famous granite elephants at the Elephants Gate, because they are decorated with swastikas. Our tour guide hastened to explain that these swastikas were pre-Nazi era (1901) and were a symbol of good luck.

Later during the tour we were allowed to have a few freebies, and my brother took two bottles. I took one and drank it at our youth hostel but Ben was intent on bringing those bottles home to Brooklyn, and bring them home he did. As the older sister I kept warning him that he was looking for trouble, that these bottles were likely to leak or explode at some point during our trip home. Fortunately they didn’t, and fortunately customs did not confiscate them either. 

A few years later I took a solo trip to Poland, and visited Krakow and Warsaw, among other cities. I don’t remember where precisely in Krakow, but I did buy two bottles of herbal-flavored spirits. They were the Dziegielowka brand. And I didn’t feel like carrying them in my knapsack, so I packed them in my duffle bag. I was concerned about getting them through customs but they were not the problem; instead, a small metal candelabra was the item that the customs agents made me dig out and which they examined. It seemed like they looked at this from a dozen angles, and when I asked why, one agent asked “Is weapon?”

Years later, while vacationing with my husband and daughters, my husband shoved Euro beer bottles into his luggage as well. None were ever confiscated, and so far none have wrought major messes in our luggage. None of these bottles made it onto our social media accounts. 

I hope to travel again. I hope to be able to go on more brewery, winery or distillery tours. And I will probably shove a bottle in the bag, and hope that it doesn’t break.

Ellen Levitt is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, New York. They have written four books about New York City and they’re still in print, including Walking Manhattan from Follow them on Twitter @EllenLevittEL or on Instagram @the_world_of_el_yeah.

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