Helpline Question of the Month: What's your Most Creative Souvenir?
|Got a travel question? Or just want to browse through advice and opinions posted on dozens of travel topics? Check out our Travelers Helpline.|
Rick Steves' Travelers Helpline is where we take a step back, and let travelers share information directly with one another.
Sometimes it's fun to pick up ideas by eavesdropping on veteran travelers as they compare experiences. The answers to Evan's question remind us that the best souvenirs are never found in a tourist-trap shop.
Tag along on Evan's journey through our Travelers Helpline...
I know there are those fun t-shirts, mini Eiffel towers, and other traditional souvenirs. What have you brought back from your travels that is unique? I personally like to bring stuff back from grocery stores. Cheers,
South Glens Falls, NY
Port Coquitlam, BC
We like to buy a few small items on each trip. Something that really reminds us of that country and doesn't take up too much space. The days of buying t-shirts, sweatshirts and beach bags are over for us. We prefer to return with a small personal ornament, sculptor or jewelry that can be easily packed.
I bought a nice piece of jewelery in Brittany last winter. The year before I bought a scarf in Quimper. I bought a pair of earrings in Rome (at the airport), after deciding that I wanted something to remind me of the trip. Small and useful is what I tend to think of.
Jewelry, bandanna/scarf and luggage tags. Little tins of tea and food items. Oh and Evan, I love your town! I was there a couple of years ago and want to return.
A bronze lion with fish doorknocker from Venice backstreet foundry that is signed / engraved by the artist. Since these are hand crafted each face we looked at in the foundry was a little different. It was worth the extra weight in the baggage. We have had many comments on where folks can get one as they have not seen anything like it before in stores. Every year I go back to Europe and bring something for our house, but this one is my favorite so far.
shhhhhhhhhhhhhh...I once brought back an original Hofbrauehaus glass bier stein.
My favorite souvenir was an unexpected one from a trip to Switzerland several years ago. Even though it was mid-May, it was freezing cold on the shores of Lake Geneva and I was grateful to be wearing my puffy winter vest. When I got back to California I must have packed away the vest without dry cleaning it, because the next time I wore it was months and months later. I reached my hand into one of the pockets and was surprised to pull out a very smooth, flat, reddish stone that fit in my palm. I didn't remember stopping to pick up the pebble, but when I found it I instantly thought of that cold walk around beautiful Lake Geneva. Now at the end of the season I put the pebble back in that pocket before packing away my cold-weather gear, and each winter it makes me smile when I pull it back out. It's a souvenir in the truest (French) sense of the word — an immediate memory-jogger.
I once *smuggled* in a huge artichoke from a Paris street market. I sweated a little as I went through customs, lol.
Once in France's Honfleur I saw a vendor by the port selling some sort of shell fish which had a beautiful shell. I bought one and then asked the vendor to please remove and throw away the mussel inside. He said, in French which he assumed I did not understand that Americans were crazy, but he did as I asked and it sits right now on a table in our den where people often ask where I got such a beautiful shell. I'm sure the mussel made a wonderful dinner for the vendor.
My most UNIQUE souvenir is my daughter - she even got a Greek name as result '-)
In Prague last July we marveled at the cobblestone style sidewalks made from cut squares of granite about 2 1/2" on a side - sometimes laid in patterns. Just as we were checking out to leave I noticed a single cobble laying next to the edge of a building. Maybe it was left over from a repair project - I don't know. That cobble is now in my office. A perfect paperweight. It makes me smile and remember, so it's priceless.
St. Louis, MO
In 2007 I went to the Documenta in Kassel, Germany, an international contemporary art exhibition that is only put on every 5 years. I bought 2 exhibition catalogs there, one for myself and one for my former boss who is an art gallery director. He loved it and it was such a success that I haven't been able to find any comparable souvenirs for him on my subsequent trips (he had to settle for a coffee mug from Amsterdam this year!). Evan - speaking of grocery stores, I see we've both discovered some hidden gems in Europe! :) I really like Ritter Sport (as do my dad and sister). Every time I go to Germany, I buy 15 or 20 bars of it and some Haribo too. There are a lot more Ritter Sport varieties in German grocery stores than in American ones, and the bars are a lot cheaper (85 or 99 eurocents per bar, as compared to $2.50 per bar in the U.S.).
Several years ago I had moved into a new apartment right before I went to Lubeck, so I bought a set of kitchen curtains just like the ones I had admired in my bed and breakfast, on sale at Karstadts! While there, I also bought a really good pair of Josef Seibel walking shoes, which are still my travel shoes. On the less expensive end, I like to buy a distinctive coffee mug from wherever I go, and then use them according to my mood for the day. I also stock up on bath products, especially the Nivea brand, for all my friends.
I brought back a toothbrush one year. ; ) The handle was a Scotsman in a kilt and the brush was black and was his bear hat. I gave it to my dad. I also buy books. The book that has been the most memorable is A Dance Called America by James Hunter. It the story of the Scottish diaspora to North America. It was fascinating! I recommend it to anyone who has Scottish heritage. Another book that I bought recently was Iain Banks, Raw Spirit. It's about his search for the perfect dram. If you like driving and whisky (not together) it's a great read about Scotland. Pam
Ste. Genevieve, MO
I wouldn't call it creative, but my best souvenir was a ring I bought on my first European trip, in Italy. Now 16 years later I still have happy memories every time I wear my "Italian ring." Also, every time I use an umbrella I bought out of necessity in Germany, I have good memories of that trip. Things that can be used or worn seem to work better for me than knick-knacks!
So many homes in the English countryside have plaques on the house with the name of the house/cottage that the owner has given their residence. My husband & I bought one in a small town in the Yorkshire Dales. It has been on our house for the last 10 years. We also manage to bring home a small stone pebble from various locations we have visited.
Texan in CA
Rudy, are 'we' going to find a receipt for that stein?!?.........There's something on the tip of my tongue; until I remember what it is...We like a certain housewares store in Bruges, so we have a collection of cheese knives, very-long-handled spoons for getting the last bits of mayo/ketchup/whatever out of tall jars, jelly spoons that rest on the rim of the jelly jar, slotted olive spoons, coffee spoons - for ground coffee and for stirring sugar, spreaders, OH and how could I forget our Wine Weenies?!? (OK - how to explain?!?) They are glass bottle stoppers - it sorta resembles a large, old-style metal syringe in that you hold it like a syringe - there's a 'thingy' (like the plunger) that you press with your thumb that, ummmm, 'elongates' (giggle) the rubber stopper part that fits into the bottle...When you release your thumb, the rubber stopper re-expands, thus creating a tight seal in the neck of the bottle. Wow, now THAT was a clear description...Anyhoo, my entire family loves them; we buy more each time we go! So, basically, utilitarian things that we use at least one of every single day. And yes, I remember the circumstances of each purchase every single time I use something...THAT'S the point! That, and they're darn handy things to have around.
My husband brings home a stone from every country we visit for the fish! He puts them in the aquarium.
Vicenza, Veneto Italy
My favorite comes from Rome, it's a bottle opener with the Pope's image on it, affectionately called "The Popener". It's like having "Il Papa" himself open your beer for you. Bought my first one almost 10 years ago and no trip to Rome is complete without picking up several more for friends and family as they make perfect little gifts. They used to be very hard to find but they've gotten very popular over the past few years and now you can find them in many souvenir shops around the Vatican, they cost between 3-5 euros each. If you want to see what they look like, just Google "Popener", plenty of pictures will come up.
Okay, now I have to start planning a trip to Rome JUST so I can buy a Popener. That's the best laugh I've gotten all week! I'll have to bring some back for the whole family, so I'll have to remember to pack another bag inside my suitcase!
While in Rome 2 friends of mine picked up a 2009 Priests of Rome Calendar, featuring the hottest male priests, with photos taken in a Firefighter calendar style. Everyone loved it. I keep my souvenirs small, I keep a Ziploc bag that I save ticket stubs, metro tickets, beer coasters etc. I have a corkboard at home hanging above me desk and I add to it my favourite items each time I get back. Takes up little room and costs no extra money. Many tickets, especially to museums have beautiful pictures on them of some of the pieces in the museum.
I buy a lot of musical instruments, tin-whistle from Ireland, recorder from Japan, chanter from Scotland, didgeredoo(?) from Australia (that I can recall right now). I guess those are creative. The gift I'm most proud of (thoughtful, compact and relatively cheap) was Venetian Glass Rosary beads for my Catholic MIL purchased at Duomo San Marco. As for unique, I could add a tuft of sheep's wool collected from a shrub at the Hill of Tara, a cut piece of dried peat found on the Ring of Kerry and a piece of stone chiseled off the Salisbury Cathedral by a stone mason who was working there replacing some worn stones. I always keep some local money too. French, Belgian, German, Netherlands and Austrian, among others, that have now transitioned to the Euro and can no longer be found.
I've found my favorite souvenir to be very useful. It's a small red market basket — the largest size that I could fit into my carry on suitcase! It was inexpensive and came from the Friday market in Cassis.
I brought back a divot from the 18th fairway of the Old Course in St Andrews.
My favorite souvenir was a gift from my brother — a keychain of Tin Tin's dog Snowy from Belgium. I've been using the keychain for about 5 years now. If it ever wears out, I don't know what I'll do!
I pack several 3X5 envelopes and as I travel around I pick a flower, or leaf or feather and put it in one of the envelopes, mark the envelope with the date and place then press it in a guide book secured with a thick rubber band. Later the item will go into the photo album of that particular trip. I will also collect wool off of fence an occasionally hairs from a horses tail (also from a fence). One year tho, I brought back my carry-on full with Hob-Nobs.
Texan in CA
[not terribly unique, but...] I also have a shadow box FULL of foreign (= European) beer coasters hanging on the wall. Easily 150-200 count. Plus gallon-sized ziploc bags FULL of more of them. Don't judge us.
I buy art posters from museums of a painting I like and with the museum name displayed somewhere on the poster. I have a huge 14 by 8 wall in my foyer. I hope to have it filled someday like an art gallery with my collection of posters. And the wall's a constant reminder of good times.
Bloomfield Hills, MI
One of my fondest mementos is a receipt from a parking ticket I paid in Rothenburg o.d. Tauber. I think the clerk in the rathaus found it amusing when an American tourist with a poor command of the German language appeared to pay the ticket. It took some convincing that I really wanted to pay the ticket.
Ask your european travel question on the Travelers Helpline.