Episode #4: Souvenirs

Intro

I’m sure what I am about to say could be psychoanalyzed, but I enjoy shopping.  I think it is probably the most enjoyable while traveling. Over the years, I’ve learned to become a more purposeful shopper.  I’d rather fill my house with items that mean something to me rather than something that was at Target or Ikea, and it simply filled the space.  Today, I hope to share my shopping wisdom with you.

As you travel, you will find lots of souvenir shops with tacky key chains and shot glasses.  You can buy those kind of souvenirs too, but it is going to end up just being “stuff” that you have.  I try to find souvenirs that can be passed down–either the physical item itself or the memory of it. These long-term souvenirs will hold greater value to you or the recipient.

Today’s list is an assortment of 17 different items that you may want to be on the lookout for during your trip.  Not every item on this list will apply to every place you go, but pick and choose what you like.

List

  1. Take advantage of the local crafts.

    1. Sometimes when you visit a place, there are certain crafts they may be known for.  When we were in Poland, I fell in love with Polish Pottery. The colorful patterns are a distinctive design to Poland.  It is much more exciting to get out my coffee and creamer set when it brings up memories of being in old town Warsaw. At times, it can be difficult to bring these items home.  We made use of the Polish Postal service to send home our goods. Although it took about 4 months for us to get our package, we only spent about $40 to get it home. You may want to consider creative ways to transport your souvenirs.  Sometimes the local craft may be a traditional piece like the Polish pottery, or it could be more modern. When my dad was on a road trip with his father-in-law, visiting our genealogical past, he found an artist that made necklaces out of broken porcelain.  I think what is so enjoyable about these types of gifts are that they are one-of-a-kind.
  2. See the art, buy the art print.

    1. This is probably the souvenir I purchase most often. I usually try to stick with just carry on luggage, so I don’t have much space for extras. By getting a poster tube, I can find multiple prints and keep them safely rolled and stowed away in the side pocket of my bag. The only issue with this becomes that my husband and I are fighting for wall space in our house. If you are looking for reasonable frames to showcase your new art, I recommend visiting IKEA, or using Snap frames as an affordable option. One of my favorite prints came from a bouquiniste while strolling along the Seine River in Paris. For less than $10 I found two prints that embodied haute couture, and it is a fun little surprise to see these prints when I go to grab a scarf since they are displayed right above my collection.  If you are really trying to be frugal, buy a calendar. I’ve been known to rip out each month and make a gallery wall out of it. When I was in the Cinque Terre in Italy, I found an artist who made a calendar out of his paintings. Just like that, I had twelve prints to create a cohesive wall of art. Sometimes I catch myself sitting on the couch, as I’m lost in thought, staring at my print and being drifted away.
  3. Bring the smells home.

    1. I’m sure you’ve experienced it.  You are walking along, minding your own business, and then you smell something, and immediately you have been transported through time and space to whatever moment is stored in your memory bank.  Thanks to the olfactory bulb, messages are sent to areas in our brain that hold memories and emotions. Sometimes those memories are thanks to travel. If I happen to be in a place that has a distinct smell, I try to capture that with a souvenir.  While in Provence, France, lavender was queen. At one little shop, I found fresh-made lavender scented soaps. As if a bath wasn’t relaxing enough, lavender scented soaps made it all the more serene. Even if it is not a scent you bring home, hold onto that memory.  At one of our apartments we stayed at, there was a strong garlic aroma lingering in the hallway. Even something as simple as roasting some garlic at home can take me back.
  4. Read between the lines, and buy a book.

    1. There are several different approaches you can take with this souvenir.  Maybe it is just a hip bookstore, and you want to remember it by picking up a book of your choice.  Shakespeare and Company is a great example of this. Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast called to me from the shelves.  Buying it and reading it while in Paris made the book come more alive.  Perhaps a book in a foreign language is to your liking. Although you may not be able to comprehend these books as well, it can be an opportunity to learn more of the language.  My aunt has been working on her French by reading Harry Potter in French. I have ambitions to do the same with Le Petit Prince. Or, maybe the cuisine of your travels is something you’d like to bring to your kitchen.  Cookbooks are special additions to your library. I have cookbooks from New Orleans that have taught me how to make jambalaya just right. If you get a chance to pick up a new read, picking it up during travels might be the right move.
  5. Get a doggy bag.  Bring home food or drinks that left an impact.

    1. Have you ever had a taste of something, and having it once just wasn’t enough.  On almost every trip I take, there is a food that I fall in love with, and I need to have it again to survive.  You can take a cooking class to learn the recipe, or you can bring home key ingredients. You’ll want to look online to make sure you are not smuggling back illegal foods, but typically canned and packaged goods are fine.  Alcohols are okay as long as you check them since they surpass the 3 oz maximum for liquids. When you actually go to enjoy the samples you brought back, make a big deal out of it. Invite people over to share the food and beverage with others. Some of my favorite souvenirs I’ve brought home are Toc Cheese Crackers, Super Sur Sour Candy, and many wines.
  6. Scoop up some sand or rocks.
    1. I’m not saying you should go chisel a piece off Stonehenge.  People have done that before, but our intent is not to be destructive.  While you are out, see if there are any unique rocks to bring home. In Petoskey, Michigan, I was on the hunt for a Petoskey stone.  And I actually found one! Make sure you aren’t accidentally bringing home chunks of concrete. When I am at a beach, I take a water bottle and add some sand.  Grab a couple shells and sea glass if you see it. My father-in-law is the king of “can you bring me back a rock?” It is just a natural way of bringing a place home.  When you do get home, I recommend writing on the rock where it is from. Otherwise you just have a big collection of rocks from somewhere.
  7. Hold onto those glass bottles.

    1. Recycling, or repurposing can not only be a gift to yourself, but also to the planet. While traveling, you may notice that glass bottles are more prevalent.  A simple water bottle can become a great way to store sand or transform into a makeshift vase. While in Venice, I saved my aunt’s Campari bottle to store little pebbles I found.  How many times do you see something at the store with writing in a foreign language? This is a way to make your own version with something relatable.
  8. Take photographs and film videos.

    1. I know this one is kind of obvious, but it is my favorite memento, so I have to share it.  This one doesn’t necessarily cost money, which is nice. The key is to do something with your photos.  Make a video montage, frame some of your favorites, or check out my Etsy store at Liberated Traveler to get some other ideas on how to creatively capture your travels.  Not that I’m trying to promote myself. In the future, I will share a podcast with you about how to take better travel photos.
  9. Play that funky music.
    1. Finding music to bring home started with my first trip abroad.  I was fourteen years old and headed to Ireland on a ladies trip with my mom, grandmother, and aunts.  While out shopping, I found a CD with classic Irish pub music. When I got home, I really missed being in Ireland.  The first signs of wanderlust were sinking in. There were so many nights I laid in bed with my headphones in, listening to Whisky in the Jar.  That started my obsession with bringing back music.  Sometimes I go to a music store to find the top billboard CD’s and pick one.  Other times I go to a concert and pick up a CD at the end. I’ve even been known to use the app Soundhound to find the title for a song playing at the bar.  With apps like Spotify, it is even easier to make a playlist of your favorites.
  10. Pick up some new threads.
    1. I typically avoid buying clothing unless it is something unique to the place.  I’m not against going shopping during the Soldes in Paris (which are their bi-annual sales), but usually I am looking for something I can’t get at home.  I’ve bought scarves, shoes, skirts, and even sweatshirts when a place is colder than I anticipated. It is kind of fun when someone says, I like your scarf.  Where did you get it? And you get to respond with, oh, I bought this in southern France. Something to think about.
  11. Get some bling.  
    1. If you are lucky, you are visiting a place with a distinct kind  of jewelry style. In Poland, amber is the way to go. With the Catholic influence, I knew a cross made out of amber was the perfect gift for my Polish grandma.  Don’t just buy jewelry because. Make sure you are seeking quality.
  12. Drape your home with linens.
    1. Some places you go will have distinct patterns or types of fabrics.  If that is the case, it might be a good idea to bring home some linens.  I have tablecloths and placemats from Provence that go out in the Spring and the vibrant colors repress the winter blues.  Little kitchen towels with sweet phrases make cleaning up not such a chore. I also enjoy buying fabric to later be used for a multitude of purposes.  My aunts have been kind enough to make napkins for me out of fabrics from travels. There are many options for how you can make use of this souvenir.
  13. Decorate your home with your travels.
    1. You probably won’t see pictures of my house in Better Homes and Gardens, but it is a perfect mashup of my husband and I.  The largest influence in our design is our travels. It might be a lamp we bought in Columbus, Ohio from a Turkish store, or a decorative antique tray for the kitchen.  I am excited to take a road trip this summer because I feel like I don’t buy much for the garden since it is typically not compact and customs doesn’t really like it when you bring back live plants.  This is a way to surround yourself with memories.
  14. Make way for new traditions.
    1. While traveling you will notice that overall, humans are pretty similar.  Something that makes each culture stand out is its traditions. Purchasing the little Swedish gnome known as a Tomte protects our farm which is a plot of about 8 tomato plants, 2 varieties of lettuce, some herbs, cucumbers and zucchini.  This is just one way we’ve brought in a new tradition.
      If you are like the Italians, you’ll leave out some wine and food to feed the witch known as Befana as she drops off candy for the kids in stockings on January 6th.  Perhaps you’d like to make some of these cultural traditions part of your own.
  15. Get accustomed to other cultural customs.
    1. Building on traditions, you may also want to bring home the souvenir of customs.  As you visit new places, you will see that they sometimes perform events in life a certain way.  Maybe you’d like to treat your family to a standard Italian five-course meal. Start with an aperitivo which is a drink to warm up your appetite.  Feed that appetite with the antipasto first. Next, you will be ready for the primo. This is the pasta part of the dish. It is interesting how it is served separately for the main course.  The secundo is next. This is the meat dish. After you’ve filed yourself with that, it is time for the contorno which is the veggie dish. If your sweet tooth has been calling, the dolce is next.  Then of course, you should probably have a coffee, too. Finally, you will finish with a digestive to help the meal go down. If this sounds like too much, go for an afternoon fika, which is a Swedish coffee and  pastry. My husband has found a way to bring this into his teaching life by calling the students’ snack time a fika. No coffee for them, though.
  16. Seek and send postcards.
    1. This is a classic. I think writing postcards is more important than ever because it is one of the few forms of writing that I still do. When I receive a postcard from a far off land, I feel loved because that person took time from their getaway to think about me. A couple of twists that I have seen with postcards are writing one to yourself. My aunt introduced me to the idea of a postcard journal. Write to yourself about your adventures, send them, then put them together in a scrapbook or keepsake of some sort. I can see this being a great idea for kids. It allows them to write without having to put down a whole novel, and hopefully it would be something they cherish later. Another idea my father-in-law mentioned was purchasing postcards from an antique store, finding vintage versions, then take them with you to use and send. Your trip will be encapsulated in a new way.
  17. Knowledge is power.  Bring it back.
    1. I have saved the best for last.  The ultimate gift you can give yourself on a trip is the knowledge you have gained.  If a vacation is planned well, you will come back with a greater wisdom about the world we live in.  You will hopefully feel more connected to people, and empowered by the experiences you had. These are the true souvenirs that have left a life-long impact on me.

 

Hopefully, the next time you are out and about shopping for souvenirs, you’ll have some guidance to help you make rewarding choices.

 

I’d love to hear about your favorite souvenirs.  Please visit my website liberatedtraveler.com to leave a comment.  I hope you join me next week. Thank you for listening.

 

Day 7: Strolling Through Old Town Quebec

Before going out for the day, I took advantage of the washer and dryer. With clean clothes, we left the loft to see Old Town. 

Right after climbing the hill, I found a store with cast iron home goods. We bought a huge door knocker, drawer handles, and a door plate. Since we bought about 25lbs of stuff, we walked back downhill to our apartment to drop off the goods, then went back up the hill. 

Today’s goal was to shop, take pictures, and walk around old town. We definitely did that. At dinner we had a unique experience because we got to put maple syrup on snow, then wrap it around a stick and eat it.

We wanted to finish our night at the Chateau Frontenac for a fancy drink. We sat and sipped for a couple hours, then made the trip back down the hill for the night.

Day 6: I Feel Like a Celebrity

Before leaving Montreal, there were a few more sites we wanted to see. We started by visiting the Atwood Market. Since I wasn’t a huge fan of Byward market, I was a little hesitant to go to this one, but it was exactly what I imagine when I think of a market. There were fine meats, flowers galore, and fresh produce. I found a couple souvenirs there.

Then, we drove up the hill to St. Joseph Oratory. This church did not quite have the same impact as Notre Dame, but it was nice to see. We then drove to Plateau one more time because I missed a little neighborhood while we were walking. Michael dropped me off since there was no parking. Because of the one-way streets, he had a hard time getting back to me. This freaked me out a little since I couldn’t see him, but we were reunited. 

After this, we had a stop outside of town at Chambly to visit the Brewery, Unibroue. There wasn’t a tasting room, we just wanted to see where the beer was made.

About three hours later, we arrived in Quebec. It was a little confusing getting around, but we figured it out. 

Our apartment is pretty cool. It is on the third floor (which is the top) so it is an interestingly shaped place. Michael’s favorite part is the turret.

For dinner, we went to a place recommended by the Vagabrothers called Chez Biceps BBQ. I was excited to have some foie gras. This dining experience ended up being one of the coolest ones I’ve ever had. We knew it was going to be good when the waiter replied after our order, “this is going to be crazy.” The food was outstanding, but what made this such an awesome experience was how we were treated. I felt the Liberated Traveler had grown in fame and I was being treated to a special service. I think the waiter thought Michael was cool. He asked if we wanted to have a shot, and he grabbed the chef to meet us. The four of us then took some sort of Polish Vodka shot. The chef was talking with us and shaking our hands. Other waiters were coming over to talk to us. It was like we were famous. I don’t know what we did, but it was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me.

We finished the night by visiting Old Town, which we hope to see more of today.

Day 5: I’m in Love with a City

Montreal is such a cool city. There is such a variety of things to do. We started the day with a walk to Plateau and Mile End. We were in search of murals, colorful homes, poutine, bagels, and smoked meat sandwiches. 

Murals: the city has done an impressive job of encouraging mural street art. It can be found all over, but is especially prevalent in Plateau and Mile End. 

Colorful Homes: the Plateau area is home to colorful homes with steep stairs and little gardens. It is an instagrammer’s dream. 

Poutine: La Banquise is supposed to be the place for pouting, and I would agree. Other than the waitress spilling water on me twice, it was a great experience. The gravy and type of fries are what really make this place good.

Bagels: St. Viater is the place to get Montreal style bagels. Getting them in the Mile End neighborhood is unique because you get to see more of the Jewish neighborhood.

Smoked Meat Sandwich: Schwartz’s is the classic place to find this type of sandwich. It is basically a corned beef sandwich.

We needed a short nap after our hike around the city. This helped, but we decided to stop for coffee before the light show at Notre Dame. We found a little coffee shop called Tommy.

We bought tickets the day before for the Aura light show at Notre Dame. As I mentioned yesterday, this is one of my favorite churchs, but the light show made it even better. I found it to be an emotional experience that reminded me of what great achievements can be made through creativity. As if that wasn’t enough, we lingered to take photos, and the guy was nice enough to turn the lights on for us. It was just Michael and I in there. What an amazing feeling.

After having one of best moments so far on this trip, we decided to take a stroll in the night. Montreal has this awesome program called Cite Memoire. There are light shows projected all over the city with audio stories. We came across an interactive one in the alley that was mesmerizing. Feeling a bit hungry again, we stopped for pizza along the port. This was an amazing evening.

Day 4: So this is Montreal

Before we left Ottawa, we stopped at Gatineau Park. It is absolutely huge. We did a little hiking, then got back in the car.

Being in French Canada does have a different feel. We have not had any trouble communicating, but we do try to remember to say bonjour when entering a place.

We were pretty excited to enter Montreal. It immediately had a different feel than Ottawa. The suburbs seemed really nice, and the area seemed to be more alive.

Our apartment in Old Town was about $104 a night. It is huge and very classy. I’m thankful to be in the heart of Old Town. 

We started our evening walk with a visit to Notre Dame. It is probably the most beautiful church inside that I have ever seen. It is unique to see how the walls are filled with color. We liked it so much, we are going back tomorrow for the light show.

Since the weather was so perfect, we went to a bar on a rooftop terrace of a hotel. Terraces are pretty popular in Montreal, and they are fun place to grab a drink.

After our drink, we walked around Old Town a bit to reach our dinner destination. We ate at an out-of-this-world restaurant. The escargot was phenomenal, and Michael was in heaven with the pickles and bacon bits. It was a beautiful night.

Day 3: Checking out the Town

Today was a day of walking, so we fueled up by getting a big breakfast down at Byward market. We may have lingered too long because as we got up, there was a crack of thunder. We found shelter under an awning, and waited the quick storm out.

Then, it was walking time. I set mapped out a circuit to see some of the major sights. We started with Parkiment Hill. As we snapped our shots, I tried to read a little commentary so we knew what we were seeing. Michael and I are definitely fans of the Gothic Revival style. We were looking for Trudeau across the street, but no luck. All we saw was some sort of demonstration.

We passed the Supreme Court and the Veteran’s Memorial. We were origanlly planning on stopping at the war museum, but since we had a break in the rain, we thought it best to keep walking. We continued to cross over the bridge, seeing the Ottawa River and Victoria Island. I wanted to go across the river to get a different perspective of Parliament Hill.

While talking and snapping shots, a man came up to us and started yelling at us with slurred speech. He at first appeared to be a homeless man asking for a light, but then he started swearing at us and talking about how if I put my camera in people’s faces, I’m going to get my skull smashed in. I wasn’t even taking pictures of people. As we tried to walk away, he threw his cigarette at Michael and finally Turned the other way.

Michael and I were surprised about the homeless population here. A lot of what we have seen is not just people with collection cups, but people yelling and acting delusional. I don’t know why we expected there to be less of this. I guess we thought since they seem to have better health care that it would include mental health as well.

Although we were a little caught off guard, we shook it off. We passed the Canadian History Museum, and crossed back over the bridge to Major’s Hill Park. We were getting a little parched, so we stopped for a pint.

Once we completed the circuit, we walked back to the car to blast the air conditioning and head to the next neighborhood: the Glebe.

Feeling refreshed, and a little less sticky, we walked the trendy neighborhood, stopping at shops and grabbing lunch. Then, we got back in the car to visit the next part of town.

Before we got to Westboro, we took a bear break on Wellington Street. Westboro is supposed to be the hip part of town. We thought it was okay. 

We were originally going to rent bikes today, but with the morning storm and the severe thunderstorm watch until 9:15pm, we thought we better not. We wanted to rent bikes to ride along the Roseau canal. We did get to drive by it, and it definitely would have been a nice ride, but sometimes you have to be flexible with the weather.

We ate dinner at Wellington Gastropub which was featured on Vagabrothers. My pork belly was delicious. We decided to get dessert back at Byward market by picking up some beaver tails. These are basically like heavier elephant ears. Our sweet tooth was satisfied.

Day 2: To the Capital

Our stay in Toronto was short, but a new city awaited us. We began our time in Ottawa at a spa getting a couples massage. At the time of making this reservation, I had no idea how hot it was going to be. I should have also reserved some pool time. 

Our masseuses led us to our cabin, and as the stress was pressed out, wind blew through with the smell of campfire, and the waterfall relaxed our ears. It was nice.

Feeling rejuvenated, we found our apartment in the city and headed towards Byward market. We found a Mexican restaurant with unbelievable Mexican corn and tasty tacos. After loosening up with a couple margaritas, we were feeling pretty good. Our waitress was very outgoing and she gave us some great recommendations for tomorrow.

Ready for another drink, we went to the oldest tavern and sat under the canopy while sprinkles cane down. The bartender was a nice guy with stories to share about Chicago.

We weren’t ready to call it quits yet, so we found a wine bar with jazz music underground. It was a nice way to end our evening in Ottawa.

Day 1: The Road to Toronto

After having an interesting night trying to save a stray dog, 6:00 am came, and we had a date with the road. We stopped to grab a coffee, visited Michael’s mom, and then we hit the road. 

We planned to stop in Detroit for a lunch break, since that was a good midpoint. Small Batch Brewing was our destination for a pint and some grub. Once done there, we hopped over the water, and boom, we were in Canada.

As we continued through Canada, the car seemed to be getting a bit toasty. It seems our air conditioning is not quite up to par. Let’s just say Michael was not lovin it. Fortunately, we opened our windows, and aired ourselves out. Hopefully this won’t be a problem all trip. But, that’s part of travel, too, right. I think sometimes we get this notion that travel is paradise and everything is going to be perfect. Life is not perfect, and there isn’t an exception for vacation time.
When we arrived to Toronto, traffic flooded the streets we needed to go down. You see, I picked this swanky condo in the hip Queen Street West neighborhood, which is also close to Rogers Centre, the home of the Blue Jays baseball team. Wouldn’t you know it, just as we were arriving a game got out, which means thousands of fans poured into the streets. This held us back a bit, but it all worked out.

At 9pm, we had a reservation to visit a Banksy art exhibit. It was a pop up exhibit in an old warehouse curated by a former friend of Banksy. We grabbed a drink, and then headed in for our timed entrance. The exhibit showcased his work through photographs, screen prints, and even some authentic work on a cut out shutter. 

I’m not sure Banksy would have approved of fans paying to see his art, but I did appreciate seeing a chronological sequence of his work and learning more about the street artist. A quote I really liked from the exhibit was: “The time of getting fame for your name on its own is over. Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Fame is a by-product of doing something else. You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.”

After walking out into the night, hunger hit us. We made our way to Korean Town to slurp up some ramen. It was soooooo good. I wish we had a ramen place at home. Feeling tired from the meal and day, we came back to the apartment for the night.

Something we’ve been seeing a lot of while driving, are country flags supporting soccer teams in the World Cup. I’m hoping we can pick a team to support, and get into the action at a bar while on the trip. Who should we root for?

Bergen

Bergen, Norway was the perfect way to end our honeymoon.  It was different than any city we had visited, and we shared many memorable moments in the port city.  One of our favorite moments took place at a bar and cafe while trying to escape the rain.  We enjoyed beer, coffee, waffles, and awesome Norwegian music.

Another cool feature of Bergen is all of the street art.  We are huge fans of this art medium, and we enjoyed going on a scavenger hunt to find pieces all over the city.