Souvenir Shopping

001Souvenir: a French word meaning an object that recalls a certain place, occasion or person.

Most folks enjoy bringing home souvenirs from their vacations.  I am not a big shopper at home and only a moderate shopper when I travel.  Browsing through stores in foreign lands is enjoyable, but I have a difficult time parting with my money unless I see something I’m really taken with.  I also make an effort to buy something that is linked to the culture of the destination and something I will be able to keep forever.

When I went to Sweden a few years ago, I had every intention of buying a Dalarna horse.  You know those traditionally red wooden horses with the colorful panting?  They come in all sizes and actually a variety of colors.  I had one as a girl that had been a gift from my Grandparents that somehow got lost, probably during one of my many moves.

I spotted them in a store in Gamla Stan (Old Town) Stockholm and nearly passed out when I saw how much they cost.   They started around $60, and these were massed produced and the quality was not too good.  I kept my eyes open for them and checked out a few more shops with no better results.

Deciding to abandon my search for the perfect Swedish horse, I headed over to Tomtar & Troll,  a lovely little store on the Södra Benickebrinken 4 in Gamla Stan.  Outside the shop, customers are greeted by a life size tomtar, or gnome, seated on a wooden bench.  Inside, you can purchase from an assortment of entirely handmade tomtars or trolls in a wide variety of sizes.  The tomtars, which legend says live in and around sheds and houses on Swedish farms, will protect your household from accidents and unmentionable disasters if you afford them the appropriate respect.  The trolls, well – we all know what questionable antics trolls get involved in.

I studied numerous tomtars before I selected a small one which I purchased for about $20. As they are all handmade, each tomtar is unique, with its own personality and expression.  My little fellow had the additional benefits of being small and light weight; a bonus when traveling with a single suitcase that you is carrying yourself.

I made a stop in St Petersburg, Russia after the visit to Sweden.  The Matryoshka dolls, or Russian nesting dolls, are probably the most instantly recognizable Russian souvenir.  I already had two at home, again a gift from my Grandparents, and wasn’t planning to buy another one.  I did enjoy looking at them in the shops and was astounded by the variety available; from the traditional babushka clad dolls, to Russian politicians, and famous athletes.  The dolls are readily available at assorted price points and sizes.  They are virtually unbreakable and easy to transport.

Some of my other favorite souvenirs are wooden shoes from the Netherlands, icons from Greece, and carved wooden cows from Switzerland.  I try to buy items that are easy to pack and not likely to break. Opt to ship your purchase home when it is heavy or breakable.  My friend Leslie and I each bought a set of the Spode Christmas china on a trip to London.  The sales staff at Harrods had the china brought up to the sales floor in a red wagon for inspection before it was packed up and shipped to the States.  The china arrived intact at my house three days after I got home.  I take out my Spode every year after Thanksgiving and fondly remember my shopping expedition with Leslie.

I’ve also found that you don’t need to spend any money to bring home great souvenirs.  The cardboard coasters that come along when you order a beer look great when you take them home and frame them!  I’ve got wine labels from Switzerland waiting for frames, too. Museum ticket stubs are often decorative and city maps handed out at the Tourist Information offices make good, personally meaningful mementos.

Happy shopping, happy travelling, and happy memories.


Categories: Travel Tips

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