My souvenir collecting changed a LOT over the years. When I first started to travel, everything was so new and different, I would get my hands on a lot of those tacky souvenirs – can’t even understand why my taste was so bad at the time. As my taste improved and my travel frequency increased, I started to appreciate what real souvenirs actually were. My own photographs and my own memories. I remember a friend asking me “why are you buying these ugly postcards when your photos are so much nicer?”. That sort of opened my eyes. And then obviously, the process of growing up in general.
I was travelling more, I’ve noticed souvenirs seemed the same everywhere. And when I was living in London and had such a small space to live in, I really needed to be careful with the amount of stuff I was accumulating. I also ended up leaving a lot of things at my parents home in Portugal (where I’m at currently) which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to write this post now – as, in about a month, I will be moving back to London (yeah! a story – or stories – for another time). And, no, I won’t take my souvenirs with me – at least not this time around!
The souvenirs I value the most now are the ones that are either attached to a nice memory or are one of a kind – almost unique, because they were handmade by local artists and artisans. I usually always buy a magnet (let me allow myself to have a fridge full of magnets one day since I’ve been collecting them), oftentimes books from native writers in English, and local food or drinks. And well… despite my efforts to “buy less” I do have a lot of things I brought from different places – but at least, what I’ve been buying lately supports the local community. By avoiding going to the old “made in china” stores, I feel I am giving something back to the town I’m visiting.
One of my first big trips was to the USA when I was 16 years old. This was huge for me. I was finally going to know the country where I was born (my parents were immigrants, and I was born in Long Island, NY, and six months later we moved back to Portugal). It was a big dream of mine, but this was a family trip and I could not afford much. I was about to finish high school and had no money of my own. But my parents allowed me to buy a pen in Ellis Island when visiting the Statue of Liberty, which I still have on my desk and still love – a pen with an emigrant girl holding a little US flag close to her heart. At the time, my dream was to live in the US one day. The American dream permeated my skin. This is still an item that is important to me.
I do tend to buy pens or pencils that I think are great – I’m a stationery lover. So right next to my Ellis Island pen, there is a photo of my Gaudi pencil. I bought this one when visiting Barcelona when I was in Erasmus in Spain. I was about 20 years old, so it almost nine years ago…I still absolutely love it.
Morocco was one of those destinations where everything I wanted to buy was either too big to put in my backpack or required a nice house for decorating purposes (yes, I’m talking about carpets and beautiful huge chandeliers). I bought a small cup of coffee from a local ceramics shop (in the picture, it’s next to a little tagine also bought in Morocco but as a gift for my parents) which I find adorable. And this mirror – which was the perfect size for my room in London. These two are definitely my favourite souvenirs from Morocco.
If I were to say, at these right moment, the souvenirs that rank the highest are the below – and therefore they are together in my shelf – a Jaguar from San Cristobal las Casas, Mexico and an illustration from a local artist in Dubrovnik that I immediately fell in love with.
On my trip to Mexico, I discovered the Jaguar. In Mayan mythology, the Jaguar was seen as one of the rulers of the “Underworld”. There were temples dedicated to it, and the Shaman typically was covered in the skins of a Jaguar. The animal was worshipped not only for its aggressiveness and quickness at killing prey – a characteristi praised in any warrior – but also as the one who can see in the daylight and in darkness. As a result, the Jaguar was also a symbol of vision, of the one that could see what others couldn’t – particularly into the darkness of a human heart. I was fascinated by this symbol. And then, coincidently, when taking one test where you can find out your Mayan Sign, the Jaguar was my result. I can be very perceptive, I think that’s one of my biggest qualities. So, I did identify with the jaguar as well and bought a handmade one.
The painting… I fell in love with Dubrovnik and its cats. Mostly, I loved the way I could really feel I was living in a special place in a different era. To me, this painting represented everything I loved about the Old Town of Dubrovnik.
From Mexico, I brought so much more. The little markets dominated by local artisans and indigenous people selling their own handmade products. Colour was everywhere. And everythign was so cheap. So, from indigenous markets I got this table top and the pouch below (that I use in my everyday life to store meds and other feminine items) embroidered with local motifs. The table top was a gift I brough for my mum but I’m hoping I can go to Mexico again and bring one to my future place. I just love it soo much.
Now… if there is something I love is skulls – and Frida Kahlo. So when I saw this, I simply had to buy it. The little devil skeleton is also handmade – part of Mexican folk art, made of papier machie and used to celebrate the Day of the Death – an event I hope to be able to experience in Mexico at any time in my life. I just love the way Mexico
Moving on from Mexico, I do hold very dear in my heart this little “Christmas Tree decoration” (that was never used with that intent) “We’ve seen the rocks!”. Seeing the Stonehenge with my own eyes was one of those moments of “holy shit” for me. I was days afterwards thinking about the mysticism and the mystery around those rocks and it was an experience thta I hold close to my heart.
Last year, with no travel, I had the chance to visit for the first time a Portuguese island, Madeira. It’s a beautiful place to vist, full of stunning sights, mountains, hiking trails, views to the Atlantic, warm and cozy beaches, amazing food. And of course full of its own traditions. As a souvenir, I brought this traditional knitted hat, part of the local costume, nowdays only used by the locals to celebrate local events. Below there’s me wearing one.
Let me show you the Hungarian boxes (the red one was a gift I brought for my sister). These are the perfect boxes to keep anythign secret, since to open them is almost like solving a rubik’s cube. I couldn’t open none of ours when I tried, because it seems the wood has swollen and it’s impossible or at least very difficult to move the different pieces. These were handmade and I brought them from Budapest.
And finally, this also handmade wooden cup from Finland is just…warms up my heart! I bought this in a the city market in helsinki, one of the only things I could afford in this expensive city… especially having in mind this was the fourth and last country of my one week backpacking trip to the Baltics.
Wow, I’m such a shopaholic looking at these things! Yet, I don’t regret buying any of these displayed here. I feel I truly brought something special home to remind me of the trip, a little piece of the country I was in. There is definitely I lot I learned when it comes to souvenir buying, and perhaps that’s something I will share in a future post.
What about you? Do you always buy souvenirs or not really? Anything especial you collect from your trips?