Cool Souvenirs to pick up around the World

Cool Souvenirs to pick up around the World

I really love souvenirs. I try to pick up something meaningful and traditional from wherever I go, which usually results in me carrying a backpack full of highly breakable ceramics.

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Aside from a few pieces of jewelry, I have essentially amassed the contents of my dream kitchen. (I realize this is a strange aspiration for someone who lives out of a backpack and doesn’t actually have a kitchen, but mark my words- someday I will be a marginally thinner Ina Garten.)

Here are my favorite souvenirs I’ve collected from Europe and South America that might give you ideas on what to pick up yourself.

 

Maté (mah-tay) – Argentina or Uruguay

Mate Gourd

While I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina I noticed everyone drank mate; the teenagers at the beach, the portly bus drivers… even my teacher brought it to class and passed it around. (Side rant- for people who think you are going to catch pneumonia from walking around the house barefoot they were sure comfortable with swapping spit via dried out gourd. Just sayin’.)

Mate is essentially dried yerba mate leaves steeped in hot water inside of a dried-out gourd. You traditionally drink it out of a metal straw (not pictured) and it is said to be good for digestion. It possesses a petrified lawn clippings flavor that strangely grows on you.

The picture below is of a couple dancing tango at the Feria de San Telmo, my favorite antique market in Buenos Aires. Please go there and tell me about it.

San Telmo Antique Market

Pottery and Port – Portugal

If you are ever in Porto, Portugal and you have a particular weakness for glazed bowls, make sure to pick up some hand-crafted blue and white pottery.

I went to Porto with my little brother when he was 15 and I was 17 while we were on a three-week backpacking trip across Spain and Portugal. (Note- we have very trusting parents.) The city itself is great; it’s grungy and artsy and covered in tiles. It is also where port originated so be sure to enjoy a tasting or two. Not that we did, of course.

Porto

Claddagh Ring – Ireland

I had always wanted to wear a Claddagh ring but I wouldn’t allow myself to buy one until I was in Ireland (read- I’m extremely lame). When I finally made it there one summer I immediately took a bus from Dublin to Galway to see the west coast.

Aran Islands

Shop in Inishmore

Galway is a rowdy student town with a great live music scene and fascinating Spanish sailor history. After a few days there I took a ferry to Inishmore, the largest island in the barren but beautiful Aran Islands. It is a remote island with a population of 800 people who still speak Irish.

While riding a bike around the island, I stumbled upon a wraith tee-shirt filled souvenir shop. There were also Claddagh rings so naturally I purchased one.

Claddagh rings originate in a small town near Galway so it’s a good area to pick one up.

Amber – the Baltic (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)

While I was in Tallinn, Estonia, I saw silver and amber shops on every corner (nearby Poland is Europe’s largest producer of silver, and 80% of the world’s amber comes from the Baltic). This is a silver necklace I bought there two years ago that I still wear almost every day. Tallinn is the best preserved medieval city in Europe because of its extremely cold climate, and 26 intact towers line the old city walls.

One regret- I didn’t buy any amber so I suppose I will have to return to the Baltic.

Baltic Amber

Shortbread Pan – Scotland

This is the shortbread pan I bought in St. Andrews, Scotland while visiting a friend who goes to St. Andrews (where Will and Kate went, FYI). Shortbread is a Scottish sweet so I wanted to buy a traditional pan with thistles.

St Andrews

Bistro Cookware – France

Au Gratin Dishes

I picked up these inexpensive but sturdy gratin dishes at the Place d’Aligre market, a flea market in Paris. Interestingly enough, gratin dishes were recovered in perfect condition from the Titanic. I will someday roast whole fish in mine.

The tablecloth underneath I bought in Perpignan, the biggest city in French Catalunya. I bought the cloths at a Catalan fabric store, Maison Quinta, that sells extremely high-quality and traditional Catalan linens. There is now a Maison Quinta store in NYC that I’ve been dying to visit.

Olive wood- Mediterranean

Olive Wood Spoons

I have a huge obsession with olive wood. It’s easy to pick up all over the Mediterranean but I bought most of mine in Spain and Greece. Another great reason to buy it- it’s much cheaper abroad than it is at Crate and Barrel.

This honey stick ? I bought in Greece after tasting the delicious honey there. I soon realized why the Greek gods subsisted solely off of nectar.

Evil eye pendant – Greece or Turkey

Another souvenir from Greece- the evil eye. I saw them hanging everywhere.  I wanted one because the Greek girls I met said that their grandmothers use them and that they actually do ward off negative energy.

What are some of your favorite souvenirs? Do we have any of the same ones?

Cranbrook by Fisheye

Cranbrook by Fisheye

As long as I’m stuck in the Mitten, I thought I should write about my favorite thing here- Cranbrook. And is there anything prettier than Cranbrook photography?

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From age six until age 17, I attended Cranbrook Schools (and as I’ve been asked a lot recently, yes, Mitt Romney is also an alum). Cranbrook has a beautiful 365-acre campus where I have years worth of memories. During free periods in high school I used to go outside to tan with friends or do my homework on the bough of a tree. It’s really a magical place.

My dad recently gave me my grandfather’s old fisheye lens- so I decided to play around with it on Cranbrook campus- this is the result. Hopefully you think my school is as beautiful as I do.

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5 Creative Ways to Plan a Kick-ass Itinerary

5 Creative Ways to Plan a Kick-ass Itinerary

Before leaving for a big trip, I like to do some preliminary research so that I know what might interest me in the area. This allows me to have a loose itinerary, as I already have an idea of what I might like.

Here are some of the ways I decide where to go in a new country.

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1. Travel blogs

I found the best croissant in Paris thanks to the Paris-based food blog Chocolate and Zucchini (it’s at Gontran Cherrier, by the way).

A good blog is kind of like having your own personal tour guide- and there are plenty of great blogs out there.

Here is a link to Saveur’s list of favorites, which includes many of mine (David Lebowitz and Laylita’s Recipes, among them).

Best croissant ever, and I don’t even really like croissants. Which makes me a freak of nature, I know.

2. Festivals or events in the region

Research festivals that are occurring in the region where you will be.

This can mean making sure to be in Seville, Spain on Sunday because that’s usually the only day of the week when there is bull-fighting, or making sure to end up in Koh Phangan, Thailand when the moon is full to attend the Full Moon Party.

Also, the best place to celebrate may not be where the tourists are (Several Brazilians have told me it is cheaper and more fun to party in inland Minas Gerais for Carnaval rather than heavily trafficked Rio).


Don’t go all the way to Seville and miss the bull-fighting like yours truly!

3. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Before I go to a new country, I download that country’s episode of No Reservations.

Tony’s show has led me to countless incredible places, from the Fuente Alemana, a pork and beer-happy sandwich shop in Santiago, Chile, to remote villages in the mountains of Sardinia.

I watch his show not only because I have a slight crush on him but also because his show really digs deep and can enlighten you about the philosophies, food and history of a place. 43 minutes very well-spent.

 4. Personal Network

Send out an email to your friends and family asking for recommendations or contacts. It may get you a few recommendations, a travel buddy or a place to stay.

For example, one time I called my uncle to let him know I was planning on studying in Spain that summer. He happened to be with his good Italian friend, Gianluca, who then offered to let me borrow his beach house in Sardinia.

If I wouldn’t have reached out, I wouldn’t have had an amazing week driving a Fiat Panda to secluded Mediterranean beaches with a group of Australians.

Another way to reach out is through social media. Simply post a status on Facebook asking for recommendations of where you are going and see if you can make any connections.

Italian road-trip in an itsy bitsy Fiat Panda!

5. Books, movies and music for which the country is known

This goes along with the tip above, but before going to a country, I really enjoy reading, watching or listening to whatever the country is famous for.

This can mean:

  • Reading The Belly of Paris before shopping at a farmers’ market in Paris,
  • Listening to the Pogues before heading out to the pub to Ireland,
  • Brushing up on your Greek mythology before visiting the Acropolis,
  • Or watching El secreto de sus ojos before heading out to the streets of Buenos Aires.

It really makes the place come alive. A great place to find this kind of information is Lonely Planet guides, in the first few pages of information about a country. Anthony Bourdain also features lots of great writers and movies in his show (if I haven’t promoted him enough already, haha).

How do you plan for an upcoming trip? Anything I missed?

The ABCs of Travel

The ABCs of Travel

For a while I’ve been noticing the ABCs of Travel making their way around the blogosphere. Now that I finally have my own blog I wanted to make an ABC  list! (I’m a little late to the party but hey, I still showed up). This was a fun exercise because it reminded me of so many things I’ve forgotten.

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A: Age you went on your first international trip:

My first international trip was to the Turks and Caicos when I was six. I remember driving to a conch sell farm in our red rental car singing along to “I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone.” Good memories.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:

I loved the beers in Brussels as I prefer light wheat beers. My favorite was Tripel Karmeliet.

C: Cuisine (favourite): 

Oh god. I could never pick just one as I have a huge food obsession. I love everything from pulled pork tacos and tabouleh to boudin noir and chocolate chip cookies. My favorite cuisine may be a two-way tie between Mexican and Japanese. With a margherita pizza and Chinese dumplings on the side.

Sobrassada- one of my favorite foods from when I studied in Mallorca, Spain. Feel free to smuggle this for me.

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite and why:

 I love Spain. I think I could spend the rest of my life traveling from hill town to hill town eating cured pork products (see above). I love the Arabic architecture in the south, the quirkiness and beauty of Barcelona and the quaint fishing villages on the coast of Galicia. It’s always fun to practice my Spanish as well.

La Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain.

A city I wouldn’t return to was Helsinki. It reminded me of a city like Toronto; clean, well-ordered but not exactly enthralling.

E: Event that made you say “wow”:

I’m not sure I go to many events but seeing a gypsy wedding on the beach in France was pretty cool.

F: Favourite mode of transportation:

Last summer I was in Sardinia with three Australians and we rented a Fiat Panda and drove it all over the island. It was so nice to be in a rental car after a summer of schlepping to and fro on crowded buses and planes! 

G: Greatest feeling while traveling:

This summer I traveled alone for a few weeks to Belgium, Greece and Ireland, couchsurfing and hosteling on a very tight budget. One of the last days of my trip I was having tea and reflecting on all that had happened. All of a sudden I felt overwhelmingly grateful for all the kindness I had received while I was alone. It occurred to me in that moment how lucky I was and how good people are.

H: Hottest place you’ve ever traveled to:

 The hottest place in recent memory is Corfu, Greece. When I was there this July it was 105 degrees of pure humidity. Just walking outside and hearing the screeching of the crickets (which screech louder the hotter it gets) made me feel like I was in a psychedelic nightmare. Not to mention I had a fever of 103 degrees and was in an apartment with no AC!

I: Incredible service that you’ve experienced and where: 

One of the most memorable family vacations we ever took was to the Coral Beach Club in Bermuda. Because my little brother and I had our own cabana we lived it up with a room service breakfast out on the lawn every morning. Even though we were only 10 and 12 the staff was really friendly to us.

J: Journey that took the longest: 

I’ve flown to Chile and Argentina many times and it takes about 16 hours. So much fun.

K: Keepsake from your travels:

 I collect pottery from my travels (one of the worst souvenirs EVER for a backpacker, may I add). I have greda earthenware from Chile, beautiful blue and white ceramic bowls from Portugal and a shortbread pan from Scotland decorated with thistles. Cooking equipment is always a souvenir I look for as it’s practical as well as beautiful.

Pottery shop in Porto, Portugal. Like a kid in a candy store.

L: Let-down sight, why and where:

Florence, Italy. I grew up listening to the stories of my mom’s study abroad experience in Florence back in the 80s. She waxed poetic about the cranky Italian host mother, the incredible art museums and riding around on a Vespa with my dad. I was excited to go but upon arriving I felt like I was in Epcot. All the Italians I met said that they live outside of the city, and it felt like I was surrounded by tourists at all times.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:

My first trip abroad without my parents was a student immersion program in Ecuador when I was 15. While Ecuador was beautiful I ended up having a pretty difficult trip. Despite how hard the trip was I came back with a huge urge to go out and experience more.

Our first campsite on a four-day hike in the Andes. It turns out I’m the world’s worst camper.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:

The most interesting hotel I ever stayed at was La Becasina on the Tigre river delta outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. We had to walk on a plank walkway to get back to our personal bungalows, complete with stunning views of the forest. It felt like somewhere Indiana Jones might stay.

O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?

 I don’t know if I have an obsession of taking pictures of any one particular thing but I do have a weird thing for islands. Small islands are kind of the same all over the world; the community is very tight-knit and they usually have strange island rituals and foods. Because of their isolation they usually escape being exceedingly globalized which makes them much more interesting. My favorites so far are the Isle of Skye in Scotland, the Aran islands in Ireland, Chiloe Island off the coast of Chile and Sardinia, Italy.

P: Passport stamps – how many and from where? 

I have no idea! I would love more though.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: 

One year for my birthday while I was nannying in the south of France we drove down to Figueres, a town on the French-Spanish border. In order to avoid the long lines at the Dali museum we ended up at an antique doll museum that was mildly disturbing. It turns out we should have seen Dali.

This is basically the plot of Hostel.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:

The street art in Valparaiso, Chile. Valpo is a grungy port city set upon hills that overlook the Pacific. It is one of my favorite cities to walk through as around every corner you find a new mural or work of street art.

S: Splurge – something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:

I’ll pay a lot (at least for my po’ backpacking self) on good leather. I bought my favorite leather jacket four years ago in Florence. My favorite leather store is the Spanish shop is Bimba y Lola. They make beautiful leather bags and accessories at a reasonable price. (Embarrassing fact- I almost screamed when I found it in Paris).

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:

I have worked as an au pair in Paris for the past three summers and whenever friends visit they demand to see the Eiffel Tower. I have been on every level of that godforsaken tower on three different occasions and I hope to never see it again.

U: Unforgettable travel memory:

Taking a road trip across the Dingle Peninsula this summer with an Irish guy I had just met. The roads were so misty that it was hard to see five feet in front of the car. We ended up stopping to hike up to an ice-cold lake.  The scenery was so green and misty and beautiful, it felt very Irish.

V: Visas, how many and for where? 

I had  a student visa when I studied in Buenos Aires back in 2009 and I’m in the process of getting my French student visa to work as an au pair for nine months.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?

 Hm… my experience with wine is unfortunately very limited due to my budget. When I studied abroad in Argentina I remember drinking $1.50 “vino tinto” that tasted so strongly of rancid vinegar that we chased it with orange juice. But I do remember tasting a few nice wines on a wine tour in Argentina’s famed wine region, Mendoza.

X: eXcellent view and from where? 

The most beautiful view I’ve ever seen was in Gimmelwald, a small village in the Swiss alps. My friend and I left the hostel to have a picnic of baguette and cheese over-looking over the mountains. The view was embarrassingly scenic; little streams fell over boulders as they made their way down the mountain. I remembered thinking, “How have I lived on this earth for 17 years and never seen this?”

The view from our room at the Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald.

Y: Years spent traveling: 

I’ve been traveling since I was 15 so seven years now! And I would guess I’ve spent a full year outside the U.S.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?

 I was in Chile when they qualified for the World Cup and everyone was going crazy. I remember looking out the window and hearing people screaming and cars honking… it was very exciting.

A Mini Guide to Le Marais, Paris’ Artsy Jewish Quarter

A Mini Guide to Le Marais, Paris’ Artsy Jewish Quarter

Whenever I’m given a day (or night) off from nannying, I generally find myself my favorite Paris neighborhood- Le Marais. It’s a neighborhood with wonderful boutiques and restaurants, beautiful tree-lined streets and a lively bar scene.

It is also a neighborhood that has worn many hats in its day. (more…)

With its humble beginning as a marshland (Le Marais translates to ‘swamp’ in French) it later became the French nobility’s favorite place of residence. Its modern incarnation is a trendy gay and Jewish area.

Here are some of my favorite ways to spend a sun-dappled afternoon in Le Marais.

Rue des Rosiers

Falafel stands and traditional Jewish restaurants line the Rue des Rosiers, a pedestrian-only street in the heart of Le Marais. The street is the main avenue of the ‘Pletzl’, an area to which many Eastern European Jews immigrated during the early 20th century. The neighborhood was virtually emptied by the Nazis during World War II and then experienced a Jewish community revival in the 1990s.

Whether you are in search of a handcrafted menorah or a late-night pita, this is the street to stroll.

Metro: Saint-Paul (1)

Pompidou

Centre Pompidou is Paris’ premiere modern art museum. The exterior, a maze of multi-colored pipes and scaffolding, is just as remarkable as the interior, which features avant-garde works from Matisse, Munch and Picasso.

The best way to enjoy Pompidou is from the top floor. Equally impressive are the stunning views which stretch from the Eiffel Tower to the Sacre Coeur and thoughtfully curated exhibits with contemporary artists like Lucien Freud and Gerard Richter.

Centre Pompidou

Place Georges Pompidou
01 44 78 12 33

Hours: 11am to 9pm, Wed-Mon
Metro: Rambuteau (11) or Hôtel de Ville (1, 11)

Mémorial de la Shoah

In memory of the 76 thousand Parisian Jews who were sent to concentration camps during Occupation, Mémorial de la Shoah was opened in 2005. (Shoah, which is Hebrew for ‘Destruction’, is another word for the Holocaust).

The crypt in the basement features a giant black marble Star of David, which contains ashes recovered from concentration camps and the Warsaw ghetto. Also moving is the children’s memorial, a series of photographs showing photos of the 11,000 French Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust.

Mémorial de la Shoah
17, rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier
01 277 44 72

Metro: Pont Marie (7) and Saint-Paul (1)

Cat’Man Crêperie

The delicious galettes and crêpes at Cat’Man Crêperie will make you feel like you are at a seaside café in Brittany (minus the Atlantic breeze, of course).

A galette is essentially a savory crêpe made with buckwheat flour, which gives the galette its dark color and nutty, earthy flavor. I recommend the galette complete, which comes packed with Emmental cheese, jambon de pays (country ham) and a fried egg.

For dessert order the crêpe au caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel crêpe). Cat’Man’s version is a perfectly cooked sweet crêpe drenched in salted butter caramel, and is the perfect combination of salty and sweet.

Cat’Man Crêperie
12, rue du Temple
01 42 74 43 32

Metro: Hôtel de Ville (1, 11)
Open for lunch and dinner

Picnic in the Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, is a beautiful park perfect for lounging and picnicking. Families and lovers lounge under the linden trees, often with baguettes and Pelligrino.

In Place des Vosges you can also find Victor Hugo’s house (the author of Les Misérables and The Hunch-Back of Notre Dame in case you’re rusty on high school English). Be forewarned of Hugo’s terrible interior design taste; inside the apartment the carpet matches the walls which match the ceiling.

Maison de Victor Hugo
6 Place des Vosges
01 42 72 10 16

Hours: 10am-6pm, Tue-Sun
Metro: Saint- Paul (1) or Bastille (1, 5, 8 )