Slipping away to some exotic or culturally rich location for a vacation is wonderful; bringing home souvenirs from that vacation, which jog travel memories and help the vacation last longer in your mind, is also wonderful. But that doesn't mean you have to stop at those kitschy, overstuffed bric-a-brac shops and pony up for some mass-produced (and questionably authentic) baubles to bring home and stuff on a shelf somewhere.
While we did pick up a couple of small and inexpensive traditional souvenirs from our trip to Spain, the two things that we brought home that live closest to my heart, and bring back the happiest memories, were completely free.
The best meal we had in Spain was in Frigiliana, a small mountain town just up the road from Nerja. We sat in a courtyard across a cobbled street from the 16th-century church. While James and I basked in the sun, the boys played with the fountain only a few feet from our table. James ordered a roasted leg of lamb, and I had the grilled vegetable plate (possibly the only cooked vegetables I ate during our entire trip!). Both of our meals were simple and exquisite, perfectly cooked and seasoned. The kids shared a giant plate of spaghetti bolognaise, and August shocked us by eating every last bite. During the meal, the church bell rang, and loudly, scaring Leif and thrilling August (watching the bell at the top of the tower spin in circles amazed him). To this day, Leif still talks about the loud church bell that hurt his ears, and August talks about how cool it was to see the bell turning upside-down.
We ordered a bottle of water at the meal, and it arrived in a gorgeous blue glass bottle. I had to have it! When we poured out all the water, I asked James to sneak the bottle into his rucksack so we could take it home. I wanted it because it is beautiful and useful—we can use it as a water carafe when guests come over, or even day-to-day for ourselves. We don't have to fret about where to display it, as it sits neatly in the kitchen cupboard with the other glasses. And every time we bring it out, we think back to that divine lunch in Frigiliana. (Technically, the bottle cost us 2 or 3 Euros, which we had to pay anyway to drink the water.)
The other thing we brought home that warms the cockles of my heart is a jar of rocks. Really.
First, you should know that I'm a nature girl, so things like rocks, pinecones, sticks, feathers, crab carapaces, and so on, truly thrill me. I tend to fill my pockets while on nature outings, and then come home and decorate the house with my finds. Second, I'm trying to pass this fascination on to my children, and I love going on nature walks with them. August is totally into it: we currently have a feather collection, a shell collection, a stick collection, a beach glass collection, and a rock collection (most of which are gathered from the beaches and forests around our home).
We spent a lot of time at the beach on this trip, just throwing rocks into the waves. I found the rocks there so beautiful, round and well-worn. I couldn't resist filling my own pockets, and was touched when August kept bringing me tiny handfuls of rocks, "to add to our collection." (Just the memory of his little mouth forming the word collection, how carefully and cumbersomely he says it, brings me such joy.) He especially loved the shiny ones that glinted in the sunlight. When he got tired of collecting, he threw rocks at the waves, celebrating every time one reached far enough to plonk into an incoming wave.
I have nothing against explicitly buying souvenirs to remind me of my travels, or to give as gifts upon returning home. But much more meaningful for me are the objects that just appear as part of everyday life, objects that become fixed with meaning and memory through their very use.
Do you like to bring home souvenirs from your travels? Do you tend to get traditional souvenirs, or do you have your own alternatives?
Note: Always be aware of the local laws regarding gathering items from the ground or from nature. I would *never* take anything from a cultural or historic site like the Alhambra. Never take anything at all from a National Park, and find out it you are allowed to collect small rocks or twigs from other federal lands and state parks. Never take fossils or artifacts (like arrowheads or pot shards). When in doubt, remember the adage, "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints."
All photos by me.
Also check out my only other post about vacation hacks.