Tips for find­ing that per­fect Euro­pean sou­venir

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - TRAVEL - RICK STEVES

With each trip I take, I look for cul­tural sou­venirs — ex­pe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries are the gold nuggets of travel. Shop­ping is never my pri­or­ity, but I find the best sou­venirs come from lo­cal en­trepreneurs and crafts­peo­ple. These days, Europe’s mod­ern shop­ping are­nas are also fun spots to wit­ness a slice of con­tem­po­rary life. In mod­er­a­tion, it can be fun to im­merse your­self in the re­tail cul­ture of Europe’s grand­est cities. Here are some smart places for shop­ping, places where you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing cul­ture rather than col­lect­ing things.

OUT­DOOR MAR­KETS: The most col­or­ful shop­ping in Europe, and a fun way to feel the lo­cal vibe, is at its lively open-air mar­kets. A stroll along Por­to­bello Road, one of Lon­don’s many lively street mar­kets, has you rub­bing el­bows with peo­ple who brake for garage sales. In Florence, Italy, the sprawl­ing San Lorenzo Mar­ket has stalls of gar­ments, ac­ces­sories and leather jack­ets rang­ing from real to vinyl. Even a place as over­run with vis­i­tors as Is­tan­bul’s Grand Bazaar has tourist-free nooks and cran­nies that of­fer a glimpse into the real Turkey. Jump into the hu­man rivers that flow through these venues.

AR­TI­SAN SHOPS: Try to ex­pe­ri­ence some “cre­ative” tourism when you travel. Seek out and ap­pre­ci­ate a lo­cal craftsper­son. In Volterra, Italy, visit Roberto and Gior­gio’s pow­dery work­shop and watch as they carve al­abaster into ex­quis­ite, translu­cent sculp­tures. In Rothen­burg, Ger­many, ap­pre­ci­ate

the print­mak­ers sell­ing etch­ings made with the same cop­per-plate tech­niques that artist Al­brecht Duerer used 500 years ago. The nar­row streets near Vi­enna’s cathe­dral are sprin­kled with old-fash­ioned shops that seem to be­long to an­other era. They are just the place to pick out an el­e­gant dirndl.

Be­fore these lo­cal busi­nesses are pushed out by the ris­ing tide of cookie-cut­ter chains and syn­thetic con­form­ity, seek out Europe’s true ar­ti­sans who are com­mit­ted to do­ing things the old-fash­ioned way. En­gag­ing with these crafts­peo­ple is an ex­cit­ing way to bring lo­cal his­tory and cul­ture to life (and you can re­turn home with a mem­o­rable sou­venir).


In Europe, many depart­ment stores are just as much of an at­trac­tion as the sou­venirs they sell. In Paris, visit Ga­leries Lafayette or Prin­temps. Har­rods is Lon­don’s most fa­mous and touristy depart­ment store, but lo­cals pre­fer Lib­erty on Re­gent Street. In Italy, an up­scale depart­ment chain is La Ri­nascente, and in Spain, El Corte In­gles is ev­ery­where. Ber­lin’s mam­moth Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) has a staff of 2,100 to help you sort through its vast se­lec­tion of 380,000 items. Though lack­ing the charm of ar­ti­san shops and mar­kets, depart­ment stores of­fer an eco­nomic and ef­fi­cient way to pick up sou­venirs as well as a glimpse at every­day fash­ions and lo­cal life­styles.


The best shop­ping dis­tricts not only of­fer in­ter­est­ing stores but also let you feel the pulse of the city. In Rome, an early even­ing stroll down Via del Corso takes you past lo­cal mil­len­ni­als mak­ing the scene, as well as the cheap depart­ment stores they pre­fer. Then head over to Span­ish Steps for the beau­ti­ful peo­ple and their more el­e­gant shops. In Paris, a stroll from the Bon Marche depart­ment store to St. Sulpice Church al­lows you to sam­ple sleek cloth­ing bou­tiques and clever win­dow dis­plays while en­joy­ing one of the city’s more at­trac­tive neigh­bor­hoods.


Gift shops at ma­jor mu­se­ums (such as the Pi­casso Mu­seum in Barcelona or the Van Gogh Mu­seum in Am­s­ter­dam) are the place to pick up books, post­cards, un­usual posters, dec­o­ra­tive items or clever knick­knacks fea­tur­ing works by your fa­vorite artist or com­mem­o­rat­ing a his­toric event or sight. Mu­seum gift shops are also a good source for books you may not see else­where.


If you’re trav­el­ing around the hol­i­days, Europe is pep­pered with fes­tive Christ­mas mar­kets serv­ing up a healthy dose of hol­i­day spirit and plenty of tra­di­tional nut­crack­ers, or­na­ments and sweets. Hand­carved wooden or­na­ments and Na­tiv­ity scenes, lav­ish wreaths and aro­matic can­dles line the booths. In Ger­many, look for nut­crack­ers made in the Erzge­birge re­gion, where they orig­i­nated. Stroll around while sip­ping hot mulled wine, spiced with cin­na­mon, cloves and cit­rus fruits. This quin­tes­sen­tial Christ­mas mar­ket drink (“Gluh­wein” in Ger­manic coun­tries) is served in a hol­i­day-theme ce­ramic mug, which makes a fun, in­ex­pen­sive sou­venir.

I’m of­ten asked about the dif­fer­ence be­tween a tourist and a trav­eler. To me, a tourist vis­its all the big sights, sees spec­ta­cles on stage and re­turns home un­changed with a suit­case full of knick­knacks. A trav­eler be­comes a tem­po­rary lo­cal, en­gages with the cul­ture and comes home en­riched, with a vivid col­lec­tion of ex­pe­ri­ences and a broader per­spec­tive. Whether you are a tourist or a trav­eler, or a lit­tle of both, a few well-cho­sen sou­venirs can re­mind you of the high­lights of your trip for years to come.

Rick Steves’ Europe/RICK STEVES

Ar­ti­sans like this al­abaster sculp­tor in Volterra, Italy, keep the lo­cal craft alive and pro­vide mean­ing­ful sou­venirs for trav­el­ers.

Rick Steves’ Europe/STEVE SMITH

Euro­pean depart­ment stores (such as Ga­leries Lafayette in Paris) can be glam­orous plat­forms for top fash­ion and peo­ple-watch­ing.

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