Souvenir Of The Week: World’s First Duckface

Among the Michelangeos, the Raphaels, the Caravaggios and other Renaissance masterpieces at the The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, open to the public since 1591, one Bottecelli painting, “Portrait of a Young Man With a Medal,” captures an unidentified subject’s “boo-yah” moment posing with a medallion of some sort. His face is snappishly angled and his lips puckered in a timeless “I’m all that and a bag of Skittles” expression. The features have been described as “the small covetous eyes, the ignoble nose, the pursed animal mouth…” The pursed animal mouth! In other words, Gawker fans, the composition created in 1475 could be the world’s earliest example of duckface. Don’t leave without a postcard from the gift shop.

[Photo credit: Kasey Cornwell]

Souvenir Of The Week: Nicaraguan Toilet Paintings

While Gadling’s Dave Seminara was busy reporting on surf competitions and rainforests in Costa Rica and Nicaragua last week, he didn’t have time to stop and ask questions about a surprising fixture in one outdoor market: colorful paintings of people on the throne. The bizarre subject matter was prolific in the mercado in Masaya, Nicaragua, he says, and indeed, one blogger noted the town’s trend in 2007, saying the style tends to be derivative of famous Latin American painters. My friend who attended a Spanish-language immersion program in a different Nicaraguan locale never saw anything of the sort, so it’s possibly a Masaya thing – a very cheeky Masaya thing.

Would you bring one home for your baño?

[Photo credit: Jack Brummett via All That Is That]

Souvernir Of The Week: Black Pottery From Oaxaca, Mexico

You’ve been reading Gadling writer Jessica Marati’s Oaxaca dispatches. What did she bring home? Black pottery from 1050° Ceramics Collective, an artists’ group with a focus on sustainability. Every piece is lead-free, but otherwise, artisans adhere to the region’s 2,000-year-old techniques for making the earthy, ebony-hued objects, buffed to a high shine by hand. Products range from vases and bowls and platters to pendant lights to jewelry.

Oaxaca, a National Geographic type of cultural destination in southern Mexico, is as renowned for its folk-art traditions as it is for complex moles. Travelers hop between outlying towns beyond the state’s eponymous city, each village specializing in a particular craft – naturally dyed rugs, fantastical wood-carved animals and black pottery chief among them. The 1050° collective’s works are sold in four shops in Oaxaca City (not to mention the MoMA in New York). The Dona Rosa hacienda is also a popular destination, where visitors watch a demonstration before shopping its huge selection of pottery.

[Photo Credit: 1050grados]

A Guide For Finding The Perfect Travel Souvenir

You know the feeling. There are only two days left of your vacation, and you still haven’t gone souvenir shopping. It’s not that you don’t want to get a special memento from the trip; it’s that you have no idea what to get. Use this guide on your next trip to help you choose the perfect travel souvenir for absolutely anyone.

Research The Culture Beforehand

Before leaving home, do some research to find out what types of handicrafts and items you can expect to find. Some cultural souvenirs I’ve purchased on my travels include wooden masks and indigenous artwork in Ghana, alpaca hats in Peru, masapan dolls in Calderon, Ecuador (shown right), a Panama hat in Sig Sig, Ecuador, and hand-sewn bags in Chiang Rai, Thailand, made by at-risk women. I try to buy souvenirs that I know are also helping the locals who make them instead of large corporations. Additionally, you’ll want to look up if there are any scams you’ll need to be careful of, like locals commonly lying about the authenticity of a certain product, so you can be savvy about your purchases.Know The Rules

You would be surprised how many souvenirs people purchase that aren’t allowed out of the country they’re visiting or into the country they’re flying to. If you remember just last month, two tourists were detained at the U.S. border for trying to bring back chocolate Kinder Eggs, which are illegal in the United States because of the potentially hazardous small toys inside. Many times when products are created using a natural material like wood, you have to be careful of how the handicraft is made and finished. Additionally, foods and drinks often have very specific laws regarding what you can transport. Mailing souvenirs home also presents potential challenges. I once spent over $100 on seasonings and pastas in Florence to send home to my parents, only to be told you can’t mail food and beverage products, even if they are dry.

Make Sure It Won’t Land You In Jail

Taking the previous point a step further, you also don’t want to deliberately break the law just to get a great souvenir story. Sure, bringing home cocaine from Colombia may be seen by some as an interesting souvenir; however, that’s only if you even make it home before getting arrested. Even softer drugs like marijuana can get you into big trouble, especially since laws vary from country to country. Research the laws of each country you visit beforehand, and skip making risky purchases.

Stay Away From Touristy Souvenir Shops

Like I said previously, it’s nice when purchasing a souvenir to try to help local craftspeople. When you purchase something from a touristy souvenir shop or hotel gift store, you’re most likely getting something that isn’t authentic and may even have been made in another country. Not only that, but browsing local markets, especially in the open air, can be a cultural experience in itself.

Get Something That’s Useful

While figurines and carvings are nice, they’ll inevitably end up forgotten about on the shelf. If you can get something the person you’re purchasing will actually use, your souvenir will get much more mileage. Items like hand-sewn bags, jewelry, dishes, glasses, hats and scarves are my favorite. For instance, when I was in Bolivia, I purchased baby alpaca socks, one of the warmest varieties, for my dad to use when he goes hunting. He absolutely loved them, unlike the Loch Ness Monster figurine I bought him from a gift shop in Scotland – yes, bad move, not to mention he thought it was a dragon.

Keep The Person You’re Buying For In Mind

While you may think handmade shell earrings are a great keepsake, if the person you’re buying for doesn’t have pierced ears it will be a waste. Think about the person you’re buying for and what their interests are. If they cook, a beautiful bowl could be something they’d appreciate. Maybe this person loves music. Buying them a CD from a local artist would make a worthwhile cultural present. If they’re interested in fashion, purchasing something that gives them insight into the local style could be a great gift. When buying something for myself, I have only one qualification: that every time I look at it, I am flooded with strong memories of my trip.

It Fits Safely Into Your Luggage

First of all, you don’t want to be lugging something heavy around from city to city. This may not matter as much to someone who is staying in one spot for their entire trip; however, as a backpacker who has to carry every ounce on her back, I always opt for as weightless and small a souvenir as possible. Also, you’re going to want to make sure the item you purchase won’t be broken into several pieces by the time you get home. If it’s made of glass or ceramic, make sure the retailer wraps it in very durable, protective covering. Consider labeling your luggage as “fragile,” or mailing it home and telling the postal worker the package contains something breakable.

Make Something

One experiential souvenir idea is to make a souvenir yourself. I don’t mean glue some local macaroni onto some locally purchased paper. Take a cultural class or ask a craftsman if they can show you how to make something. For instance, when I was in New Zealand I got the chance to make a small wood carving with a group of indigenous locals. Sure, it wasn’t the prettiest souvenir I’ve ever taken home, but looking at it brings back strong memories of interacting with the culture, and reminds me of how much I want to go back.

Keep Something From Along The Way

Along your travels you may be given some items that also make great souvenirs. For example, in Vietnam I went on a tour with Intrepid Travel, who gave the group locally made chopsticks so we’d always have them on hand. Furthermore, in Morocco, I watched a local craftsman at work creating beautiful tile mosaics. After I complimented his work, he gave me one of his tiles to keep for myself.

Make Use Of Your Photos

If the souvenir is for yourself, why not make use of all the photos you took along the way and create a collage or scrapbook? Pictures have the ability to preserve memories in a visual way that not many other souvenirs can. I have made scrapbooks from almost all my big trips, and are great for helping me to remember and relive my travel experiences.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey, Casey Serin, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, Bruce Guenter]

Kiwi Cool: Shopping For New Zealand-Made Souvenirs

When you go to the other side of the world, you want to bring back a few things to show for your trouble. Visiting New Zealand with my 1-year-old daughter, and with nephews at home in America, I became obsessed with finding them something actually made in the country. A stuffed kiwi bird or lamb toy, a merino wool baby blanket, or a fun T-shirt would do nicely, and I wouldn’t mind some jewelry or something small for our apartment either. In all of the cities I visited in New Zealand, I was impressed to find stylish, playful and innovative boutiques and vendors creating beautiful and unique home design, fashion and other Kiwiana. There’s enough Kiwi cool shopping that you might end up wishing you had a bigger suitcase.


Flotsam & Jetsam (Auckland) – A cross between an antique store and a hipster Restoration Hardware, this collection of colorful and covetable home items will make you contemplate a move to Auckland. Visitors from farther away might find interesting vintage, repurposed and retro home wares from New Zealand and all over the world. Check their Facebook page for details on the latest stock.Nelson Saturday market (Nelson, South Island) – New York City has street fairs and markets pretty much every day of the year if you look hard enough, but all too often, you find the same cheap tube socks, fried cheese and dough concoctions, and hodgepodge of junk. My expectations weren’t high for the weekly market in the arty town of Nelson on the top of the South Island, but after a quick walk through, I was glad I didn’t have too much cash to spend, as there was so much to buy. On a given weekend, you might find model airplanes crafted from soda cans, gourmet gluten-free tacos, and more knitwear than you can shake a sheep at. Local band performances, cooking demonstrations, or even a flash mob add to the festive atmosphere.

Pauanesia (Auckland) – This small shop is loaded to the gills with all things antipodean (a Brit term for a place on the other side of the world), with an emphasis on home textiles such as Polynesian-print tablecloths. If you have a little one to shop for (or just enjoy stuffed animals), consider one of the charming Kiwi “chaps” made from vintage and salvaged fabrics and send them a photo of your bird out in the world. You can also find a nice assortment of Paua shell jewelry, key chains, and other odds and ends much more thoughtfully and well-made than your average gift shop.

Iko Iko (Auckland and Wellington) – What drew me into the Wellington store was a window display of Dear Colleen‘s cheeky “Dishes I’d rather be doing” tea towels with “dishes” like Ryan Gosling and Mr. Darcy-era Colin Firth (get it?). I could have easily spent hours inside poring over the whimsical items, like a kiwi bird cookie cutter, Buzzy Bee cufflinks, or a CD from the Wellington Ukulele Orchestra. It’s full of things you don’t really need but really want, plus fun takes on everyday items.

Abstract Designs (Wellington) – You might call these artisanal cardboard cutouts. Abstract Designs makes creative sculptures and jewelry with a very local flavor. Perhaps you’ll pick up a 747 plane kit for the airplane nerd in your life, a pop-up building replica to remind you of your stay in Wellington, or a cruelty-free moose trophy head for your wall. Their designs are sold in many museum gift shops as well, but there’s a full selection at their Wellington studio and online.

Hapa (Christchurch) – Pop-up businesses have become the foundation for the new Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake. The Re:START mall is the best example, built out of shipping containers and housing a mix of “old” Christchurch shops in temporary digs and new shops. There are several stores in the mall selling New Zealand goods, but Hapa stands out for their many beautiful and clever items, like a bear bean bag chair or a knitted “fox stole” scarf. Best of all, many goods are made or designed in Christchurch, so you can feel good about supporting the local economy.

Texan Art Schools (multiple stores in Auckland) – Don’t be confused by the name, it’s a play on the fact that it carries work from graduates of “tech(nical)s” and art schools. Texan Art Schools acts as one-stop shopping for dozens of Kiwi artists and designers, with an eclectic mix of home items, fashion and jewelry. You’re sure to find something unusual and authentic here like a set of Maori nesting dolls or a retro camper wall clock.

Photo from Auckland’s Queen Street shopping arcade. More “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Unadventurous” to come.