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]

5 Hot New Holiday Markets In New York City

Come December, New York City becomes a veritable mecca of holiday shops, festivals and bazaars. Most tourists are familiar with the classic gift emporiums at Grand Central, Bryant Park and Union Square. But those markets tend to turn off the newer, younger, more independent brands with their hefty vendor fees and multi-week commitments.

For a different scene, check out some of the city’s newer holiday markets, which offer food, drinks, workshops, art exhibitions and, of course, innumerable gift ideas from some of the city’s hottest up-and-coming brands. Here are five of the most buzz-worthy.

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar
The scene: A Williamsburg warehouse is transformed into a month-long hipster spectacular of art, music, food, drink and holiday shopping. Weekend nights feature concerts curated by Fader, Hype Machine, Gothamist and other musical tastemakers.
Gift ideas: Handprinted iPhone cases from Blissful Case, artisan soaps from Ebb & Flow, reclaimed wooden cutting boards from Grain.
When: Fridays and Saturdays, November 23 to December 22, 6 p.m. to midnight
Where: 45 N. 5th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Admission: FreeGIVE GOOD Market*
The scene: A two-day market featuring close to 40 socially conscious businesses owned by women, along with a full lineup of DIY craft workshops, film screenings, musical performances, art exhibitions and a panel on the role of entrepreneurship in women’s empowerment.
Gift ideas: Reclaimed leather handbags from Shannon South, contemporary cow horn jewelry from Kora, hand-knitted hoop scarves from Indego Africa.
When: November 30 to December 1, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Starrett Lehigh Building, 601 W. 26th St., Chelsea, Manhattan
Admission: Free

Bust Magazine Holiday Craftacular and Food Fair
The scene: A kick-ass selection of more than 200 vendors, selling handmade craft items, artisan foods and craft beers over two days. Arrive early; the first 300 shoppers each day get a free goodie bag.
Gift ideas: Artisan cosmetics from The Elixery, shibori-dyed pillows from Eighty8Percent, Hipster Bingo.
When: December 1 to 2, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: 82 Mercer St., SoHo, Manhattan
Admission: $3

Hester Holiday Market
The scene: More than 40 gift and food vendors take over a historic Nolita building in this holiday shopping event from the organizers of the Hester Street Fair. Opening day on December 1 will feature a tree-lighting ceremony, animated light show and Christmas carolers.
Gift ideas: Upcycled charm bracelets from Tillydoro, handprinted socks from Strathcona Stockings, hand-blended looseleaf teas from Not Just Tea.
When: December 1 to 2, 8 to 9, and 15-23, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: 233 Mott St., Nolita, Manhattan
Admission: Free

Brooklyn Craft Central Annual Holiday Market
The scene: This two-weekend event features a curated selection of (mostly) Brooklyn-based crafters and designers. Holiday cocktails and spicy pupusas will also be on tap.
Gift ideas: Hardwood wine holders from Gowanus Furniture, quirky tees from The Fencing & Archery Printing Co., whimsical jewelry from Virginie Millefiori
When: December 15 to 16 and 22 to 23, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Littlefield Art Space, 622 DeGraw St., Park Slope/Gowanus, Brooklyn
Admission: Free

*Disclaimer: The author of this post is on the organizing committee for this event – another reason to check it out!

[Photo Courtesy: Brooklyn Night Bazaar on Facebook]

Roadside America: St. Joseph, Michigan

Growing up in Boston and later Tucson, I grew up going on beach vacations in New England and California. It wasn’t until I started dating my husband a decade ago that I discovered America’s “Third Coast” (the Great Lakes, for our purposes, though some call the Gulf states the Third Coast) in the Midwest. Visiting my in-laws in St. Joseph, Michigan, I was amazed to see that you don’t need to go to the edges of the country to experience sand between your toes, eat an ice cream on the boardwalk, and swim out further than your parents can see you. The Lake Michigan town of St. Joseph is a resort town from way back in the midst of a comeback, striking the rare balance between charming and twee.

Each year that I’ve visited St. Joseph, the town has evolved and improved into a destination worth visiting beyond a quick side trip from Chicago. The waterfront parks have been revitalized in recent years, and the beaches are so wide and sandy, you could forget you aren’t on an ocean. St. Joe and its sister city Benton Harbor are under two hours from Chicago, as well as an easy drive from other Midwestern cities such as Milwaukee and Detroit, in what has been called the “Riviera of the Midwest.”Just across Lake Michigan from Chicago, residents recently had hoped to revive the old Chicago-St. Joseph ferry that carried thousands to the beach in the 1920s heyday, but the venture proved too costly. Land remains the only approach, although there is a trans-Lake Michigan ferry between Milwaukee and Muskegon in the summer season, about 90 miles north of St. Joe. Amtrak makes the trip an hour and forty minutes from Chicago daily if you’d prefer not to get caught in traffic.

This area of Michigan is also famed for its produce, owing to the “lake effect” on the climate, helping to produce what is arguably the world’s best fruit. From June to November, you can taste many varieties at the Benton Harbor Fruit Market, one of the oldest and largest seller-to-buyer produce markets in America. Excellent fruit means excellent wine as well, and you can visit over a dozen wineries within a dozen miles of St. Joseph. You can also sample Michigan flavors at the annual Harvest Festival and regular farmers markets in the summer season.

In addition to the cute shops and a good selection of restaurants, St. Joseph has a budding arts scene anchored by the Krasl Art Center, which holds a major art fair each summer. The new pride of St. Joe is the Silver Beach area just below downtown. The historic Silver Beach Carousel was first opened in 1910 and re-opened 100 years later after the park had deteriorated and closed in the early ’70s. You can ride the carousel year-round, but go in the summer for the optimum effect, when you can finish out a day at the beach with one of Michigan’s famed sunsets and think about how soon you can return.

[flickr image via Molechaser]

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]

Collect And Share Travel Experiences With AFAR

Pinterest became the hottest social network this year, with millions using the site to collect and search for recipes, design ideas and inspirational quotes. Many travelers have used Pinterest for planning and sharing trips, tips and destinations (you can find Gadling here). Now, the website and community behind AFAR magazine, has introduced a new feature to curate travel experiences, chronicle favorite destinations and discover new places in a way that’s Pinterest-like in ease of use and appealing interface but designed just for travelers.

“Wanderlists” are part of AFAR’s collaborative travel guide, comprised of a collection of travel “Highlights,” similar to an inspiration board. Users can create a Highlight incorporating a photo and description of a place or experience, adding contact information and location tags to make it easier for other travelers to find. A Highlight might be a moment in a field of Irish wildflowers, a favorite breakfast spot in Istanbul, or a Victorian town in New Zealand. Highlights are integrated with Google Maps for easy reference, and can be shared over Twitter, Facebook, or email (you can even pin to Pinterest too). If you feel more like gathering ideas than sharing your own, you can search for any destination or topic like food or surfing.

Currently, Highlights and Wanderlists are all user-generated, but will soon include magazine content as well. You can get inspired by collections from the AFAR team like American road trip pit stops, markets around the world, or favorite spots in Cairo.

Create your own Wanderlists and search for Highlights at