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Souvenir Shopping: How Do You Get It Home?

TRUE STORY: It was the morning of the day the young woman was to fly home to America after a most pleasing week in Paris. She wrestled her enormous suitcase into the hotel’s minuscule elevator and onto the street, where her taxi and traveling companion awaited.

“I’ll be right back,” she told the driver, and she tore down the sidewalk. Several minutes later, she returned, with two dozen life-life, long-stemmed silk roses in her arms. She had eyed them all week as she traversed to and fro, and at the very last moment decided she must own them. For the next 12 hours—through two taxi rides and a cross-Atlantic flight with wine—until she reached her apartment in the suburbs of Chicago, she clutched those tulips.

The woman wasn’t me, but I was with her that day. I was enlisted as a part-time tulip-carrier while she wrangled her tray table and on-flight entertainment selections. Even though she was my dear friend, I was mildly annoyed by the cumbersome assignment. (I had purchased quite packable lingerie at Galeries Lafayette.)

That trip was a once-in-a-lifetime event, or so I thought. But years later, I embarked on a personal world tour and have accumulated my own “How Did I Get It Home?” souvenirs.

Here are the stories of some of my favorite treasures purchased overseas. You’ll be glad to know they all landed safely and are decorating my house:

Oil painting in Ukraine. Before our cruise of the Dnipro River in Ukraine, well-meaning friends advised us to pack plenty of towels and toilet tissue. We did, but it turned out we didn’t need them for personal care. The ship was well-stocked. One day we took small watercraft to a backwater village, where a family hosted us for lunch. We sat at trestle tables in the yard, and chickens and a young calf wandered freely.

Ukraine art
Ukraine artisans display their handicrafts for visiting tourists.

Before reaching the family’s home, we had to walk through a gantlet of neighbors displaying their handicrafts for sale. One made fur hats, and several showed off intricate needlework. I negotiated with an artist for an oil painting of a babushka woman feeding chickens. The painting was on a wooden board, about 16 inches by 22 inches in size.

The oil painting I bought from an artist in Ukraine. I had it framed when I got home.

To get the painting home, I wrapped it in the towels and toilet tissue we had brought with us, then placed it smack-dab in the center of our 32-inch suitcase.

Oil painting in Tanzania. I had long loved the colorful cartoonish style of the Tinga Tinga artists, so I was thrilled to buy a painting of giraffes and birds at a souvenir mall. The canvas measured about three feet square. The sales associate rolled it up, and placed it in a tube. For the rest of our trip through the Serengeti, the tube tucked neatly behind the back-seat headrests of our safari vehicle. I hand-carried it on the flights home.

The Tinga Tinga painting I bought in Tanzania and later had framed.

Beaded lion figurine in Cape Town. While touring the Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town, South Africa, we happened upon a shop called Monkeybiz. The shop features handmade beaded items, mostly animal figures, created by indigenous folk artists.

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The Monkeybiz shop in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood features handmade beaded animals.

I had to have one of the lions. The large size, of course. And it was the first day of our two-week trip. The lion was too fragile to pack in a suitcase. It didn’t really fit in my tote bag, either, but that’s how I toted my treasure, with its head sticking out the top.

My beaded lion from Monkeybiz in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa.

Tulips in the Netherlands. Like my friend in Paris, I bought tulips. Unlike her, mine were real. Tulip bulbs, to be exact. What you have to know is, although tulip bulbs are sold everywhere in the Netherlands, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection is very picky about which ones are allowed into the country. We bought 100 approved bulbs in assorted colors while touring Royal FloraHolland, the international flower market, in Aalsmeer. The bulbs were shipped to us at planting time.

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Royal FloraHolland, the international flower  market, ships worldwide.
Genuine tulips from Holland are flourishing in my flowerbeds.

What is your souvenir story?

6 thoughts on “Souvenir Shopping: How Do You Get It Home?

  1. This is great! I love the art you purchased – no regrets there I bet! I’m notorious for bringing things back from trips. I try to focus on food, but the largest item was a bamboo bird cage from Hong Kong’s bird market – the kind flight attendant let it ride in its own seat. More recently I lugged back so many tinned sardines from Lisbon Portugal that my suitcase broke into three pieces at Toronto Pearson airport. Then, I toted a huge wrought iron weathervane from Chiapas Mexico and two wooden statues of San Miguel from Guatemala. And I’m supposed to be downsizing

    1. I love your stories! I try to buy small things like jewelry and spices, but sometimes when we have to have something, we have to have it. And we’ll find a way. At least you didn’t try to bring home a real bird.

  2. I laughed when I saw the title of your article — I am notorious for figuring out how to get all my purchases home. Some of my acquisitions over the years include an oil painting and a hand-made xylophone (small but cumbersome) making my carry-on luggage packing very creative!! It’s so fun to shop while traveling though; I love local arts and crafts, and items specific to a region. I really enjoyed reading your article — happy shopping!!

  3. Love the paintings you brought home-I think I would have been tempted also. I also brought home tulips from the Netherlands. the were supposed to be blue. I searched the whole flower market in Amsterdam for a package that was certified for the US. Brought them home planted them and waited patiently all winter. They came up pink, We usually come home with three to four bottles of wine. I have special inflatable bottle bags that protect them.

    1. I love the idea of the inflatable bottle bags. I often buy things like barbecue sauce and perfume, and then I worry about their getting broken. Also, I have a lilac tree (not from the Netherlands) that is supposed to have yellow blooms, but they came out purple.

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