When you’re a child, getting to buy souvenirs is THE vacation highlight. I remember on one family vacation to Fort Ticonderoga, New York, my brothers and I got to buy little birch Indian canoes and metal cannons as souvenirs. They were so cool. I wish I still had the cannon.
When you’re older, souvenir buying gets stressful. When I went to England for a month during my junior year of college, my family (particularly my mom) expected me to bring home good souvenirs for them. So for the whole month this task niggled in the back of my mind. In the end I got my mom a nice doll as she had started collecting dolls from other countries. She liked it, but said she was disappointed I had only bought one. (Sigh!) Eventually I told her how much that one doll cost and she looked at it with new appreciation.
These days I don’t feel OBLIGATED to buy anyone a souvenir when I travel. If I do find something I want to buy for someone (or myself)…great. If not, that’s okay too.
So that’s how my daughter Ariana and I approached our recent vacation to Prague. Neither of us wanted to spend much time shopping and frankly on our first few days as we walked past dozens (and dozens) of souvenir shops, all with the same tacky merchandise, we didn’t even slow down to look.
Later we learned from a tour guide that even some of the nicer goods aren’t what they seem. Much of the famed Bohemian crystal glistening in many front windows “was made in China,” he told us. “You can tell because it has bubbles in it.” And a lot of the shops claiming to sell real Bohemian garnet jewelry are actually selling the less precious type of garnet (almandine) or synthetic stones or even glass. (source: Radio Prague )
So we avoided souvenir shops (and shopping in general) with a few noteworthy exceptions. I always feel the siren call of antique stores and we popped into one near our hotel. One of the salesclerks followed us around the dingy store not hiding the fact that she was watching us like a hawk and then asked in a glacial tone if she could help us. No thanks!! We’re outta here.
The other antique store we visited, Antique V. Andrle near the Charles Bridge, was clean and bright and we were welcomed with a smile. Amongst all the great stuff were cases of antique Bohemian garnet jewelry. The real deal. I was enraptured. I have a small collection of old garnet jewelry that I wear all the time. After browsing a bit I had the salesgirl take out a pin for a closer look. Oh boy, it was beautiful and different from anything I owned but alas, heart-stopping expensive. As I looked at it under a magnifying glass she dropped the price twice ending up at a 20% discount. It was still high but not out of the ball park. I dithered a bit more, then thought three things: 1) I wear this kind of jewelry, 2) this is a chance to buy an amazing piece of antique Bohemian garnet jewelry in Bohemia (!) and 3) I can sell other pieces of jewelry that I’m no longer wearing to cover the cost. Well, you can guess the end of this story…I bought the pin.
Later in the week we discovered Manufaktura, a shop that only sells things made in the Czech Republic including spa products, wooden toys, hand-blown glass and other handicrafts. This is where I found something for my oldest daughter. This store is the perfect model of what a souvenir shop should be…quality products made in the country.
So in the end, we didn’t buy much, but what we did buy I feel good about. I’m realizing my daughter and I were more interested in experiencing Prague than spending time in stores. More interested in creating memories…which is the best souvenir!
How about you? Have any good souvenir stories?
P.S. Just sold an opal cocktail ring (5/3/13) I no longer wear that will cover 50% of the cost of the garnet brooch! 🙂