Buying typical souvenirs has never appealed to me. Apart from the odd kitschy thing, I skipped the shops that lined the tourist sites. They all stock the same stuff and I just didn’t get it. Who really needs a ceramic Leaning Tower of Pisa or an overpriced shot glass that says “Athens” on it.

I dreamed of travel before I was old enough to go to school. As soon as I could read, I looked for books about other places. At 5, I told people I would be a fashion designer in Paris when I grew up and at 20, I did move to Paris. Instead of fashion design, I was a makeup artist in the fashion industry. I went back and forth from Europe for the next decade. Honestly, I worked so I could travel.

I always came home with things that had real meaning to me. Clothing from young, local designers I had gotten to know was always special. I picked up weird little trinkets at flea markets to decorate my apartment. I bought fabrics, prints and vintage hats. Soooooo many silver bracelets from Mexico. Once, I travelled with a local kid I befriended back to his home outside of Merida. They welcomed me into their home, wove me a hammock, hosted me for the day and fed me. Everything I get has a story.

Too many people stock up on the same tourist stuff you find everywhere. It’s easy, I understand, but, get off the beaten path! Find actual craftspeople, fashion designers/tailors, jewellers, hat makers and ceramic artists. Visit flea markets and cramped, dark little shops full of weird stuff. Strike up conversations with people. Ask them questions. Make connections. Be open.

Souvenirs that last forever

Fill a suitcase full of mass-produced ceramic tiles and little statues of David, if you like. On the other hand, maybe spend more money on one great thing. Find something that you love. Look for something you will use when you get home. Something that makes you happy every time you use it, wear it or see it. I know where I got every scarf (yes, I have a scarf problem).

I told the owner of the Riad I stayed at in Marrakech that I loved the smell of the liquid soap in the shower. She filled a plastic bottle with jasmine soap as a gift when we left. I treasure it and use it when I need a little sun in my life.

My only tattoo happened in Lisbon, my favourite place on earth. It ends a few inches above my left wrist so I see it daily. Yes, I also collect Rooster of Barcelo stuff and ceramic sardines in beautiful colours but the tattoo was a big deal for me.

tattoo souvenirs

I follow this tattoo artist, Yanina Viland, but she is always booked up half a year in advance and I don’t plan that far ahead. Knowing that I would return to Lisbon in October of 2022, I contacted her but she had no free time. Out of the blue, she messaged me when I was in Morocco. She had a cancellation. It happened to be on the day of a very important anniversary for my family. I would, indeed, be in Lisbon on that day so I had no choice. it was meant to be. After almost ten years of visiting, I finally have my perfect piece of Lisbon. I have my “one thing” at last.

My Latest Souvenir Hunt

We took our first family trip since the holidays in 2019 this past holiday season. We landed in Rome, a city we all adore but agreed on a new adventure. It was a toss up between going south to Sicily or north to Tuscany, but Sicily is best left for hotter weather. Florence was perfect because we could drive through the winding roads of the Tuscan countryside. I envisioned coffee breaks in quaint villages and sipping wine while taking in the pink twilight bathing the valley. You know, all the romantic stuff you see in films. Tuscany did not disappoint.

florence italy
florence Italy is a magical place

I booked a place for two nights. Then I booked a second place for two more….. yes, it was followed by a third apartment. We fell head over heels in love with Florence. Apart from a day trip to Venice, we stayed there until the day before we flew home.

I didn’t know what my Italian “one thing” would be but I knew it would come from Florence. One day, we split up and my son and I went off to explore on our own. He wanted a grown-up laptop bag and a leather jacket so we went into every leather store in the city. Most were really expensive and it felt like I was seeing the same stuff in every store. He found a beautiful jacket but the bag eluded him. Ready to give up, we popped into one last shop, not expecting to luck out.

Il Falsario Leather shop was different. The guy working in the shop was super friendly, not pushy but just really warm and chatty. He introduced himself as Muaiad Deranieh and said to call him Mozzy.

New Friends and Perfect Things

He showed us some of his personal side projects and we showed him my husband, Shack’s, Instagram page which features his leather shoe patina work. Mozzy’s face lit up when he saw Shack’s work. He was full of questions and we talked for at least another half an hour. Dying to meet Shack, Mozzy made us promise to bring him in. My son liked a bag that was a bit out of his price range so we said we would go have a snack and think about it.

In the meantime, we texted Shack to come to meet us at the shop after our lunch. By the time we returned, Shack and Mozzy were deep in an animated discussion about leather dyes. All in all, we were there for well over another hour when Mozzy pulled out some snake skins. I took one look at this python skin and just knew. I found my thing.

Mozzy agreed to turn it into a belt bag for me and after agreeing on the hardware and strap, all he asked for was my address and phone number. He refused a deposit. He trusted me. I figured that the worst-case scenario was that I would be bagless. We didn’t discuss money but I knew he would be fair. He dropped the price on Hank’s bag substantially, monogrammed it for him and threw in another small purchase for free. I felt secure that I would get my beautiful Python bag.

My “Souvenirs” From Florence

A month later, Mozzy contacted me and we started to chat via text so he could make sure it was perfect. We had only one problem and that turned out to be a happy accident. There wasn’t enough Python for the top piece and he was afraid I would be disappointed. I didn’t want a different skin. Instead, I suggested making it out of white leather and Shack could patina that bit when it got here to make it match. Everyone agreed that this was a fabulous idea. We had a long-distance collab on our hands.

souvenir Florence Python bag
Shack’s patina work brings the bag together and I love the hardware that Mozzy chose for me

Sure enough, the bag arrived within days by FedEx and only then, would he accept my payment. For the price of two weeks’ worth of touristy souvenirs that would end up at a garage sale, I have one, perfect piece of Florence with me. It reminds me that we have a friend in my new favourite city – people I have sent to him were treated like family. The friends we make are also living souvenirs of our travels.

The fact that Shack worked on it as well, makes it even more special to all of us. Way better than a Naked David apron.