Souvenirs are popular for a reason.
We can’t take everything back, but with souvenirs, at least, we are reminded of the places we visit. Wooden clogs painted with tulips and windmills are self-explanatory. And one can build a small army of mini terra-cotta warriors from Xi’an, China.
Be it simple or exquisite, it’s that something from that far away place, one to bring back the sense of wonder of the first encounter.
This porcelain, on display at the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna, found its way from the “Far East” centuries ago. Some royalty was collecting exotic objects of desire.
It’s not for everyone, of course, and more than a few travelers have a stash of objects from various places collecting dust or buyer’s remorse. But I get why people buy them.
There are things I don’t get.
The Great Butcher’s Hall in Ghent, Belgium is a meat market that goes back to medieval times. It’s now a coffee shop, yet giant hams hang from the ceiling as reminders of its past.
Stepping outside, just a few meters away, I saw these shoes hanging from a line. I don’t get what they were for, though I found it ironic.
The reality is that we will never ”get” a place by simply visiting. One has to be a long-time local for that. But I’m fine with skimming the surface. There’s a lot to enjoy. Which brings me to my next lesson.
It’s OK to be a tourist and enjoy the food.
Generally speaking, you can enjoy the same food as the locals.
Having said that, I like the tourist versions of Dutch pancakes and Belgian waffles, too. They’re indulgent and pack enough energy for a full day’s walk (or two).
One can’t go wrong with Czech beer. The one from the tap in Cesky Krumlov is as good as the beer you get around Prague.
Every place has a specialty, like mussels in Brussels.
Personally, my favorite are the oysters sold as street food on Miyajima Island in Japan.
Speaking of Japan, a dinner I had in Osaka is something to remember. The superb food aside, it’s because of the story around it. Which is my next lesson.
It’s the people you remember the most.
We got lost while looking for the restaurant in Osaka. Finally we asked a young couple on the street for directions. Not only did they help us look for it on their mobile phone, they walked with us a few blocks and brought us to the door of the restaurant.
We thanked them profusely and they smiled and graciously bowed and went on their way.
It was a great dinner, needless to say.
Japan is a cash society so we paid in cash, but we didn’t have the exact amount so we left without waiting for the change (there’s no tipping in Japan). Two blocks later, we heard someone from the restaurant calling us, running to hand us the change, which was worth a few cents.
To this day, when I think of Japan, I think of the people.
It’s been a long response to this week’s Lens-artists challenge to share what travel has taught us, but let me add one more: the best things to take home are the photos. They’re not ”fine art” but they can bring us back to our travels all over again.
Thanks for visiting!