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Souvenirs from the Souq

Souvenir Treasures: What to Buy, Where

Article by Kat Johnson 07.12.2019

An abundance of research suggests that it’s experiences, not things, that bring us joy — and anecdotally, it’s easy to agree. But when it comes to travel, the concept is more nuanced: Souvenirs can extend the joyful experience of a trip, reminding us of their provenance every time we use or admire them.

Beyond beauty and utility, the best mementos often reflect a craft from their origin; think of Italy’s hand-blown Murano glass or Morocco’s colorful Berber rugs. In fact, handmade pieces are among the most sought-after global treasures today. “Everything is craft,” says Shannon Walton, corporate retail buyer for The Ritz-Carlton. “Independent artisans and marketplaces like Etsy have had a huge impact on global retail. Everyone is seeking out that handmade quality.”  

Souvenirs from the Souq

Centuries before competition from the Internet made “experiential shopping” a thing, souqs provided the ultimate combination of commerce, social interaction and sensory excitement. In Doha, the best place to start is Souq Waqif, a dynamic market that’s arguably the most beautiful in the Gulf. The traditional Bedouin trading post was refreshed in 2006, all the better to wander its gorgeous Qatari architecture and charming cobbled lanes, stopping to smoke shisha, drink chai or sample kebab and tagine. Spices, jewelry, Qatari clothing and oud (incense or perfume made from agarwood) abound; another unique memento is one of the souq’s hand-painted wood boxes — a pretty, practical way to wrangle stray items on a desk or table back home.

Row of ceramic vessels each decorated in gold and colorful enamel

Handmade Jewelry

There may be no better way to memorialize a well-loved destination than with a piece of iconic wearable art. In India, jewelry is more than an aesthetic pleasure. Symbolizing fortune, strength and security, each piece carries potent cultural significance and symbolism. From exquisite gold- and silver-smithing to precious gemstones and traditional pieces like the tika (a pendant worn on the forehead), nose rings and bangles, a new piece of jewelry makes an ideal gift or souvenir. It’s well worth spending an afternoon shopping the wares at Amrapali and Ganjam, two of India’s most respected jewelry houses, known for blending fine traditional techniques with current trends. Both boutiques are adjacent to the lush Cubbon Park, a wonderful place for a shady stroll.

An ornate piece of Indian jewelry against a colorful Indian fabric

The Scent of Your Stay

Nothing has the power to spark memory like fragrance, so bringing back a treasured scent — perfume from a local shop, street-market incense, a favorite soap or lotion from your hotel — makes sense. “You want something that reminds you of where you’ve been,” Walton says. “Our sense of smell is especially equipped to help with that.” To complement your travels, The Ritz-Carlton has developed a collection of luxury candles designed to evoke a sense of place, from a sophisticated 50 Central Park Candle, which pays homage to New York City’s Central Park, to a lush Sakura Candle inspired by the cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C.

Indigo Textiles

Beautiful textiles that reflect regional traditions are a must-have for any well-traveled shopping aficionado. Japan’s aizome (indigo-dyed) textiles, which can be traced back to at least the 8th century, are the perfect addition to any collection. The deep, beautiful color has been called “Japan blue” and is used in everything from traditional shibori (tie-dye) and boro (a patchwork textile art) to contemporary selvedge denim and home décor. Visit Amuse Museum in Asakusa to learn more about the craft, or scoop up pillows and workwear at Okura, where the house brand Blue Blue Japan, shows off the craft in contemporary garments.

Old World Porcelain

Over the past few years, pottery has re-sculpted itself from a fusty knickknack to a modern home essential. And while hand-crafted porcelain follows a Chinese tradition that began more than 1,000 years ago, two Hungarian companies are renowned for impeccably made, elegant dinnerware and décor that have never looked like your grandmother’s china. A quintessential European souvenir, Herend porcelain has found fans from British royalty to a new guard of collectors captivated by its technical excellence, delicate hand-painting and iconic patterns. Zsolnay is an altogether different look — the drama is in its rich, sometimes otherworldly glazes — but is also keenly collected. To avoid counterfeits, head to brand-authorized retailers for both Herend and Zsolnay in Budapest.

Teapot, cup and sugar bowl designed with gold flourishes

No matter what you buy, shopping in a new environment can be overwhelming even for experienced shoppers. But fear not. As Walton advises, go with your instincts and don’t take it too seriously. “I buy on intuition,” she says. “I’m a firm believer that you should only get what you love.” And if that means sometimes you leave without purchasing any new treasures, then that’s just one more reason to plan another global shopping adventure.

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