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Shopping in Italy

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With less than a month before I leave for a 3-week trip to Italy (yay!!!!) I'm beginning to draw up a little shopping list of things that I simply have to have from Italy. Again, my usual disclaimer: I don't really enjoy shopping. I like to have nice things, but I become pretty ambivalent at the point where I have to part with my cash.

So, I try to plan ahead before a trip, by thinking of practical items that I actually need and use, which -- when bought in Italy -- double as souvenirs because when I use them, they remind me of when and where they were acquired.

For example, in Italy last September, I bought some beautiful ceramic dishes. I needed dishes for everyday use -- bowls, plates, that kind of thing. And I decided that instead of buying more stoneware from a department store, I would buy something with some meaning to it. That meant ceramics handmade in Italy.

That said, I wouldn't have ventured into Deruta (with its 300-plus ceramic stores) if Mary hadn't actually taken me there and escorted me into several shops that she is familiar with. Left to my own devices, I probably would have spent that day loafing around Perugia, drifting from cafes to churches, gawking at beautiful things, wishing I had a piece of Italy's beauty at home, and looking for a washroom (after all of that coffee!) And I would have returned home with nothing but some photos. Not that there is anything wrong with photos. But I really did need dishes.

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Incidentally, along with my shopping list, I'm also drawing up an official list of banned items. I will not be allowed to buy any more purses. I have to draw the line somewhere, and here it is. Last year, I bought three purses in Italy. Two, last January in Rome during the winter sales as well as my favourite, a purple borsa from Perugia purchased last September. I really do NOT need more purses.

I'm also barred from buying any more monk-made products. Last year, I brought home a bottle of "Elixir of Happiness" from Il Monasteri in Rome. I really loved the name and the bottle, and we only just opened it last week when I had a cocktail party for Philippe, my pet European who is currently visiting from Frankfurt. The elixir did not, in fact, make me very happy, nor were my guests -- except Nirmala, who claims she liked its herbal undertones and the slightly bitter flavour left on the palate. I must remember to give her the rest of the bottle......

But back to the shopping list. What I really do need is a Moka Express. I've been talking about buying one for years. They don't cost much, but I've resolved that instead of buying one at The Hudson's Bay Co. department store, I'd rather bring the little appliance and all its associated memories back from Italy. That way, each time it boils over on the stove, I'll remember when and where I bought it.

I also need various paper products. I like to get my little purse-sized datebook for the year in Italy, with a beautiful scene on the little hard cover. And various calendars for 2010 (I hope some are available)

I would like to buy some food items. I know I'll be looking wistfully at a giant wheel of Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese when I'm in Parma, but I really don't think I can get one home with me. So, I might buy a small, vacuum-sealed wedge. And honey -- I love some of the Italian honey that is flavoured with wild flowers. I'll also look for anything that is scented or flavoured with lemons.

I'm intrigued to read that our Slow Travel friends Mindy and ColleenK have been looking at eyeglass frames in Bologna. That would be so cool to have Italian frames -- useful, since I'm wearing my glasses rather than contacts, more and more often.

Any suggestions for useful/practical/beautiful "souvenirs" from Italy?


Comments (33)

Nim:

Might I suggest a pet monk? Like one of those from the calendar? He would definitely be useful AND practical AND beautiful to have around.

Just make sure he can make me more elixir of happiness :)


Oh Sandra, I am so happy for you, and green with envy, you are leaving to Italy very soon! Yay!

I love how you draw a shopping list,it is a great idea! I am not a shopper myself either, and I always regret not buying things after I get home from a vacation.

For the last two or three years, I have been collecting Christmas ornaments from places we have visited and lived, meaningful unique ornaments that is, they do require some searching sometimes, for example, last year, I bought a gondolier ornament made of Murano glass from Venice.When I take out my ornaments every year for Christmas, I am reminded of fond memories from places we visited.

BTW, I nominated you for Kreativ Blogger Award. You totally deserve it! I love your blog!
http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/candi/2009/05/kreative_blogger_award_1.html

menehune:

OK, I'll feed your desires - I read an article that stated buying your frames and having them 'retrofitted' with your lenses is actually more economical - feeding your practical side:-) BTW: I have yet been able to curb the pocketbook urge. menehune

nancyhol:

Such a good idea making a shopping list like that. I may have to consider doing that for our September trip.

sandrac:

Hmmmm, Nirmala, I think the Church frowns on people keeping monks as pets!

Candi, I'm pretty excited about returning to Italy. I love your idea of buying some lovely Christmas ornaments in Italy -- they would feel really special. (And a glass ornament from Murano is a fantastic idea!) Thanks as well for the nomination.

Menehune, the retrofitting idea intrigues, I wonder how that works?

Nancy, if I don't make a list, I completely forget all the little things people asked me to pick up, or that I've needed around the house between trips!

When I was on Burano, I saw a shop with these very colorful Moka Express pots - seemed to fit that island with all the bright painted houses. I think I took a photo of the shop window - I'll have to check.

Several times I've brought back a bag of dried porcini mushrooms. They are less expensive over there and taste better too. I usually bring back some coffee too - nothing fancy but even Italian grocery store coffee is better than ours!

Anne:

Very amusing post, Sandra!

I heartily second the eyeglass frames idea. I looked at some cool frames when I was in Florence last October and was kicking myself afterward for not buying them. But I adore my leather jacket, and can't get everything on one trip! :)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, how exciting for you to be leaving for Italy soon. I enjoyed reading your shopping list of special items you'll be bringing home and I smiled reading about your banned items too! :) BTW, cute graphic on the handbag. I like how you choose practical items that you can use often and enjoy. It's a great idea.

Thanks so much for sharing and have a great day!

sandrac:

Annie, those must have been beautiful Moka Express pots, if they were inspired by the colours of Burano.

It's interesting that you mentioned dried porcinis -- two people have asked me to bring some back for them! And you're so right about coffee, I brought some back last time (it's so light and easy to pack) and I will again!

Hi Anne, it's hard to make choices but you're right -- one really can't just buy everything. If I could find a leather jacket that I loved, I think that would be the It purchase of the trip!

Kathy, your post on wonderful things you found in Spain (like your beautiful guitar) reminded me to get on with preparing my list of things I need and that would be extra special, coming from Italy.

Marcia:

My favorite part of your making a shopping list is the "banned" items - that's funny. I find myself shopping less and less on each trip, just enjoying the being there I guess.

Ohhhhh - if you taking orders I'd like a huge wheel of parmigiano!

Tourmama:

Great idea, Sandra. I find that more and more my "youvenirs" are food related; porcini are definitely at the top of the list. I'm sure I'll find some wonderful aceto balsamico in Emilia Romagna. A trip to a local grocer's on Lake Garda a few years ago turned out to be a great place to stock up on dry mixes for various kinds of pasta sauces.

Another easy to pack and useful souvenir - tea towels. I am still using the ones I bought when Diva took us on an informal post-cooking class wander through her neighborhood in 2005.

I'm another who tries to find a Christmas ornament to add to my collection - but last time we were in Italy (in November), all the ones we saw had labels on them marked "made in China"...But I DO have a couple of Murano glass ornaments from Venice that I love.

We can compare notes in Bologna!

Judy

sandrac:

Marcia, you make a good point -- travel is about being in an interesting place, and just enjoying it! I guess I hope taking a bit of my trip home will prolong the pleasure (even after the bills come in! :) )

Jerry, if I can just figure out a way to get that big boy home, you'll definitely get a cut!

Hi Judy -- I know what you mean. Bringing home food items is a practical and fun way to prolong a trip!
You make a good point about knowing what you're buying, Christmas ornaments made in China wouldn't have quite the same feeling as genuine Murano glass.

I'm really looking forward to seeing you in Bologna -- and hearing about all of your finds!


A moka express sounds like a great item to buy. I have also wanted to buy one of those while in Italy. I am sure there will be plenty of calendars. Maybe there will be *hot monk* calendars like the *hot priest* calendars that were sold!

I wish I was more organized. I am more like Candi, wishing I bought things after I return home. I also never have room to fit very much since I always pack to much to begin with although I still can't figure out what I am packing that takes up so much room. Maybe I will find a way to fit a moka express or ship one home.

sandrac:

Hi Girasoli! First of all, thanks so much for setting up my trip countdown meter. It's enormous fun to watch the days ticking down until my trip!

I know what you mean, I always pack way too much stuff so I don't have any room coming home. Yet when I'm leaving Italy, I don't mind if my suitcase is all jammed full of stuff higgledy-piggledy, since I figure I have a long mourning period after the trip when I can sort everything out.

I hope you get a Moka Express on this trip, it would be such a great, practical souvenir of your travels!

sheri:

I'm not much of a shopper either - mostly because I waste so much precious time trying to decide what to buy. A list is a great idea. I think that my favorite purchase was four numbered tiles that make up my address. Every time I enter my house and see those tiles, I remember our trip!

Have a fabulous trip!

sandrac:

Hi Leslie, thanks!!

Sheri, your tiles sound like an excellent and practical souvenir!

Fun post, Sandra, especially the items on the banned list. No more monk-made products?! LOL

I bought a moka in Venice on my first trip to the Belpaese in 1979. Thirty years ago and the moka is still going strong! The only part we have had to replace in all these years is the rubber seal. You can see a photo of it here: http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/mariai/2008/08/the_first_and_the_last_one_1.html

As to eyeglasses frame, I looked at them in my last trip but was undecided due to my lens prescription. In 2001 I bought a pair of sunglasses in Venice from an optical shop near San Marco and I still wear them. I don’t care that they are not in fashion anymore; they are so well made and they have outlasted any other sunglasses I have ever owned.

I also bring coffee from the supermarket; my favorite is Lavazza cream e gusto.

dana:

I like the eyeglass frame idea too... practical, very Italian, and you'll feel Italian in them!

Enjoy your planning as that clock ticks down... so soon now!

sandrac:

Maria, that's amazing -- 30 years with the same Moka! And as for fashion, I think we should wear what we like, what we think looks good and suits us, and be happy with that!

Thanks Dana! Beautiful frames would be another practical, lovely souvenir.

Barb Cabot:

Catching up on my fave blogs. This post makes me laugh...esp. the ban on purses...I was thinking what ban...then I got it. I know those self imposed bans, we all get so carried away. Love the idea of a Venetian xmas ornament mentioned by Candi. The count down is so exciting. I'm very very happy for you.

sandrac:

Hi Barb! I think my self-imposed purse ban is going to be sorely tested right off the bat. Apparently Parma, my first stop, is the original home of Furla as well as Coccinelle (one of my favourite lines of purses.) Yikes!

mindy:

I bought a wedge of parmiggano reggiano at the place it was made. Phenomenal!! It was shrink wrapped. wish I had bought at least another wedge. Seeing the wheels of cheese as in your photo took my breath away. Seriously, I got the same feeling in my chest that I did when I first laid eyes on "David". well endowed men and cheese, what a combo!

Plenty of 2010 calendars. I bought one of the Ravenna mosaics. Have you been to Ravenna, is it in your plans this trip? Amazing, the mosaics. another "takes your breath away" moments.

ciao, happy packing! Leave room for cheese.

Mindy

Glen:

My wife bought a moka pot when we were there.

But I bought a Rancilio Silvia the day after we got back. That reminds me of Italy more than any souvenir I bought during our trip!

sandrac:

Mindy, you are hilarious! I think you need to write a special guest blog here, comparing the way great works of art (ie parmigiano and David) can make us feel.

You're convincing me to take a spare travel bag to bring back extra wedges of real cheese! And extra, excellent calendars so when I'm home I can countdown the days until the next trip.

Hi Glen, whoa -- the Rancilio Silvia looks incredible! That is one serious machine. I imagine the whoosh of the steam would send you right back to the sounds of an Italian coffee bar!

Glen:

It does...enough to bring a tear to your eye some days and make you want to hop on the next flight.

Hope your trip is great!

sandrac:

Thanks Glen, I hope you have another trip to Italy in the works as well. It sounds as if you're ready to go back!

Hi Sandra,

Wanted to let you know that I watched "Days and Clouds" this weekend, the latest movie from the same guy who did Agata and Bread&Tulips.

I really enjoyed it. MUCH more somber than the previous two movies though. If you haven't seen it, wait until your gloom lifts! But it's a great movie overall, set in Genoa with some very interesting characters. One of them is an art historian and there are some lovely scenes showing the rediscovery of some painted-over frescoes.

sandrac:

Thanks for the tip, Annie. It sounds great -- I did love the other two movies very much and the story line involving an art historian intrigues.....I have to see if I can get this from Zip!

Palma:

How did I miss this post! Shame on me for being away!

1. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TOO MANY PURSES. Get that word "need" out of your vocabulary.

2. Ditto for ceramics/dishes.

3. My list always has mostly food items and a Furla bag. Now I buy rice and 00 flour that is so expensive here. ALWAYS buy parmigiano. It will last til your next r]trip. Get 2. One to rip into right away when you miss Italy, and one to save for the holidays.

I used to buy lots of honey and shawls/pashmina. I really do have too many of both.

My final word: Buy whatever you love when you see it (within reason). Don't over think it!


sandrac:

Excellent advice, Palma, as always! BTW, did I tell you I bought a Furla watch in Florence last September? I wear it every day and love it. I don't think I can ever get too much Furla!

Palma:

I love my Furla watch too! They have great reasonable jewelry!

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