Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Bielefeld, Germany: Souvenirs

You may be wondering, "What kind of souvenirs does a seasoned world traveler like Caitlin bring home from abroad?" For me, souvenirs tend to be divided into two categories: practical things and fun things. The number of fun things I buy is dependent on how much money I have been forced to spend on practical things, and the number of practical things I buy is influenced by two major factors: weather and health.

Regardless of when I travel or where, I always seem to be too cold or too hot, but mostly the former. This is not because I pack inappropriately, but because, inevitably, the weather changes while I am en route, and by the time I arrive at my destination, I find myself in the middle of a freakishly hot heat wave, or a freakishly chilly cold snap. Thus, my most common souvenir is more appropriate clothing. Once I bought a bikini and another time a tank top--good times. Most of the time, though, I find myself buying jeans, sweatshirts, or jackets. Because I was mildly prepared for our less-than-stellar weather in Bielefeld, the only article of "corrective" clothing I needed to purchase was some additional trouser socks enabling me to wear warmer shoes, rather than the flip-flops I had planned on wearing:
(Note the letters at the top, so I can tell which foot each sock should go on. These are the correct letters in both German and English, which is handy--or, should I say, toe-y?)

Luckily, my health in Bielefeld was pretty good, and I was not forced to buy copious amounts of headache or cold/allergy medication, as I have done on many previous trips (though these things cost much less outside the US, so that wouldn't have been too big a deal here). Unfortunately, I did have to go to the pharmacy for two other vital items which I accidentally left behind:
(That's right, I couldn't go 5 days without fingernail clippers and tweezers, which makes me feel very vain. I also had to buy lotion because my skin couldn't take the dryness of the hotel soap--I am such a princess.)

With these necessities purchased, I was able to focus my attention on more entertaining shopping. Actually, I was hoping to take advantage of the exchange rate, which was much better for me in Germany than in the UK. Since I had been hoping to upgrade my wardrobe a bit in preparation for my new job starting this fall, I was interested in doing some serious shopping in order to buy some sophisticated continental looks at decent prices. I also have trouble finding sizes that fit me in the UK, so I had my fingers crossed that I could find clothes in Germany that were more my proportion. Unfortunately, I do not really enjoy shopping all that much, in general, and I found that I particularly did not enjoy it in Bielefeld, despite the amazing number of shops and the very high-quality brand names (including labels such as Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, etc.). In part, this is because I was less than eager to clamber over the language barrier in order to find out about practicalities: where to try things on, how many items I could take in the dressing room, which size would best fit me, etc. Another problem was that most of the clothes I liked were in the smaller boutiques, where it was impossible to browse without being stared at and harassed by the staff. It makes me feel nervous and harried to have someone watching my every move, so I just couldn't relax.

Fortunately for me, my favorite souvenir items do not require much trying-on, and I was still able to buy some accessories. Probably my most common souvenir purchase is jewelry, particularly jewelry involving birds in some way. My second favorite wearable souvenir is the scarf. I bought my first scarf ever during my first international trip (France) and have continued this habit over the years. During my trip to Bielefeld, I actually bought two scarves (well, one scarf and one pashmina, which, in the current trend, is worn like a scarf):
(That's right, it's pink, and it's got a bird. Sold!)

(This one is my favorite color and is patterned just like a favorite shirt that I grew out of long ago. This is the one that I got a 40-cent bargain on because I was temporarily short on change.)

For a while I went through a rosary-purchasing phase because I kept visiting places with giant cathedrals. My internationally-traveling friends and family contributed to my collection, which includes rosaries of all materials, sizes, and colors, from all over Europe. This practice also dates back to the France trip, which was the first time I had ever been exposed to the fascinatingly intricate world of Catholic worship, which involves many diverse and beautiful artifacts. Shortly after beginning this collection, I also started a collection of Buddhas; my first was purchased in a small hippie shop in New Orleans, of all places. Currently, Buddhas are my non-wearable souvenir of choice, and I found a nice metal one in the same shop as the pink peacock pashmina (please pardon the alliteration):

(This guy is in the Thai style, which I generally prefer because they seem so much more pensive and introspective than the merry Chinese Buddhas.)

Something else I am quite interested in is tea. Tea-associated souvenirs are fun to buy because they are both an indulgence and a practicality--although they are special because of their association with my trip, I know I will actually use them. In the past, I have purchased tea leaves and/or blends, tea cups, tea strainers, and tea holders. In Bielefeld, I bought some mint tea, which I had to ask for in German because the shopkeeper spoke no English. I was very proud of myself for remembering the correct phrase after seeing it on a menu somewhere. While I was there, I also made my trump purchase:

(A glass teapot enabling me to see hand-sewn flowering teas as they unfurl--a totally practical purchase since my other glass teapot is only for one person, whereas this is for multiple people--so, really, I'm not being materialistic so much as generous.)

While shopping, I wandered into a grocery store in order to pick up some snacks to take back to the hotel room. The most important item on my list was pretzels, which my husband loves. He does not approve of British pretzels, because he finds them too chunky. German pretzels, on the other hand, are long and skinny, and therefore have much more of the flavorful, salty outer layer than the breadier British pretzels (his analysis, not mine):

(Our dwindling supply)

For some reason, the other thing I often purchase while abroad is paper. This happens less when I am traveling for academic purposes, because I usually carry a notebook with me. But, on several non-academic trips, I have found myself needing or wanting a notebook in order to jot down important things--directions, foreign phrases, lists of things to do when I get home, etc. Because I took my netbook with me to Bielefeld, I did not anticipate also needing a notebook, but, almost inevitably, I did. Thus, I found myself perusing the local stationary/office supply store, where I not only found a small gift for someone back home, but also this lovely item:
(A packet of dove stickers. Doves are "my" symbol, and I use stickers to close envelopes when mailing. I feel I need to justify this purchase, which otherwise seems a bit juvenile.)

Alas, I did not find a notebook. Fortunately, after Sasha and I had tea in the cafe attached to the modern art museum, we wandered into the museum's souvenir shop, where I not only found a notebook, but also some nifty little bookmarks:

(Made of recycled paper--and look, decorated with birds)

(Magnetic bookmarks--handy for marking out the week's recipes in my cookbooks...and, look, shaped like birds!)

While in the cafe, we listened to some great music and I decided I needed to find out what it was so I could buy the CD. This also happened to me while I was in Spain, and since I didn't speak Spanish, I made one of my friends have a very torturous conversation with a clerk in the department store in order to find out if they sold the album (they did!). My mom did a similar thing in Italy in order to buy me the album that was playing in the internet cafe from which she was e-mailing me. In Bielefeld, I decided I was too tired to deal with language issues, so I sent my husband as my emissary. The waitress was quite helpful and provided the name of the CD (which happened to be in English). After returning to the UK, I was able to procure the compilation album, "le cafe abstrait vol. I: hi-fly for the couch culture" after a brief internet search. and are amazing.

Other than the chocolate bars and soft pretzel that I bought to help me deal with motion sickness during the airplane rides home, that is all I purchased in Germany--nothing too extravagant and nothing very unusual (for me, at least). It is amazing how similar my purchases look regardless of whether I have been to Brazil or Bielefeld, France or the French Quarter in New Orleans. Hopefully this doesn't mean that I'm boring.

Travel updates: I just booked my trip to Australia, complete with travel authorization (visa) and transit hotel reservation. I am leaving on the 13th of September and am not returning until the 3rd of October--that's three whole blog-inspiring weeks in the southern hemisphere!

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