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Venice Gifts and Souvenirs
Shopping for a Bottega Veneta handbag or a Missoni jacket is likely to be fun, if you can afford it, but what about choosing inexpensive souvenirs and gifts to haul back home? Do you settle for a plaster-of-paris gondola, a mass-produced Carnevale mask, and a cigarette lighter engraved with the Lion of St. Mark?
If Kitsch isn't your cup of tea, try these gifts and souvenirs on for size:
Make fun of these straw hats if you wish, but they're practical on sunny days. They're also attractive. And you can use them as summer hats back home--that is, if you're a woman or own a gondola.
(Sure, a gondolier's hat will make you look like a tourist in Venice--but so what? You are a tourist, aren't you?)
Gondolier's clothing is another possibility. To buy the same official gear that gondoliers wear, visit either of the two Emilio Ceccato shops in Venice (one in San Marco, the other in San Polo at the foot of the Rialto Bridge).
Books, maps, postcards, and prints
The larger bookstores carry a large selection of travel books, coffee-table books, and maps, many of which aren't available outside Italy.
Postcards and packets of accordion-fold photo cards are souvenirs that you'll never regret buying. Decades from now, you or your kids will take pleasure in seeing "Venice as it looked then" (which isn't much different than Venice as it looked 200 years ago). Look for postcards in any bookstore, or check the excellent postcard shop in St. Mark's Basilica.
Art prints, posters, and wall maps make wonderful gifts and souvenirs. My favorite is a large, full-color poster version of the aerial photo map titled Venezia forma urbis from Editore Marsilio, which we found in a Venice bookstore.
Be sure to buy posters rolled up and packed in a tube for easy carrying.
Games and puzzles
Venetians have been designing and playing games of various types since the heyday of the Venice Republic, and the tradition continues today. We especially like the (admittedly expensive) wooden jigsaw-model puzzles of such Venetian landmarks as the Rialto Bridge and the Salute Church, which are available at several shops around town.
The glass artisans of Murano produce huge quantities of tourist junk, but they also make inexpensive objects that are tasteful, attractive, and even fun. Glass beads come in many colors, loose or prestrung in inexpensive necklaces. Realistic-looking hard candy (complete with mock paper wrappers) can be placed in a bowl, displayed on a windowsill, or used as Christmas-tree ornaments. Miniature fishbowls or aquariums cost a little more, but they make perfect gifts for the ichthyologist who has everything.
You'll find a huge assortment of glass objects and jewelry in shops all over Venice. If you're heading for nearby Murano: the glass island, you can do your souvenir-hunting in the many shops along the island's central canal.
Travel diaries, handcrafted marbelized paper, and other gift stationery items are fine gifts. Sealing-wax kits, complete standard or custom metal stamps, will please recipients with a taste for the traditional. (Look for stamps with Venetian themes, such as the Lion of St. Mark or a sun with a human face.)
Venice has many handsome little shops that specialize in paper goods, bookbinding, and stamps. All are used to dealing with tourists, so don't be shy about venturing in and asking, "Uh...parla inglese?"
See captioned photo: Il Pavone
Candy, vacuum-packed bags of Italian coffee, cookies, and other common food items are fun to give away or save for a special occasion. Torrone, a boxed almond confection, and Perugina chocolate kisses in ornament-shaped plastic balls are popular at Christmas. Also check the wines and packaged gourmet foods at I Tre Mercanti, which offers 97 different types of pasta sauces alone.
Avoid the temptation to carry a salami or a bag of tangerines home with you, since perishable foods (other than baked goods) can't be imported legally into the U.S. and many other countries.
See illustrated article: I Tre Mercanti
Everyday household items
Purchases that you take for granted at home can be wonderful souvenirs when purchased abroad. Years ago, my wife and I bought travel flashlights in a Lisbon hardware store. These became our "Portuguese flashlights," even though they were imported from England. In Denmark, we bought plastic cups for our bathroom--and seven years later, those bright Danish red cups still remind us of our three trips to Denmark. From Italy, we brought a collection of miniature Star Trek spaceships home to our 9-year-old Trekker son. The fact that the toys bore an American brand name and were made in Asia didn't change the fact that, for our son, they were Italian additions to his starship collection--if only because the labels were in Italian.
A while back, Brad Ball of Silversea Cruises told us about his favorite souvenir item: refrigerator magnets. Such magnets are inexpensive, easy to carry home, and more useful than most other travel mementoes.
See captioned photo: Ratti
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