Travel Touchstones

[Today’s entry comes from the mom-in-chief of our editor-in-chief. Julie Podulka spent the first two decades of her life in Michigan and the years since then seeing big chunks of North America and Europe.]

My family constantly makes fun of my walls, cabinets, and shelves laden with strange and wonderful souvenirs from our travels. But I think selecting a poster, a ceramic tile, or some shameless piece of kitsch helps preserve travel moments in time like encasing a perfect dandelion puff in Lucite. The souvenir becomes a touchstone to very specific vacation memories. For me souvenirs throw a few moments in time into vivid and high relief. Here are a few of my favorites.

In 2012 my husband and I braved the wildfires that were consuming countless acres of the American West to go camping in some of our most beautiful national parks. During that trip we had a memorable six-mile hike out to Grebe Lake in Yellowstone where a pair of trumpeter swans and their four cygnets were nesting. Later, after traveling through some areas where we were close enough to the fires to smell smoke, I stumbled upon this very appropriate poster.

While walking down Penny Lane in Liverpool we passed by a very old, very derelict brick wall. Chunks of the wall were lying all over the street. Today one of those chunks is resting peacefully in my curio cabinet “beneath the blue suburban skies” of Winfield, Illinois.

Occasionally an “after the trip” souvenir crops up. None in this category is more memorable than my hand-carved Henning troll from Norway. While ferrying all over fjord land I saw many examples of these beautifully crafted trolls, but at $300-$500 a pop those charming trolls were far out of my reach. But, always resourceful, as soon as I got home I hit the Internet. As luck would have it the husband of a woman who runs a Scandinavian shop in central Minnesota decided to put a few of their Henning carvings on sale. Happily for me he neglected to ask his wife if this would be a good idea. Needless to say I snapped up my troll for a fraction of the price shops were asking for it in Norway. Yes, it is a Norwegian souvenir via Minnesota, but it actually makes the story that much more fun!

Sometimes nature cannot be beat. These are “hag stones” from the Pacific shores of Northern Oregon. How did those holes get there?

Once in a while you can get a traditional souvenir in a rather non-traditional way. While
in Meiringen, Switzerland, I decided I couldn’t leave the country without a big, clunky brass
cowbell. Instead of making a beeline for the nearest tourist trap, my husband and I wandered through the side streets of this little village until we found the local hardware store. Sure enough, there were the cowbells that the farmers buy to put on their cattle. One ring of that bell takes me right back to the Alps.

Each and every souvenir has a story attached to it. These little artifacts keep my vacation memories close and fresh. So travel happy, but don’t forget to bring back a travel touchstone.