Ed: Note— after you read about guest author Raphael’s top picks, you may also want to check out my own favorite Italy souvenirs and learn how to buy Italian ceramics, find crisp Italian linens, and taste-test delicious Italian cheese from a family farm.
The moment I saw that huge replica of the Duomo of Florence, I knew I HAD to buy it. I wasn’t thinking straight, of course. After all, who in their right mind buys something that it is extremely heavy and easily breakable? Especially when they are just part way through their two-year trip around the world, and lugging around a suitcase from place to place?
Well, me! Over the course of my travels I’ve bought at least one item from each country/region I’ve visited.
Quick Content Guide
A Roman gladiator shield and sword (kid’s plastic version, of course!)
I grew up watching Russell Crowe’s epic movie Gladiator, so when I saw this souvenir Roman gladiator shield, I knew I had to have it. Here was my chance to recreate a scene from one of my favorite flicks at the place where it all happened– the Colosseum.
I received a lot of flak and nagging from my then-girlfriend. “Raphael, you look extremely silly with that!” But I didn’t care. Suffice to say, we didn’t last long. Ed. note: ladies, if you want to date Raphael, don’t make fun of his toys!
You can buy this Roman gladiator shield near the Trevi fountain in Rome for about 15 to 20 euros. It also includes a helmet but my head was too big for that! I guess this was really meant to be a kid’s toy.
A Venetian mask souvenir straight out of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut
Ever since I was an easily impressionable child, Venetian masks and the whole idea of dressing up for the Carnival fascinated me. That’s why during my visit to this love/hate city I wanted to get THE best Venetian mask out there. I did some internet research and found Ca’ Macana, the shop that created most of the Venetian masks for Stanley Kubricks’ last movie, Eyes Wide Shut.
Ca’Macana is one of the oldest mask making workshops in Venice, known their respect of tradition– the workshop crafts authentic handmade Venetian masks using the same traditional methods of Venetian artisans from over 800 years ago. Venetian mask designs are never repeated, so each mask is a true bespoke original.
Shopping Ca’ Macana for a souvenir Venetian mask is a fun experience– you’ll be dazzled by the colorful, intricately designed Venetian masks lining the walls (along with the autographs of fans Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman). With all these delicate, handmade masks, you might expect a stuffy atmosphere and a no touch policy but fortunately that was not the case at all. The helpful staff actually encourages you to try the masks on and will even let you pose for photos with your favorites.
If you want to try your hand at painting your own Venetian mask, you can participate in Ca’ Macana’s Venetian mask painting workshop. While adults can learn about the history of the Venetian masks while painting their own, the workshop recognizes the short attention span of certain small visitors and promises that if “there are small children in the group we will not bore them with a long theoretical introduction”-– kids can just grab some paintbrushes and have fun, no history lesson required.
More Italian Souvenirs: Love and War
After bagging my prized gladiator souvenirs in Rome, I kept an eye out for more souvenirs that represented the great Roman empire– like this replica Roman soldier’s helmet. But I don’t just buy war souvenirs, there’s room for love too. In Verona, the home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the romantic in me couldn’t resist this small statue of the star-crossed lovers.
Impractical, breakable Italian souvenirs are no deterrent!
As you might have guessed by now, if I love a souvenir, I won’t let the fact that’s it’s breakable or heavy keep me from buying it. In Pisa, I found a stone bible with the leaning tower on top of it for 1 euro right next to the real deal. I also picked up this small stone Lion of St. Mark in Venice for 3 euros outside of the Ducal Palace. I simply couldn’t resist!
Of course, I’m saving the best for last, this souvenir medium-scale replica of Florence’s Duomo. Just look at the photos and behold how amazing this is! The colors, the details, the je-ne-sais-quoi, this is, without any doubt, my favorite souvenir of all of Europe. Want to know the best part? It’s actually not that expensive! You can buy a replica of the Duomo of Florence at the San Lorenzo street market for only 15 euros (of course, you need to bargain first!).
How to travel with souvenirs
Yes, I know what you’re all thinking: how in God’s name did you manage to carry all of those souvenirs with you for two-years? The answer is that I didn’t really drag all of my souvenirs around with me everywhere I went. Instead, I carefully plotted my itinerary by including souvenir “drop off” points– that is, friends’ homes around the world where I could store my souvenirs while I traveled, and later pick up when I was ready to return home.
In fact, after finishing up a long 24 months of travel, instead of flying home directly from Japan to Mexico, I made an out-of the-way connection all the way to Scotland (via Dubai!) just to pick up my souvenirs! Yes, a direct airplane from Japan to Mexico would have been quicker and cheaper but hey, there was no way I was leaving my souvenirs behind! Ed. note: Raphael, that’s commitment!
- What to buy: Guest Author Raphael recommends a mask in Venice, and bookshelf-friendly replica statues
- Where to buy: In Venice, seek out the famous Ca’Macana. Replicas and statues can be found around tourist sites
- What to know: Bring bubble wrap from home for breakables– it can be tricky to find in Italy