Until I started thinking about how to answer this months’ Across the Cafe Table question posed by the Travel Belles: ‘What’s Your Favourite Travel Shopping Find?’ I had never considered myself a particularly materialistic traveller. Then I looked around my new bedroom in the house I’ve just moved into and realised that a lot of the things making it feel homely and ‘mine’ were related to my travels. I wondered how I would ever pick a favourite.
There’s the string of wooden hearts I bought at a market in France hanging on the door, adding a vintage chic touch. I’m rather fond of those.
But then there’s the two one-off art pieces I brought back from South America, a sweet Peruvian painting and a Northern-Argentinean grain mosaic. They make me smile when I open my curtains in the morning, remembering the intense sunshine of my high-altitude life as I look out at the grey English drizzle.
Then, inside my wardrobe, there’s the purple woollen dress I bought for ridiculously few dollars in Urban Outfitters in Chicago, an item which I wear relentlessly through the Autumn and Winter and which began my love affair with Urban Outfitters (and in particular, their sales). Or what about the red alpaca wool dress (I have a thing about woollen dresses) bought for a pittance at a Bolivian market? It has a cute little hood and looks great teamed with a black polo neck top. But if I open the African-made (although British-bought) jewellery box on my dresser, I’ll find a chunky bangle bought on my coming-of-age trip to Morroco. I really love that bracelet.
I could pick either of those, but that would negate the dark blue, soft leather piece of gorgeousness which functions as my handbag of choice, bought in Argentina and which has hardly left my arm since.
My head span as I realised that my passion for travel was imbued into every corner of my room. But then I remembered what wasn’t there. In my mind’s eye, I could see the two books I had left at my parents’ house, considerig them too fragile to stuff into my hastily-packed boxes, which I plan to pick up at Christmas.
They are small, brown and not much to look at really, but they are without a doubt my favourite travel purchase. I was browsing in a small vintage shop in Geneva, near Chicago, when I found these two little books. They caught my attention because I love old books. I picked them up and carefully opened the front covers. They had been printed in 1901, in Covent Garden, London, of all places. One was a history of Seville, the other of Florence. Each had an inscription on the inside cover. Seville’s read: ‘To Alan, With Love, Grandma. Christmas, 1913.’ Florence’s: ‘To George, With Love. 1909.’
I paid just $15 for both of them and soon I was taking them home with me, back to their home too. They must have the most incredible stories to them, and not just the ones they contain about Seville and Florence. They are travel histories, but more than that, the books themselves have travelled. How they got from London to a suburban town in Illinois and how many hands they passed through to get there I will never know, but that is what makes them so precious and intriguing.
So it turns out my favourite travel purchase was something you can’t really buy at all: history, mystery and stories. I can’t wait to collect those books and have them in pride of place on my new bookshelves.