BY JANET STEINBERG
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. For a few short weeks in November and December, animated store windows around the world come alive with music and dance. Angels are glistening, snowflakes twinkle and shops etched in lights sparkle like diamonds. However, travelers who prefer shopping to sightseeing, can do some world-class Christmas shopping 12 months a year… wherever/whenever they get their passports stamped.
The trick to becoming a superlative shopper is to forget tacky souvenirs. Purchase the best quality you can afford and, whenever possible, buy the products for which that country is known. Chances are you will pay much less for them in their country of origin than you would if you purchased them back home.
From small boutiques to large department stores, the world is aglow with the best each country has to offer. Hop aboard my travel broom and I’ll whisk you around the world via the platinum path to poverty.
The most popular shopping street in Helsinki is a tree-lined boulevard with the tongue-twisting name of Pohjoisesplanadi. Translated into the easily pronounceable `Esplanade’ or ‘Espa’, this showcase of Finnish design runs from the open market to the Swedish Theater. In its elegant simplicity, functionality and quality, Finnish design reflects the characteristics of its people.
Marimekko is a way of dressing that is timelessly unique, simple and elegant. Marimekko, which means “Mary’s simple dress,” is for people who associate quality of design with quality of life. Designs range from the flamboyant flowery prints of the 1950’s to the designs of the 2020’s.
ittala glass (Yes, iittala is spelled with a lower case ‘i’) has a small white ‘i’ in a tiny red dot, that marks the sign of faultless glassware designed by renowned Finnish designers such as Alvar Aalto. Aalto’s 1936 creation of his now famous Savoy vase was the beginning of what has become known as “original Finnish glass design.” Today, that same Aalto vase, which can be seen in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is still one of the most characteristic designs of iittala glasswork.
Aarikka sings the song of Finnish wood design. The delicious smell of Finnish wood assaults the senses of shoppers as they enter the shop that is renowned for its adorable rams covered with Finnish wood balls. This design classic was born as the symbol of Finnish perseverance. The Aarikka ram is a valued gift, and its unique design remains timeless decade after decade.
There are riches for rockhounds (also known as noodlers or fossickers) Down Under. Minerals have replaced sheep as Australia’s No.1 export and it is the fiery opal that is of particular interest to the tourist. Black opals from Lightning Ridge are the rarest. The finest black opals are sparked with flaming reds and oranges as well as the fiery greens and blues that are the most common colors. In addition to the expensive black opal, the white, fire and the water opals all qualify as gemstones.
Pearling has always been part of the romance of the South Pacific, and South Sea is the trade name by which all pearls produced in the waters off Broome, Western Australia, are known. The round South Sea pearls from Australia are much larger than those grown from the Japanese pearl oyster and have a much thicker coating of pearl substance, called nacre.
While the costly South Sea pearl may be the dream of every woman, it is the large Mabe blister pearl (pronounced mah bay) that took Broome’s pearl industry by storm. Mabe pearls, the size of marbles, are affordable for the masses.
If jewelry is not your thing, treat yourself to some Aboriginal art such as a hand-painted didgeridoo that can be found in gift shops like the one at the Sydney Opera House. In the Aboriginal culture, the didgeridoo is used in both ceremonies and informal settings, often as an accompaniment to chanting, singing and dancing.
Artisans from all Norway go to Bergen to see their handicrafts in the world-famous Husfliden, a beautiful shop where you can find traditional bunads (the colorful Norwegian folk dress) and a large selection of hand knitted sweaters and hats.
For future Christmas celebrations, you can take home a Julenisse, the Norwegians version of Santa Claus. In Scandinavian folklore, a nisse is a short, mythological gnome-like creature with a long white beard and a red cap. Though mischievous, he is responsible for the protection and welfare of the farmstead and its buildings. Norway is also the place to find tanned reindeer skins for wall hangings, rugs, or throws and a wide variety of Norwegian items such as cut-out embroidery work Lapp house shoes, painted nesting dolls and trolls.
Wunderbar! Wunderbar! Shopping in Germany is not inexpensive, but it is truly wonderful. Everything is beautiful. Everything is well-made. And, when you get it home, everything works. Quality is something that is guaranteed with a “Made in Germany” label… reassuring words in this world of instant antiques and mass-produced rubbish.
Getting German goods at home is very different from purchasing them in Germany. Aside from considerable savings, there is the pure pleasure of buying in the country of origin. Buying from street vendors around Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie, you’ll also get atmosphere, authenticity, local color and memories thrown in with your purchase.
Omnia, Omnibus, Ubique (“All Things, for All People, Everywhere”) is the motto of Harrods, the red brick, gingerbread, haphazardly-arranged London store that lists its selling space in acres (15.5) instead of square feet. London’s legendary “Queen’s Store” may not be the oldest, most modern or largest store in the world, but it is the most unique. Its 330+ departments provide the world’s most comprehensive range of merchandise and services… from the cradle to the grave.
The most expensive item ever sold at Harrods was the luxury yacht “Project Mars” that sold for $165 million dollars. If you have just $10 to spend, head to the Food Hall for a jar of jelly or a tin of shortbread cookies. $50 will buy you Harrods 2023 Christmas Bear (named Ethan).
Harrods history is legendary, and not without comic relief. The store, located in Knightsbridge since 1849, was once challenged by a phone hoaxer who called the store saying he wanted to purchase an elephant. The smart-aleck was promptly put in his place by a quick-witted clerk who politely replied: “Yes sir, an Indian elephant or an African one?”
Legend also has it that, in a British primary school, the small lad thought for several moments before he could tell his geography class the capitals of France and Italy. However, when he was asked to name the capital of England, without hesitation he replied: “Harrods”.
World-class shopping is more than a matter of good taste, it’s a matter of dollars and sense.
WARNING: THE SPLURGIN’ GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT THIS ARTICLE CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR WEALTH.
Janet Steinberg, winner of 55 national travel-writing awards resides in Cincinnati but calls the world her home.
Photos: Janet Steinberg