One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is to settle in on my couch and enjoy a big cup of coffee in front of the Christmas tree. I just love the ambiance created by the twinkling lights. It feels so cozy and inviting in our living room during this time of year.
Sometimes I contemplate keeping the tree up permanently so that we can enjoy its warmth every day of the year, but then I quickly remember our cats. They too enjoy getting cozy with the tree. However, their affinity for the tree is less benign than mine. Their favorite thing to do during holiday season is to lay underneath the tree’s branches and bat at ornaments. It’s like their own personal playground!
Already they’ve managed to break two ornaments this holiday season. I wouldn’t care so much if these ornaments were the average run-of-the-mill type but I’ve collected these ornaments over the course of my travels for the past ten years.
Whenever I travel to a new place its become tradition for me to buy an ornament to commemorate my visit. I have ornaments for countries I’ve traveled to, like my 2016 trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and others that mark a visit to a particular place or event, like my visit to Disneyland during its 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration. Sadly, both of these ornaments fell victim to my sadist cats. The good news is I was able to salvage them. I glued back together the worse of the two, a clay spherical ornament from Mexico. I consider its breakage a part of its little ornament life a la Kintsugi minus the gold.
So although the coziness provided by my Christmas tree must now go away, I will find comfort from the fact that my ornaments are now safe from my cats (well, at least for another year)!
Here’s a summary of the travel ornaments I’ve collected over the past year:
Bodie State Historic Park – Bodie, CA
This simple wood ornament captures the simple spirit of this famous ghost town located in the eastern Sierra Nevada. Bodie is considered one of the best preserved historic ghost towns in the United States. It’s last inhabitants moved away in the 1940s and the care of the town passed over to the California State Park system in the 1960s. It has since become a California State Historic Park and is preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” Someday soon I’ll have to do a blog post about our visit. In the meantime, tide yourselves over with this collection of photos from that trip.
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library – Simi Valley, CA
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library sits upon a hilltop with sweeping views of the valley, Santa Monica mountains and the Pacific Ocean. This ornament embodies the majesty of the library and its surrounding site as well as the office of the U.S. Presidency. Even if presidential libraries aren’t your thing, I highly recommend a visit to the Reagan Library if you are in the Oxnard/Ventura area just for the view alone.
Bidwell Mansion SHP – Chico, CA
The Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park wasn’t on my travel bucket list but whenever I am in a new town or locale, I try and seek out a historical place of significance to visit. Some family business took me into the town of Chico, located 90 miles north of Sacramento, and a had a couple of hours to burn so I decided to stop in and learn something new.
The Bidwell Mansion belonged to John and Annie Bidwell, a husband and wife duo who were deeply involved in the development of the State of California and then later the town of Chico. The mansion was completed in 1868 and is a three-story brick building built in the Italian Villa style. It served as the backdrop for Bidwell’s agricultural work in Chico and was unique in that it featured the most modern plumbing, gas lighting, and water system in the Sacramento Valley area at the time.
Custom House – Monterey, CA
We took an impromptu trip to Monterey, CA before the Thanksgiving Holiday in our teardrop trailer. It was a wonderful trip, and one that deserves a blog post of its own. One of the highlights of our visit was a walking tour of the Monterey State Historic Park which includes the Old Custom House, an adobe structure built by the Mexican government of Alta California in 1827.
The Custom House was just that, a place where customs duties were collected at the Monterey Bay Port. This building is also the oldest government building in California and was the site where U.S. Commodore John Slot declared California a part of the United States in 1846 by raising the American flag. Unbeknownst to me prior to my visit, the Old Custom House is designated as California Historic Landmark #1! This was a pleasant surprise for someone who “collects” visits to California landmarks. As is such, it was a no brainier that I purchase an ornament from the Custom House to commemorate our visit to Monterey. Check out these photos from this trip.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Easily the crown jewel of my 2017 collection, this ornament from the Big Easy represents the completion of one of my biggest bucket list items. I’ve wanted to visit New Orleans ever since I read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles when I was teen. Also anyplace with cool cemeteries and delicious southern food is pretty much guaranteed a top ten spot in my heart.
I purchased this large spherical, fleur-de-lis ornament painted in Mardi Gras colors at a random tourist shop on Bourbon Street. The fleur-de-lis is a stylized lilly and is most associated with the French Monarchy. New Orleans was once a French city and so the symbol has become ingrained in Louisiana history. It is found on the state flag, in the architecture of the city, and the uniform of The Saints football team. In recent year’s there has been some discussion and controvery about the use of the fleur-de-lis to brand slaves. Check out my photos of this trip here.
Laura Plantation – Vacherie, Louisiana
Vacherie, Louisiana sits around 60 miles west of New Orleans. I’d never heard of this town before and only became aware of it while researching historic southern plantation tours. Vacherie is home of several plantations along what is called “The Great River Road” including Laura, A Creole Plantation.
This pewter ornament features the front of Laura’s main house with the date 1805, the year in which the sugar plantation started. This plantation is significant because it one of few remaining 19th century Creole-style raised big house and there are two remaining slave quarters on the site. I need to write an article about my visit to Laura because it definitely made a lasting impression on me. Here are some photos from that visit.
NASA Johnson Space Center – Houston, TX
The Johnson Space Center is actually located a little outside of Houston, TX and is where human spaceflight training and flight control is housed. I honestly have to admit that I don’t know much about the history of the U.S. space program (I mean I’ve never even seen Apollo 13!) so I didn’t have much context for our visit. It was, however, interesting none-the-less. We toured the Johnson Space Center, saw Apollo mission control and a Saturn V rocket, and browsed through several educational exhibits in the large visitor’s center. I really like the ornament because it’s unlike any of the other ornaments I have. The space ship/space rocket (see I don’t even know what to call it), and three surrounding rings rotate around each other to simulate movement. Here are some photos of my visit.
What do you collect as souvenirs on your travels? I’d love to hear about your travel traditions in the comments section below.