I recently decided maybe it was time to add something more to the mix of Portland made, Handmade, Indie & Eco American lines we focus on here at Presents of Mind. Being a gift store is goal #1, and giving something truly unique from somewhere interesting & beautiful can make that gift even more special. I traveled to Europe this September & organized my road trip route to lead me through Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungry, Slovenia & Croatia in hopes of finding wonderful handmade works not found here in the States. The following are some of my travel journal entries with photos of the beautiful cities, wonderful people & some of the lovely & unique products I found.
Day 11: After 2 nights in Kosice, Slovakia I was heading to Bratislava. Bratislava is at the other end of Slovakia, heading there my route mostly led me through a long valley between two small mountain ranges with rock & stone peaking from the green hillsides. The towns were fairly modest with mostly one story stucco homes & maybe a church. Occasionally there would be some castle or ruins on a hill. I stopped in the afternoon at the small historic town of Banska Stiavnica. I enjoyed a cappucino in a gorgeous leather & wood clad cigar bar on the main street before exploring more & searching for treasures at a large outdoor market in the square. Short on time to get to Bratislava, I headed back on my way. A narrow winding forest lined road led me back down to the valley & through the neighborhoods of a couple small villages before leading me back to the freeway. As I entered Bratislava I came across a large bridge & was greeted by the castle on the left & a stunning church on my right. My apartment was just a few blocks from the old town, so I headed straight there to see what I could while it was still daylight. Right away I found some gorgeous handmade rings with elaborate metal work & beautiful various stones. Slovakia is known for these stones & for their indicate metal work jewelry, but this was the best example I had seen. I bought nearly everyone they had, knowing my customers would love these one of a kind gems. I walked through all of the old town & the square where I encountered a very drunk street performer, a race being held for preschoolers & some incredibly gorgeous buildings.
Day 13: I woke up early excited to revisit gorgeous Budapest. It had been more than 15 years since I had made it here. My drive in had reminded me just how stunning this historic city is. I checked out my map & saw that I was only a couple blocks off the main road that leads to heroes’ square on one end & castle hill on the other, it’s a long walk, but I wanted to do it. I headed out & decided I would walk to heroes’ square first. The whole way there I enjoyed beautiful historic buildings & churches & even some impressive statues. I approached the castle from the back, it was peaceful & fairly empty as I crossed the small creek bridge onto the castle grounds. This building is like something out of a fairy tale. It might be my favorite ever. As I circled the building I realized there was some kind of fair happening. Turns out it was an Hungarian white cattle festival called szürkemarha vigadalom. There were cattle skulls & taxidermy & huge live cattle as well as rides, food vendors & lucky for me tons of handmade vendors too. I found a few great artists with pieces that were perfect for the store including gorgeous barrettes made from the white cattle’s horns & plum wood earrings carved with traditional Hungarian designs. I found some beautiful fused glass bracelets from a local glass maker as well. I headed from the fair to Heroes’ square. The huge verdigris statues depict incredibly commanding men with proud faces. Even the horses are huge & powerful looking. I then decided it was time to start my journey to the other side of the river & castle hill. The bridge to get across to the hill is really incredible, it’s like Europe’s version of the Brooklyn bridge with huge lion sculptures greeting you at either end. It’s an easy climb to the top of Castle Hill with just a couple switchbacks. Once I arrived I found they were having a wine festival full of Hungarian wineries. I spent hours enjoying mostly rose & champagne on the top of castle hill from many wineries & even bought a bottle for later. The views of the city & the delicious perfectly chilled wine on this particularly gorgeous day were a great reward after my long walk.
Day 14: After a Hungarian farmers breakfast at a nearby outdoor cafe I headed out for the day. I was heading to Szentendre, a small artist colony outside of the city of Budapest. I knew it was more affordable than the city & had many local artists, so I figured it would be a great place to look for treasures for the store. I walked across the incredible bridge again & along the waterfront to the train. There is a short line that starts in Budapest & ends in Szentendre with about a 1/2 dozen small town stops along the way. Once on the train I took a window seat & gazed out taking in the scenery of the backs of these little towns until there were only fields & villages in the distance. Shortly after the open fields I arrived in Szentendre. It’s a short walk through a tunnel & over a bridge till you are at the main road that leads to the square & eventually to the river at the end of town. Along the road were many small galleries, street artists, restaurants & souvenir shops. I walked the town from end to end & along the river finding a couple great treasures for the store & taking in the beautiful little old village. The first thing I found was a beautiful scarf shop with racks & racks of scarves of every design & color. I filled two large bags with various scarves for the store, pretty much, as much as I could carry. Further down the main road I found a gorgeous factory shop for a nearby small historic factory making applique pillows, blankets etc… I bought out their selection of sweet little pouches in navy & red with white applique that had a scandinavian look. After my successful shopping for the store I had a delicious salad at one of the outdoor cafes facing the river, before heading back to catch the train to Budapest.
Tonight as I walked miles carrying heavy bags in blustery wind & rain I realized I had a huge smile on my face & an indescribable sense of well being. My dream for most of my adult life has been to have a career that lets me travel to different countries to buy various goods to sell in the U.S., and here I am doing it. Every time I find something wonderful I know will be a huge hit back home, my future is reaffirmed. I know my customers will love all of my finds & best of all I love them. That all being said; Yes, I have an incredibly fortunate life, yet those who know me well know it is not by any means perfect. I will say that I refuse to let fear rule me & I think that is the key to overcoming the things that would otherwise hold you back. In short: Fear is the destroyer of success & happiness. Go for your dreams, do what you love & never let anyone or anything hold you back.