What to buy:
You see them everywhere, in every shape and size and colour, mostly depicting rather simperingly pretty girls but there are politicians, footballers, Santas, comic book characters and more -the invention of the people who paint them knows no bounds. They are matrioshkas -the nesting dolls that are so Russian they are almost a cliche. You wouldn't think there could be enough tourists to buy them all. Cute as they are, most look pretty mass-produced; however, it is possible to find individual ones if you want something a little different. It will cost you more but it will have a character and style that the others do not.
What to pay: The price range is huge -a few dollars for a small doll with maybe 5 or 6 others inside, more for a bigger one (some have as many as 12 or 15 "babies". I paid $20 for a really nice small one (6) painted in subtle colours with girls in peasant dress and baskets of different fruits.
What to buy:
Russian linen is really something special, absolutely top quality that you would pay far more in the West. Tablecloths, runners, napkins, teatowels -all sorts of beautiful napery is available in large range of sizes, colours (or subtle, natural tones) and designs.
Textiles are wonderful souvenirs -unbreakable, easy to pack and useful rather than something else to dust when you get home! If you don't buy one for yourself, your mother would love it and it will last so well you can inherit it - and pass it on to the next generation.
What to pay: $20 for a medium-sized (2mx1.5m) tablecloth, $2 for a teatowel (I am still reeling from seeing an identical teatowel to one I bought on sale at $45!!! in a chi-chi homeware shop here at home last week)
Russia seems to be a very popular place for all kinds of pirate CDs, DVDs and CD-ROMs. You even get pirate products in many shops or at kiosks in metro stations and underpasses, so not only in hidden places.
There are rumours that the quality of the pirate products is not always satisfying. These music CDs are on offer for about 80 to 150 Rubles (2005).
Also new licensed products are still a bit cheaper than in Western Europe.
What to buy:
Matryoshkas are one of the most popular Russian national souvenirs. So if you have to bring presents for your family and friends, then you should take Matryoshkas into account.
Matryoshkas are colourful wooden nestling dolls of different sizes. Smaller ones fit inside the bigger ones.
You get Matryoshkas at almost all souvenir stands and souvenir shops. Popular places to buy Matryoshkas are the souvenir stands at the northern entrance to Red Square, at the Sparrow Hills plateau (Vorobyovy Gory), at the Izmaylovo Market as well as the souvenir shops on the street ul. Arbat.
You might even bump into people around the main sights who directly offer Matryoshkas from their bags.
What to buy:
Icons are integral to Russian religious belief and by the time you have left Moscow you may well have had your fill of their grave beauty. If, however, you want to take one home , you have two choices really - a cheaply produced photographic reproduction that will cost you just a few dollars, or one that has been painted according to the strictly observed protocols of icon painting that have been in existence for centuries. You will find selections of these at most of the shops within churches and museums. Their cost will depend on the refinement of the work, but they do not come particularly cheap. Buying an icon this way though, you can be sure that you are paying a fair market price, whatever the size or the execution of the work.
One thing you will not be able to do is buy an antique icon. There are very strict prohibitions on the export of anything that has any age to it and any one who tries to sell you such a work is not only breaking the law but also laying you open to a criminal charge. If antique icons are what you are after, you should go to somewhere like Estonia or one of the other ex-Soviet bloc countries where you will find they are readily and legally available - though whether or not they are genuine is another matter. The world of antique icons is awash with fakes.
What to pay: $5 or so for a cheap reproduction
$100+ for something authentic.
What to buy: Ludmilla insisted I had to have some Russian chocolate - it was, she said, "the very best". I like dark chocolate and this was very good. It's smooth and fine, not sweet and with that "crack" as you snap it that tells you this is the real thing. My favourite is the one with roasted almonds. Choosing it was a matter of great seriousness and discussion with the assistant..
Russia has a long tradition in producing tasty chocolate. So if you plan to bring gifts for family and friends from your trip to Russia, you should take chocolate into account.
Among the best brands are "Krasnyi Oktyabr" (Red October) and "Babaevskiy". The latter was established in 1804 and is even said to be the oldest confectionary in Russia.
The most famous product of company "Krasnyi Oktyabr" is a chocolate known as "Alenka". It can easily be recognised by its packaging with a smiling Soviet girl.
Russian Chocolate can be bought in one of the countless small grocery stores, which are called "Produkty" and of course also in the big supermarkets (Hyper Market).
A 100 gram chocolate bar of good quality chocolate sets you back something between 50 and 70 Rubles (2009).
Alenka chocolate - Website:
Babaevskiy chocolate - Website:
A gorgeous souvenir from Russia is a calendar with photos of a city, region or even local things.
All over Russia you get typical square size calendars with photos of e.g. St Petersburg at night, Moscow at night, the Golden Ring, Russian birches or the Holy Places of Russia.
These calendars are available at bookshops, kiosks and sometimes even in souvenir shops. In 2009 these calendars cost something between 150 and 200 Rubles (less than 5 Euro).
In Moscow you can find lots of Local Craft shops, one of them is shop Almaz-Holding with Krasnoselsk Jewellery Works Icons
Shops look like usual Jewellery but have some interesting samples of russian Local Crafts.
What to buy: Hours of Operation: Mon.-Sat.: 10.00-19.00, Sun.: 10.00-18.00
What to pay: depend...
It is difficult to think of a better present from Russia to give to your relatives and friends abroad than a jar of delicious black or red caviar.
But there are certain limits on how much caviar you are allowed to take out of the country, and it is best to be prepared so there are no nasty surprises at the airport or on the border.
When shopping for caviar in stores around town, keep in mind that a customs officer will allow only a factory-packaged caviar container -- either glass or tin -- to leave Russia with you. Market-bought containers with some plastic over the top just won't do.
And unfortunately, customs laws of the Russian Federation allow an individual to take no more than 250 grams of black sturgeon caviar and no more than 500 grams of red salmon caviar out of the country.
If you're looking for ways around these restrictions, it is also good to keep in mind that international courier services will not help you send some caviar to your grandma or auntie.
Courier services don't deliver caviar of sturgeon, as it is considered to be a special product subject to excise duty and requires special registration at excise customs.
What to buy: However, please keep in mind that there is a lot of illegal poaching of caviar going on in Russia and other former CIS states. Literally, rivers blocked-off, thousands of fish trapped, cut open, their caviar extracted, and the fish carcasses left to rot in the sun. Some of this is done with official protection or by the police which turn a blind eye. The film I saw on this illegal trade was very disturbing to say the least. I will not buy caviar anymore from non-official sources. That is no guarantee of its origin, but pirated caviar can come from anywhere, and now I know where it might be from.
What to pay: On a recent visit to a duty free shop in Domodedovo Airport, we spotted a blue-lidded 56.8-gram jar of Beluga caviar for $50, while a similar yellow-lidded jar of Osetrova caviar was slightly cheaper at $36 and the red-lidded Sevruga caviar was the most modest in price, retailing at $34 for a jar of the same size.
The cheaper red salmon caviar was sold at $39 for a large 380-gram jar, and a smaller, 70-gram jar cost just $8.
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