Spar: Buying wine and liquor in Nizhny Novgorod
"she does not know where to buy anything "real". She said with the problems in Russia you never know what you are buying" - This is nuts. Don't ever listen to anything your friend says, as this is truly, totally nuts.
I'm an American who has lived in Nizhny for years. There is an astounding array of retail outlets available, in some cases with much better choices than in the US, ranging from tiny kiosks to enormous hypermarkets the size of a large Walmart that are chock full of food and beverages. Anywhere in downtown Nizhny you are unlikely to be more than a three minute walk from a Spar (the big German chain) supermarket or convenience store. Buy anything you like there from a wide selection of wines from all over the world or spirits of every kind.
Russia is trying to get healthier so even though alcohol is much more widely sold than in the US (buy a beer at just about any kiosk and walk around drinking it, no problems) there are some restrictions. For example, after 10 PM you can't buy high alcohol beverages in stores and soon not even beer after 10 PM although of course there's no such time limit in bars and restaurants. Also, high taxes on alcohol that are meant to discourage excessive consumption mean that booze of all kinds is about 50% higher than, say, in the US.
For a truly huge selection of wines and booze go to one of the big stores, such as the Lentichka ("Ribbon") food hypermarket or the Real hypermarket in the Fantastika mall. Any of the larger Spars has more than enough liquor choices to dazzle. I personally like the elite Euro Spar superstores, as they have a very large collection without the hassles of shopping in a food store the size of two football fields. Plus, it is impressive to walk through a place with so many gourmet food choices (live, swimming small sturgeon fish, anyone? Live kamchatka crabs? light up the stove!) that it makes just about any food store in the US outside a very major metropolitan area look, well, second world.
Expect to spend $12 to $20 for a bottle of good French, Spanish, Italian or Chilean wine. Many of the same brands, such as Concho y Toro from Chile, that you'll see in the US are in distribution in Russia. I prefer the Chilean wines since the French and Italian wines can be a mixed bag where price is not always a good indicator of quality.
All the famous liquor brands are in wide distribution. You'll pay about twice as much for US brands such as Jack Daniels as in the US, but the markup is not quite as high for European brands such as Bombay Sapphire gin and similar. There is, as expected, a stellar choice of vodkas. My favorite is Russian Standard Gold, which has just the slightest hint of ginseng in it (wouldn't know if someone didn't tell you). That's about $12 a bottle. For everyday vodka drinking I prefer the various middle-market Siberian brands such as 'Pyat Ozer' ("Five Lakes") or, a bit more upscale, Altai. Don't waste money on super-premium vodkas as something like Pyat Ozer is a heck of a lot better than those stupid, overpriced vodkas inexperienced people in the West buy that are made in France. By the way, don't miss the availability of true Cuban rum such as Havana Club - can't buy that in the US due to embargo, but on those rare occasions when I visit the US I always bring a bottle with me.
One last thing: cocktail culture has yet to come to Nizhny. Russians like to drink their liquor straight, accompanied by some food or perhaps a glass of fruit juice on the side, but they don't normally ruin a fine vodka, whiskey or rum by mixing it with something else. There's only one really good cocktail bar in Nizhny (the Beriozka bar on Bolshaya Pokrovka), which happens to make the best Manhattans I've had anywhere.
Anyway, because cocktail culture is almost nonexistent if you order "a martini, please" what you'll get is some vermouth made by the Martini company poured into a glass, not a cocktail that's lots of gin with a bit of vermouth. If you want a real martini you'll have to tell the barman that you want 100 grams of gin with 10 grams of white vermouth shaken with ice and poured into a conical glass with the ice strained out, garnished with an olive.
About the only hassles I've had getting liquor in Nizhny is that some exotic items, such as Hayman's Old Tom Gin, required for antique cocktails you have to order from Moscow. But then again, I was in San Diego recently and in about ten liquor stores couldn't find anybody that had even heard of Hayman's there.
There are rental cars in Nizhny, but you'd be insane for trying to drive in winter here. Russian drivers are terrible, the weather is not good and you'd get totally lost or killed. Just take a cab wherever you want to go. It's cheaper and you won't have to worry about parking.
What to buy: Anything in the world can be purchased in Nizhny.
What to pay: About 50% more than in the west.
- Budget Travel
- Business Travel
the street vendors, and local shops: Russian souveniers
I bought an obsurd amount of amber jewlry in this city.. It was really cheap, and I got the fever..I also bought several black laquer boxes, which at the time were the equivilent to about 10 dollars.. These were Palach (I don?t have cyrrilic font to type it right, ) the best kind. I also bought quite a few birchbark items, as this is the birchbark area, things such as boxes and pictures are of good quality, and low price.. The detail on the boxes is pretty impressive. I know there is much more to buy here, but these are just some of the things that I got.. and apparently at very good prices.
What to buy: birchbark
Matrioshki (nesting dolls)
black laquer boxes
woven wool floral shawls and scarves
What to pay: Ask a non-interested (not selling it to you) Russian person.. as I?m sure the prices have changed since I was last there.