Russian Souvenirs Guide
If you're going to visit Moscow then be sure to buy some Russian souvenirs. I've written this article to help you get around because there are so many things you can buy these days!
When we talk about Russian souvenirs, we mostly mean Russian nesting dolls - Matrioshkas. However, they are only one of many kinds of souvenirs you can buy in Moscow.
Basically, you can separate them into three categories:
- Souvenirs that you buy and then put on a shelf.
- Things that you can somehow use in your daily life.
- Something you can eat or drink
While everything is strictly individual, a souvenir can easily move between the groups.
The famous Russian nesting dolls - Matrioshkas.
For example, while I don't suggest you eat matrioshkas, you can use them both as a decoration for your home and a great toy for your child. I remember several Russian nesting dolls I used to play with when I was a child, and they are just as good as all those plastic cups and cubes that help kids develop motor skills. Plus, they are so beautiful!
In Moscow, you can also buy Gzhel, Palekh miniatures, Khokhloma, Zhostovo trays, wicker items, etc, etc, ETC! Let's talk about those Russian souvenirs in more detail.
Take Gzhel - you'll notice it easily if you've ever been to Russia. I'm talking about those white blue ceramic figurines and dishes that'll look great at your home. Again, you can buy both knick-knacks and real tableware, the choice is yours.
If you choose to go for tableware, you can buy plates, cups, teapots, sauceboats, salt shakers, vases, and even cutting boards! It's nearly impossible to list all the things they paint in Gzhel these days!
If your Russian friends invited you over, then you'll most probably see some of Gzhel in their homes. This is a very popular form of folk craft in modern Russia, so don't be surprised to see it around.
Another popular kind of Russian souvenirs are Palekh miniatures. Palekh is a form of lacquer painting with bright colors and detailed, subtle drawings. The creation process is very long and thorough, so every picture takes tremendous work.
Historically, the craftsmen of Palekh village were drawing icons. Their work came to halt after the Revolution, because naturally the Bolsheviks didn't share their passion with God. The craftsmen had to switch to making other things, and so the famous Palekh boxes, caskets and brooches were born. The masters also had to find other stories to illustrate, and they took a lot from Russian fairy tales.
Except from Palekh, there are other famous Russian lacquer miniatures such as Kholui and Fedoskino.
Usually, the women like to buy the boxes to store their jewelry. I think that if you want to please your woman then you should definitely choose Palekh. But then again - don't forget to buy her something to put in that box, eh?
Khokhloma is another option. Usually it's wooden dishes painted with bright colors, mostly red or black on a golden background. The pictures are usually simple - red berries and golden leaves intertwined with unique patterns. Sometimes you'll also see animals and birds.
Here's how Khokhloma looks like.
Again, you don't have to buy those Russian souvenirs just to put on the shelf, as you can use them in your day-to-day life. For example, you can often find Khokhloma-painted bowls, spoons and salt shakers. By the way, these days even furniture is painted with Khokhloma, but that's rare because IKEA is totally dominating the market.
You can also choose Zhostovo trays as your Russian souvenir. Zhostovo style is lacquer painting on metal, most often black (sometimes blue or green). The paintings themselves picture flowers - several big ones surrounded with lots of smaller flowers together with leaves, twigs and grass - just like in a real flower bouquet. The trays are mostly oval or round, although they can be of any form.
Not only that, but we also make things from birch bark, or "beresta". There are many birch trees in Russia, so apart from firewood, Russian banya brooms and birch vodka, they also serve for all kinds of neat boxes and other things. By the way, a long time ago, birch bark was used for writing, like Egyptian papyrus. By now we found a lot of birch bark letters written ages ago, and there were even whole books made from that material.
By the way, Russian bast shoes ("lapti") were also made from birch bark. Those were traditional Russian footwear, but nowadays they serve mostly as souvenirs. However, aside from shoes you can buy many other birch bark souvenirs and useful things like baskets of wicker and different bowls of straw.
Get your friends a couple of Russian lapti!
In addition, Russians also used to wear felt boots ("valenki"), which were the only choice for the cold Russian winter. These days, the winters became much warmer, so you don't really need valenki. However, they are still made in several places using the same old technology. If you don't like the traditional grey color, you can find designed valenki as well. By the way, kids still love them although they don't get to wear them a lot.
However, I doubt you'll find a use to Russian felt boots even if it's cold in your country. So, I advise you to look at other things made from felt. Here, you can learn about all the neat felt-made stuff that can come in handy.
A couple of words about Russian souvenirs you can eat or drink. First of all it's Russian vodka that remains to be the number one souvenir for men. There are a lot of vodka brands today, but not all of them are Russian.
Many brands like the famous Smirnoff are made in Finland, US, UK and Poland. Therefore, if you want a truly Russian vodka, buy Stolichnaya, Russkaya, Gzhelka, Kristall etc. They don't necessarily cost a lot, but be careful not to buy in dubious street stalls - they can sell you a dangerous fake that'll harm your health.
As a snack to vodka, you can use another popular Russian souvenir - red or black caviar. If you aren't very keen on caviar (like me), then you'll most definitely love Russian chocolate sweets. Now those won't gather dust on your shelves for sure! Plus, it's an ideal gift - it's really hard to imagine someone who'll resist a true Russian chocolate!
I don't know where to stop - there are so many things left to mention! Have you seen the beautiful, decorated Russian samovars that some people still drink the tea from? Or the funny, big-eared Cheburashka? Or the Russian hats with earflaps, especially the military ones (completely useless in my opinion, but very popular with foreigners)? Or the famous Orenburg shawls that can make you warm even in the coldest winter?
Oh well, it's time to finish. Have fun with Russian souvenirs - and post some photos on my Facebook wall.
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