2015-12-09 / Front Page

Off the Beaten Trail: Christmas Souvenir Shopping at St. Petersburg, Russia

By Catherine Tsounis

     Matryoshka dolls.Matryoshka dolls.A 10 inch Russian Doll with porcelain hand painted face and a Faberge egg souvenir.A 10 inch Russian Doll with porcelain hand painted face and a Faberge egg souvenir.    "Bring back a matryoshka doll,” asked a member of my family. “I would like a Faberge egg copy.” I decided to go Christmas shopping in October during my trip to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novgorod. Amazon.com gave me an impression of prices for all Russian souvenirs. If I was not happy with my shopping, there was always Amazon. I was advised by internet and guide books to take cash.
            My shopping began in the Arbat shopping district of Moscow. Many of the items were of mediocre quality and made in China. In the first week of October, our guide Olga of expresstorussia.com in cooperation with intourist.com. took our group to Art City Souvenir store.  They offered us different types of coffee and drinks. Their hospitality was totally unique. The souvenirs were of a high quality. “Our products are made in Russia,” said the salesperson. I felt I was “Alice in Wonderland”.  I did what every American woman does during a Department Store Super sale: BUY.  Our British tour group were totally stunned by my buying as if there was no tomorrow. Tour guide Olga said "see it, get it. You may not see it again.” She was right, because Moscow did not have the same craftsmanship as the St. Petersburg finely carved wood products, scarfs, dolls, Christmas ornaments and Faberge eggs.
       Lacquer box, $1,000.Lacquer box, $1,000.     What are Faberge eggs?  They are jeweled eeggs created by Peter Carl Faberge and company between 1885 for the Tsars. I purchased a copy for about $100. A 10 inch Russian Doll with porcelain hand painted face and similar five inch Christmas ornament porcelain dolls were part of my treasures. The St. Petersburg matryoshka nesting dolls had gold enamel and jewels. Wooden matryoshka doll magnets were beautifully painted.
Lacquer boxes were the main attraction to my eyes. One box cost $1,000 because it took the artist one year to complete. Russian lacquer art developed from the art of icon painting which came to an end with the collapse of Imperial Russia. The icon painters, who previously had been employed by supplying not only churches but people's homes, needed a way to make a living. Thus, the craft of making papier-mache decorative boxes and panels developed, the items were lacquered and then hand painted by the artists, often with scenes from folk tales.
                 Near Peterhof gardens was our next Souvenir Shop. The store was known as Kopobbrkoba   St. Petersburg. Amber bracelets and linen towels were some of their merchandize. I went on a second Christmas shopping spree. Coffee was again offered. The American dollar had purchasing power in October 2015. Russian chocolates were purchased from the local mini market.  Our guide Olga explained that Russia has the same quality chocolates as Switzerland.. I knew I was not coming back to Russia.  I finished my Christmas shopping in St. Petersburg in October. St. Petersburg is the place to go for souvenirs.
1.      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_lacquer_art
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_lacquer_art- Album

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