Elena’s guidance and advice regarding what to bring from Russia
To save time and money and not to run like a headless chicken when on your last day in Russia, get ready for a shopping day in advance. Today our author from Australia Elena gives you advice on what souvenirs to bring from Russia. Make sure you keep it somewhere close before by your next trip or language holiday. Caviar, honey, Matryoshka or furs… What to choose? Let’s do it together!
Matryoshka (The Russian nested wooden doll)
The name “Matryoshka” comes from “Matryona” – an old-fashioned Russian female name. According to a legend, in the late 19th century Moscow artisans Vassiliy Zvezdochkin and Sergey Malyutin saw a Japanese toy “fukuruma” composed of several figurines hidden one inside the other. They made similar dolls representing Russian boys and girls (the last one was a baby) and richly decorated them with beautiful ornaments. The success was so great that in the 1900s matryoshkas were ordered not only from all over Russia, but also from Paris and Leipzig. It seems like a glimpse into childhood, opening the doll to discover there’s one more, and then one more again and so on; the number of hidden dolls can vary from 10 to 50. The biggest matryoshka in history was made for an international expo in Tokyo and contained 70 figures.
The warmest souvenir ever. Orenburg Shawls
Tender and as thin as cobweb, Orenburg shawls will remind you of the era of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. These garments are highly appreciated throughout Russia for their romantic beauty, softness and warmth that helped Russian ladies, back in the old days, to survive severe winters in style. The quality hand-knitted Orenburg shawl also became the subject of a folk song much loved by the older generation. Any woman will be pleased to be wrapped in this fine piece of woolen lace, largely seen as a sign of love and affection. No doubt, this elegant and useful gift will be duly appreciated! The traditional color of Orenburg shawls is white or grey, however, nowadays they are also available in a wide range of colors.
Furs or soft gold
“Soft gold” – this is how the Russians poetically refer to furs. No wonder that for many centuries furs were historically used as currency along with golden and silver coins and made up a premium export item. Hunting used to be one of the most important sources of income in Russia, and when Siberia joined the Moscow Kingdom in the 16th century, Russia received, along with the mines of ordinary gold, vast quantities of the soft one. For a long time, fur was not a luxury item, but a bare necessity to survive the severe Russian climate. Even today, to present your wife with a fur-coat of mink, sable or polar fox fur is considered a sign of deep spousal attachment and care, as wearing furs is the best way to feel comfortable and look pretty. It makes no sense trying to list all the kinds of fur produced in Russia – from lambskin to precious ermines.
Russian artisans have taken good care of the little ones! A brightly-colored toy featuring a cute animal, a fairy-tale bird or a legendary hero is a nice gift to any child. Made of natural clay and hand-painted, it is full of joy and life. In the village of Dymkovo, where the toys are made, there is a number of dynasties of talented artisans. Dymkovo toys were initially made for the old mid-spring festival associated with the mother nature’s awakening. Very simple, often humorous (a man riding a goat or a bear), they became popular all over Russia and far beyond, taking an outstanding place in numerous collections.
No shoes will keep your feet as warm in severe winter cold as the famous “valenki”, specially made of felted wool to be worn in thirty to forty degrees below zero, when ordinary boots fail to protect you. The first felted boots in history were supposed to be worn by the nomads of the Great Steppe more than a thousand years ago. The peak of their popularity in Russia fell on the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Moreover, valenki still make part of the winter uniform of the Russian army; back in the World War II, they helped Russian soldiers overcome bitter frost during the ferocious Stalingrad battle. For several decades after the war, valenki were generally considered old-fashioned country footwear and were worn in the city only in the coldest weather. Now the situation is strikingly different: felt boots are back in fashion and make a source of inspiration for footwear designers who provide the valenki with rubber soles to make them serve longer. Today’s valenki are made in different colors and decorated with leather, crystals and embroidery. It is a unique gift for keen fashion-lovers you can find nowhere else but in Russia.
Russian chocolate is, perhaps, not so widely known in the world as Swiss and Belgian chocolate. Rich in taste, with the strong fragrance of natural cocoa and milk, it has been highly appreciated for generations – from the Russian Empire to our days (the oldest existing chocolate factory was founded in 1867). The best Russian chocolate is firm and slightly bitter. The most loved local labels include “Alyonka”, “Vdohnovenie” (Inspiration), “Lux”, “Visit” “Skazki Pushkina” (Pushkin’s Fairy-tales) and “Korkunov”. One can also find chocolate statuettes or gift sets showing the views of Moscow.
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