Wednesday 14 December 2016

Russian Souvenirs

Most people I know feel that their travel would be incomplete if they do not bring home souvenirs. I on the other hand, am one who would not bother hunting for souvenirs each time I travel abroad: the rasionale being I have collected so many things I just couldn't find enough space to display them in my home anymore. Neither do I go out of the way to get souvenirs for friends and relatives because by not doing so, they are also not obligated to reciprocate when they travel. This is my concept of a stress free travel. Explore, take lots of photographs and just cherish the memories wherever I go. Buy only when it is convenient or worthy of buying.
Unlike many countries that have resorted to sourcing and buying in bulk "Made In China' souvenirs to sell as their own, Russian souvenirs are mostly authentic. Not only are they authentic, they are traditional, cultural, very attractive and unique. Though I had no plans to get any, I couldn't help but became fascinated with the souvenirs I saw. Most come in brilliant colours and a lot of skill and workmanship are involved in producing them.
Matryoshka dolls
Matryoshka dolls or Russian nesting dolls or simply Russian dolls are probably the most popular and iconic Russian souvenirs well sought after by visiting tourists. They are sold almost everywhere: at high-end malls, souvenir shops, big stores, small stores, Russian airports and even along five-foot ways near tourist attractions by roadside vendors.
The Russian dolls are wooden dolls of decreasing sizes that are sold in a set of between 3 to 10 but sometimes more. All the dolls within a set can be opened up except the smallest one which is nested in the bigger one which in turn is nested in the next bigger one until all become hidden inside the largest. The beauty is in the shape and painting on the dolls. A lot of skill is needed in the making of the entire set as the smaller ones have to be perfectly nested and the bigger ones, impeccably locked in place. The whole set is made from the same piece of wood to ensure all the dolls react in the same way to changing humidity and temperature. Even if one piece is damaged in the process of making the whole set is considered spoilt. Each doll is painted by hand and covered with as many as seven layers of lacquer.
This is how a set of 5 dolls looks like when opened up.
These dolls do have a historical significance. Firstly, the name 'Matryoshka' is derived from an old-fashioned Russian female named Matryona. The first Matryoshka doll was carved in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin who painted the doll. In 1900, the Russian doll was presented at the World Exhibition in Paris, where it received a bronze medal. Since then it became internationally acclaimed and an increasing demand for it was the onset of mass production. 
The traditional matryoshka doll represents a woman in a Russian peasant dress wearing a scarf on her head but the doll makers have become very creative and have incorporated a myriad of other designs. The dolls are not always displayed as a full set in shops as this needs a lot of space. The prices may vary greatly depending on the number of pieces in a set, the size, the workmanship and also where it is purchased. 
The doll is more a decorative item than a toy as it not something to be thrown about or dropped without causing some damage to it. The whole set is actually quite light.

This window at GUM departmental store displays 2 sets of dolls: one with 14 pieces and the other with 15 pieces. The largest set of Russian dolls is a 51-piece set hand-painted by Youlia Bereznitskaia. The largest measures 53.97 cm in height and the smallest is 0.31 cm. When all 51 pieces are lined up together touching, they measure 341cm in length. This set which was completed on 25 April 2003 has entered The Guiness World Record. 
Seen here is an impressive display of small Matryoshka dolls at St Petersburg airport.

Other Interesting Souvenirs
Other than the Russian dolls there is a big array of other interesting souvenirs. The balalaika is a Russian stringed musical instrument with a characteristic triangular body and three strings and those sold as souvenirs are beautifully lacquered and painted.
Wooden hand painted eggs are among the beautiful souvenirs with pretty artworks.

The lacquer boxes are some of the most beautiful crafts available in souvenir shops. They are made of papier-mache and features a variety of lovely paintings. 
The egg jewelry boxes made on Fabergé motives and in Fabergé style used to be prized collections of the imperial family and they are very expensive as genuine gemstones are embedded into them. The ones sold as souvenirs today may not use precious stones but they are still costly items to buy.
There are also the white and blue porcelain decorative wares authentic to Russia but these can also be found in other parts of the world.
The Russians are mostly orthodox believers and many religious icons are made into souvenirs.

I enjoy gazing at the beautiful souvenir display in the various shops and stores I visited and really salute the artisans for their incredible talent.
There are a lot other things not shown here. You just have to be there to appreciate their allure.

What I bought!
A big array of tea with multi-flavours are available in the supermarkets and I bought some flavoured tea that are not easily found back home. Some are imported from UK.
Russian chocolates may not be as famous as those found in other parts of Europe but I bought a lot nevertheless.
I had no plans to buy the Russian dolls but the more I looked at them, the more adorable they are. And then I started giving myself tonnes of reasons why I should buy them. They are cute...They are authentic....They are so light anyway...I might not come back to Russia again.... They are inexpensive... The colours are so vibrant...just to justify the purchase of 3 sets of dolls.  One set was given free by my travel agent. 

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