Your last chance to see the former Russian capital is coming – at least if you want to go by luxury ship. Oceania Nautica’s September 18 visit to St. Petersburg caps off an intense Baltic cruise season where 110 cruise ships arrived over a four month period.
Another day, another shopping stop. Most St. Petersburg tours include time for shopping. Authentic arts and crafts, precious as family heirlooms, are carefully picked from the colorful shelves. Travelers know quality when they see it. For the merchants who cater to cruise passengers, a good summer rush shuts down before the gold dome of St. Isaac’s cathedral is dusted with snow.
“No where else in Europe will you find shopping like this – what a variety of artistic souvenirs,” says Konstantin Kunts, public relations director with Silentium, parent company for a group of 18 retail stores well-placed throughout St. Petersburg. “People will buy if they are happy. Our goal is to make them happy.”
A warm greeting in English and a tasting of Russian vodka are memorable greet-the-guest tactics. When tours allocate 30 minutes of shopping time, the schedule is tight. Stores are laid out for passengers to shop quickly. Prices are clearly noted in dollars and euros.
No one keep records on just how many matryoskas are sold in Russia. For sure, these keenly sought-after “one-inside-the other” wooden dolls (locals call them nesting dolls) take weeks or months to create. Companies like Silentium often buy their stock directly from artisans in the four regions where dolls are produced, including Eastern Russia. .
A symbol of motherhood and fertility, traditionally these dolls represented a whole family. Sometimes the workmanship is so intricate and exquisite that it takes several painters to complete one set – one artist paints the face, another paints the apron, and the third artist finishes the rest of the doll.
“We don’t sell souvenirs, we sell art and history – call it cultural shopping, if you like,” says Kunts. “Next season, we are catering to those who want to spend less on several items, rather than buying one expensive item.”
Another prized collectible is a genuine Russian lacquer box. This work of art was first produced in the 18th century. Now admired by art collectors throughout the world, the inspired handcrafted and hand painted designs depict a unique Russian story. Sales associates bring the boxes to life.
Skip the caviar. Instead try on a Russian bauble – amber jewelry. This is the primary region where it is found. Abundance in the Baltic means prices are the best. Amber is a fossil resin of conifer trees that grew here over 40 million years ago. The nearby town of Kaliningrad now possesses over 90% of all amber reserves in the world.
Honey colored amber is the most familiar, popularized by Jurassic Park. Take a look at the other varieties- lime green, cherry, and more rare milky white. All kinds are laid put on the shelves. The semi-precious stone has a reputation for possessing healing qualities, as well as being affordable.
Be sure to learn the legend of Father Frost – the Russian equivalent to Santa Claus. No red suited, fat belly figurines here. Instead the hand carved wooden treasures are adorned in colorful robes. Father Frost brings gifts on New Years Eve, not Christmas. Anyone who collects Christmas ornaments will find Father Frost a genuine conversation piece. See the slideshow.
Sometimes one statuette can take months to complete. There are artists who never paint two of the same Father Frosts to make sure that each one is unique.
One more thing – let’s not forget the surplus of Soviet inspired merchandise. Hey, those KBG watches look cool with the red star on the face. And who can resist those cold war t-shirts?
When in St. Petersburg:
Whether you travel here from Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere, you do not need rubles to shop. The dollar, euro and pound are widely accepted. Also, major credit cards are welcomed. Just check to be sure you have no international transaction fees imposed by the bank.
There are many voyages to Northern Europe. A two-week cruise will take you to all the popular cities like St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm and more. For more information: www.celebrity.com