Balaika, Vodka, Cosmonaut! The Most Bizzare Gifts from Russia
What are the most unusual Russian souvenirs? Surprise your friends, colleagues and family members with these 100% Russian items! Where to find the most original souvenirs in Moscow and St. Petersburg? Let's discover!
Russia is not only widely known as one of the few who launched their space program, but they did it first. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, yay!
One of our American guests, while on tour in Stary Arbat Street in Moscow, saw a cosmonaut helmet at one of the stands. You think that was a cheap copy? Nope. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reduction of army forces happened, and along with it of space programs. And many of unused or simply outdated equipment hit the markets.
SK-1 space suit helmet is quite unique aside from fact that the same helmet was worn by Yuri Gagarin, world's first man in Space, it has also an advantage in comparison to modern space suits - you can actually move your neck freely in it.
Also it doesn't have special coat that protects modern cosmonaut's eyes from solar radiation, but this is what makes it look awesome, and the "USSR" logo printed on most of these helmets, makes such cosmonaut helmets an ideal choice for your shelf filled with memorabilia from around the world!
Nothing showcases Russia in a good light more than its space endeavors. Even today Russians stick to their traditions in spacecraft construction and cosmonaut training. Indeed the United States uses Russian "Soyuz" spacecraft to deliver their cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). In the Star City Moscow, Russian cosmonauts undergo their training – and now you can, too! It is now open for tourists - first time since the Soviet Union collapse. Use this opportunity with our Star City Tour in Moscow to explore this former top-secret facility!
Where to buy:
- Star City Moscow
- Some souvenir stores
Medved, Vodka, Balalaika are probably the most common things that people say when you ask them “What do you associate with Russia?” And the fun fact is while everybody knows what a medved (bear) and vodka are, but what the hell is balalika? You have surely heard that word a lot, and maybe you also know that this is a musical instrument, but what kind of instrument, what kind of music it plays?
Balalaika is a traditional Slavic stringed instrument. Exact origin of balalaika is unknown. Some say that it had originated in Caucasus as a “dombra”, or in Mongolia as a “tophur”, and was later adopted by Slavic people, who had further improved it.
How to play Balalaika? Use your left thumb to fret notes on the lower string, particularly on the prima, where it is used to form chords. Traditionally, the side of the index finger of the right hand is used to sound notes on the prima, while a plectrum is used on the larger sizes. One can play the prima with a plectrum, but it is considered rather unorthodox to do so.
That is the main point that makes balalika different from other string instruments such as guitars, contrabasses and dombras.
Where to buy:
- Souvenir stores across Russia
Imagine – you and your colleagues are coming back for your vacations. What will they bring to your boss? Some cultural souvenirs, collectors stuff – boring! Too cliché! Can you imagine how many of these gifts do company bosses receive every year? And then you approach…and pull out a gun – no, a giant 2.5 liter glass bottle of vodka shaped as an AK-47 gun. That may be not very original gift in Russia, but back in your country? Well, that would be something.
Because what can beat vodka in the challenge of Russianness? Only Russian weapons such as AK-47, which is the most famous and mass-produced rifle in the modern world. But of course, you can't buy a real gun in Russia. Why not to buy a vodka bottle in shape of AK-47? A great gift for your boss back home!
Where to buy:
Specialized liquor stores
Well, this one is not as scary as a previous one. It is far more positive gift, which perfectly fits everyone. The Russian Lacquered Boxes are a popular souvenir from Russia. But do you know that it is not necessary to resort to the classic paintings? You may put your own photo on display!
Or bring it as a gift, with your whole family or friends printed on it in traditional Russian style! Very exotic!
Where to buy:
- Custom order from factory
Burial Masks of Famous Russians
Now behold – a souvenir, which you probably haven’t even thought would exist - the burial (posthumous) mask of the famous Russians.
Little known about burial rituals in Russia – a fulminate world full of mysteries and legends.
Many famous Russians insisted to be buried in such a mask – Alexander Pushkin, Nikolay Gogol, Vladimir Mayakovskiy, and many more. For some reason, Russian literature classics preferred to be buried in a posthumous mask. You may not want to aim for a real mask – although grave diggers offer such services - but many copies are being sold in antiquities stores across Russia. Whilst taking one of our Moscow St. Petersburg tours, you can ask your guide to stop by in one of these shops – if you desire such a grim souvenir. Our guides are flexible and will deliver you the best experience you can get, it is absolutely not necessary to stick to a strict schedule.
Where to buy:
- Antiquities stores
- Pawn shops
GP-5 Gas Mask
Soviet military was popular by itself since its unexpected triumph in WWII. First - out of fear, now - out of cult. Since the S.T.A.L.K.E.R computer game & book series came out in the West, this interest grew tremendously and continues to be the universal trend.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Universe features a sci-fi story in the modern settings – the alternative history of the Exclusion Zone in Chernobyl, modern Ukraine, not very far from its capital, Kiev. Yes, it is in the Ukraine – but it makes no big difference, because the series is about the Soviet legacy – common for all the republics of the former USSR. Russian-speaking guys run across radioactive wasteland, where time has stopped with Soviet-era equipment. Now wonders this became popular even in the West!
The gas masks you can see in this fiction is PT-5. And you may also get one for yourself in Russia. While going on one of our Moscow St. Petersburg Tours, you may notice these masks being sold in souvenir stores along the way. You don't need any license to buy one, and you will have no problems with airport customs, while transporting it back home on a plane!(just make sure you declare it prior, to avoid unnecessary checks).
Where to buy:
- Souvenir stands and shops in Moscow
- Military facilities
About the author
Diana Zalenskaya, a travel professional and destination expert for Moscow, Russia.