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June 8, 2005
True to form, I arrived in St. Petersburg and couldn't wait to start buying Matryoshka dolls, faux-fur hats, and magnets, certain that I would never see the same thing hundreds of other places. After coming to the realization that I was going to see plenty of local handicrafts during my stay, I finally was able to get my hyperactive spending mechanism under control.
For the next few days, I saw a seemingly unending supply of souvenirs exactly the same as the lot that I purchased on that first day. That is, until I stumbled into a store on Nevsky Prospect simply called Nevsky Souvenir.
Like the facade of any store located in an American tourist trap, it is easy to discount Nevsky Souvenir by its humble exterior. Just the word "souvenir" in the store's name is enough to make most people assume it's a place to buy "My parent's visited Russia and all I got was this crappy T-shirt" type items. However, upon entering the small but well-organized store, you know you are being presented with higher-quality merchandise than that being offered by the multitude of sellers elsewhere.
For one thing, much of the merchandise available in Nevsky Souvenir is priced for many thousands of rubles (equivalent to hundreds of US dollars) and protected within locked glass cases. Less-expensive but quality items are also placed on open shelves for your closer inspection.
With the exception of one of the store's owners, the entire staff speaks nearly perfect English and will happily spend time telling you about any item of interest to you. Personally, I learned more about the symbolism behind the colors and decorations used on Matryoshka dolls than most average Russians probably know. The employees will also tell you about the local artists who provide them with all of their handicrafts.
Two 18-year-old university students, Olga and Anna, spent close to an hour helping my parents, and I pick out things from their large inventory. They also carry calculators to quickly convert an item's cost into US currency to show exactly how much you are spending. Olga and Anna are 2 years into a 5-year university program to become certified Russian guides, so their knowledge of local history and culture is quite extensive.
If you find yourself walking down Nevsky Prospect near The Hermitage, please stop in and see what this store has to offer. If Olga or Anna comes around to help you, tell them Kevan says, "Hello!"
The store is open daily from 10am to 9pm, and you can view the Nevsky Souvenir site at any time. If you wish to contact the store outside of Russia, send an email via email@example.com or phone 7(812) 312-66-76.
From journal Late May in St. Petersburg
October 28, 2001
We started our stroll of Nevsky Prospekt at the point where the Fontanka Canal meets Nevsky Prospekt. We quickly came across Ostrovsky Square which contains the Pushkin Theater & 1873 statue of Catherine the Great. We also saw St. Catherine's Church, built in 1762, which contains the tomb of Poland's last king. One of the most striking buildings on Nevsky Prospekt is Kazan Cathedral. The first revolutionary demonstration in Russia took place in the square in front of Kazan Cathedral in 1876. Interestingly, from 1932-1990 it was occupied by the Museum of History of Religion & Atheism. It is now called the Museum of Religious History, & religious services are once again being held here. From the Kazan Cathedral, we got our first look at Our-Saviour-on-the-Spilt-Blood Cathedral.
We followed Nevsky Prospekt from the Fontaka to the Neva, finding the magnificent gilded Admiralty Spire, St. Petersburg's principal landmark, & nearby St. Isaac's Cathedral where services were held in 1990 for the first time since 1917.
From journal St. Petersburg--A Window on Europe