Souvenir Shopping in the Former Soviet Union

A college roommate of mine sparked the idea for this column. She and her husband adopted two girls from the former Soviet Union a few years ago and now they are planning a trip back to the region. My friend asked me to advise her on what collectibles would be of interest for enjoyment as well as investment while they toured the former Soviet Union.

Matroyska dolls were available for sale outside of the Cathedral of the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia (Photo credit: Staff of

My advice is to look for souvenirs—no matter where you are traveling in the world– that unite old world history and culture. The objects that relate to history and reflect the unique qualities of a place are the ones to collect. Here are some shopping tips as you embark upon the trip of a lifetime.

Tallinn, Estonia

One thing that you don’t have to spend money on in Tallinn, Estonia is Internet access. Tallinn, Estonia is a totally wired city where you can utilize free wi-fi anywhere in the city. Tallinn remains ahead of the curve when it comes to offering technological advancements to the masses. As supreme skyscrapers dot the downtown urban landscape, this city has a traditional feel and warm residents. The decidedly urban feel of Tallinn is juxtaposed by an old style town section dominated by antiques stores, handicraft shops, and specialty food cafes. In this once Soviet-occupied city, you can pay for parking with your cell phone and never worry about being out of touch. If you are searching for that great collectible, consider antique and vintage technology items like phones, communication devices, and music players.

St. Petersburg, Russia

When in the historic city of St. Petersburg established on the Neva River by Czar Peter the Great in 1703, there are a few must see sites and must have souvenirs. The must see sites include Catherine the Great’s Hermitage (now a world class art and antiques collection is housed there) and Peter the Great’s famous mansion and country estate called Peterhof.
For the tourist/shopper, buying a matroyska or traditional hand-made Russian nesting doll is a must. The world famous hand-painted nesting dolls are arguably the most popular souvenirs from the historic city of St. Petersburg. Review each painted doll individually, ensure that the dolls fit comfortable inside one another, and look for detailed painting and preferably images of city views. Look for good control by the artist as evinced by the painted brushwork. Make sure your doll is signed by the artist on the underside, too.

Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, award-winning TV personality and TV talk show host, Visit, or call (888) 431-1010.


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