If you have been losing sleep over how to get your hands on all those amazing Russian crafts I wrote about last week, fret no more. Izmaylovo Vernisazh to the rescue! Vernisazh (derived from French “Vernissage” or a preview for an art show) is Moscow’s, if not Russia’s, biggest and best known market for all kinds of traditional handicrafts, souvenirs and antiques. An embarrassment of riches, really.
Visiting Izmaylovo Vernisazh is a must for anyone coming to Moscow because it is a better showcase of traditional Russian culture than most museum exhibits. Alongside the crafts I described in my last post you will also find fur hats, Christmas decorations, traditional peasant clothing, Central Asian carpets and pottery, tapestries, table linens, toys, t-shirts, shot glasses, magnets and so, so much more. Vernisazh is also a treasure trove of Soviet paraphernalia, authentic and reproduced – from flasks with KGB signage to communist posters to army uniforms. Adjacent flea market is THE place to scour for antique books, stamps and porcelain. The open-air art gallery dazzles with variety, from classical Russian landscapes to kitschy paintings of cats.
Tips for shopping at the Izmaylovo Vernisazh: 1) come in late morning, preferably on the weekend – that’s when all the shops are open. By 4 pm the activity winds down and the sellers start to pack up; 2) be ready to haggle, especially if buying multiple items. My mother, who has perfected the practice, regularly knocks off up to 30% of the asking price; 3) if you can, bring a Russian friend with you – the sellers jack up prices for foreigners; 4) bring cash – lots of it – and watch your purse; be prepared to spend all of it there and perhaps to make a run to an ATM (at the nearby shopping mall by the metro) for more; 5) sellers really don’t like it when you take photos of the merch – this is why some of my photos are wonky, I had to be inconspicuous (which is a bit difficult with DSLR camera); 6) make a day of it and explore the Izmaylovo Kremlin, a new, whimsical open-air museum and entertainment complex, then head to the Izmaylovsky Park nearby for some nature, amusement rides and shashlik barbecue.
Let’s start with some Matryoshkas. Didn’t you always want to have one of your favorite NFL player? Russian woodwork is really remarkable and comes in so many different shapes and forms!
There is plenty for lovers of all things Soviet, too, from Kalashnikovs to books about paintings of Soviet people. Who knew that Prince Harry is actually a Russian farm worker from the 1960s?
Izmaylovo will also get you attired head to toe for your Russian journey, and will even provide you with a proper ride in the form of a wooden sled.
But housewares are really the specialty of Izmaylovo Vernisazh: from quilts to Central Asian pottery to every item imaginable made out of birch bark (beresta), you will wish you had brought 5 extra suitcases, especially after you hit up the market’s Flea & Antiques section:
More about the Izmaylovo Vernisazh complex here (in Russian only but with many excellent photos).