It’s Not Chanel, Darling: Shopping in Central Russia

Suzdal (Су́здаль)  is one of the oldest towns in Russia. Suzdal is located in the Golden Ring in Central Russia, approximately 26 kilometres (16 miles) from Vladimir and 38 kilometres (24 miles) from Moscow. To put the history of this town into perspective, I was born in Australia which was first sighted in 1688 and Suzdal was settled around 1024 –  about 664 years before my country was even discovered. Mind boggling.

One thing that still remains prominent in this tiny town is the traditional Russian street stalls. In fact, actual “stores” in Suzdal are hard to find. The air smells like a rustic old country side, chickens and live stock freely roam the streets, the street stalls are lined with meadows, elaborately decorated horses for rent, horse drawn carriages, quaint traditional Russian homes on a beautiful backdrop of a undisturbed sunset against the surrounding Medieval architecture. The people are friendly and spend their days in their street stalls selling everything from wooden spoons to aprons, to dolls and home-made food. Not necessarily “must-have” items but ones that are basic and used as both household utensils and souvenirs.

I was in Russia for six months teaching at a private college and my principal had taken me to Suzdal and Vladimir one day so I could “experience Russia”. In exchange I was given a wooden spoon decorated with hand painted traditional Russian pattern. Now every time I roast a chicken and stand in front of the 330 degree oven I’m reminded of my time in Central Russia. It feels like a world away. Well, it is a world away. Light years away from my hotel room in Manhattan, NYC.

The largest congregation of stalls was found in a large U shape around The Resurrection Cathedral and Market Square. The goods were mostly made from wood and hand painted the prices range anywhere from 30 roubles ($1US) to a couple of hundred. (The most expensive thing I saw was a large hand decorated porcelain pot which had a price tag of 350 roubles or $11.80US.)

The traditional and laid back lifestyle of Suzdal was a welcomed detour from the bustle and traffic circus in Moscow. The experience of walking along cobblestone and dirt as opposed to polished wooden floors or tiles in the Wes, shopping in the open and historical fields of Suzdal, surrounded by Churches older than my entire home country was refreshing and inspiring. No crowds, no inflated price tags, no central air conditioning or pushy sales assistants, no artificial smell. In a place filled with as much time and history as Suzdal, the opportunity for the day to drift away slowly without any rush was evident. What was in fact seven hours, felt like about four days. As I now prepare to head out to my local Nordstrom back in the USA,  I kind of miss the experience. And the prices.

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