Your plane lands in some far east city in Russia and you taxi. And taxi, and taxi until your plane hits the end of the runway. Then it turns around and taxis to the terminal on the same runway you just landed. Welcome to Russia! You may or may not have to ride a meat locker bus to the terminal. Depending on the weather and the airport. You clear customs (avoid the toilets) and you are greeted by someone holding a sign with your name on it. Your driver and translator drop you off at the hotel and you are free until you have to go to a baby home or ministry of education or something. Now what?
Hopefully you have done your research on the city you are in and know that there should be at least one church in the city, and maybe a museum or two. With any luck you found a map on the internet so you can locate your hotel and restaurants that may be within walking distance. Oh and your definition of walking distance will quickly change once you realize that the only restaurant nearby has no English menu.
Of course since this is your child's town you must make the most of your time. If you are lucky like us you will have 3 fun filled trips to get to know the place. Hell by that point the lady at the corner market might know your name.
I wanted to give you a few suggestions on what kind of stuff you might be able to purchase and where to get it.
The top souvenirs from Russia would include Matryosykas, and vodka. If you are smart you brought an extra suitcase for the vodka. Other popular items would include chocolate (yes it is that good), black lacquerware, blue and white china, birch items, weavings, and amber jewelry. These are some of the things Russia is known for. Personally I have 2 very nice matroyska, a small black ware cup, a black ware vodka set, a blue & white teapot, a blue & white butter dish, and a traditional kitchen talisman. I bought all of them at one little vendor in a shopping center. And the matroyska I bought are not your average red & yellow. One is a huge purple one and the other is a little light blue one with 10 dolls inside. Both a little on the pricey side.
Despite all of the little trinkets I brought back, I have a few items that are my favorite. I have mentioned before that I collect crosses. There are crosses in every room of our house. On our trip to meet Alexander I bought a wood cross in the blue church. On our trip to meet Pickle I bought a small gold plastic one (not fancy, but it came from the gold church so fitting). And on our trip to pick up Pickle I wanted a cross from St. Basil's. Unfortunately the gift items inside St. Basil's are outrageously priced. So I didn't get my cross. Instead as we are hurrying out the door to meet our driver I happened to look up. Painted on the inside of one of the archways was an orange orthodox cross. I snapped a quick photo. That is my St. Basil's cross. I have yet to frame it.
What I am getting at is that the traditional souvenir shops are not the only place to buy things. All of the orthodox churches have little gift shops in them. They may not be the biggest and best, but they are little reminders. CS purchased 2 icons. One from the blue church and one from the gold church. I also wished I had bought a bible in Russian. That is one thing I do regret.
Also, be aware that often times there are knock offs even in Russia. Matroyska are sometimes manufactured in China and then sold at super cheap prices in Russian cities. This is something I learned from our friend Galina, who lives in Khabarovsk. She directed us to a shop that had authentic wares. How you tell the difference is beyond me. The only thing I can tell is that all my matroyska have little stamps on the bottom.
I do recommend that you do visit the local Orthodox church. You may not be a God loving kinda person, but it is a big part of Russian culture and history. Many of the churches today have been rebuilt since the fall of the Soviet Union. I know that in Khabarovsk there is only 1 original church left. The Bolsheviks destroyed the others. The 2 big fancy churches are brand new.
Visit the local museums. We went to the Archeology Museum and wished we had visited the others. We strolled through the sports complex, walked along the river and took the time to enjoy ourselves. Don't stay cooped up in your hotel. Don't sit around feeling sorry for yourself because you can't speak the language and you are stuck in "this god forsaken place." Get out, experience your child's culture. You'll thank me for it.