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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Making Spirits Bright: A Moscow Gift Guide

Short of Christmas shopping time and short of ideas? Here's a guide to Gifts That Aren't Clich?s And Won't Look As If They Were Bought At The Airport Duty-Free Shop Either.


It is brought to you by a registered Christmas junkie -- one whose house is so overdecorated each December that it looks like Santa's grotto -- and who knows by heart the script of "It's A Wonderful Life."


The guide assumes readers need no introduction to the contents of Western stores, and that you also don't need to be told where to buy $500 handbags. Here is the pick of the rest:


Izmailovo Market: The place to visit if you want to give a clich? -- boxes, eggs, dolls or fur hats -- but much else, besides. Don't ignore the hawkers on the way from the metro. Last Sunday, one was selling giant loofahs for just 8,000 rubles ($2.45). The pick of the practical items: ex-Red Army knives that look like overblown Swiss Army ones and have all the usual bits, plus slide apart into three to make a stout fork, spoon and knife -- $10, in a leather case. In the novelty-item department, especially for children, are flashlights that need no batteries. Inside is a hand-powered dynamo -- squeeze the handle and bulb lights. $6.


TsUM, 2 Ulitsa Petrovka: These four floors are the nearest to an indoor one-stop in the city. It is particularly strong on watches, electronics, clothes, glassware, stationery and jewelry. Goods, and prices, range from the Soviet to almost Fifth Avenue. Here is the place to pick up those Russian design classics like the jumbo stainless-steel kettles (28,000 rubles for a real mammoth) and white metal cup holders (22,000 for four). As for jewelry, if you've ever wondered where Moscow hookers buy their beads and bangles, here is the answer. But there is some far better stuff, as well, and TsUM is one of the few places that sells gold charms. Good ones cost around 260,000 rubles. The buy of the store, however, is the authentic Russian playing cards, in the stationery section on the third floor. At less than $2 a pack, you could put together a nice gift for a cardsharp for very little. Austrian-made ones cost around $3. A highly recommended store, especially for decorations.


Ulitsa Varvarka (on the north side of the Hotel Rossiya): Only the first of these churches-turned-gift shops is really worth your time. Here, apart from the predictable, are some poorly framed but visually stunning paintings that will not break the bank (55,000 rubles and up) and some remarkable ships-in-a-bottle, starting at $75.


In and around the metros: A source of some unexpected gems. The best and cheapest soft toys are sold just outside the southern exit of Kitai Gorod (a good-size, cuddly, appealing wasp, for around 15,000 rubles), and some good toys and clothes are offered in the tunnel by Aeroport. In the tunnel under Pushkin Square is a little cave of a place that sells the best and cheapest woolen scarves and gloves in town -- they start at just 8,000 rubles -- as well as a kiosk that sells miniature perfumes at around 60,000 to 80,000 rubles; and, on the corner, by the woman who gives such a stirring rendition of "O Sole Mio," an outlet peddling original pottery for about 30,000.


Detsky Mir, Lyubyanskaya Ploshchad: If you are after Barbie dolls, Lego, radio-controlled cars or Western-brand goods at noncrazy prices, this is the place. You can also find jokes, magic tricks and novelties tucked away at the east end of the first floor; Russian ersatz Lego at absurdly low prices (a Technics-style set costs a mere 16,500 rubles); art materials (Western-brand coloring pencils and felt tips at about 24,000 rubles a boxed set); Russian construction kits for next to nothing; cheap stocking-fillers galore, and sports equipment (footballs and table-tennis rackets are especially good values).


Kiosks: Not to be sniffed at. Tucked in among the Snickers and Marlboros can be snowman Christmas lights for only 20,000 rubles (near Mayakovskaya), leather-bound personal organizers for 50,000 at Dinamo, etc. The great thing about kiosks is that if you hit on a good idea, you can then put together a "collection gift" for very little cost. A wine buff can get a case made up of different Georgian and Armenian wines and brandies, most of which cost little more than 5,000 rubles each. Add some appropriate local glassware from any reasonable household store (try the ones east of the Palace Hotel on Tverskaya), and you have a theme gift. Bootleg tapes are another idea for such presents. Know any Beatles fans? Then put together a complete set of all their albums, on tape or CD. I have done this, and the cost (15 tapes at 5,000 rubles apiece) is about a tenth of the $200 or so it would cost in London. The best hunting grounds are the kiosks on Novy Arbat, near Kuznetsky Most metro, and the one by the south exit of Kitai Gorod. Try also the cassette racks on the second floor of Dom Knigi, on Novy Arbat.


Intourist Hotel, Ulitsa Tverskaya 3-5: On the first floor, opposite the fur shop, is a gift kiosk that sells quite the best painted military figures to be found in Moscow. They make classy gifts and are a good value. Standing ones are $10, mounted $20. You would pay five times that in London and not match this quality.


GUM: Generally there is less here than meets the eye, but it's worth trying for boxed ties (15,000 rubles) and gift toiletries. It is also the place for two utterly reliable toys: on the second floor on the Red Square side is Detskiye Tovari and the best selection of Playmobil this side of the Rhine. Just outside the top entrance is a well-stocked Lego shop.


In your Christmas shopping rounds, above all, be imaginative. This shopper's best idea so far? A starting pistol and ammo for a keen gardener to use as a therapeutic bird scarer. A snip at 35,000 rubles from a shady-looking kiosk.