What is it:
The “Izmailovskiy Park” (Russians refer to it simply as [is-maylo-vah]; Russian: Измайлово) is a souvenir, flea market, antique and art gallery park that is huge in size and roughly separated onto three logical areas: Souvenirs, Antique and Art. It is a great place for traveler with thirst for either souvenirs (we are talking acres of Russian fur hats and nesting dolls here) or one-of-the-kind antique finds from Romanov era silverware to soviet era posters. In addition, the art collectors might have their interest piqued by original paintings sold by artists themselves and art dealers brining the art form different corners of Russia. What Izmailovo is lacking in charm, it gains in uniqueness and convenience of one-stop shopping for traditional and not-so-traditional souvenirs.
When to visit:
As always, visiting open-air flea markets on weekend morning will be your best bet; however, Izmailovo is open during the week with fewer ad-hoc vendors present and a less stationary shops open. Most vendors are present during warm time of the year May through September, however some stationary stalls could be open off-season.
If you are shopping for souvenirs only, you might need an hour to an hour and a half. You will need about two to three hours for antiquing; if you are an antique specialist and visiting Izmailovo during high season (summer weekends) plan for a longer day, you have rows and rows of vendor stalls with mounds of items waiting for you to pick them. Art connoisseurs might need to allocate about an hour to hour and a half, unless you want to chat with painters and art dealers, which will take more time.
Wear comfortable and broken-in shoes and simple clothing. Have a bag/backpack to accommodate your finds. Although there is no pick pocketing reported in the Izmailovo, using your good judgment is always prudent in the crowded areas with cash transactions. A bottle of drinking water is a good idea. Street-food is readily available in the “park”, however it’s not exactly a bargain.
How to get there:
“Partizanskaya” metro station [Russian: Партизанская; Pronounces: Par-tee-zahn-ska-ya] is the stop you need to take. Thereafter it’s a five min walk. Head towards tall 70s-looking gray hotel building, or simply follow the crowd. As you are walking from the subway toward the “park”, you will see colorful wooden structures styled after old-fashion Russian town. That “town” houses acres of somewhat maintained/cleaned space dedicated for street vendors as well as some traditional street-food stalls. There is a nominal entrance fee of 10 Rubles (roughly US 30₵ in 2013).
Money and prices:
Cash reigns here. I’ve been able to use US Dollars instead of Russian Rubles for some larger finds, however you can’t always count on the fact that your particular vendor will accept foreign currency. Keep in mind that large percentage of visitors are foreign tourists, which generally means that pricing is adjusted to a higher end of the scale. Bargain hard, and shop around, but don’t expect 50% price drop form originally quoted price. I found that most vendors will accept rounded down amount after just a few min of negotiating. Let’s say the quoted price for some item you have an eye on was 1300 rubles, with very average bargaining skills you should be able to get it for around a 1000.
Welcome to the motherland of Matryoshka — the traditional nesting doll toy popular as a souvenir item; [Russian: Матрёшка, Pronunciation: Matt-ryo-shka]. Traditional souvenir vendors are occupying large spaces in the front part of the park. Depending on the day you are visiting the park, you might see large tour-buses spewing tourist form around the world to buy “bargain” souvenirs. The same type of items are repeated over and over from one vendor stall to another, so take your time and price things out. I found that prices are slightly cheaper in the inner rows of the park, as opposed to the front entrance. Bargaining is entirely appropriate, especially when you are combining purchases from the same vendor. The rule of thumb for most hand-painted wooden artifacts is simple: the more intricate and fine hand-painted ornaments are the more expensive those items become. Remember that paintbrushes that artists are using to draw traditional miniatures on fine lacquer wooden boxes are not making teeny tiny little bitty color dots… that would be an ink-jet printer’s job. Which likely to be reflected in the price of the end-product.
If you are planning to bring souvenirs form your Russian trip, this can be your one-stop-shop experience.
Once you’ve squeezed yourself through rows of thousands of fur hats, wooden handcrafted trinkets and nesting dolls, you’ll enter the antique center of Moscow. Lots of handpicked and therefore often a little overprized antiques ranging from high Victorian to late-Soviet eras. Bargaining with dealers is always an option, however you might receive the cold shoulder from some vendors if they classify you as a souvenir matryoshka-shopper. To show your interest and serious intentions, try to make small talk before jumping into bargaining. Keep in mind that most of the antique vendors are professional resellers and that they are making a living on selling those things to you; they know their clientele well and probably have their strategy figured out. Do not get discouraged by possibility of an abrupt “no”. Sometimes breaking through Russian “public façade” to friendly conversation could be a personal challenge for a beginner.
After the souvenirs and the antiques rows, close to the back of the park, you will find rows of art. This is the place where painters themselves, as well as art dealers are selling paintings. Some have semi-permanent booths, some are operating from open stalls, and some are simply sitting on the grass lawn with their work splayed around them. By the time you make it to the art-core of the Izmailovo, you might have spent hours browsing the souvenirs and antiques rows. Take a breath, clear your mind, and look around. Compared to the antique rows or to the souvenirs rows, the art core is not that large. However, if you are on the market for paintings, you can pick some real gems here. Naturally the assortment will vary from week to week, however you can score anything form trendy decorative watercolors and gouache paintings, to oil paint portraits and landscapes. Try to chat with painters and dealers, ask questions. Some might speak English and will be happy to have a small talk with you. It’s always fun to know where that particular oil painting you are about to buy was painted or what/who served as an inspiration to the artist. Start slowly and warm your Russian counterpart into friendly conversation. English is not spoken by everyone, but some will practice their English skills on you. Artists are always appreciative for your interest and will be happy to tell you their story, if you are willing to ask and listen.