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How to stuff a Christmas stocking in the Baltics

  • 2002-12-12
RIGA

Christmas is with us once again. And with it comes the traditional nightmare of trying to choose that ideal gift for friends and loved ones. So to help our readers, TBT staff have compiled a rough guide to Christmas shopping in the Baltics that offers a few more original alternatives than the usual Yuletide offerings of socks and chocolates.

In Tallinn, a good place to start would be the Tallinn Christmas Market (Town Hall Square, until Dec. 24.) There are dozens of stalls selling traditional goods, such as blood sausages and hay wreathes. There's also a good choice of glass and ceramic goods, and watercolors of Tallinn. Santa's there, of course, along with his eager elf helpers.

The Knit Market (Corner of Viru and Muurivahe) is just what it says. If it's knittable, it's in. An unusual gift could be an impossibly long knit cap, the end of which wraps around the neck to double up as a scarf.

A pricier but more original option is Katariina Guild (12 Vene). Stretched out along a medieval lane, this collection of open studios and shops has a beautiful choice of ceramics, glass, fine leatherwork, jewelry and patchwork quilts that are made by traditional methods but fresh and modern in design. Kodukasitoo (1 Kuninga) is one of the best places to stock up on souvenirs. It has everything from wooden dolls to folk costumes, all with the bonafide stamp of authenticity. The sales staff will happily explain the significance of each item.

Dancemix (19 Kentmanni) is a small shop outside the center that's geared toward DJs and dance music fanatics. But it has a great collection of vinyl, which makes a cheap antique alternative.

Loitsukeller (17 Muurivahe) is a cellar shop full of New Age artifacts. It's a good place to find inexpensive gifts that nobody else will have thought of. Perhaps you could play whale songs instead of carols over Christmas dinner for a change.

Erotica Center (14 Vana - Viru) may not seem the obvious place to cram your stocking full of gifts. But this one claims to sell men's bikini briefs that have Santa displayed on the front and play jingle bells.

Kompas (48 Parnu Road) sells all kinds of travel equipment and some genuine NATO standard issue military wear. Loitsu Kelder (17 Muurivahe) has a vast collection of Estonian herbs (strictly legal), and a good range of other esoteric stuff.

In Riga the best place to begin hunting is the Old Town Riga Christmas Market (Doma Square, until Jan 5.) This year it's thrown up some surprises. There are real fox, wild boar and wolf furs that sell quite cheaply in the form of rugs and shoulder throws. There's also a traditional-style blacksmith working with a bellows who makes bells and horseshoes and is probably open to requests. Then there's all the usual suspects.

A. Suna Glass Studio (6 Laipu) is a tiny place in Old Town Riga that has some beautiful gift ideas, including jewelry, plates, sculptures, glass collages, plates, candleholders, all of which can be made right in front of your eyes.

If you can't find something in Upe (5 Vagnera Street), then you'd better find the nearest grotto.There are all kinds of original music and souvenir goods. It's all very ethnic and cozy, and a lot of this stuff won't be found anywhere else. There's also a great selection in world music.

D'Artanjans (13 Marijas Street, Berga Bazars) is one of the best delicatessens around if you're stuck for ideas. From their awesome collection of top-quality chocolates (especially the Maxim de Paris), to their excellent pates, cheeses and wines, it will all make an appreciated festive feast.

The Astrology Center (32 Valnu) will construct your own personal horoscope for the coming year, which might make an alternative to the more standard kind of diary that most people plan their year around. There's also advice on hand for any niggling spiritual doubts and questions.

Aroma Studija (50 Gertrudes Street), as the name says, specializes in aromatic things. There's a huge choice of oils for body, mind and soul, fruit soaps made from sandalwood and apples, and cream personally made to your olfactory satisfaction.

Volmar Antiques (6 Skunu Street) is one of the best (and possibly priciest) antique stores in Riga. You won't find a much better choice of Russian icons around. There are some excellent paintings, as well as things for the collector, such as ornate silver samovars, old gramophone players, and Soviet coins. Credit cards definitely accepted.

If there are any words you haven't understood in this text, then you may want to visit the book shop Globuss (26 Valnu). They have probably the best selection of dictionaries going, at discount prices and for all levels, as well as a good stock of other local - interest books. It may sound dull, but the dictionary is The Book.

In Vilnius, any quest for unusual presents should start at the Antique Market (Pilies Street). You can spend ages rummaging about here. There's everything from old coins, to old instruments, all of which is relatively cheap and up for haggling.

For that time - honored traditional gift of Lithuanian amber, you should try Amber (9 Ausros Vartu), which sells it in every imaginable shape and form. You can find cheaper elsewhere, but here it comes with the authentic stamp of being "Made in Lithuania."

Garsu Pasaulis (14 Pamenkalnio) is a good place to look for music. They have a large and diverse collection of all music styles, as well as videos and DVDs. There are also some videos about Lithuania, the best of which is called "Flight Over Lithuania." This might only end up being watched once, but it does show some amazing landscapes in a new perspective.

Littera (Sv Jono 12) is a beautiful and very bookish book shop. There's a choice of children's books in both English and Lithuanian, as well as a very impressive range of other titles. Perhaps a weighty art book to add some gravitas to the book shelves at home.

The Linen Shop (3 Stikliu) has an abundance of charming gift ideas. There are some wooden dolls in national costume that are pleasantly un-kitsch, handmade wooden Christmas trees and, of course, all things to do with linen.

But if this is all too much for you then you'd better head over to Alita (30 Pilies Street.) This off-license has a great choice of Lithuanian drinks, selling everything from fruit wines and honey liquors to vodka and brandy. For after all the stress of Christmas shopping, a good drink might just be the best thing to present yourself with.