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Athens

greek potterySiestas, beginning at 2 or 3 p.m., are still fairly common here. Shoppers should be aware that many shops (except for the most touristy) will open from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., close for siesta, then reopen for a couple of hours at 5:30 p.m. (Times vary, of course.) Designer olive oil and locally made organic honey are wonderful gifts for friends and family at home, as is a bottle of ouzo, the licorice-flavored liquor that's a Greek treasure (at 92 proof, it's not for the faint of heart).

In Greece, a sales tax (VAT) is tacked onto almost every purchase; however, if you spend enough money at participating stores, you can often get the VAT refunded (with some exceptions). Be sure to ask when you make your purchase, and retain all of your receipts.

Check out Ermou Street (off of Syntagma Square), a car-free outdoor walkway lined with Greek and European shops. Nearby is the Paddas building (Venizelov and Voukourestiou), an ancient building that's been gorgeously refurbished. Beyond Cartier and Dolce and Gabbana, favorites here include Folli Follie, a Greek chain of boutiques selling fabulously whimsical handbags, and Balli for Cuban cigars. It also hosts Attica, the Macy's of Greece and a good place to pick up any essentials you have forgotten to pack.

Wander the outskirts of Plaka and browse in its antique shops (look for Karaeskaki Street) in an area called Psiri. Don't miss the antique-laden square, chock-full of dealers selling new, old and custom-designed furniture and tchotchkes by day. By late evening the old buildings have been refitted for restaurant and bouzouki-music-filled nights.

Simply wandering the narrow streets of Kolonaki will yield bountiful finds, but Skoufa offers some lovely shops, such as Fresh Line (10 Skoufa), which sells a colossal sweep of delicious-smelling soaps sliced from big blocks. There are numerous clothing boutiques on the same block, but the best shopping results from simply wandering around the narrow neighborhood streets. Keep an eye out for utterly unique galleries and boutiques.

Food enthusiasts should check out the central market area of Athens. Primary fascinations include a sprawling food market, where the stalls of meat wrap around the outside (and if you've never seen a lamb with its head still on or a rabbit with its head off but bobtail protruding, well, it'll make you a vegetarian in a heartbeat!). The market, which is huge, also features seafood, such as squid in all its glory (a Grecian pal told me you just boil it in its own juices and serve), organic honey, small-batch olive oil and chickens. Fruits and vegetables are displayed by vendors in another building across the street. An intriguing conundrum to this seemingly Victorian-era place is the flat-screen televisions, courtesy of the Korean LG, that hang off the ceiling and are tuned to Greek news channels. Beyond the food market are numerous places to shop for those in search of flea market type stuff -- cheap T-shirts, etc. There's even a shop that sells pet chipmunks (the babies are darling and quite energetic!).
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