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Gifts to Buy in Athens

Lately people have been asking me what gifts they should bring back for their friends and relatives to show that they have been somewhere, and even for themselves. Athens is a shopper's paradise and looking for the perfect present can be as much fun as going to the Acropolis, and some people would say even more. But if you are the type who needs help making decisions then print out this page and take it with you. When it is time to shop you will be totally prepared and actually I imagine it would be fun going around Athens looking for these things as if you are on a scavanger hunt. For gifts to bring for friends, relatives or your favorite travel agent or taxi driver in Greece see below.

Angelo the Ouzo KingAngelos the Ouzo King of the Plaka has more varieties of ouzo than probably any shop in Athens. If you want to bring some ouzo home and you don't want to be limited by the meager selection at the airport then visit his shop at 120 Adrianou Street (or somewhere near there) just up the street from Byzantino Jewelry. He also sells all sorts of traditional items like herbs, olive oil, vingear, and a variety of Greek wines. Also he is quite proud of the different raki, tsikoudia, souma and other moonshine-type regional drinks which are really ouzo without the anise. So if you want to bring back something like ouzo for someone and you know they don't like licorice you can sample whatever Angelo has and hopefully not get so drunk that you can't decide and have to come back the next day and start over again. See Angelos the Ouzo King's website

Melissinos, the poet-sandalmaker of Athens Sandals from the Poet! Stavros Melissinos is not just a great sandal maker but he is also a wonderful poet. I have his Rubiyat which is a poem in praise of wine and spirit. I have been buying my sandals from him (and only from him) since 1969. Even the Beatles and Jackie O bought his sandals. To find Stavros and his sandals just cross Monastiraki square in front of the metro station and walk towards the intersection of Athinas Street and Ermou. Take a left on Ermou and walk two streets and go right on Ag Theklas Street and he is at #2.You never know who you will meet in his shop. His son Pandelis works there now and he is a playwright and artists/designer whose works are also available in the shop. Nobody spends more time looking at feet than Pandelis and you will be amazed at the care he puts in to make sure the customer will be happy with his sandals. Visit the Poet-Sandal-maker of Athens

Athens Olympics T-Shirt Greek T-Shirts: You can't leave Greece without an Athens 2004 T-shirt even if it is 2012. If you are lucky you may even find an Athens 96 Olympic T-shirt which is now a collector's item since the Olympics ended up going to Atlanta that year. You can get this model and many other unique styles of Greek t-shirts, hats and other tourist paraphenalia at George Dolkas Shop at 107 Adrianou street on the corner where Hill and Kekropos and Hatzimichali streets all meet. See their website.

Byzantino Jewelry, Athens, Greece Gold Jewelry: Gold is always a good thing to buy in troubled times, right up there with alcohol and Greece is a good place to buy gold. Not because it is any cheaper since gold is the same price everywhere but because the work is cheaper. Unlike most jewelry stores which buy from factories Byzantino is owned by the artists themselves so the work is original and the workmanship is better. See their webpage and visit their shop at 120 Adrianou street in the Plaka, next to the ice-cream shop. They have a second shop on the corner of Pondrossou and Eolou Streets in Monastiraki. Go and ask Kosta for a free massage with your jewelry. For more modern style Greek jewelry check out Olympico, right next door.

Evil Eye Matia (Evil Eye): You can never have too many of these. They ward off the evil-eye. If you have been having bad luck lately that may be the problem and one of these may help. You can find many different styles of these at just about any tourist shop in Athens in all shapes and sizes and if they didn't work you would not see them in every Greek household.

icon painter, Athens, GreeceHand painted Byzantine Icons: No, not the fakey ones they sell everywhere in Monastiraki and the Plaka but actual hand-painted religious art, painted by actual religious artists like what is on display at Zazanis at 13 Agias Theklas Street in Psiri/Monastiraki just down the street from Melissinos, the poet close to the intersection of Kariaskaki Street. Also check out the Athens Gallery owned by the famous sculpture artist known as Apostol. Located at 14 Pandrossou Street the Athens Gallery contains examples of all major Greek arts, crafts and ceramics.

bouzouki, baglama, guitar shop Buy a bouzouki, an aoud or a baglama to take home and learn to play. These are handmade and can be bought at Mousika Organa at Hfaistos 36 in Monastiraki just behind the train station. If you are traveling and you don't want to bring your 40 year old Martin Guitar with you then come here and buy a cheap guitar you can carry with you to the islands to serenade the girls with and leave it with the last one you sleep with. He has all sorts of musical instruments, strings, Greek music songbooks, and even amplifiers if you want to come to Greece and start a band. You can call 210 3212433 or e-mail Yannis Samoyelian at samoueli@hotmail.com

Owl, Goddess Athena I bought one of these little creatures and gave it to my daughter and she loves it. Who wouldn't? It's an owl, the symbol of the Goddess Athena. This is just one of many styles and in fact this is the one I bought. Now he's a star! You can find his brothers and sisters at some of the tourist shops in Plaka on Adrianou Street and in Monastiraki but you may have to really search for them. Check out the eyes. Recognize them? Exactly. This little owl also wards off the evil eye. Actually this one's eye was put on a little sloppily but I think it adds charactor.

Gianni Papayioanou Greek Music CD's! If you have not been turned on to Laika and Rembetika music yet then you may have to do it yourself. It's the Greek popular music of the 20th Century and is to Greece as Blues/Jazz is to the USA. If you don't know where to begin when it comes to Greek music Click here for my choices. You can also go to Ihogram-Superstore at 25 Evripidou Street right at the City Market off Athinas street. They have a great selection and the prices are good too plus they speak English and are very knowlegable about old Greek music (and New). If you want to narrow it down to one album it would be the one you are looking at called The Greece of Yannis Papaioanou. For more about Laika and Rembetika see Matt's Guide to Greek Music.

Shoestore in Athens Clothes and Shoes: August-September and January-February are the big sale months when you can find bargains on the finest Italian shoes and clothing among other things. You can literally pay for your trip by shopping for your wardrobe in Athens during these months. Spiliopoulos at 63 Ermou and 50 Adrianou in Monastiraki have an amazing selection of shoes and I bought a very cool leather coat there too. Zara is the best place to buy inexpensive 'cool' clothes. Yes it is a Spanish company, not a Greek one but if you go there during the sales you won't care. See Shopping in Athens.

Ancient Greek Computer BagWe all know the ancient Greeks were smart but did we know they were this smart? A unique gift that will have everyone at the office green with envy is this Ancient Greek Computer Bag, the creation of Pandelis Melissinos, the son of the Poet-Sandalmaker. Made of tough leather and sheep's wool, not only will it protect your computer like no other but when it rains it will actually smell like a sheep. What could be better? Unless of course you run into a sheepdog that feels compelled to herd you back with the rest of the flock. But this can be easily remedied with the non-sheep smelling ancient Greek computer bag which is made from a synthetic sheep also developed by the ancient Greeks and kept secret until now. These are made to order so if you go to Melissinos when you arrive in Athens you can pick it up when you leave. The shop of the Poet-Sandalmaker is at 2 Ag Theklas, across Ermou from Monastiraki Square.

Methymnaos Wine, GreeceMethymnaos Organic Wine from Lesvos: One of the best wines I have ever had, especially the white, this comes from the area of Lesvos that was once a giant volcano, from ancient grapes grown in some of the most mineral rich soil in the world. I drank 3 bottles one day and the next day I felt fine. Really! You can buy it at the Lesvos Shop (not the official name but everything comes from Lesvos and Limnos. The real name is Pantopoulio Peri Lesvou) which is on Athinas Street right next to the Hotel Attalos. They also carry wines from Limnos, and lots of varieties of ouzo that you won't find anywhere (except maybe at Angelo the Ouzo King's shop). Lesvos is also famous for its sardines so of course you can find canned sardines and their local anchovies and mackarel. Many different cheeses and all sorts of pastas, cookies, cakes and traditional goods, many of which come from the women's cooperatives in the various villages of Lesvos. This is a great place to go gift shopping or shopping for yourself. It's at 27 Athinas Street.

Athens Fish SpaA Fish Massage! What could be a better gift for the person traveling with you after a long day of walking around Athens than a massage. And who better to give that massage but thousands of little fish! You can do this at the Athens Fish Spa at 45 Aeolou Street. What is a Fish Spa? It's a place where you put your feet in a fish tank and these little teethless feet nibble away the dead skin. What does it feel like? It feels like thousands of little fish nibbling your feet, which is to say it feels pretty darn good. As the shop says on its website: "Your feet will feel amazing, refreshed and healthy. These clever fish can also stimulate acupuncture points helping to rejuvenate the nervous system, relax the body and release fatigue. Your blood circulation and flow is also greatly increased during the treatment."  To find the Athens Fish Spa from Athinas Street, walking towards Omonia turn right at the Municiple Police Station, across the street from the Hotel Attalos and walk up Boreous Street and turn left on Aeolou. (They will give a 15% discount if you mention my website).

Spatholado or Saint John's Wort Healing Oil is an ancient remedy known to the Greeks and the Crusaders for it's healing properties. Spatholado means sword-oil because it was used to heal sword wounds. I have never seen it in America and I used it when I cut my foot and had to get stitches and I was pretty impressed. It also works on  burns, surgical scars and is especially effective on deep wounds.  It comes from the island of Kea but can be found in the herb shop called Elixer which is on Evripidou Street near the corner of Ag Dimitriou Street, just a block from Athinas Street and the Central Market. You can also order it by mail from marulis@otenet.gr Also on Evripidou Street are several shops that sell flower and vegetable seeds. I don't even know if it is legal to take them home to your country but they have some varieties of seeds that you may not find in your local garden shop.

Odyssey Magazine Odyssey Magazine: This is a wonderful gift to yourself or someone in your family who is Greek-American or just loves Greece and you don't have to go all the way to Greece to get it. Well-written and interesting articles on subjects you won't find anywhere else about destinations in Greece, current events and historical events, artists, writers, politics, scandals, and culture. It's like the New Yorker but easier and more fun to read with a lot more pictures. Great photography actually. For info on gift subscriptions click here.

Havana Cigars What is illegal in America but perfectly legal in Greece? Cuban Cigars. You can get them at the El Hababero cigar shop in Platia Iroon (Iroon Square) in Psiri. While you are in the neighborhood go to the shop of George Triantafilou on the corner of Ag. Dimitriou Street and Kalamida Street where you can buy anything you could possibly need for your horse. Also in Psiri are a number of non-tourist antique shops where you can buy things like posters of Greek advertisements from the fifties and sixties.

Greek olives Olives and other pickled things : I go to the Athens market and sample olives until I find the best tasting, then buy a couple kilos and wrap them up well so they don't destroy my clothes. Then I divide them up in America. Kalamata you can buy anywhere in America so leave them. Go for the big fat olives from Agrinion or the olives from Amfissa which are hard to find outside of Greece. There are a number of olive shops in the Central market just below where the vegetable stands. These olives in the photo are from The Olive Shop of Sabbas Psychogios in the covered part of the Agora on Athinas street in the meat section closest to Omonia Square and they have a great selection.I boughta pickled skoumbri, a whole mackarel back with me to the USA and ate the whole thing and drank a bottle of ouzo with my friend Lee who picked us up at the airport, the night we got home. See their website

Miraculous Utensils that do strange things to vegetables. Zuchinni Hollow-outers. Grape-leave Stuffers, Cheese-pie makers...you name it and it can be found on Eoulou Street at demonstration tables. Also visit some of the kitchen stores near the Central market and see if you can find stuff they don't have at home. You can probably find something that has not even been invented yet in the USA and you can take it back and patent it and give it a new name and make a million dollars and then come back to Athens and find the guy who sold you the original one and buy him a house. That's what I would do anyway.

Pistachios and other dried goods: A practical gift for anyone. I have always preferred Greek pistachios to American. They come from the nearby island of Aegina where they claim the pistachios are the best in the world and I agree with them. You can find Aegina Pistachios at any nut shop in the Athens Market or in any neighborhood in Athens. But don't stop with pistachios. Get the salty peanuts in the red skin that are the best thing in the world to eat with beer, called arapika. Or get pasetempo, which are pumpkin seeds which you eat the nut and spit out the shell which you will see a lot of people doing in Greece. Almonds and cashews are really good too. Tell the shopkeeper you are going to bring them home so he double raps them and if you put them in the fridge they will stay fresh for months. Of course you will probably end up eating them all on the flight home but that's OK too.

Kefalotiri from Naxos and other Cheeses: Available at the Geniko Emborio Eklekton Proionton Naxos in Psiri.(this is what I brought home last trip and it lasted for a year.) The store is down from Platia Iroon (Iroon Square) on Agia Theklas Street just off Kariaskakis street and the owner's name is Kostas, or it was. Kostas has gone away and nobody seems to know where. But no matter. Anyone there can sell you a wheel of cheese. Just ask for the freshest. There are also cheese shops in the agora where you can buy feta from every part of Greece, not to mention, mizithra, kefalotiri, kasseri, and lots of other local varieties. Try the cheese from Vatousa or Xidera in Lesvos, which you can also get at the Lesvos shop on Athinas street right next to the Hotel Attalos which sells all sorts of traditional foods from Lesvos.

Have fun finding this stuff. Some of the shops have promised to give a 15% discount to anyone who comes from my website so tell them you found them in my Athens Survival Guide or print this out and show them. Even the ones that don't even know they are on this page might give you a discount if you ask. Even if they don't, if enough people ask they will probably give me one next time I go in. (Last time I went to the CD store I told them who I was and they let me pick out 10 CD's for free!) So if you like my Athens Guide you can show your appreciation by asking these shops for a discount. What a great deal!

Gifts to Bring TO Greece

So what if you have relatives, or have been working with a Greek travel agent for so long they have become like family and want to bring them something to show how much you appreciate them? What I do is find things they can't get in Greece. These are becoming increasingly rare because of the global marketplace that enables you to find just about anything in a place where peanut-butter and ketchup used to be as valuable as gold. T-shirts and local products from your town are good gifts. If you live in the Pacific-Northwest one of those packages of smoked salmon is a good choice though by the time you have flown 13 hours and presented it to them, and then it sits on their desk until quitting time it probably won't be any good for anyone except maybe the neigborhood cat. If you are working with Uli at Dolphin-Hellas she loves beer-she's German, so if you have a microbrewery in your town and you don't mind bringing a couple bottles that is a good gift. I live in a town where every other person is in a band or is a solo artist and has a CD and for awhile this is what I was brnging as gifts. Now my Greek friends are pretty hip to the North Carolina music scene and when local groups like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Ben Folds made the big time they brag that they'd heard of them years before. You can also bring local canned or packaged foods that may not be found outside of your area. In Raleigh-Durham airport they sell cans of boiled possum and road kill but this may be tongue in cheek and maybe the person you buy it for won't get it. If you don't mind spending a little money a bottle of Don Eduardo or Tres Generationes 100% Agave Anejo Tequila will be very appreciated since it is more like a fine Scotch than the tequila they may be familiar with which is pretty much Cuervo at every liquor store in Greece. Any other alcohol is easily available in Athens and even on the flight going over except real Southern Moonshine if you can find any. Chocolates and stuff like that it goes without saying are appreciated gifts.

Honestly? Go to Greece giftless, take a photo of yourself with your travel agent, taxi driver, relative or friend and when you get home send them a nice photo suitable for framing with a note of thanks. That will be appreciated more than anything. For family members in Greece just stop at a zacharoplasteion on your way to their home and buy some pastries or baklava and they will be just as happy as they would be with something you lugged all the way from another continent.

 

Olympico Jewelry

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