Don’t feel guilty about browsing the shops when you are abroad. Shopping is a legitimate form of sightseeing and getting to know the country.
And I am not even talking about tiny bazaars or craft markets, or unusual boutiques selling hand crafted traditional items – I am talking about high street shops and shopping malls.
This where local people shop, where they spend some of their time – it may not be so-called ‘traditional’ and brochures don’t sell it as a ‘cultural experience’ but in reality it is both of these.
Humans have shopped for thousands of years. The Forum in ancient Roman cities was basically a big open air shopping mall. Trajan’s Forum in Rome (around 100AD) is believed to be the world’s oldest shopping mall. Shopping is such an integral part of human culture that if you couldn’t get to the shops – they would come to you, in the form of travelling peddlers and gypsy caravans.
So if you are visiting Vienna take a stroll along Mariahilfer Strasse, in Nairobi get a taxi to Westgate, or if you’re in Thessaloniki take a bus to The Mediterranean Cosmos Shopping Mall.
The Mediterranean Cosmos is the biggest shopping mall in northern Greece with over 10,000 brands, 530 stores, and 300 retailers. It attracts around 25million visitors a year.
It is built on land leased from the Church so, as part of the agreement, it also includes a new Orthodox church. Inside the mall you’ll find the usual international brands like M&S, Zara, Mango, Intersport, Apple, Swarovski and H&M. But, more interestingly, you’ll also find a number of local shops unique to Thessaloniki. For example, Sandy’s, and Pargiana, (shoes) Askarides, and La Statione, (women’s fashions), Chatzifotiou (pastries), Anemos (homewares) and my personal favourite, Kellys, a local Thessaloniki brand selling women’s clothes that are just a little bit different from the items you see regularly on the UK high street.
But even the international brands will have a few items that you won’t see in their UK stores – so take a moment to browse through the shops you think you already know.
A word of advice: In general, watch out for the sizing – unlike UK shops most of the stores here put out just one or two examples of a particular style – they don’t cram the rails with all the stock they have available. So, if you don’t see it in your size, or even your colour – ask. All the shop assistants I spoke to had a very good command of English. And be prepared to ask for XL even if you’re usually a M. Sizes here are much smaller! And in many cases, as a size 14, I found that XL wasn’t even big enough.
There are plenty of shoe shops too, with unusual designs and bright colours – but only if you are smaller than a European 41. Above that and it seems you’re expected to go barefoot as the sizes simply don’t exist.
With over 200 shops you’ll need a coffee – so there are plenty of coffee bars to choose from. A strong dark coffee and a cigarette as is Greek as feta cheese. So if you’re a non-smoker choose your position carefully.
Stories Café does a range of fresh juices (try grapefruit carrot and orange – very refreshing), and Evans Balcony has comfy sofas and water features if you feel like lounging for a while.
The shops are open until 9pm so you’ll probably need to stop for lunch in the food court with its views of the church and amphitheatre like steps. And once the shops close you can head down those steps, past the ‘river’ and over the quaint little bridges to the restaurants and bars. From TGI Fridays to Karabourno, The Prince to La Pasteria – they all offered an excellent selection of vegetarian food. And then round off your evening with cocktails at Café Brullee.
Although the bars and restaurants are packed with locals, it’s not just the natives who come here; it’s also a destination for those living in just over the border in Bulgaria, and Romania.
So whether you are an avid shopper and need an excuse to indulge your passion, or you’re a culture vulture who wants to see how the local people live – heading to a shopping centre actually makes a lot of sense.
The Prince Brasserie
About the Author:
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster . In 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status, and in addition to co-founding PASSION for the PLANET Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.