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A World of Shopping Cities: In some areas of London, Hong Kong, Paris, Chicago, Munich and New York, the business of buying becomes a unique travel experience.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Forget the malls. Escape claustrophobia. Resist the sterility and sameness of one more food court.

Progress instead to a tree-lined boulevard or a central square and saunter among department stores, boutiques and specialty markets, pausing every so often for sustenance at an open-air cafe or coffee bar.

Here are six popular travel destinations where shopping equates to more than merely making a purchase -- where it becomes an experience unique to the personality of the city. A favorite street or district in each city is emphasized.

London

Old and New Bond streets: Diversity is a hallmark of London's shopping districts. Among them are Knightsbridge, where Harrods represents the Taj Mahal of department stores; Oxford Street, home of Selfridges, Harrods' main competitor; eclectic Soho and Covent Garden; Chelsea's elegant King's Road; and Regent Street, notable for its architectural brilliance.

But even these seem mundane compared with a stroll along New Bond and Old Bond streets in fashionable Mayfair.

So what if most of us can afford only to window-shop and drop a few names? Gianni Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, Georg Jensen and Pierre Cardin, for instance? They're all here.

At last count, 35 Bond Street establishments maintained a single-name relationship with customers. Among them are Valentino, Celine, Cerruti, Hermes, Tiffany, Chanel and Gucci.

Tucked between Fogal (for jewelry) and Richard Green (for paintings) is Sotheby's, the world's best-known auction house.

At the end of the road -- the Piccadilly Street end of Old Bond, that is -- stands Fortnum & Mason, the world's most fabulous grocery and takeout center, now almost 300 years old. Before choosing among 70 types of teas, marmalades, mustards and English biscuits, pause for a sandwich and sundae in the casual Fountain's Restaurant.

Across Piccadilly Street, near the start of New Bond Street, stands the Burlington Arcade, whose three dozen shops exude luxury. Designed in 1819, this is considered the forerunner of today's shopping malls.

Hong Kong

Nathan Road: Bargain-hunters and well-heeled shoppers alike consider Hong Kong a Super Bowl of shopping destinations.

The Golden Mile of Nathan Road and its surrounding streets and alleys in the Tsimshatsui district on the city's Kowloon Peninsula offer a one-of-a-kind array of sights, sounds, scents and salespeople eager for your money.

Never mind that the Golden Mile extends for only five-eighths of a mile: This street may contain more shops per footstep than any other boulevard in the world.

The curious can find the highest-quality jewelry and the most creative imitations. Storekeepers sell designer fashions, silks and linens, furs and what seems like (and probably is) millions of photographic and electronic items.

In the side streets and alleys, you'll discover clothing markets, food markets, the Jade Market and the Bird Market. You'll likely be pushed and shoved, appalled and thrilled and stopped in your tracks by the sweetest scents and foulest odors.

This is about as far removed from New Bond Street as you can get.

Paris

Champs-Elysees: Paris' best department stores, Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps, stand side by side on Boulevard Haussmann. The most renowned boutiques are on and near Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore and Avenue Montaigne, and the chic shops on the West Bank offer the most fun.

But the Champs-Elysees, especially between the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde, long has been described as the world's most beautiful boulevard. Despite a marked decline in its cultural and shopping significance, it still best represents the "joie de vivre" of Paris.

Residents and tourists alike are dismayed by the plethora of cinemas, fast-food outlets, airline offices, car dealerships and undistinguished shops that now detracts from the Champs-Elysees' former grandeur. But recent refurbishments -- including sidewalk repaving -- are a step toward restoring its charm.

Rows of chestnut trees line the street. People-watching is at its best from a table at one of the boulevard's many sidewalk cafes (especially near its intersection with Avenue George V).

The Drugstore des Champs-Elysees has remained an attraction for three decades. Don't scoff: Visitors here can buy CDs, sporting goods, toys and jewelry; book theater tickets; and commemorate the occasion over a glass of fine wine. The Virgin Megastore (52-60 Champs-Elysees) is the city's best music store and contains a cafe.

Several arcades also tempt along the Champs-Elysees. And almost every side street leads to a new shopping adventure.

Chicago

North Michigan Avenue: Unlike Hong Kong's Nathan Road, this Magnificent Mile goes the distance. It combines the best of London's New and Old Bond streets and Regent and Oxford streets. And while not as spacious as Paris' Champs-Elysees, North Michigan Avenue is a haven for serious shoppers.

Tiffany, Gucci, Burberry's, Ralph Lauren, FAO Schwartz and Neiman-Marcus all are here. Even those hooked on malls will find comfort: Water Tower Place (835 N. Michigan) offers seven levels of specialty stores, including branches of Marshall Field's and Lord & Taylor; Chicago Place (700) is home to Saks Fifth Avenue; and the Avenue Atrium (900) houses Bloomingdale's and Henri Bendel.

The Magnificent Mile's elegance is enhanced by the presence of several high-quality hotels, restaurants and other attractions, including the Chicago Water Tower, which survived the fire of 1871; the landmark Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, both dating to the 1920s; and the city's second- and third-tallest buildings (behind Sears Tower): the John Hancock Center and Water Tower Place.

Detour along Oak Street, between North Michigan and lively Rush Street, and discover several European-based designer boutiques.

Munich

Marienplatz: Tourists congregate every day in Marienplatz, Munich's famed central square, to marvel at the spectacular glockenspiel performances in the Town Hall tower.

In every direction, Marienplatz opens up a wondrous world of shopping alternatives.

Marienplatz and Karlsplatz, also called Stachus, are connected by a 1 1/2 -mile pedestrian-only promenade known as Neuhauserstrasse at its western extreme and Kaufingerstrasse to the east.

This walkway, accented by flowers and fountains, is a delight at any time of year for window-shoppers and for those seeking goods as diverse as Bavarian cuckoo clocks, fine crystal and china, precious antiques, toys, perfumes and chocolates. Munich's largest department stores -- Karstadt, Hertie and Kaufhof -- compete for business with specialty shops and tiny souvenir outlets.

During the holiday season, the promenade is transformed into one enormous Christmas market, with hundreds of vendors selling traditional ornaments and angels, hot beverages and hot roasted nuts even in subfreezing temperatures. A stroll is a magical experience.

In the shadow of Marienplatz, several smaller walkways -- most notably Theatinerstrasse and Maximilianstrasse -- are lined with boutiques whose names are synonymous with shopping in the most fashionable areas of Paris, London and New York.

Proceed in the opposite direction from the central square and arrive within moments at the Viktualienmarkt. Residents stock their freezers with goods bought here; tourists usually settle for sausages, breads and fruits.

New York City

Fifth Avenue

Madison Avenue is lined with America's most fashionable boutiques. The original Macy's remains a miracle on 34th Street; the "Ladies Mile" on Sixth Avenue now offers a feast for male as well as female bargain-hunters; and SoHo is becoming more shopper-friendly.

But New York's most celebrated promenade is Fifth Avenue, known as the world's premier shopping street. And why not? Saks, at 611 Fifth Ave., is an institution. Lord & Taylor is at 424 Fifth. Bergdorf-Goodman (754 and 745) operates separate stores for women and men. And the Trump Tower (725) contains five levels of shops.

In midtown Manhattan, the Warner Bros. Co. Store stands across the street from Tiffany's. The Disney Store is a few steps from Banana Republic and Gianni Versace. Parents can shop for their kids at OshKosh B'Gosh or for themselves at Henri Bendel, known for both familiar and cutting-edge designs. Within the General Motors Building at 767 Fifth, shoppers can skip from the FAO Schwartz toy store to the Revlon Co. Store.

A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift Shop also is a must-see at Rockefeller Plaza, just off Fifth Avenue at 50th Street.

Lower Fifth Avenue is emerging as a fashionable shopping area; its enticements include Emporio Armani and Daffy's, the latter encompassing 35,000 square feet and crammed with discounted merchandise.

You'll find bookstores, music stores, electronics stores (beware "Going Out of Business" sales that have lasted a quarter of a century), beauty shops and the J. J. Hat Center, whose inventory includes 15,000 headwear items.

That's the capper.

Pub Date: 1/26/97

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