The Easy Work of Meeting People while Traveling in Turkey and Greece

July 2, 2017 | By | Reply More

My Girlfriend Jen McKnight and I saw some amazing sites during our trip to Turkey and Greece. It was the trip of a lifetime based merely on the many ancient and modern wonders we saw and photographed. What made this trip especially satisfying, though, were the people we met, who generously offered us help and friendship, and there were many. Turkey and Greece offer an endless stream of incredibly friendly people. Pair this with the fact that Jen is a people-magnet; and mix in my natural curiosity, and you end up with animated conversations in some of the most unexpected places. It happened so often that after we’d been in Turkey for a day, I decided that whenever we ended up visiting with a person for more than a few minutes, I would ask the person/people to take a selfie with us and trade contact information. I’m posting some of these photos here.

On the flight to Goreme, a Dutch woman, Meliha, who teaches Turkish, but lives in Holland, volunteered to give Jen and me a crash course in Turkish after listening to us struggle with pronouncing Turkish words. What a gift! We actually did incorporate a couple dozen Turkish words into our vocabulary. She and another kind woman also helped us find our international luggage that arrived on a separate carousel in Cappadocia.

Thank you, Mustafa Kabalci, who was our host in Cappadocia at Sultan Suites Cave Hotels! He was as good a host as I could have imagined, offering us unending advice and encouragement. We’ll never forget the wise eyes of Ismir, the dog either. And there was Haydar Elçi from the Goreme restaurant, who presented us with a free desert of baklava on our final night in Goreme. Who else? There was Karolina Barac, the model from Croatia who shared our inspiring balloon ride with us. And then there were two Turkish women from Istanbul, who we met at Derinkuyu, Turkey, Tilbe Cana İnan and Nesrin Göksungur who approached Jen and me 100 feet underground, asking if they could walk with us to distract them from the claustrophobia. That led to a wonderful dinner conversation later (above-ground) in Uchisar on a breathtaking overlook.
While in Turkey, we also met Wei Hong and Ngam Kah Jing, the two young law students from Malaysia, who were taking a break from their schooling at the University of Leeds in London and sat next to us in the small outdoor restaurant (run by Fatih) in Goreme.

There are many merchants among the people we got to know especially well since it was a holiday season and business was slow. All of them offered us insights and friendship. That list includes Fatih, Mohammed and Suddik. One of the most generous was undoubtedly Ali Sakarya of Sultan Carpets who spent two hours explaining turkish carpets and their symbolism to us: Jen was in heaven here. Jen also bought a cute little birdsong whistle from a man in Istanbul for a total of 1 Turkish Lira (30 cents). He then chased us down to make sure that Jen knew how to fill the whistle with water and showed her several techniques for making bird sounds.

Honorable mention to Gokhan Aydin, our most capable balloon pilot with Butterfly Balloons in Goreme. Gokham is so good, he pinpoint-landed the balloon on the truck. If you ever have the chance to ride with Gokhan, he’s fantastically talented and affable, a real treat.

And then there was “two-time” Kirby, the young man we met while exploring cave-churches in Cappadocia, but then ran into again 300 miles and 3 days later in the underground cistern in Istanbul. Kirby is an engineer living in Perth, Australia, in Turkey on the way to a friend’s wedding in Moscow. We’d love to find Kirby from Perth if anyone knows him!

We really appreciated the incredible 1 1/2 day walking tour of Istanbul by Furkan Gokcel. Being a tour guide in Istanbul requires a college degree, and being with Furkan was like taking a walking series of invigorating lectures by a college professor, who also offered cultural insights, joined us for our incredible Turkish meals and offered more than a few photography ideas ( https://www.facebook.com/Privateistanbulwalkingtours/ ). Especially, thank you for helping us to appreciate the many heroic deeds of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who secularized Turkey, dramatically improved education and fought endlessly for the rights of Turkish women (he and his wife even adopted 13 children, including 12 girls).

Jen I will will most definitely try to meet up again with Aicha Elaiche and Ihssane Idrissi, those two charming Moroccan women who are attending school in Istanbul, studying government logistics. We met them when we asked two kind men from the ferry for directions back to Europe on the ferry, and though they didn’t understand English, they went out of their way to find these two ladies so they could hep us get back. Who goes out of their way like that? Amazi! We chatted at length with Ihssane and Aicha on the dock of the ferry in Kadakoy, had it not been our last night in Istanbul, we would have accepted their invitation to join them to visit Taxim street in Istanbul, as our Ramadan celebration.
But there were many more people we enjoyed meeting. Thank you to the unnamed 83-year-old Greek man who walked us to an alternate train when our light rail from Athens to the airport was delayed. He spoke five languages (one of them being English) and showed us much patience when we didn’t understand the train system. Jen and I only know about 10 words of Greek, so we appreciated his help.

Thank you to Pantelis Melissinos, the 3rd generation Poet-Sandal Maker in Athens. Jen loves her custom-fitted sandals.

Another one of our many favorite people is Avramidis Savvas who works at the Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens, who volunteered to become our private teacher at the not-so-well-known Museum of Keramikos in Athens, where we saw incredibly pristine artifacts from 4,000 BC to 200 BC, some of them so well preserved that they looked like they could be sold in a museum gift shop. Thank goodness that they were buried until 50 years ago, meaning that they belong to Greece and will stay there, unlike so many other of Greece’s archaeological treasures.

Another honorable mention: While in Greece, we stayed with Panos Assimakopoulos, a cutting edge architect who is a friend of mine.

We barely met any Americans on our trip. We discovered that almost no Americans any longer travel to Turkey, which is a needless shame, because I felt much safer in Istanbul and Cappadocia than I do in my own neighborhood back home in St. Louis. We walked the streets, day and night everywhere we traveled, both in Turkey and Greece.

That said, Jen and I spent lots of airplane time with American newlyweds, Jordan and Emilie, headed home to finish rehabbing their home and starting their lives together. That was before a Canadian woman from Saskatoon sitting next to me–Carmen–kindly offered to swap her seat with Jen as we flew across the Atlantic back to the states. It was shortly after Jen sat next to me on the plane that I actually fell asleep, which is difficult for me to do on a plane. Acts of kindness abounded among international travelers. It was wonderful to be part of that ad hoc community during our trip.

All of these people can be seen in the photos below. Jen and I already miss our interactions with them, though we know that our lives are enriched by the time we spent with each of them.

Fellow passengers on our balloon ride in Goreme, Turkey.

Karolina Barac.

Avramidis Savvas at Kerameikos. This guy was thrilled to share his knowledge, and helped us to understand that their best piece in the collection was only found in 2010…(!)

Pantelis Melissinos poet sandal maker and his assistant

Friendly Athenian waitress at Bel Ray, a seriously tasty breakfast place near Panos Assimakopoulos’s airbnb room in Athens

Whistle vendor teaching Jen how to use her bird whistle on the streets in Istanbul.

Aicha Elaiche and Ihsane Idrissi, our new friends from Morocco at the ferry landing in Kadakoy

Meeting Kirby again at the ancient cistern in Istanbul.

Jen McKnight Furkan Gokcel and me in Hagia Sophia

Ali from Sultan Carpets

Haydar Elçi at the Sultan Cave Suites restaurant. He told us several places we shouldn’t miss in Istanbul. Thanks Haydar!

Ismir, the hotel dog at Sultan Suites in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey.

At Pigeon Valley after a fantastic dinner getting to know Nesrin Göksungur and Tilbe Cana İnan

Emilie and Jordan at the Toronto airport after our flight from Athens

Carmen from Saskatoon, Canada.

Very generous 83 year old greek man who kindly led us to an alternate train to the airport and made sure we understood where and how to get off the train.

Delicious roasted street corn was available all over Istanbul for 2.50 turkish liras (80 cents)

Kirby from Perth with us at Goreme Open Air Museum. He later found us in the Cisterns in Istanbul!

This guy was so friendly and remembered us every time we came back to this delicous Donor Kebab stand by our hotel. 5 turkish lira (approximately $1.70) for pure heaven…I could go for one right now..

Muhammed, who grew up in Afghanistan, from Tiamo Art Gift shop spoke to us at length about Turkey tourism

We loved this guy, Fatih Nergiz at Oriental Sal Gift Shop and scarf store in Istanbul.

With Furkan Gokcel on the Ferry across the Bosphorus to Asia

At a fantastic ceramic tile shop Firca, right by Hagia Sophia in Istanbul with Siddik Dal

Mustafa Kabalci of Sultan Cave Suites in Goreme, Turkey.

Wei Hong and Ngam Kah Jing at Fatih’s restuarant in Goreme

Fatih, who ran a downtown restaurant in Goreme.

Erich, Carolina and Jen.

Our Turkish teacher, Meliha!

Mustafa and Ismir — with Mustafa Kabalci.

Balloon Ride in Goreme

Balloon Ride in Goreme

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Category: travel

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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