11 Things I Learned Traveling in Turkey and Greece

1. People kiss in Greece like the world is ending

We sat down at a coffee shop and from over my shoulder I heard a tremendous slurping noise. I expected to look over and see a parched Saint Bernard drinking water from a big trough. Instead, I saw two young Greeks kissing with the unrestrained vigor usually reserved for conjugal visits at a maximum security prison.

We planned to be at the coffee shop for about 3-4 hours while we killed an afternoon waiting for our flight to Rome. Luckily for us, the couple spent the afternoon in the coffee shop also. They were watching short clips on YouTube, and after each video they would launch into a passionate embrace and start kissing and sucking noisily.

Once, I looked over and the guy was laying on top of the girl in the missionary position. He reached up, squeezed her boob and jiggled it for a second. Kristi, who was returning from the bathroom, saw it as well, but from a different angle. Her face mirrored mine: mouth agape, eyes wide open, pure astonishment.

I almost asked them if they were practicing safe sex, and if so, what brand of condoms they were using; I want to buy stock.

They are passionate people, I get that, but when trapped next to them on public transportation or at cafes it is a little gross and annoying.

2. Mr. Portokalos is a stereotype for a reason

Mr. Portokolos

In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the dad in the movie talks about how all words trace back to Greek. (If you need a Mr. Portokalos refresher, here is a clip of him explaining to his daughter’s friends how all words come from Greek, even the Japanese word “kimono.”)

Although a funny aspect of the movie, we didn’t realize it was based in truth until we had a taxi driver in Athens who gave us a lesson on the Greek language.

“In Greece, we invent democracy over 2500 years ago. If you don’t vote, you are idiotes. This is where idiot comes from. It is a Greek word,” said the affable driver.

Another time a friendly Greek man at a coffee shop in Thessaloniki struck up a conversation with us. Here is a transcript:

GEORGIO: What are your names?
JEFF: Jeff.
KRISTI: Kristi.
GEORGIO: Ah, Kristi. Like Christ. Christ is Greek name. My name is Georgio. Also Greek name. Do you know what it means? You know the word Geography? Georgio comes from that. Means from the earth.

He went on to tell us about how Alexander the Great named the city of Thessaloniki and that he had a brother named Phillip.

GEORGIO: Do you know Phillip is Greek name? Do you know what Philadelphia means?
JEFF: City of brotherly love.
GEORGIO: Yes! Very good. Phila means friend, and –ip means horse. Phillip is friend of horse.

I could have listened to Georgio talk all day, learning about history and Greek language, but unfortunately, we had a plane to catch. We extricated ourselves from the conversation and went to the airport leaving Greece just a little bit smarter.

3. Turks and Greeks are crazy about cats

Tureky street catts

No one looked at me strangely for petting this stray cat.

There are cats everywhere. Some have homes, some don’t. Someone really needs to start a spay and neuter campaign (cue Bob Barker). Despite all the street cats, locals feed them and many are quite friendly. It is nice to stop and pet a cat or creepily talk to a shy kitten and not be looked at strangely by locals like we often are in other parts of the world.

That being said…

4. If you take a photo of dumpster cats, you will be eyed with suspicion by said dumpster cats

Symi Dumpster Cats
5. Turks like beer

Unlike other parts of the Middle East, alcohol is readily available in Turkey. Bars outnumber mosques in Istanbul. Almost every corner store sells beer and wine. This was a surprise, since even some popular tourist destinations in other countries like Jordan and Egypt are dry. For obvious reasons, we really liked Turkey.

6. Greeks know how to barbecue

I am from Oklahoma. I know what good meat tastes like and how it ought to be grilled. (I also know how to overreact when the Sooners lose a football game, how to sense a distant thunderstorm and to avoid entering any bar where the truck to car ratio is greater than 3:1).

Therefore, I can attest that Greeks know how to grill. We ate succulent pork and chicken all over Greece that rivaled any backyard American barbecue.

7. Greeks have been making wine for 6500 years yet they still suck at it

Instead of water-boarding suspected terrorists, we should force them to drink red Greek wine or Retsina (a white wine that tastes like tree sap with just a little hint of varnish). They will be spilling secrets in no time.

8. I want to see more of Turkey

We hit the well-trodden parts of the west – Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Ephesus. We missed out: I think the eastern half of this Texas-sized country is where it is at. The east attracts few tourists but has a number of attractions that deserve our attention.

Look up Lake Van, Ani, Diyarbikar and Mt. Ararat. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

20131119-214453.jpg

Lake Van in eastern Turkey. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

9. Crete is one badass island

Western crete has some of the best beaches in the world, from the tropical paradise of Elafonisi to the geographically interesting like Previli. Behind these beaches, rise up dramatic mountain peaks to heights over 8000 feet. You can be lazing on the beach one day, and the next be hiking along a knife edge trail in high winds above stunningly scenic Samaria Gorge wishing you were back on the beach (as we did one time).

In addition, the small towns and villages are exceedingly friendly and picturesque. The waterfront of Hania is a great place to catch a sunset and later drink wine and eat a great meal. Charm vomited all over the mountain villages. It is a perfect island.

I. LOVE. CRETE. There, I said it.

hania old town

Hania old town at dusk.

Elafonisi Beach

Elafonisi Beach is only miles away from 8000 ft peaks.

Samaria Gorge Hike

You can be lazing on a beach one day then hiking up in the mountains the next, although you are wiser to hike the first day then do the beach like we didn’t do.

10. Greek yogurt and honey is delicious

Greek yogurt is better for you than regular yogurt, but a little tangy and weird on its own. Enter honey. Mix in honey to taste and suddenly you have a creamy bowl of awesomeness.

11. How to pronounce Gyro

It is pronounced Year-O. And it is the best damn sandwich in the world.

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What are some things you have learned while traveling?

Are you a Greek man? If so, what other important words come from the Greek language?

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If you liked this, I’d be surprised. But if so, you might also like these other posts on Planet Bell

17 Things I Learned in Traveling in India

Is Symi the Most Beautiful Small Town in the World?

10 Photos of a Stunning Santorini Sunset

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25 Comments on “11 Things I Learned Traveling in Turkey and Greece

    • Have you tried Retsina? You will understand. A man gave us a bottle of Retsina as a gift and we were not sure if he was being nice or trying to punish us. Thanks for commenting and reading.

  1. I’m with you on the gyro and the retsina Jeff. Terri enjoys retsina, and I joke with her that it tastes great if you’re working on an asphalt paving crew while drinking it. And when we were in Athens, it was dogs instead of cats. (And of course, we wrote a post in it.) That’s good info on Crete. We considered Crete, but because of the time of year (Dec), we thought that it would be closed up. Next trip though. ~James

    • I think Crete is one of the few islands that doesn’t close up because it has a large permanent population. We loved it – I could live there.

      Terry is a tough woman if she drinks Retsina. We got a bottle as a gift so we didn’t feel too bad when we couldn’t drink it.

  2. Another colourful description of a place you visited – well done. I wonder what visitors would say about where you grew up?

  3. Greece and Turkey. Nice and Soon. I know the work “Feta Cheese” , will that count ? :D. Did you guys by any chance visited Meteora?

  4. Nice post. Thanks a lot for making me jealous yet again. While you were getting lessons in the history of language and the yumminess of food and wine, I have been learning 3 new tenses in spanish.

    And – why no references to goat? Please tell me you had some of the best meat in the world.

    • I wanted to adopt all the dumpster cats and find them a home, get them into rehab, get them off the streets.

      I will probably be eating Greek Yoghurt and honey the rest of my life now.

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  6. Love this, so true! Especially the part about the dumpster cats or in my case the fishing village cats that looked like they would attack me!

  7. How absolutely sweet to read about your travels to Greece. Greece is absolutely my favorite country in the world. The history, the absolute delicious food, the warmhearted people, it gorgeous nature and intensely diverse topographic regions, the culture. The whole combination makes me always want to go back.

    And I love your pictures. All of them. Also on the Meteora and symi column!

    I do have to agree about Retsina. Because retsina is the cheapest wine out there. But it has a distinct taste and can be enjoyable.
    But there are hundreds of Greek wines and nowadays many of them win internationally a lot of gold and silver prizes on best wines. Personally I am also a lover of Sweet wines. And for example Mavrodaphne and surely Vinsanto(From santorini) are just simply stunning wines. Robert parker wine expert gives the Vinsanto wines 96/100 points. So the Greek wines are continuing to gain quality and popularity

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. I really loved Greece also and for the same reasons it seems. The people and food were something I didn’t expect to be so good.

      I have to admit that I had some good Greek wine in my last few days in the country. I like red wine and I can’t say I had a good red, but I did have some nice white wines.

      Next time I’m there, I’ll have to try out the wines you suggested.

      • And there are many more treasures in Greece! So far me and my future wife have been exploring Greece in various parts, and all of them are gorgeous! And there are also more “holy” treasures like Meteora! One of them is Athos!
        Meteora comes 2nd after Athos. A very very special place. I have been there with luck. As you can only get there with permission(which is very hard) from the monks or the holy man, of whom they say that if you talk to him, you talk directly to god. Also Athos is a political protected monastic place. Also there is a border and customs (heavily guarded by military) In Greece and it’s (70km long) autonomous monastic peninsula. Once you get through customs with your permission and passport, you can get on the boat(which is the only way to get to Athos) and stay for a maximum of 3 days.

        Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in Greece. A World Heritage Site and autonomous polity in the Hellenic Republic, Athos is home to 20 stavropegial Eastern Orthodox monasteries (some as big as a small city) under the direct jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. Today Greeks commonly refer to Mount Athos as the “Holy Mountain” (Greek: Άγιον Όρος, Agion Oros). In Classical times, while the mountain was called Athos. Many pilgrims come here and it’s one of the great secrets of Greece. It’s also the only place on the planet that still uses the byzantine time.

        http://www.athosfriends.org/appeals/Hilandar/Lyttle_StAndrew_1974.jpg ( I was here)










        Athos Mountain


        Mt. Athos from Vourvourou

        And a very Inspiring and informative documentary from 2012 (the first after over 30 years, as no one is allowed to normally): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxATVCWNQNw

        So if you ever get the chance, do it. It’s a special place
        (that personally changed my life in ways(and I’m not religious). One big side note. Women are not allowed. Mount Athos is dedicated to the Holy Theotokos, the Virgin Mary. No other female may visit, even Queen Elizabeth II when Prince Phillip visits.. In fact, even female domesticated animals are excluded from the peninsula. You can take a boat tour that goes all around mount Athos peninsula. You can get as close as 500m. Sorry for the long text. I guess passion went a bit ahead of myself

      • Wow! Thank you for all the information. Those photos are very beautiful and interesting and I’ll have to check it out next time I’m in Greece. Greece is one of my favorite countries and I am sure I will return again someday. Thank you for commenting.

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