Journey to Turkey - A Handicapped View

September 7-22, 2005 by Glenn and Deby Morin

We decided to visit our daughter and her family who live in Turkey. We discovered through many tries that Delta had the most direct flights.

But, they don’t have the most comfortable planes. The seats were small and the arms did not move. Thanks to the small transport chair, I was able to get from it to the seat. But sitting all those long hours was uncomfortable and eating was tough. The flight crew was very nice, but there wasn’t much they could do. We had made sure that a transfer chair would stay on board so that if I needed to use the restroom that there was a way to get there. We chose the restroom in 1st class because it wasn’t used as much and was closer to the bulkhead seats we had. It turned out to be a very small restroom, but Glenn could just push me inside and I could transfer over. We won’t even get in to trying to get pants up and down. But, at least we had a way for me to go to the restroom during the 19 hours of travel.

Once we landed in Istanbul, Turkey, a very nice young man came to get us at the gate. He put me in a very small transport chair, did not strap me in and away we went. It was a ride to be remembered. But, because he was with us, we did not have to wait in line for visas or customs, just whisked us right through. I kept asking him for my wheelchair, which had been gate checked in NY. He kept saying that it would be in baggage. So we went to get the baggage, and the chair was not there. He went someplace and came back with it. But, still he would not let me transfer to it. We realized later that he thought he was taking me directly to a car or cab and didn’t want to have me transfer more than necessary. He didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Turkish, so the communication was a little hard.

The beautiful faces of our family waiting for us was so wonderful to see as we came out of the baggage claim area.

We chatted as Glenn and our son-in-law went to sign in for the van we rented and get that squared away. Our son-in-law drove and gave us the “scenic tour” on the way to the hotel. Our daughter had tried to book a place over the phone, trying to get them to understand that a handicapped room was needed. We came to find that the Turkish hospitality will do anything and everything to accommodate you. It took a few hotels, but we finally found one with an elevator big enough for the wheelchair. A big elevator in a Turkish hotel is maybe 30 inches by 35 inches!! The hotel staff was wonderful. The wait staff from the sidewalk café attached to the hotel would come running if it even looked like we were going back in the hotel to put up a ramp made of 2 metal slats to get me up the 3 steps into the hotel.

Our room was very nice - a double bed, a small desk, an armoire, and a bathroom. The only problem was that the bathroom was a 6 inch step up. If it hadn’t been for Glenn, I would never had been able to go to the restroom or shower while in Istanbul. The shower was a semi circle stall that was just big enough to accommodate my shower stool. Glenn had insisted that we pack it. I can just imagine what the baggage screeners thought when they saw the metal and plastic in the suitcase! But it worked well and I was glad to have it. The alternative is to sit on the toilet and use the hand shower there. All Turkish bathrooms have a drain in the floor and most have a hand held shower, so it wouldn’t have been a big deal.

We spent 3 wonderful days in Istanbul. Glenn and I had to stay awake until at least 9pm to get through the first day of jet lag. We landed at 10:30am. But, with all there was to see, it wasn’t hard to stay awake.

We spent the afternoon walking around Istanbul. The sidewalks are uneven and hard to negotiate - I was fortunate to have my husband and son-in-law to push me around. Our hotel was situated across a plaza from the world renown Blue Mosque. The plaza was a little park that ran down the center of this part of town. It was very nice. We at a sidewalk café across from our hotel and just generally enjoyed each other.

Our second day in Istanbul, we went for a sightseeing tour on a boat on the Bosporous Strait - the waterway that divides Istanbul Asia and Europe. Glenn and our son-in-law had gone ahead to see if it was feasible to ride the trams - electric trains - down to the dock area. They decided that getting there was no problem, but once there, negotiating an 18 inch curb (with no curb cuts) in the middle of a busy highway might be a little treacherous. So we opted to take the van down. The manager of the hotel (once again that incredible Turkish hospitality!) offered to drive us down in our van, drop us off and pick us back up. So that’s what we did.

Getting on the boat was another thing. There were very steep steps to get up to the dock. All of this was made of concrete. So with the help of Glenn, our son-in-law, and 3 guys from the docks, I was carried up the 4 foot tall steps and over a very narrow gangplank to the deck of the boat. Glenn then took me down the last few steps into the salon, where it was huge inside. We chose a seat next to the window and just sat and watched the scenery. It was a wonderful trip and we wouldn’t have missed it. When we got back to the dock, Glenn, our son-in-law and 2 dock workers carried me off the boat.

We then called the hotel, and the manager came to pick us up in our van.

We had a lovely dinner in a rooftop restaurant atop one of the kids’ favorite hotels. It was wonderful.

The next day was bazaar day. What an experience. We once again had the manager drive us to the area and drop us off.

The next 4 hours went by so quickly and in a whirl of excitement. This is almost like a flea market, but with real shops - mostly very small ones. And everyone wants to sell you something! They know just enough English to step in front of you and ask if you want to buy something. They are very aggressive, mostly male. We bought a few items for gifts for the folks back home. After a while in the crowded, noisy shopping area (the malls at Christmas have nothing on the Grand World Bazaar on Saturday), we needed a break. So we went outside the bazaar to a sidewalk café to have lunch. We had sandwiches and cokes. We returned to the bazaar for a few more hours and then decided to go back to the hotel. Our “driver” was unavailable, so we decided to take the tram. Where we came out from the bazaar was right in front of a station, with a ramp! So we went up the ramp to buy our tokens. The clerk would not let me go through the handicapped entrance - we never did figure out why - so we had to go out on the street amidst the cars and the guys lifted me up the 18 inches to the platform. Oh well! Once on the platform, everything was level. So with my grandson clearing the way, Glenn pushed me onto the train. We got out at the right stop close to the hotel. It was interesting and I felt like we did well with this little challenge.

We went back to the hotel to freshen up and have another bathroom break. I didn’t even try to go to the restroom anywhere else. But then, neither did our daughter or granddaughter.

We then went to dinner at a café across the square and then to our favorite place for chai (tea). The next day we would be driving the 5-7 hours to get to Ankara, the capital city - where the family lives.

We checked out of the hotel after making arrangements to come back in 2 weeks on our way back to the States. This way we knew the hotel and could be sure of the accommodations. We only rented 1 room with enough beds in it for 4 of us as the grandkids would be in school.

We started out fairly early on Sunday morning to head for Ankara, where the family lives. We traveled on the biggest highway in Turkey. We needed to take a break and stopped at a bus station just outside of Bolu. We were pleasantly surprised to find that this “service plaza” had a separate handicapped restroom. As we have all found in any of the handicapped restrooms, the seat was very loose, but it was wonderful to have such a nice big room to go to the restroom in. We all piled back in the van and headed to Bolu, to meet some friends and have lunch.

After lunch, we went to the chai park in the middle of town and visited for a while. All too soon, it was time to get back on the road. We arrived in Ankara, at their apartment at around 6:45pm. We weren’t sure if the elevator was going to be big enough for the wheelchair. Our son-in-law thought we might pull into the garage to unload the luggage and chair and then use the elevator to get up to the 1st floor where they live. The elevator was just big enough, so we were relieved. The rest of our stay, sometimes we would use the garage entrance, sometimes the guys would carry the wheelchair down the 3 steps to the street. All of the doors in the apartment were big enough to get through, except the master bedroom bath- where we would use the shower. So they guys took the door off. The other bathroom was where I would use the toilet and sink.

On Tuesday, we did some local sightseeing. We visited Ataturk’s tomb. (He is called the “father of modern day Turkey”). We weren’t sure exactly what we would find as far as accommodations to get me around, but we went anyway. We took a taxi. To get to the museum, there are many marble steps. But, there was a “lift” - a platform to take me up the stairs. Once up, we were able to get around pretty well. There were ramps into most places, and at every doorway where there was an 18 inch ledge, someone would put up a ramp for me. These were a little less steep than most of the ramps we were to encounter, as this facility was built for the Turkish people by the Americans when they had the military base there. It was interesting to go up to the tomb itself, as this was several flights up. Again, a platform lift that went up the steps and around corners. At one point, I had to get off the lift, cross a hallway, and get on another lift. But, I got to see everything and it was great to not miss out on all of this history. The only place that did not have a ramp was at the restrooms. There, Glenn and our daughter had to wrestle me up the 18 inch door step. When we got to the restroom, it was a “pull in” type. This would have been fine, except the door opened to the inside. So, our daughter stood in the doorway while I used the facilities.

We left the museum and walked down the street to a sidewalk café. We had a very good lunch in the area. Then we caught the metro downtown. This was exciting for us, as we had to get on a large elevator - more the size of a freight elevator - and go down 2 levels below the street. We caught the train without incident. When we came off of the train - 2 levels below the street - there were shops everywhere. Shoes, clothing, household goods, etc. It just amazed us.

We caught the elevator up to the street and walked around a bit. It was very crowded. We went into a household goods store where I found the most beautiful tea set. Our daughter negotiated the price and we bought it. Then we decided to get a snack and some fresh bread for dinner. We went to a “pastry shop”. Like so many food places that we saw, this was an open stand facing the sidewalk with the ovens in the back. There were so many pastries and breads it was hard to choose what to get. We decided on our snack and bread, then looked for a place to sit and eat. There are many tables set up all over outside, and many benches. So we found a place next to a fountain and sat to eat.

We did a little more shopping and then decided to head home. We decided to take a taxi as any other mode of transportation meant several transfers. We got a call from the kids while we were in the taxi letting us know that they were home from school.

By the time that our son-in-law got home from work, it was getting late. So we decided to go to the mall for dinner and pick up a few things. This was fascinating. The store we went into was like a Wal-Mart. It had clothes, food, school supplies, shoes, etc. We picked up the things we needed. As our family was standing in line, we asked if we could go to the pet store to see what they had. So our grandson took us there. The mall elevator wasn’t working, so we went through a department store (much like Penney’s) and used theirs. We were intrigued at the birds they had and how many dogs they had. It was time to leave, so we found a “people mover”, got me on it and it took us up to the floor we were parked on and we headed home.

The next day we went to visit the kids’ school. This was another challenge, as once again, the ramps were steep. They had been motivated to modify the school the previous year because they had a boy in a wheelchair attending. So they basically covered over the 1-3 steps on each level that lead down to classrooms with concrete. But, there was also an elevator to go from floor to floor. Since the school is brand new, it was really nice.

We went to a local bazaar afterward. There were clothes, household goods, and lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. This was more like an open air flea market. The vegetable stands were set up so beautifully, that I had to take pictures. The fruit and vegetables are huge there. And they arrange them so nice. We bought a few things for dinner and went to eat at one of the kids’ favorite restaurants. Again, we ate outside. It was very good.

Thursday Glenn went to work with our son-in-law. I stayed home and helped our daughter straighten the house some. Her Farsi language teacher came over to give her a lesson. I read and held our grand kitten until it was time to cook. One of the things our daughter does is try to learn more about the culture through the food. So I got drafted to write the recipe down in English so that our daughter could later use it as a learning tool and translate it into Farsi. The food, a stew like dish, was wonderful and I had a great time “talking” with this lady.

Since we were all leaving to go to the Mediterranean the next morning, we went to get packed. Glenn and I decided to shower that evening so everyone else could get their showers in the morning.

As I was in the shower, sitting on my shower stool, I lost my balance and fell out of the shower, landing full force on my left knee. The pain and rapid swelling told me this was not good. Glenn was able to get me off the floor and into my chair. We put ice on it and I took Tylenol, but by 1am, I knew that this was serious. The knee was huge, red, and hot. My shin was all ready bruising and the whole leg was swollen. I awoke Glenn and we prayed together and then decided to get the kids’ up to go to the emergency room.

We drove to a brand new - only open 9 months - hospital fairly close to the apartment. When we pulled up at the emergency entrance, our son-in-law asked where he should park. They immediately came out to the van with a “gerry” type chair, transferred me into it, and took me right into an examine room. Within 10 minutes, the doctor came in. Through our daughter translating everything, we got through the explanation of what had happened and he sent me for X-rays. The table came very low, so the transfer with lots of help was pretty easy - though painful. Back to the examine room and the doctor told us nothing was broken. This was a blessing. He prescribed anti- inflammatory and was prepared to send us on our way, when Glenn stepped in and asked about pain medicine. They take a more holistic approach to treating pain. The doctor explained that they didn’t want to “protect” the pain (or we would say mask it) because if it eased up and there was something else wrong, then I might not seek treatment. Glenn kept insisting that we need something for pain, so he gave me an anti-inflammatory shot. He also wrote a prescription for more anti-inflammatory pills. Since this is a country with socialized medicine, we were shocked to see that the total bill for the emergency room visit, doctor, and X-rays was $234!!!

So we went in search of an all night pharmacy. They do not have 24 hour pharmacies there, which Glenn found interesting as he is an overnight pharmacist. Instead, there is a list of pharmacies that are on call. You go to the pharmacy, call a telephone number posted on the door and the pharmacists comes down from upstairs (we weren’t sure if this was an apartment or not) to fill the prescription.

When we got home, we iced the knee down again. They don’t use ice for a lot of things over there, so the doctor told us we could ice it down twice a day - but only twice. They think that cold will make you sick.

After a pretty miserable few hours of sleep, our daughter got up with the kids and sent them on to school. We knew that the Mediterranean was just not going to be in the cards for us. We spent the rest of the morning sleeping and trying to rest. We got up around 10 and had breakfast. Glenn and I had talked about going on to Cappadocia the next day anyway. We might not get to the Mediterranean, but we could at least go to the rock churches. Besides, our reasoning was I can keep the leg elevated in the car as well as sitting at home.

Our daughter spent most of the day on the phone trying to contact local doctors that they knew to get some kind of pain medication. She finally was able to get their family doctor, who, after much discussion, agreed to prescribe something for pain. When she got the name of the medicine, she called our son-in-law to tell him and Glenn what the doctor was going to call in. So they told the pharmacist and he just reached behind the counter and sold it to them. This was basically Tylenol with codeine and anti-spasm medicine. Glenn also got a new ace bandage and tried to buy an ice bag. They had no such thing. But the pharmacist finally acquiesced and reached under the counter and sold Glenn a hot water bottle that he said we could freeze. The pain medication helped some and I was able to take a nap on the couch.

We got up fairly early the next day to head out. Again a long car ride. We rigged up a piece of wood under the wheelchair pad to support the leg. It worked well. We stopped at another bus stop, which once again had a separate handicapped restroom with a loose seat. I was just glad to get to go and Glenn went with me to help.

We finally came to Urgup - a very rural town with farmers on tractors pulling big wagons full of harvested grapes, melons, and vegetables. We found our hotel which our daughter had found on the internet which said that they had handicapped rooms.

We got checked in and headed out to Avenos. On the way there, the views were spectacular with the “fairy chimneys” and rock formations. We went to the Cultural Center. They have come to specialize in the pottery that the area is famous for. The clay comes from the river and is very plentiful. The name of the shop we went to was called “The Potters’ Place.” I could not go inside as there were many steps. Afterward, we went to lunch.

We had the local specialty - gozeme - a soft tortilla type dough stuffed with cheese or cheese and potato or hamburger. It was very good and we enjoyed the food as well as the street cats and our perfect view of a mosque and fountain. It was a pretty little town.

The hotel was beautiful and we were pleased at the handicapped room. The bathroom was sufficient. With the leg out in front of me, we had to take the wood out and lower the leg. The toilet was right at the level of the chair, which was nice. The shower was a kind of different configuration. It was a small roll in, which was good for me because I could reach the controls for the shower. But, the chair was a fixed plastic seat in the corner. And it kind of leaned forward. So we put my shower chair in front of me, since I felt like I was going to fall off, I used 1 hand to steady me and the other to wash with. The fixed seat was slick, and it felt like I was slipping. Of course, after the fall, I admit I am a little nervous. But, it worked well. We had dinner - a buffet - at the hotel and breakfast, too. The food was good and we enjoyed the grounds and the staff was wonderful.

We headed out early the next morning to go to Neveshir to see the rock churches. This was interesting, as I could not go inside any of the churches. Most of these are built in caves and have either steps or a ladder to get into, or have very narrow openings. The hills are very steep and at some points, it took 3 men to get me up the hills. We decided to have lunch there and ate in one of the open air cafes. We did a little more shopping and bought souvenirs, then headed back to Ankara, arriving home around 7. Had pizza for dinner and then off to bed.

Wednesday, we waited for our son-in-law to come home from work to start the 5 hour trip back to Istanbul to catch our flight early Thursday morning and turn the van in. It

We flew Air France from Istanbul to Paris. They were the worse airline! They refused to gate check my chair. When we got to Paris, everyone disembarks the plane to the tarmac where you are picked up by buses. For us, it was a fork lift device with a small seating area. The Air France people were very uncooperative and would not even try to find my chair. When we got to the connecting flight - Delta to Atlanta - they were much more concerned about making sure the chair was on the flight and would be with us when we got off. Both flights were totally uncomfortable, as the leg was so swollen and sore and there was no place to stretch it out.

When we arrived in Atlanta, the chair was on the flight and at the gate. We were so happy. We had to go through customs there - claimed all of our bags and then went through inspection. Then on to the last flight to bring us back home. It got dark during the flight and this is where Glenn and I “hit the wall”. It had been a long 24 hour day of travel and our poor bodies were exhausted. The leg was in a lot of pain and was huge. We just wanted to get home to our own bed!

The final say on this trip:

We loved Turkey! We loved being with our family and seeing them function so well over there. We loved the Turkish people. They were all so helpful and so attentive! They are a very gracious and hospitable people.

My advice would be not to miss this historic and wonderful country. But if you are mobility impaired in any way, make sure to take along a good companion. Turkey is not up to ADA standards, and we weren’t even expecting the handicapped facilities that we found. But it was worth the hassles to see it all and experience it!

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