Istanbul, & Kathmandu
by Bill Brauer e-mail Wabrauer@aol.com
In the spring of 2000 we traveled to these 3 cities. We had great time in each. I am in a wheelchair and can not walk. We did this on our own not as a part of a group. There were just the 2 of us. My friend can help me get up a curb or 1 step. My chair is 24in. wide and 41 in long. With the foot rests off I can gain 14 in. With the chair and cushion I weigh about 190lbs. By using a sliding board I can easily get in any car. My chair is light-weight and folds easily to put in a trunk or back seat. Most cab drivers were helpful but needed to be shown how to handle the chair. Many of the places that we went did not fit the ADA definition of accessible. If we could get there one way or another we went.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn de Medici. The room was very accessible (and overpriced - about $150). It is out of town and cab fare to the center of Rome was $15-20. The hotel has a free shuttle service, but there was no way that I could get on it (big bus). I asked if they would pay all or part of the cab fare because of the inaccessible bus and was turned down. We traveled about by cab.
Many of the sights in Rome are in walking (and/or wheeling) distance from one another. Both day and night there are lots of people about. We enjoyed the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, The Pantheon and the areas in between. We found an Internet cafe that was accessible and lots of little shops and places for a snack or a meal.
The Vatican Museum - We were there for a whole day and didn't see it all. There is a special entrance for wheelchairs (no waiting in line). Almost all of the museum is accessible and they have accessible bath rooms. The audio-tape was a big help. There are 3 restaurants. Don't miss the Sistine Chapel. You will have to go the long way around to get there but it is worth it.
Saint Peters Square - This is an impressive sight. We were there on Easter Eve and it was decorated for the occasion with flowers everywhere. If you go for a service wheelchairs go up front.
The Coliseum - I was surprised at the size of it. About half of it is accessible. I could not go up to the upper levels but had a good view from where I sat. At night it is lit up making it quite pretty. We took a ?? hour tour that was helpful. The bathroom just outside is accessible.
Driving - We rented a car for 3 days - could not find one with hand controls so my friend drove. One day we drove in the countryside south of Rome. It is an easy drive and very picturesque. We had lunch (ham & cheese sandwich) outside overlooking a beautiful lake ( I think that it is named Castle Grandolfe ). It was a million-dollar view and a $2 lunch. We drove through Marino and up the mountain as far as we could. The residence of the Pope, when he is not at the Vatican, is somewhere there but we never found it. It was a great day until we decided to drive to the city to have dinner. Driving in the center of the city ( especially at rush hour) is more than a little trying. We drove back to the hotel and took a cab back to town.
Pompeii - It is about a two and half hour drive on good roads from Rome. I sat and had a glass of wine and read about it while my friend went through. There is no was to see it from a wheelchair unless you have someone with you who can haul you up and down a lot of steps. On the way back we got off the expressway and drove to the small town of Aquino. It is a pretty drive and a nice way to see some of the country side. At the exit there is a restaurant that is easy to get in.
Tivoli Gardens - It is a very beautiful garden filled with statues and waterfalls. It was built in the 1500's is built on the side of a big hill about 10 stories high. To get in without steps have someone buy your ticket and go around to the right (as you are facing the ticket office). There is a gate there and you can wheel in to the top with no steps but one steep ramp (I needed help). To see the whole garden there are steps. They do have gates at various levels that would provide much better wheelchair access but they were locked. I was told that they didn't have enough staff to open them.
I have written to the government ministry in charge about it. If they would be able to open the lower gates it would be more accessible to wheelchairs and much easier for people who have difficulty walking.
Ostia - This is the port city on the Mediterranean. We drove there. The walk way along the beach is accessible. On the weekend it is very busy with a number of street entertainers. We enjoyed strolling, people watching and stopping for an ice cream dish.
Other possible transportation options: There is a bus route around parts of the city that is supposed to have some busses with a wheelchair lift. We didn't find it. Also there are small electric busses that have wide doors. They are low and from a curb it would be very easy to get in. We found several internet sites about Rome that were helpful - www.twenj.com - is good.
In Istanbul we contacted a tour guide that I found on the Internet. We were met at the airport by the guide. It worked out very well. He was friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. We stayed at Hotel Alzer . It is a small hotel in the old part of town that was walking distance from Topkapi Palace, Haiga Sophia, The Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bizarre. It was less than half the cost of the large chain hotels and included a big breakfast. There is 1 medium step to get in the hotel and in the restaurant. I could get around in the room and use the toilet and shower. What we saved in hotel costs paid for the guide and car.
Topkapi Palace, Haiga Sophia, Blue Mosque, & Grand Bizarre All of these are in walking distance from one another. All have a 1 step here and there. Some have ramps but these are not always easy to find. The Palace is interesting. The tour through the main quarters is accessible. There is a treasury that consists of several rooms filled with gold, silver and jewels that is almost mind boggling - a dagger with 3 large emeralds in the handle and a 86 carat diamond. There is a cafe there with a great view if the Bosphorus. I am sure that there is a way in, but they insisted on carrying me down 2 flights of steps to get in. The church (Haiga Sophia) was built in the 6th century. The interior is one of huge vaulted ceiling rooms. It is in the process of being studied and refurbished. The interior of the Blue Mosque is beautiful. The walls are covered with tiles in shades of blue. Wheelchairs are not allowed in so our guide enlisted a guy at the door to help and I was carried in. The floor is carpeted so I sat and enjoyed for a time. The Grand Bizarre has rugs and carpet almost without end and other "stuff" from jewels and leather to trinkets. It is a very busy place.
Dolmabahce Place - This is a very large palace on the Bosphorus with well tended gardens outside. I sat outside in the garden while my friend went through. With a little help one could see the palace from a wheelchair. There is an outdoor cafe beside it with a nice view of the waterway.
Market at Ortakoy - A large outdoor market open every day - Sunday the busiest. There are artisans and people with crafts etc. There are many kinds food to sample. It is a short cab ride along the Bosphorus from the palace.
Boat ride on The Bosphorus - We took a boat ride from the old town center area down the waterway to the Black Sea and a cab ride back. The boat trip ended at Sariyer a small fishing village. We had a custard like dish (sari kosk ) at a small restaurant named Sariyer Muhallebici. On the boat we had locally made yogurt - Kanlica. Both the boat ride on the waterway and the cab ride back were interesting. Along the way there are several harbors that a have large variety of watercraft.
Beylerbeyi Palace - This is an old summer palace of sultans that is now a public park. It is on a high bluff overlooking the waterway. They have an excellent brunch on the weekends and lunch most days.
Dinner Show - There are several dinner dance shows. We went to the Orient House. It was 3 hours of song, dance, and food. There were people from more than 25 countries in the audience. It was great fun. Like most things in Turkey the price for the show is negotiable.
Other thoughts: We found a restaurant where we were the only non Turkish people there Deniz Restaurant Tarabya. We had a very good sea food dinner with wine for about $50 for two. We found the cab drivers to be very friendly and helpful although few spoke English. Change your Turkish money before you go through security at the airport. Once you pass security there is no place to exchange money and their inflation is very high
Tour Guide Company: Mehmet Semith e-mail - lodgingturkey.superline.com Our Guide: Bulent Karamanlioglu e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org Hotel Alzer: e-mail - email@example.com or www.alzerhotel.com
We contacted a local guide via the Internet. As in Istanbul this worked well. We used his service and stayed at Hotel Astoria. The hotel has 1 step to get in. The bathroom has a threshold 4 or 5 inches high. I placed a chair in the bathroom and slid on to it with my sliding board. By sliding the chair across the room I could use the toilet and shower. Outside the hotel was a court yard and a pleasant garden. Each day we had a guide with a car.
The best time of year to see the mountains from Kathmandu is Jan and Feb. The rest of the year there is a lot of haze and smog. The city is crowded and busy with a lot of air pollution. Every type of vehicle one can imagine can be seen on the streets.
Mount Everest - To see the mountain this time of year a plane ride is usually necessary. We went on Buddha Air. It is a 1-hour ride. As we broke through 11,500 feet we were above the haze and was clear as a bell. There was an audible gasp and then applause from the people in the plane. On our left was a string on high mountains with one clearly the tallest. Mt. Everest had a small cloud over the peek. It was quite a sight. I was carried on and off the plane.
Bhaktapur - This is an old temple city called " The City of Devotees". There are no steps but some very uneven paving stones and bricks. A local guide will charge ($3 - $5). To be "helpful" he will probably take you to a shop owned by his brother where you can get the absolute "best" bargains.
Nagarot - This is a mountain inn and restaurant with a great view of the mountains. The ride there (about 1 hour ), meal, and view were nice. In the winter one can see Mt. Everest at both sunrise and sunset from there. To get a wheelchair in I had to be carried 5 steps
Godawary - This is another mountain resort. The view and food were excellent. On this trip we stopped at the Royal Botanical Gardens. It has paved paths although some are steep. This is a very peaceful and serene place where one can stay an hour or a day. Also on the way is the government run craft store. There one can find a wide variety of arts and crafts at fixed prices.
Gondola to Manakamana Temple - Kathmandu is in a mountain valley so there is only one road in and out. It is a good road with excellent scenery as it follows the river out. About a 2 hour drive you come to the gondola that takes you to the mountain top and the Manakamana Temple. This is a Hindu temple that is famous for granting wishes. If the prayer is granted a sacrifice must be made ( chicken or goat ). I could get in the gondola in my chair. From the top of the lift to the temple it is 100 yards up a winding gravel path. For a fee there are people who will carry people who can't walk in a litter chair. The farming villages in the area are interesting to see. The homes and outbuildings are made of bamboo with thatched roofs.
Talmal District - This area and the Kathmandu Guest House (a hotel) became the "in" place. It is now a tourist area filled with shops and taverns.
Dinner show - There are several dinner and dance shows. The one recommended by our guide was booked. We went to a smaller one. The dance and songs were fun to see and hear. The food was just OK.
Other possibilities - When we go back I would consider going to Pokahara Lake Village - and Chitwan National Park. Our Guide: Nagendra Bhandari e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
General thoughts: Travel by air is easy. The only time that I had to be carried was on Buddha Air to see Mt. Everest. All of the international carriers had aisle chairs and ramps or lifts to get me in. Most tour are not accessible because of the bus. Public transportation is also impossible most of the time. For me a cab works fine. The guides and car that we had in Istanbul and Kathmandu were great and I would highly recommend either of them. Be ware of so called bargains. In Istanbul we bought 2 oil lamps for $22.50 each. At the Duty Free store at the airport they were "on sale" for $95. When I see a setting where the accessibility can be easily improved I say so in person or by letter. I used the internet a lot in planning this trip.
If I can be of help to anyone planning a trip I will try.
Bill Brauer e-mail Wabrauer@aol.com
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