by Naz Erdem

This winter, I went on a journey of a lifetime, exploring the enchanting landscapes and diverse culture of Turkey. I knew this holiday would not only be a great trip, but would also be a great bonding experience with my loved ones – I was travelling with my family.  Over the course of six weeks, we roamed through cities and valleys, overcoming hurdles and discovering the beauty of a country that often took my breath away.

Spontaneous approach

Unlike meticulously planned escapades, I decided to embrace a more spontaneous approach to this adventure, and this made the trip much more rewarding and exciting. In usual circumstances, I would research locations and make sure the accommodation was wheelchair accessible, and then book ahead. But this time I knew I could rely on my family, who knew my intimate personal needs and would be there to assist if I couldn’t be independent. I was also confident in my ability to adapt and problem solve, given my extensive travel experience. As you read on, you’ll see this spontaneity took us on a road trip, staying in multiple cities, booking hotels as we went along.

Our journey began in Kayseri, the city I was born in. Off came the jumpers and jackets and we started enjoying the 30+ degree temperatures. The city’s blend of modernity and tradition was a remarkable sight. I revelled in the view of the snow-capped Erciyes mountain from the heart of the city, with bustling bazaars, castles and grand mosques, and my family’s helping hands made light work of the occasional curb challenge.

Kayseri: home to fabled castles, bazaars, and my birth.

From here, we hired a van to start our road trip, all 13 of us, including all our luggage! 

Cappadocia followed, a place that instantly captivated me with its unique landscapes and culture. While the early morning hot air balloon ride didn’t tempt me out of bed at 4 am, I was treated to a surreal spectacle from my cliffside hotel – a sky adorned with dozens of vibrant hot air balloons. As I navigated the town’s rugged terrains, I couldn’t help but wonder at the lifestyles of these ancient civilizations that once called these caverns home. Houses, hotels, historic churches, and museums all dug into cliffs were dotted all over the places.

I was treated to this surreal spectacle waking up in Cappadocia.

Our next destination was Amasya, a town nestled between stunning cliffs and the sparkling waters of the Yesilirmak River, and where we found the Tombs of the Kings of Pontus – rock-carved tombs, standing as silent witnesses to the past. The view of the tombs, especially at night, was amazing from the waterfront. 

Similarly, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon, all cities on the Black Sea, each had their own unique stories to tell, with splendid vistas, beaches, hospitable locals, and rich histories. The beauty of Uzungol, a calm lake surrounded by lush mountains, left a mark on me.

The Tombs of King Pontus were especially amazing at night. 

On the drive out, using Google maps, we thought we were taking a shortcut to our next destination, but it actually took us on one of the most dangerous mountainous roads in the world, Bayburt Of Road. This road is 40 km long, totally unpaved, and pretty defiant, with dangerous drop offs and 19 hairpin turns. The road took us above the clouds and through snow believe it or not, in the middle of summer. The local shepherd, who saw us, said to us “what the hell are you doing on this road, it’s too dangerous and just for locals”. My heart has never pumped so hard, and we were glad to see the end of that section of road.

Bayburt Of Road, voted most dangerous road in the world in 2016.
Every province had their unique foods

Next was the city of Erzincan, where vibrant markets reminded us that true exploration often lies outside of the popular tourist spots.

After around 3000 km, we headed back to Kayseri, our starting point. 

Importance of travel insurance

Breaking my leg halfway through the trip was a momentary setback, one that would ordinarily ruin any holiday. I broke my leg while getting on a domestic flight from Istanbul to Antalya. While on the aisle chair, getting up a step onto the plane, my foot fell off the footpate and got caught. The aisle chair made it up the step but my foot decided to stay behind… ouch. 

In hindsight, I should have instructed the staff to be more observant and more careful. One positive of having a spinal cord injury was that I couldn’t feel the pain, otherwise it would have been unbearable. Dealing with a broken leg in plaster meant I had to rely on those around me much more, especially when it came to transferring in and out of my wheelchair. 

It was during this unexpected turn that I recognised the true value of having comprehensive travel insurance. Not only did it provide me with the necessary care and assistance, but it also whisked me back home in business class comfort.

Breaking my leg halfway through the trip was a temporary setback.
Thanks to travel insurance I flew home Business class.

Once we landed in Antalya, we hired a couple of cars and headed to Fethiye. Fethiye, a city on the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea, was a sight to see, surrounded by hills of forests. We hired a yacht for the day and had a brilliant time exploring secluded coves, and enjoyed dinner prepared by the captain himself. 

My final destination was to Istanbul, the megacity set over two continents, where East meets West. A whole week here is just not enough. The city’s historic quarters reflect cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled here. In the Sultanahmet district, the open-air, Roman-era Hippodrome was the site of chariot races for centuries, and Egyptian obelisks also remain. The ancient Byzantine Hagia Sophia, the bustling Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the relaxed Bosphorus cruise are all treasured memories.

The Hagia Sophia, a 1600 year-old mosque in Istanbul.

Getting around the bustling historic areas in a wheelchair was an adventure in itself, which I’m glad I don’t have to face again. Imagine the fear I had going down 45 degree cobble stoned streets. As we found out later, the accessible public transport system would have made getting around a lot easier.

This trip to Turkey was an experience I’ll never forget. I saw the beauty of the country, the history, the many types of amazing foods, the hospitality and generosity of the locals, and all while bonding and experiencing it all with family. Wheelchair access wasn’t a highlight, but it wasn’t meant to be. 

Getting a tow in Istanbul’s historic Taksim tram.

This holiday was something I’ve been wanting to do for decades but due to my commitments to wheelchair rugby, I had to put it on hold. Now retired from the sport, I had no excuse. It was great that the stars aligned and I was able to do it with people who wanted to do the same. Exploring towns and cities was way more exciting than staying in any resort.

  • October 4, 2023

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