Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980s

"Good afternoon. We want to go to Turkey next month, please." "Certainly.

Where?" "The cheap part." It was September 1987 and we were in a travel agency in Sheffield, where I was a news sub-editor on the Star evening newspaper, and my wife Debbie a ward sister at the city's Children's Hospital.

We'd been married a year, had two weeks off in -October, and wanted sunshine, history and a bit of adventure. Turkey fitted the bill. Mass tourism hadn't really arrived, it was good value, suitably exotic for a young couple in Sheffield, and no colleagues or friends had been.

So, some travel kudos. What we could not possibly have known was the trip would end in a way that is now very familiar in 2020. We cannot remember the cost of a fortnight on B&B in a one-star hotel in Kusadasi, on the Aegean coast 60 miles south of Izmir, other than it must have been a bargain as we were on low pay with a hideous mortgage interest rate.

Passport stamp for Turkey in 1987
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We flew from Manchester, with a stop at Gatwick to take on more passengers, and four hours later were landing at Izmir.

The -international airport was yet to open and commercial flights landed at Cigli military base. My inner plane geek was beyond excited as we had to wait to taxi across the runway so fighter jets could take off. Ninety minutes on a coach later, we were dropped near the no-frills Hotel Kenan and dragged our cases up the rough track to reception, where there was a friendly welcome and a simple (by simple, I mean spartan) but clean room.

We settled in and had a couple of Efes beers in the cosy bar with locals watching Turkish football on the black and white telly (come on you Galatasaray!).

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sHotel Kenan in Kusadasi
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Next morning, after a bracing shower (the water never got beyond lukewarm), breakfast was served on the little rooftop terrace with a view of the castle, lemon tea and pastries. Time to explore. We walked the 15 minutes into the centre of Kusadasi which was just starting to embrace tourism with some hotel construction.

Although we'd been to France, Spain, Greece and Toronto, this felt more foreign , with a bazaar and caravanserai (a place we would get to know all too well - more of that later). And, after all, Kusadasi is in Asia Minor, so we were on a new continent! We looked at the castle on Pigeon Island, nosed in the bazaar's shops selling trinkets, knock-off designer goods, rugs and weird soft drinks, and were mildly surprised to see British newspapers on sale, four days old admittedly.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sEating out in Kusadasi, Turkey
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That night we checked out the restaurants and discovered:

  • Some nice places with rooftop seating under canopies.
  • Delicious meze, kebabs and hummus.
  • We were the cash kings of Kusadasi.

    Food and drink was ludicrously cheap. Back then there were about 1,200 Turkish lira to the pound when we arrived and 1,400 when we left. An Efes was 30p, a bottle of (just about) drinkable wine a quid, starters 50p and belly-busting main courses GBP1.50 or so.

We'd come to Turkey for sunshine, history and a bit of adventure so it was time for the history part.

Cue a day trip on the bus (about 20p each way) to Greco-Roman Ephesus, about 12 miles north and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sDebbie at Ephesus
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It was (and still is) an incredible archaeological sight with the remains of the Temple of Artemis, amphitheatre and the showstopping Library of Celsus. Being British, we were of course fascinated by the brothel (rude statue!) and the public toilets where 'customers' had no privacy, but did their business over a chat with their neighbour.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sNigel at Ephesus toilets in 1987

Next day we hit Ladies Beach. Now part of the built-up area, then it was a five-minute 'dolmus' shared minibus bus ride from the centre, all of 8p each, or a half-hour walk.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sLadies Beach in the late 1980s

Today the beach has lots of facilities, in 1987 there were a few bars and some horrible toilets.

The 2,000-year-old ones at Ephesus were better! Still, we pretty much had the sands to ourselves. A book, a beer, a snooze and a dip.

We wanted nothing more. Except... we did.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sLadies Beach as it is now
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And so to Istanbul. Going to Turkey's biggest city for two nights grew from a random idea over an Efes into reality.

With considerable effort, and lousy German (I knew no Turkish, the port agent knew no English, it was a sort of middle ground), I booked a ferry ticket over the phone for the 20-hour voyage from Izmir to Istanbul. It was GBP8 for a cabin for two, including food and drink (yes, more Efes).

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sThe marina in Kusadasi

To Izmir on the bus (50p), where we arrived at a chaotic terminus and looked for a taxi to the port. When a man asked me if I spoke English and, on confirming, asked, "How much for the woman?" we decided to walk the two miles to the port immediately.

More fun as the ferry agent could not find our names on the passenger manifest... but thankfully we could. The overnight trip was memorable, passing Lesbos, the site of ancient Troy and the entrance to the Dardanelles. We stayed on deck till late to see the illuminated memorials marking the Allies' disastrous First World War landings at Gallipoli.

We also drank too much included Efes. A fragile dawn arrival at Istanbul was preceded by the ferry weaving past numerous anchored cargo vessels and Soviet warships. Off the ship, we hailed a taxi, pointed to the Grand Bazaar on a map and headed to town.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sSultan Ahmed Mosque and the Istanbul cityscape in the dawn.

Finding a hotel that looked acceptable/affordable by the Bazaar (no booking.com of course, we just knocked on the door of the Astor), we dropped off our bags and had two fabulous days discovering this extraordinary city's sights, including the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the vast, labyrinthine Bazaar itself. 

To add to the excitement, over a drink at the hotel bar I had an allergic reaction to some nuts. I felt fine, but my entire body went a fascinating shade of scarlet. We found a travel agent to book a GBP25 flight back to Izmir (we laughed in the face of any advance travel planning in 1987) and discovered that Istanbul airport put cameras through X-ray machines, fogging our films so we lost many photos.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sNigel and Debbie back in in Istanbul in 2014

Back at the Kenan we realised we'd forgotten to tell the owners we were going to Istanbul.

They'd been getting increasingly worried about us and were not far off calling the police. Oops. Enter TT (= Turkish Turbulence).

We headed to Ladies Beach the next day and had a kebab for lunch. It wasn't great but we were hungry. Bad mistake.

The TT issues arose back at the hotel. I am not exaggerating when I say we needed the loo every half hour all night. Over the next few days, toilets would dominate our lives. (Life lesson: if a kebab looks dodgy. smells dodgy and tastes dodgy, it probably is dodgy.)

But while our tummies were traumatised, we were not to be put off continuing the holiday. Firm action was needed, and the hotel owners pointed us to a cheery chemist, who knew exactly what to give Westerners afflicted by TT. His array of pills provided a little predictability and stability in a volatile situation.

Our remaining four days were planned around where had nice Western-style toilets (the caravanserai ones were our pit-stop of choice, they were lovely). We were in no mood to try the traditional squat ones unless our digestive systems suddenly went to DEFCON 1. Tesekkurler, Turkey.

You were epic in the 80s and it was time to go home - but only after the incident during the last drink in our favourite bar, which involved a high comedy mix-up between our paper bag of souvenir Turkish delight and an elderly customer's paper bag containing a freshly decapitated chicken (personally I thought the old boy would have got the better deal if the accidental swap had not been spotted). The adventure did not quite end there, as the ongoing TT issues were diagnosed as salmonella by our Sheffield GP and we had to self-isolate for 14 days. Exactly 33 years on, with Turkey now on the Covid quarantine list, it sounds oh so familiar...

Pamukkale a pools winner

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sPamukkale's travertine pools

Despite the uncertainty caused by TT we went on a day trip (about a tenner each, we think) to Pamukkale, a wonder of nature around three hours inland by bus (we'd double checked there would be comfort stops!).

Translated as 'cotton castle', it's a spectacular series of water-filled travertine pools cascading down a 525ft hill, with the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis at the top, and the views are terrific.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sDebbie at Pamukkale

Back in 1987 visitors could paddle in the lukewarm pools, but that is now banned to protect them as the numbers of tourists have swelled massively. Plus, you have to stick to marked paths. You can still swim in the thermal pools at Hierapolis and there are many old Greco-Roman relics to see, plus a vast necropolis.

Storm shocker

One day we'd walked into town en route to the beach and were stopped in our tracks by a copy of the Daily Mirror on a shop news stand.

Britain had been hit by a 'hurricane'! This was of course before the days of 24/7 TV news, internet, email and mobile phones, so we were completely oblivious to the events back home and weatherman Michael Fish's infamous "don't worry, there won't be a hurricane" forecast.

Writer looks back on Turkey holiday that ended with quarantine in the 1980sThe Great Storm - Daily Mirror on October 17, 1987

While we did not have family in the devastated areas, we called (using a BT Phonecard. Remember those?) to check if things were OK.

When our return flight dropped off passengers at Gatwick we flew over the storm-hit areas. From the air the damage was shocking.

  • All major tour operators have holidays to Turkey's beach resorts available for 2021. Find out more information at goturkey.com
  • During the coronavirus pandemic, countries may be subject to a change in travel restrictions.

    Always check the latest FCDO advice for your chosen destination before planning, booking, or going on a trip.

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