What makes holidays special? Often, it’s the pleasantly familiar and nostalgic traditions that blend with family and food, making a mosaic of memories.
My wife and I recently celebrated the Kurban Bayram holidays with her director’s family in a small village near Uşak in western Anatolia. This holiday, celebrated by Muslims around the world, commemorates the story of Abraham taking his son to a hilltop as a sacrificial offering before God stops him and provides an animal instead.
Our host’s teenage niece faithfully told us the ancient story in English. We were amazed at how similar it is to the Biblical version from Genesis, a holy book revered by both Christians and Jews. Later that afternoon we attended the actual sacrifice of a sheep. It is customary to share a third of the meat with neighbors and a third with the needy. While it was difficult to watch, it was also emotionally moving, as we recalled Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Those who’ve toured Turkey likely have visited the top tourist centers of Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya and Cappadocia. These are all amazing places of natural beauty and historic significance. But spending time in a Turkish köy (village), especially during an important religious holiday, is quite a different experience.
We felt the clock turning back in time, adjusting to a pre-internet slower pace of life. Plum trees bloomed. Peppers hung drying. Yes, it was very hot in Ortaköy, our friend’s childhood village, but the heat drove us out to the front porch to relax and catch the daily breeze.
Not that long ago in America, we had front porches, too. These were places to relax and wave to strolling neighbors, who frequently stopped by for a chat and a glass of iced tea. Nowadays, many new neighborhoods are gated communities with closed garages, back porches and tall fences, hardly a welcoming environment to meet and greet neighbors.
In this little Anatolian village of golden two-story houses, though, people did stop by! A giant round platter of 40-layer sweet baklava and a tulip-shaped glass of black tea awaited them. Though not family and of a different faith, we quickly felt included and part of this local community.
On our third afternoon there, a family group led by an older uncle dropped in. Most of the others were out visiting, so my wife and I immediately jumped up to welcome them onto the porch. Of course, they had no idea who we were, and certainly didn’t expect Turkish-speaking foreigners to be hanging about. After a warm welcome of “hoş geldiniz!” on our part, the elder statesman of the group took one look at us and said, “And WHO are YOU?!”
We introduced ourselves as guests from Trabzon, and got a hearty hello from all as we poured the tea and shared the pastry. Later that afternoon, we began walking around visiting the village with my wife’s director Buket. We no longer seemed like work colleagues at this point, but more like family members. We saw the unique kerpiç houses, a yellowish adobe-style clay siding that was used instead of brick. We saw an old common laundry area, where locals once gathered to wash clothes and chat together beside the town fountain.
Finally, we strolled up the hill to the little town’s edge, where Buket showed us the local cemetery and shared stories of her relatives buried there. While some people might find this sad, I felt encouraged and blessed by being brought into this chapter of her family history.
As the sun sank and colors changed, we strolled back to her family’s “old home place” to share in another popular holiday tradition, an outdoor cookout of grilled meats, corn and fresh salad from the backyard garden.
If you go – things to see in Uşak
- Ulubey Canyon – About 30km southwest of Uşak, this surprisingly scenic canyon appears practically out of nowhere. Especially fun is the glass terrace overlook, allowing you to stand out over the edge and stare down into the gorge.
- Uşak Archeology Museum – This modern new museum features the famous Karun treasures (Korah in the Bible), a beautiful hoard of golden jewelry and other priceless artifacts. Other displays about the ancient peoples of Lydia and Phrygia are presented with English and Turkish signs. Old trains, too!
- Cilandiras Stone Bridge – About 40 kilometers southeast of Uşak, this historic stone bridge is in a lovely setting near a small waterfall.
Getting there and away
- The Konya Mavi train runs nightly between Izmir and Konya in both directions, stopping in Uşak in the middle of the night. Konya connects with the newer high-speed rail line for Ankara and Istanbul.
- Depart Izmir @ 20:15, arrive Uşak at 01:50am later that night
- Depart Uşak at 01:54am, arrive Izmir at 07:12am
- Depart Uşak at 01:53, arrive Konya at 08:37am
- Depart Konya at 19:15, arrive Uşak at 01:51 later that night
- There are also two regional trains (B33) from Izmir-Basmane departing at 07:40am and 15:00 arriving Uşak at 14:05 and 21:24, respectively.
- The Uşak bus terminal is located 2.5km west of the railway station with services to major cities in multiple directions.
- Turkish Airlines has several daytime flights each week from Istanbul’s new airport.