What a day! This was probably the best day I’ve had so far, mostly because of the company. Last night I met these two other travelers – Jenni and Jim. Jim is a rock singer from England and Jenni is an agro-economy major from Finland. We ran into each other in the lobby of the hotel and struck up a conversation. Then Jenni’s friend Marcus, a Swede studying economics whom she was waiting for, turned up and the four of us had a bit of a chat. They decided to join me on my excursion outside city limits to visit Kutna Hora and the famous Ossuary there.
As you’ll recall, I was also supposed to go with Tracey from my tour the day before. Well, I never met up with her at the metro station so it was just the four of us on the trip. Things started off on the wrong foot because Tracey had the slip of paper we had gotten the day before which told us train times and the name of the city we were going to. All I could remember was the that the train was supposed to leave for wherever it was at 9:47. Thankfully, Jenni had her trusty Lonely Planet guide to Prague (checked out from her public library) tucked away in her bag. The day excursion to visit Kutna Hora was listed so we could go to the ticket agent and point and hope to get our idea across.This was a good thing since the ticket agent didn’t speak any of the several languages Marcus or Jenni spoke (between them they spoke Swedish although Marcus is also fluent in German and French, Jenni in Finnish and they both speak excellent English, which is good because that’s the only thing Jim and I speak). We finally arranged for our ticket, but of course, it was printed in Czech so no one could read or understand it. And while the ticket had our destination listed as Kutna Hora, none of the trains on the board were listed as actually GOING to Kutna Hora so again, we were in a bit of a quandary (for those who have never travelled by train, there’s a big board which lists the train number, destination, departure time and track number – you will often see people standing around, looking at the big board, just waiting for their train to be listed so they can run to the right track). While there was a train listed as leaving at 9:47, it was going somewhere different and we couldn’t figure out our train number. Finally, we decided to just go to that train and ask someone working if it was right.
We arrived just as they were making a last boarding call, the train agent, who, honestly, looked and acted as if she missed the old communist regime (back when people knew their place and the trains ran on time, Comrade) gave us dirty looks and yelled at us to get on, that yes indeed this was the right train. We jumped on board as it started rolling away and tried to find seats. We took up residence in an 8 person compartment which was only occupied by one other person (who didn’t speak any English) and we were on our way.
Arriving in Kutna Hora, we headed off towards the church where the ossuary was located. It was about a kilometer from the station. We decided to walk because, well, that’s what you do. We stopped at a little café for a sandwich (Jim and I had neglected breakfast at the hostel) before moving on. When we got to the church, we had to walk through the cemetery which was adjacent first. Jenni was a little skeptical, not being a cemetery kind of girl. But we made it to the entrance just fine. Once inside, though, things were a different matter. See, this place had somehow become known as a good place to bury victims of the plague so eventually, the cemetery started to get full to overflowing. No one quite knew what to do with the corpses so a monk figured he’d do arts and crafts and started to make flowers out of the bones. The ultimate project was completed around 1870 and now there are the remains of over 40,000 people used as decoration inside this little church. I hope these pictures do it justice because it was awe-inspiring. Obviously, none of us had seen anything like it and immediately, we all knew the trip from Prague had been worth it. But now, as long as we were already in Kutna Hora, we figured we’d head off into town and see the sights (the ossuary is about 2.5km from the old town center). Off we went, walking (because even though we’d been offered a ride for 30kp – about $2 – we figured it wasn’t that far to walk) and talking and generally following signs which seemed to point to the town center.
Would have been better off if we’d had a map. As it was, we just wandered, trying to keep our bearings by always heading towards the spires of a certain church. We found out later, this wasn’t a church that was even open! We also realized later that we did, in fact, have a map! It was inside the ever-present Lonely Planet.
We finally made it to the town center square where we stopped for a beverage and to rest our feet. Thanks to Jenni’s phone, which has a pedometer, we knew we had already walked about 6km. The main information center was just across the way, with a replica of an alchemist’s lab in the basement. Of course we had to see that! (for those wondering, an alchemist is someone who tried to find the Philosopher’s Stone and turn lead into gold). It was okay, but not great. We also discovered the train schedule for our return (that’s right, we didn’t know the return schedule when we left Prague!). Discovering we had about two hours to kill, we headed off to find more old things to take pictures of. And they were everywhere! No matter where you turned, there was some statue or fountain or stone work which looked ancient and we took pictures of all of it (no, I’m not posting them all here). There were also these green signs with pictures of the various monuments and arrows, so we tried to find as many as we could, playing a sort of artifact scavenger hunt, but since most of it was written in Czech, we could only guess if we got the right thing (The Stone Fountain, for example, wasn’t a fountain at all and the Plague Column I don’t believe actually existed).
By the time we made it back to the train station we had walked a total of 15km and we were all dead tired. And hungry. We figured we’d come back to the hostel, refresh, then meet up for dinner (we did stop at the McDonald’s at the station to get something to tide us over until a full meal could be had later on).
Dinner was in the Old Square in Prague. Jim had found a nice place, with traditional Czech food, the night before so we decided to try it out. Unfortunately, as we realized quickly, since the place was right in the heart of tourist central, the prices were inflated and the square was filled with a giant TV screen and thousands of people watching the Euro 08 match of the evening (Sweden v Russia – Russia won 3-0 Sorry, Marcus). We ended up at a nice place around the corner with the nicest rude waiter any of us had ever encountered. It was late when we got there and by the time we were finished eating, the staff all wanted to go home, so our waiter was slamming the bill down, demanding payment (in a nice way) and ended our night there with a firm “Thank you – GOOD NIGHT.” We left. We could take a hint!
Before heading home, though, Jenni wanted to see the Rock Cafe. Not to be confused with the Hard Rock Café which had only opened the day before (and then just the gift shop and bar, the restaurant is gonna take another few weeks). No, the Rock Café is a local venue and Jenni has a dream of opening her own someday so she likes to check out the clubs in other cities. No problem. We found the place (again, the map issues meant a few wrong turns, but not as many as in Kutna Hora), went inside just in time to see the evening’s band packing up. But now, we were very close to where The Dancing Building was located. This is a modern construction designed in part by Frank Ghery and I wanted to see it. As we were walking there, however, we passed the 20km for the day point, which signified a drink, so we stopped in at a bar before seeing the building.
And then home again… back to the hostel for a night cap and time for Jim to change his plans. He was going to leave Prague on Thursday but decided to stay an extra night so we could all hang out again. Then he and I are going to take the train together on Friday into Munich, Jenni is going to fly home to Helsinki (I’m gonna visit her on my trip up the Baltics) and Marcus is staying until Sunday so he can catch up on anything we missed.