Czech This Out
Well we are just about ready to leave the Czech Republic after a very enjoyable 10 days. We are both feeling suitably refreshed - apart this from my bad back and Anne's bad head!!
We eventually recovered from Saturdays 'bad travel day' and finished the journey to Kutná Hora early on Sunday morning. As usual the main train station is situated a few miles out of town, with various local transport options to get you into the centre. On this occasion however, it suited us to stay out in the suburbs as the main site we wanted to visit was at Sedlec just up the road and the following day we fancied spending a day in Praha (Prague). Luckily we found a very cheap and cheerful pension right next door. At around 10GBP a night it made up for the previous nights extravagance, but still had all the essentials of shower, toilet, beer and Czech blokes lying on the sofa watching the telly!!
The ossuary at Sedlec is unique in the world as far as we know. It is a chapel in a cemetery that was very popular in the 13-1500's. Apparently the abbot of the nearby monastery had made a pilgrimage to Palestine and brought back some 'holy earth' which he proceeded to scatter over the ground next to the chapel. This resulted in every aristocrat in Central Europe wanting to be buried there. The situation was made worse by a succession of plagues and wars - the final body count (well up to date as the cemetery is still in use) has been estimated at around 40,000. The cemetery was nowhere near big enough to cope with this so starting in the 1700's the older bones were dug up and stacked against the side of the chapel. This again got out of hand and in the 1870's the local authorities commissioned a local artist to try to do something creative with them. The result is very ghoulish - but also very fascinating. The whole of the interior of the chapel is full of decorations made out of human bones, including a chandelier, four candelabras, four giant bells (or pyramids depending on your viewpoint), a coat of arms (of the local rulers at the time) and other sundry items. We will post some pictures next time we get the chance.
The weather had improved a little and so we decided to walk into the town to have a look around. Kutná Hora was once a very important place as seen by the many large buildings, not least of which is a huge gothic cathedral with a very unusual roof. This has so far been 800 years being built - there isn't a spire so I guess it isn't finished yet.
Although our plan was to travel around the country avoiding Prague we thought that as we were only an hour away we would just pop in on the train for a day trip. I last visited the city in 1990, not long after the velvet revolution and although I wasn't exactly the only tourist there it wasn't anything like as busy as it is now. To say that Prague was full would be an understatement. The city has been smartened up considerably over the last 15 years - I remember a distinct lack of hotels - now there is one on every corner. Good to see that the giant metronome is still there on the hill where Stalin used to be.
Charles Bridge which was a sort of relaxed hippy market in 1990 is now struggling under the weight of around 10,000 people an hour - and all the hippy stalls have been replaced with more official looking ones. Good to see that there is still room for a couple of buskers, but it can't be a pleasant experience for them.
We dived into a cafe to get away from the crowds but were charged English prices for a light snack and a drink which came as a shock as we have now adjusted to local rates. We decided to take a boat trip on the Vltava (surprised?) as this was the first navigable water we had come across in the country. I was amazed to see the bar asking 100 Crowns for a beer - usual price is 15 Crowns, and there are about 40 to the pound. This was our cue to get back to reality, and walked back to the station via Wenceslas Square, taking in a few very nice art-nouveau and deco buildings on the way. Praha might make a good weekend break but it didn't exactly fit into our budget on a trip such as this - vindicating our decision not to stay there
Back on the trains we were unsure of where to head next. The basic choices were to head to the Jeseníky - a mountainous area in Northern Moravia or the more low lying Beskydy close to the Slovakian border. We eventually decided on the latter on account of the inclement weather which would cause the high mountains to disappear in the mist.
This is an area of rolling wooded hills dotted with towns and villages containing little wooden houses - or at least it was until recently. We travelled to a small village called Štramberk via our first Czech Inter-city train (1.50GBP supplement and a trolley service seemed to be the main difference!) and two buses. Štramberk still has a few wooden houses and a very romantic tower set on top of a hill. It's other main attraction is a very good brew-pub serving the best beer we have come across so far. Unfortunately it was also the strongest which caused Anne to wobble a bit!
We then caught another two country buses to Frenštát pod Radhoštěm which made a good base slightly out of tourist land but close enough to the main attraction at Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, where there is an open air museum. Pod Radhoštěm means under Radhošt - a large hill or small mountain which is set between the two towns. The mountain is named after a pagan god called Radegast who gives his name to the local brew - and also seems to crop up in Lord of the Rings for some reason. Rožnov was a very good day out - sort of like the Black Country Museum in Dudley, only with wooden buildings which have been moved there from the surrounding area, or reconstructions of buildings which have been lost. Highlights were a very ornate church, a series of farmsteads complete with animals (and the odd peasant!) and a collection of working watermills. The latter were very interesting as you don't often get to see water powered machinery actually working.
Well that just about wraps up our time in the Czech Republic. Tomorrow we are heading for Krakow in Poland - and then to the Ukraine hopefully early next week.