There's more to the Czech Republic than just Prague, but many visitors would never know this. While it may not be all that easy or practical to visit some of the further outlying cities or villages, there are a some places that are within easy reach of Prague that are well worth investigating. Kutna Hora is one of these places. You can easily arrange a trip to the town - there are leaflets all over Prague in the various information centres and in hotel lobbies for this but you can save a pretty penny if you organise it yourself. Our hotel - 987 Design Hotel - was just a short walk from the main train station. From there we simply had to catch a train directly to Kutna Hora - an hour's journey - where we were met almost immediately by one of the local bus services to take us into the town centre. In all, the various travel costs for the day would add up to around 290 crown (approx £7.50) for the both of us, compared with an organised trip that would have cost 2600 crown for both of us. Go figure! Sure, we didn't get the luxury of air-conditioned minibus travel to take us there and back but, on the flip side, doing it ourselves meant that we didn't have to be shuffled around in a group to a series of set deadlines. Given all my lens-swapping antics and what have you, this was a good thing, particularly because the first stop warranted a lot of photographs.
In a suburb of Kutna Hora called Sedlec, just two short stops on the local bus from the train station, is the Kostnice Church, otherwise known as 'The Ossuary'.
The dictionary definition for an ossuary is 'a container or room into which the bones of dead people are placed', and what a container this place is. The story is that the church became a much sought-after location for the dead (presumably they took pre-orders!) because its grounds were once sprinkled with soil from the holy land. Plague and wars soon saw to it that the grounds were bursting at the seems with bones. In 1870 a local woodcarver called Frantisek Rint decided to make something of all these bones, and created sculptures to adorn the walls and archways, a coat of arms and a chandelier that includes every bone in the human body.
It was both macabre and attractive to behold; it was a strange experience to spend so long taking photos of the sculptures, viewing it all as a work of art, and then remind yourself that each and every skull, leg bone and knuckle once belonged to a living, breathing person. And while they might have wanted to have their remains to be stored in this ossuary, I don't imagine that they would have predicted that one day they'd be strung up from the ceiling while a red-faced bloke from Swindon shuffled along on the floor below trying to get the perfect angle for a photo. (You can view all of our photos from Kutna Hora here)
Once we had our fill of bone-based photography, we went back out to the main road and waited in the muggy heat for a bus to come along the main road to take us right into the centre. So much for thunderstorms - there was barely a cloud in the sky and we were both taking any opportunity we could to get into the shade. At these moments - when the sun is beating down and you can't make head nor tail of the bus timetable in Czech - you realise why people book ready-made guided tours! It didn't take long for another bus though, which took us through a winding route through the slightly run-down and Skoda-lined residential suburbs of Kutna Hora. We weren't sure exactly where to stop, though, and it looked like the bus had gone through the centre (a bus station appeared to have been the place to get off, but it wasn't obvious) and headed back out of town and up a hill. We looked at each other and pondered whether to carry on and see where it took us or bail out at the next stop and walk back down into the town. We opted for the latter and soon found ourselves walking through the very quiet and pretty streets of the old town. This would be a marked contrast to the hordes of people that would be in Prague's centre today, we figured (one of the reasons why we chose today to go to Kutna Hora on a Sunday, actually).
We found a spot to have a quiet drink and an ice cream next to pretty flower-lined alley. Once again, the prices here were significantly lower than back in Prague, particularly the main tourist areas (e.g - 0.5 litre of Pillsner = 29 crown compared to 89 crown), so I made sure to squeeze in a couple! Duly refreshed we continued our walk down through town, not entirely sure where we were heading or what we were taking photos of but simply following the local point of interest signs. We kind of did a loop, the return journey taking us along a path overlooking a valley and back up to St Barbara's Church, one of Kutna Hora's main attractions. We discovered that the place we had decided to get off the bus earlier was just a short distance from the front of this church, so our instincts had served us well.
Was Kutna Hora always this quiet, I wondered? Or were people staying at home watching the world cup final? I had no idea what time the final was on, having lost interest in the competition right about the time that Cristiano Ronaldo punted in the winning penalty shot in the England-Portugal game. As it turned out, the quietness had nothing to do with the world cup, as it was on much later in the evening. Once back in Prague's centre I was able to keep a general check on the score-line by keeping an eye open for random gatherings of tourists. The chances were that if there was a group of people in the old town streets all looking into a restaurant or bar, they'd be watching the game through the window. We passed a group of people doing just this as we headed once more for Charles Bridge. The sun had long gone down but there was still just a glimmer of light bouncing off some of the clouds. It was a cool, romantic evening with a nice relaxed vibe. Manda said that she felt much more comfortable walking along the bridge at night than she did the last time we visited; more tourists = safety in numbers, or something like that.
We headed back in towards Old Town Square, with me noting that the score in the World Cup final was 1-1 in extra time, and settled in one of the outdoor cafés right opposite the astronomical clock. The game was also being shown here - on a huge screen in one corner of the square, and the whole area was packed with a mixture of good-natured and happy football fans and tourists who were joining in and soaking up the atmosphere.
The final was decided on penalties and it was a great place to be watching the nail-biting finale. I couldn't help but wonder how it might have been had the Czech Republic made it to the final (although I'd have much preferred England made it, of course!)