While it’s impossible to walk around the centre of Prague without thinking “Wow! I live here!”, it’s only natural to need some time out every now and again. Over the last few weeks, I have been making the effort to venture outwards, to the outskirts and beyond. Here, I will present my findings!
1) Divoká Šárka – a nice place for a walk
Yes, Prague has nature! While it seems that most Czech inhabitants of Prague spend every weekend in a cottage somewhere (“in the nature”, as they say), it turns out that there are places to go if you’re longing to see a bit of green. Not very far from the centre, the first thing that you see when descending the bus is a massive McDonalds. Still, don’t let it put you off – once you walk past it, and continue down, you’ll be surrounded by trees, hills and a stream gently spilling over stones. It’s also home to a water reservoir, which gives the appearance of a calm, beautiful lake.
We walked around there for hours, although the length of time was mostly due to the fact that we had a new camera (a Nikon D3100, if you’re interested) and were learning to control the shutter speed, which made for some wonderful waterfall shots. We had to watch our step as the dog-to-person ratio was even higher than it is in the city, and it seemed that everybody had gone there to cycle. After following the stream for a long while, we found some quaint cafes and stopped for a drink. It seems that beer is always the cheapest option on a Czech drinks menu, and it always pains me to spend more on water or iced tea because some part of me isn’t totally cool with drinking at 2pm (I’ll soon get over that, living here).
To get there, take a bus from Dejvicka (the furthest stop on B, the green metro line) or hop on the 20 tram.
2) Karlstejn Castle – it’s a castle!
A 45-minute train ride out of Prague, Karlstejn Castle is situated at the top of a hill in a cute little tourist town. As you can see on the official website, they hold events (such as jazz nights) and run tours through the castle grounds. The walk from the train takes a while, but a gorgeous river scene lines the way, as do tons of souvenir shops and reasonably priced restaurants – although we were disappointed to discover that the blueberry dumplings advertised on the menu of one were sold out.
The sky was a gorgeous, clear blue -as it often has been on our excursions – and the castle a lovely *insert intellectual-sounding architecture words here*. Darn, Ted Mosby would be ashamed of me. It’s Gothic, I believe, and to my untrained eye all I get tell you is that it’s boxy and off-white and very different to the grey things that we call castles back in the UK. Once you reach the top of the castle you can pay around 250Kc for a guided tour in English (Czech tours are 100 cheaper!), but we were feeling very stingy that day and decided that taking pictures would be quite enough.
To get there, just hop on the train from Hlavni Nadrazi to Beroun and get off at Karlstejn – tickets cost around 140Kc for a return. Be sure to check the train times, as they don’t run too frequently.
3) Kutna Hora – the chapel of bones
It’s not every day that you come face to – well, ex-face – with the long deceased – but at the bone ossuary in Kurna Hora, you can do just that.
Once sprinkled with salt from Palestine, the chapel was a very popular burial site, and as a result of that and of the sheer number of deaths in the 17th century (due to the 30 years war) they started running out of space. So, as you do – they dug up the remains of approximately 40,000 people and stored them in the chapel below. Around 1870 or so, it is rumoured that a monk went a little crazy and decided to turn the bones into a form of art that would put Damien Hirst to shame.
Upon entering the chapel, one is greeted with the sight of bones everywhere. Skulls stare at you from the walls, several teeth still attached. After walking down the stairs into the main room, you are greeted with perhaps the worst sight of all – the chandelier. Allegedly made from every bone in the human body, the centerpiece sheds despair on the rest of the collection, which includes a coat of arms depicting a man having his eyes pecked by a raven. In every corner, behind bars and very sensitive alarms, lie piles and piles of bones – presumably the “lucky” few who didn’t make the insane interior decorator’s final cut.
Supposedly, the display was intended to remind us of the impermanence of human life and the inevitability of death, and it does just that. Desensitised as we are these days to the gory and morbid (thanks to special effects), it takes a while before you realise that you are standing inches away from real, human bones. The skulls are the worst. Travelling around as I do, acting on impulse and maintaining an idealistic hope that everything will always turn out all right, it was quite a shock to suddenly find myself staring my mortality in the eyeless sockets. These were all humans, I thought. They all once possessed a full body, consciousness, lives, dreams. And to look at those dead, brittle white things and think that the very same matter lies beneath your own skin, and that one day you, too, will be nothing more – well, it’s very sobering.
Although you might think of it as a beautifully “real” reminder of how precious life is, of how we are all exactly the same underneath, it is hard to stand in that room and feel anything but uneasy. Perhaps it was the ghosts of the abused dead, perhaps it was the fact that I was standing in a room full of centuries-old bones, but I felt quite queasy. Some might call it art, some might call it weird and cool, but I am confident that those who requested to be buried under soil from their holy land did not envision ending up as a chandelier. To say that it is an insult to the deceased might be an understatement, happy as some might have been to learn that they would become part of this reminder that none of us live forever. Yeah… I think I prefer the Japanese approach to appreciating the fleetingness of life – to sit beneath the cherry blossoms and get blind drunk on sake.
The rest of Kutna Hora is very pleasant – a lot of cathedrals and monuments, and even a leisure park complete with a bobsleigh and a tank. The central square also has an amazing information board that will talk to you and flash up lights on its map. We walked into the historical center (it’s quite far – a good 45-minute walk, but the buses aren’t very frequent and the timetable is hard to understand) and looked at Saint Barbara Church, which is pretty cool, too – although the back was covered in scaffolding.
We also found the best hot chocolate in the known galaxy, at a tiny place that claims to have “the best coffee in the town” – I took a picture, although I couldn’t quite explain where it is, other than somewhere on the walk to Saint Barbara’s. They offer a variety of flavours, from white chocolate to amaretto to orange cinnamon, which was creamy and amazing.
To get to Kutna Hora, take a train from Hlavni Nadrazi (heading to Brno). Tickets are around 70Kc each (one way) and the journey takes about an hour. However, trains run perhaps once an hour, so make sure to check the times before you go.