Bohemia – Czech Republic’s western region boasts of amazing diversity. Centred with Prague as the national capital it also has some lovely riverside setting towns such Cesky Krumolov and Kutna Hora. Our Bohemian adventures began with visiting the quaint little town of Cesky Krumolov dominated by a magnificent castle.
Tucked away into a hairpin bend in the Vlatva River this delightful cobbled little town, which has attracted many visitors feels lost in time warp. We reached about mid-morning and started walking around the town first admiring the charming atmosphere. The streets were lined with souvenir shops but there was still an authenticity present through the family owned shops & restaurants. Most Cesky Krumolov visitors set their sights on the mighty castle of the Rožmberk family, who ran the city for three centuries, until about 1600. The Castle has several sights including a colourful tower at the entrance which was built to guard the medieval river crossing. Not fancying climbing 162 steps to top we started walking around the courtyards. To be honest while walking around the castle the painting of the castle seemed a bit tacky by today’s standards, it looked a bit like wallpaper stuck on the walls. However I kept telling myself that the paintings had been done hundreds of years ago and obviously had worn out. The whole castle complex can be passed and is open to public for free although the guided tours take you through the different courtyards and galleries of the castle.
While strolling around the castle complex we got beautiful views of the Old Town with gothic buildings surrounding the winding streets. Below the Vlatva River was beckoning to those with an adventurous spirit. People were having so much fun rafting on the river. Although we would have loved to rent a canoe and go for a float down the dreamy river, we were a bit restrained for time and thus decided to walk towards the Castle Gardens which are actually the largest part of the Castle Compound. The Gardens are situated on 3 different levels and we found the Cascade Fountains the most notable feature of the gardens. We also came across a small picturesque lake complete with lily pads and luscious trees along the waterfront. Spending a few relaxing hours here we finally made our way into Prague.
Prague, known as the Golden city of 100 spires is one of Europe’s best preserved cities. It boasts of a fairy tale medieval Old Town, historic churches and synagogues, and perhaps Europe’s largest castle. Feeling tired from our drive from Cesky Krumolov we decided to call it day after helping ourselves to nice big Czech dinner. Next day first on our list was the Prague Castle where Czech Leaders have ruled from for more than a thousand years. Not fancying an uphill walk we took tram number 22 for a scenic ride up to the Prague Castle Complex. Now the ‘’Prague Castle Complex’’ is really a large complex of buildings that includes in addition to the castle bits, St Vitus Cathedral, St George’s Basilica and the Golden Lane. The main castle building cannot be seen from inside because the President resides there however other galleries, complexes and Cathedrals are open to public. There are various tickets available, we chose the ones that gave us entrance to the St Vitus Cathedral, St George Basilica, Old Royal Palace and Golden Lane.
As soon as we entered St Vitus we were awed by the beauty inside. Not a place where one would particularly feel spiritual but there were tons of beautiful stained glasses and centrepieces by Alfons Mucha depicting the saints Methodius and Cyril, widely considered the fathers of Slavic-style Christianity. On the other hand St George’s Basilica is the polar opposite of St Vitus. It is a small, peaceful and intimate church where people can enjoy a quiet moment of worship.
Moving on we next chose to visit the Old Royal Palace, seat of Bohemian princes since the 12th century. Back in the day, the palace’s large hall was filled with market stalls, giving nobles a chance to shop without actually going into town. Until the late 1990s, this is where parliament gathered to elect the president.
Our last stop inside the Castle Complex (after a quick beer break in between :)) was the Golden lane, home to the servants and alchemists associated with the Castle.
Finishing our castle tour we started walking downhill towards the Charles Bridge capturing lovely shots on the way. Connecting the Old Town to the Castle is the magnificent Charles Bridge lined up with 17th and 18th century statues. Under communism, this pedestrian-only bridge crossing the Vltava River was quiet, its big Gothic towers and statues of saints coated in black soot. However today it’s a celebration of life, many artists and musicians all along its length. A quiet walk along this bridge would be a delight however not seeing any opportunities for some quiet moments we decided to return later on in the night or next day early morning only to realize the Charles Bridge is never empty 😦 😦
After taking in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes for the whole day we finally settled to renting a paddleboat on the Vlatva River floating at our own pace watching the swans and local cruises go by.
Next day having heard quite a lot about it, I was quite excited to explore Prague’s Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí). Since the eleventh century, this has been the city’s main marketplace. The square, one of Europe’s most beautiful, is ringed with colourful buildings, Baroque towers and statues. The most eye-catching monuments are the Old Town City Hall and Týn Cathedral, Astronomical Clock, St. Nicholas Church, the Jan Hus Monument and the delicious outdoor food stalls. Every hour, hundreds of tourists gather round the Astronomical Clock to see it welcome a new hour. The clock rings and the four figures bordering the clock are set into motion. A window above the clock opens and the mechanical Walk of the Apostles begins. After the clock’s performance, a trumpet player announces the beginning of the next hour. Horse drawn carriages and Segways constantly zip though the square – a reminder that Prague is as much a city of yesterday as a city of today.
Another important statue present is of Jan Hus – a Czech priest and rector at Charles University. Hus paved the way for the Protestant movement of the 16th century but ended up being burned at the stake for dissidence against the Catholic Church. After his death, the Hussites (followers of Hus’ teachings) rebelled against the Roman Catholic rulers leading to Hussite Wars.
We also took a walk around historical Jewish Quarter (Josefov district) where one can find a paradoxical mixture of the old Jewish Ghetto and broad Art Nouveau boulevards. We saw the Spanish Synagogue and Old-New Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Europe. Finally we finished our day by visiting the nearby Havelská Market to get a flavour of artisan Prague and buy some local handicrafts.
As much as we adored Prague we were also eager to take a trip out of town to explore a bit more of Bohemia. We chose Kutná Hora as it was only an hour train ride from Prague. Kutná Hora was founded in 1142 and went on to become the second richest city in the Kingdom of Bohemia. In the town lies the exhausted silver mines which helped Kutna Hora compare itself economically with Prague. But perhaps in present times Kutna Hora is most famous for the Sedlec Ossuary, a world-renowned ossuary famous for its bizarre, yet artistic, arrangement of human bones. The chilling decorations made from 40,000 skeletons include a chandelier and coat of arms. At least for me this was the most interesting bit, maybe it’s a little weird, but I sometimes like to explore cemeteries when I travel.
The “Bone Church” is remarkable and incredibly strange, all at the same time. In this small chapel there are no colourful ceiling frescos, wooden pews, or stained glass windows. The interior of the chapel is artistically decorated with human bones- over 40,000 of them!
Now you must be wondering just how all those bones got there? Around 1350, the plague descended on the Kutna Hora and in 1511, a half-blind monk was tasked with exhuming the bones and assembling them inside the church in some kind of order. Then, in 1870, a woodcarver organized the bones into their current configuration. When we first entered the Church the first sight did seem a bit gruesome yet the sheer abundance of bones and their antiquity made the effect more surreal than grotesque.
After the Bone Church, we crossed the main street and saw the Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady. This is a much more modern and architecturally colder building, rebuilt in the Baroque style and sanctified in 1905. Despite being part of the Sedlec UNESCO World Heritage Site, we didn’t find this church very interesting and thus only spent about 20 minutes here.
Next we were on our way to the main Kutna Hora town which was 2 km away (we took the local public bus for Kč 12). In the main town we visited the other big attraction which is St Barbara’s Cathedral. At the first sight we felt that the Church of St. Barbara is the jewel of Kutná Hora. Dedicated to the patron saint of miners, St. Barbara, this Gothic masterpiece symbolizes the importance of mining in the once powerful Kutná Hora. The interior of St. Barbara’s Church is decorated with frescoes portraying life in Kutná Hora during medieval times. Designs of mining and minting of coins frequently appear in the church’s decoration.
Getting there – The train from Prague to the main Kutna Hora station takes about one hour and the cost was Kč 342 for both of us. Once you get there you can take the local train or bus to Sedlec which is a little in the exteriors.
We walked around the town a little bit more before returning to Prague. Thus came to an end our beautiful holiday in Bohemia. From our holiday it felt like we had only scratched a part of Bohemia’s beery surface. It is a beautiful part of Czech Republic where the people are warm, beer is marvellous and the architecture is fascinating. Seeing the lively city of Prague today makes it a bit hard to imagine it during its communist era. However a marriage of the reminiscent Old World charm and modern urban life makes Prague and other little towns ideal for experiences beyond the typical sightseeing routine.
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