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Published: July 14th 2009
the ticket master
my first train experience
Kutna Hora: The Bone Church and Silver Mine Memoirs
So the original plan for this particular weekend was to go to Cesky Krumlof, but 2 days before I couldn’t get a ticket via bus or train due to the huge yearly festival that was going on in Krumlof, so I decided then and there at the train station to change my plans and go to Kutna Hora
. All I really knew about it was that there was supposed a to be a famous bone church and that there was also a silver mine I could tour, so I decided, why not? It was my first time every taking a train from Prague, and so, of course, I waited for the bus at the wrong station and so had to buy another ticket (full price) for a 2 hour later train. It was a quick trip though (only an hour) and before I knew it I was there. I followed the herd and loaded on a bus that ended near the city center and then began wandering trying to find the information center, which I never did. I overheard a guide giving a tour to a family in English, so I
covertly followed the group around the town and got a good 25 minutes of village orientation and history, which was pretty nifty.
I left the tour at the brink when I had a feeling the guide was going to say something and quested to find the famous silver mine. Kutna Hora in the beginning of the 19th century was a big silver mining town, at one point being so lucrative it was the second most important city in the Czech Republic, though it was inhabited with almost all miners. The mine, however, dried up more than half a century ago, and so now Kutna Hora is a quaint little village where agriculture and tourism are the major industries.
Once I found the mine
, I signed up for an English tour and while waiting for the tour to begin I met some Americans (a mother and daughter) from California and their Czech friend who was traveling with them. Though I’d been to the salt mines in Hallstatt, Austria, I’d never been to a silver mine, and I enjoyed learning about mining in early 19th century Bohemia. For example, some interesting facts include that the average miner was only
5’5, lived to be 35, and that it took 3 (unpaid) hours to climb (via ladder) out of the mine after working each day (that’s a hell of a commute I’d say). We also got to go inside the mines, donning white working suits (the miners wore all white as it was the cheapest cloth available in town at that time) as well as hard hats and carried giant flashlights. I felt really grateful for the hard hat, as the chasms in the mine ended up being narrow with super low ceilings and I bumped my head at least 20 times
(I am 4 inches taller than the average miner mind you). It was quite cold and wet down there, and the Hungarians that made up the rest of the tour group were laughing and trying to scare each other the entire duration of the tour. A poignant moment was when the guide had us turn off all the flashlights and lit a candle, to simulate the amount of light the miners had to work by (they apparently operated more on the sense of smell and feel than site). I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face
musician at medieval festival in Kutna Hora
(apparently a certain portion of the population can actually see their hand in these lighting conditions, are you one of those special few?)
Post-tour, I joined the Americans and the Czech, who was named Tomas, for coffee, which was I think the best coffee I’ve had all trip
(warning for coffee drinkers, addicts or occasional drinkers, Czech coffee DOES NOT taste like American coffee, and there is no such thing as artificial sweetner). We all had a lovely conversation, and I learned that the Czech Tomas actually went to my school in Prague and was a fellow musician. (A week later I went to see his father’s band play at Hard Rock Café in Prague, which was fun.)
After coffee the group split and I went to the medieval festival
nearby the mine, which had all kind of arts and crafts, with lute players, battling swordsmen, and Hungarian dancers, I quite enjoyed it. I meandered a bit, grabbed a chicken leg. Then before I knew it I looked at the time on my phone (I no longer have a watch as my infamous Target watch actually ripped in half (the band) my second day in Prague) and realized I
only had an hour left to do the cathedral and the bone church before I had to catch the train back to Prague.
was stunning yet a bit abbreviated, and I had to catch a taxi to the bone church for time’s sake (the bus runs once every hour only, keep that in mind if your on a time cruch I Kutna Hora). Though smaller than expected, the bone church
was pretty neat. The church was consecrated in the 13th century by a monk who returned from Palestine and sprinkled soil from the Holy Lands in the cemetary surrounding the Chapel of All Saints. From that point on the church became a desired burial ground. With contributions from both the 30 years war and the bubonic plague, the church eventually had to remove some of the older boddies to store inside the church, and it became an ossuary. Today, there are more than 40,000 people burried there. In 1870 the artist and woodcarver Frantisek Rint was commissioned the task of redecorating the place. His material of choice? Well, what was most available. Human bones. Human bones for altar pieces, human bones for ceiling decoration, the chandelier contains
contains every bone in the human body!
every bone in the human body! As I arrived 10 minutes before closing time (6:00 is closing for most attractions, I was the only one in the church, so I really got to soak in the macabre vibe of the place. Not much light streams into Sedlec, so the light that does enter reflects off the bones, giving them this eerie ghostly glow amongst the shadows.
I took the train back to Prague that night, but the day was far from over
. As I’d yet to have a real musical experience in Prague, I was determined to make the last night of “United Islands,”
a yearly music festival in Prague that showcases mainly Eastern European musicians. On the tram there, I encountered a group of Slovakians who were also going. One of them was Slavomira
, a 22 year old tall friendly blond girl who spoke perfect English and who had recently moved back to Eastern Europe from New York , where she was a nanny. Unfortunately, we got to the festival at the very end so only got to see the tail end of some Czech dance-techno band, but the whole outdoor festival vibe reminded me of Austin’s ACL,
with perhaps more emphasis on drinking. I spent the rest of the evening with Slavomira and her group of friends. They bought cheap wine and drank themselves silly, and I filmed and laughed along with them. Once they heard I was from Texas they kept on asking about the tv show “Dallas” (which I’ve never watched) and insisted on quizzing me on my limited (understatement of the year) Czech. It was actually pretty cool to hang out with locals, getting their perspective on things, experiencing an authentic “Czech night out.”
Several hours later, Slavomira helped my find the tram station for #9, which was super nice of her. But my day’s learning experiences still were not yet over. Though it was after midnight, the city was still hopping as it was free museum night (the one night a year in which most of the major attractions and museums are open till about 1 AM and have free entry). I assumed at first the bus wasn’t coming due to the special occasion, but eventually after standing at the tram station perplexed for an hour (I later learned tram #9 is a day tram only and does not run after 9:00), I had to call a taxi.
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