Hello there everyone.
We are now in Poland and are well, if slightly ragged around the edges. Prague was fun but we were glad to leave as it was so packed and touristy. We saw some interesting stuff though, from a museum of Communism to a frantic jazz band in a cellar. We then cycled for a day to Kutna Hora, a little medieval town which had at one time been very important due to its silver mines, but once the silver ran out it became forgotten about. We spent a day there wandering about, buying pyjamas for me (I left my old ones in Prague - oops), eating dumpling-laden food in a beer hall and marvelling at the sights in an alchemy museum. Whilst there we saw the most bizarre thing we have encountered yet on our trip - an ossuary. It was part of a monastery. The monks had accumulated and stacked up a load of bones (of about 40,000 people who had been buried there). When the monastery was shut down due to the Reformation a local family bought the ossuary and hired a woodcarver who decorated it using the remains - chains of skulls and pelvises strung across the ceiling, a huge chalice of bones, and pyramids which must have had hundreds of skulls in them. We were a little freaked out by this, but most of the Czech people there were unfazed, and merrily escorting their wailing toddlers around.
Since then we have been cycling for about five days, but stopped to see interesting things along the way. These have included a pharmacy museum, a baroque hospital (more interesting than it sounds) and a rock town. The rock town was amazing. There were lots of oddly eroded limestone towers and pinnacles amongst the forest in a valley. We went for a walk around and had to pass through tiny gaps and crevices, and into half caves and twisty ravines. At one point, to get to a lookout, you had to clamber up 300 steep wooden steps and precarious ladders. Unfortunately, when we got to the top Simon's camera ran out of battery and was rendered useless, so the amazing landscape goes unrecorded for us.
We passed into Poland two days ago and were pretty relieved to be leaving the Czech Republic. People there can be a bit unfriendly, certainly when serving western tourists at any rate. When we presented the equivalent of a ten pound note to pay for anything, we were greeted with tuts and lot of headshaking as the shopkeeper would wearily count the change out. Poland also seems a bit livelier in the towns and villages. The countryside is full of valleys and forests and we had to come through a mountain range to get here.
My knee is suffering a bit from the cycling and Simon got an insect bite two days ago which has made his whole arm swell up. So we treated ourselves to a night hostelling last night (it only cost eight quid for both of us). The hostel was like student accomodation, a sparse little room in a stern tower block. The town we are in, Nysa, is a fairly large and average Polish town. It has no tourists whatsoever and has been quite interesting just to look around. A lot of the buildings are old as it was once well fortified and important in Napoleonic times, but there are also some very square sixties buildings, the horribleness of which has been disguised by painting them bright colours. There are a lot of English schools (although people who do speak it are very shy to try it out) so maybe getting work won't be too hard, wherever we end up. There are also a lot of pizzerias, the Polish seem to have a weak spot for them, so we have been indulging in them, too. We have caught up with ourselves a bit here and now will continue cycling east across south Poland.
Take care folks!
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