I found out that we required a special sticker (a vignette) to use the motorways here in Czech Republic. There were only a few stretches of motorway that we could use, so rather than buying a sticker, we opted for the back roads instead. It’s always more interesting, though most of the towns that you pass through are non-descript sad affairs. The scenery can be more interesting, but it’s certainly more challenging driving, with constant attention required on the narrow and busy roads.
Around lunch we arrived in the Kutna Hora region, but we opted to see this church on the outskirts of town first. It’s a strange tourist attraction, but it’s absolutely unique.
The crypt is decorated with the remains of thousands of human bones. Yup, these are all real bones from real people that were buried here over the ages – it is said to be around 40,000 people, many of these died from plagues and invasions.
A family purchased the small church, and an architect/artist was given carte blanche to create art as he saw fit with the remains in basement. What he created is an enormous chandelier that is said to use at least one of every bone from the human body. The creativity is commendable, and you stop realising that it’s the remains of thousands of deceased people.
Almost as impressive as the chandelier was the families coast of arms that were faithfully recreated with bones, even down to the smallest details like the crow picking the eye from the head of an Arab.
There was a regular chapel upstairs, but it was far less interesting. The crypt was creepy, but it’s amazing that something like this still exists, and that it’s open to the public.
After a quick lunch in the van we finally in Kutna Hora proper. We found a small park on the street a short walk from the centre of the old town, quickly making our way to the St Barbara Cathedral.
Inside we were struck by the sheer volume of the interior, much like the TARDIS effect inside Gunter. The roof felt impossibly high when craning our necks to look up. There were some stunning stained glass windows, as well as giant murals on the surrounding walls on the exterior chapels.
While it’s not fair to compare it with Prague, it does very much hold its own. It’s also beautiful gothic style, with hundreds of spires and a series of huge external ribs supporting the central vault. It didn’t look as old as Prague’s – even though it was completed before Prague.
The rest of town was pretty and a pleasure to quickly pass through. It was said that it was the site of a successful silver mine which ceased in the 17th Century. With the collapse of the mining, the town went into hibernation and remains more-or-less unchanged since those glory days.
We’d been feeling a little sick recently, and it finally hit full strength today – we joke that it’s from spending time with friend’s children in Berlin, but in truth we’re probably just exhausted from months of travel. Risa was suffering far more than I was, so with her blessings, we made a start to the day a little before lunch.
It wasn’t far to drive to the tiny town of Telč from where we’d camped last night. Even though we’d been drinking bulk amounts of lemongrass and ginger tea (with extra ginger), Risa wasn’t feeling any better so opted instead to sleep while I walked around town.
Telč was billed as having the ‘prettiest square in Czech Republic’ by Lonely Planet – it’s a lofty claim for such a small town so far from major cities. It’s hard to say for sure, having not visited that many towns and cities in Czech Republic, but it’s safe to say that it’s probably true – though, I thought that Bardejov in Slovakia was prettier, so this town must be happy that the two countries have separated. The overcast skies didn’t help, but even with the flat light the muted colours impressed.
But, the town felt eerily quiet. There were one or two other tourists wandering around taking photos, and a whole lot more shops, either empty or closed. I couldn’t quite tell if it’s not a popular place for tourism, or just not a popular place mid-September on a random morning mid-week with overcast skies. The lack of people, either tourists or locals, gave it a theme-park feel.
We stocked up on some cold/flu medication, and consumed as much as was safe to consume. It felt like we’d just drank a heap of sugar and menthol, but by the time we’d finished the hour-long drive to Česky Krumlov, we were both feeling far more perky.
I mistakenly believed for over a decade that I’d visited when I visited Prague back in 2003 – I hadn’t, I realise now I went to nearby Karlštejn Castle, which we skipped this time. Like most places, I tried not to look at photos before we arrived, making do with descriptions from our guide book. I’m glad, because what we found was incredible, and far beyond my expectations.
We parked in one of the central parking areas. It wasn’t cheap, but we weren’t energetic enough to walk for kilometres, or to try and work out public transport to save a few euro. It was less than 100m from where we parked until we got our first surprise as the scale of this town when we passed under the enormous seven-tiered bridge that stretched the castle across a small gap in the rocks. It looked ridiculous in scale and ambition, but of course we were impressed by the audacity.
The city then continued to impress the further we explored, with our first views of the amazing tower in the castle, to the river flowing around centre of the old town. As a whole, it was far, far prettier than anything we’d seen so far in Czech Republic, with a dense collection of stunning old buildings. The town truly felt unchanged in centuries, and even the hordes of tourists and the associated tourist industry did little to tarnish our experience.
Seen from the air it was even more stunning, especially the way the town is naturally shaped by the horseshoe bend of the river.
We’d walked from one end of town to the other and thought that we’d seen all there was to see, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. We stumbled upon a small lookout that gave an absolutely stunning view over the lower parts of the old town, as well as a great perspective of the castle above. We sat in silence just soaking in this view, both agreeing that it was one of the most beautiful sights we’d seen in quite some time. We’d become worried recently that we were suffering from diminishing returns having visited so many towns and countries in the past months. It was a relief that we could still be amazed by new places.
Even walking through the alleyways in the lower section of the old town was a pleasure, with the natural twists of the lanes and the buildings bulging from age.
We made our way up the hill to the castle, and were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t need a ticket to cross the enormous bridge. We could even walk through several of the amazing courtyards and get up close to the unique tower, which still fascinated us.
But, all this was forgotten when we made it to the other side of the bridge and saw the entire town from above with our own eyes – which is always far better than from a drone. Even with the constant flow of tourists with selfie sticks, I was mesmerised. It still continued to be one of the most beautiful cities we’d ever seen, with very little out of place.
The sun set, and Risa was starting to feel sick again. It was a little challenging to find dinner, as the decent restaurants were full, and the rest were over priced or had an exceptionally average menu. We left the old town and returned to the car park, where there happened to be a small restaurant/bar. Just travelling that little extra distance brought prices back to normal, so even though the meal wasn’t exceptional, at least it wasn’t also expensive. I’ve somehow managed to delete the photos of our meal, so I can’t quite remember what we ate, only that it was meaty, and filling.
Risa was falling asleep, and I was in an advanced stage of a food coma, but we still had far to travel through the dark mountain roads to Austria before I could rest. It was great to see some of these smaller towns – though, Česky Krumlov is far from unknown to tourism, and like Prague, will probably lose much of the charm over time due to increasing numbers of tourists.