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 kutna hora

4 duben (apr)
I planned to meet another English teacher in front of the train station at 9:30am for a day trip to Kutna Hora. She had showed me notes of the exact times and cost for the trains for that day, so I figured I was in good hands and didn’t bother researching the process on my own. The train departure board overhead was not electronic; the clack-clack-clack of spinning letters and numbers announced town names and times. Kutna Hora did not appear, but was undoubtedly a stop to a further destination.

As I waited on a park bench in front of the main station, Hlavni Nadrzi, I received a text message on my phone that said she would be late, to go ahead and get the tickets and she would meet me on the platform. I picked one of many ticket windows that seemed to have in country destinations and said “Dva (two). Kutna Hora.” That was easy. When I asked where to go to get the train, I was directed to the information desk. I suspect the woman at the ticket window didn’t understand my poorly worded question. Surely I can figure this out. Looking at the ticket was no help. What I thought might mean platform two turned out, when I consulted my Czech phrasebook, to be two persons. So it was off to find the one English-speaking information counter. I met my companion on platform 6 with minutes to spare, just as if I knew what I was doing. We boarded the train for Brno, which stopped in Kutna Hora.

In the train compartment we chatted as we watched the little towns and farms roll by. A young woman sat next to us with a little dog in a canvas bag. We speculated about whether Europeans have bred these well-behaved dogs for living in small apartments. The woman appeared to be listening, I saw the traces of a smile from time to time. I said hello to the dog and asked about him and she eagerly joined the conversation, trying out her rusty English. She was going to spend the weekend with a friend who had a cottage in Kutna Hora. I have found that many of my students have a flat in the city and a house in the country, leaving the urban world every Friday night to get back to nature. She planned to visit her boyfriend in the summer who was living in Dublin for a year. Soon she pulled out an atlas from her overnight bag and we showed her our home towns in the states and talked about other places.

It was a sunny day, perfect for walking. The train station is in the town of Sedlec, known for one of the strangest churches you could ever imagine – the Ossuary or bone church. Its claim to fame is that the interior is decorated with human bones. After the devastating plague, piles of some 40 thousand disassembled skeletons were stacked. A monk later used them to create designs, including a chandelier that includes all of the bones in the human body. In some places the decor is almost whimsical, yet there is an eerie solemnity when you think about the lives these bones represent.

A mile down the road, past a church and carnival, was Kutna Hora, a lovely town with inviting old buildings. Although popular with tourists, it felt like a living center, a nice place to live. We followed the church towers into town to the main square where a handful of booths sold crafts, food and painted eggs for the upcoming Easter holiday, more of a spring celebration in this country, similar to those displays springing up around Prague in the major paved squares this time of year. The holiday paraphernalia includes willow canes decorated with colored tissue paper. My students have explained that men whip women with the sticks, gently I hope, and the women then give them colored eggs or chocolate treats. This odd custom is supposed to ensure that the women have long life and vitality. The pastel colored buildings, all around the same height, framed the square; curving, cobblestoned streets led in and out of it. A tall sculptured pillar in a smaller square, the Plague Column, is a monument to its victims. First order of business was lunch. I had carp covered with vegetables, the specialty of the restaurant, with a hot pear cider. My companion ordered dumplings for desert, smothered high with blueberries.

Kutna Hora was a town of silver mining, affluent in its day, like my hometown in Colorado. In later days it was the place where currency was minted for much of Europe. The lovely Italian Court palace is built on the site of the mint. Its courtyard displayed modern wood sculptures, perhaps just a temporary exhibit. The most stunning piece of architecture in the town is impressive St. Barbara’s Cathedral, with its flying buttresses. Tall sculptures along the outside wall greeted us as we approached. Inside the artwork tells the story of the lives of the miners and minters over many centuries, as well as the usual religious art. It’s unusual to see paintings of country folk from old days, especially in a church, and it gave me a feel for the vitality of the town. The tall glass windows are beautifully painted with saints and ordinary people with realistic faces, graceful traces of art nouveau in the design.

An elaborate round stone structure called the Stone Fountain adorns a small square, covering the plumbing within that brought water to the town. A beautifully carved stone fronted building nearby also attested to the stone craftsmanship of a former time. Arriving a bit early back in Sedlec, we watched a local futbol (soccer) game for a while before catching the train home.

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