Prague – Day 7 – Day Trip To Kutna Hora

In planning the trip to Prague there was one place I just HAD to visit and that was Kutna Hora. Now Kutna Hora is famous for a lot of things. It’s home to St. Barbara Church and The Cathedral of Our Lady. It is a quaint little Czech town full of history and it played a very important role in Bohemia due to the now long depleted silver mines that were found around the 10th century. Anyway, you can read all about that in the linked Wikipedia article. I wanted to go there to see the Sedlec Ossuary.

In researching it looked a little tough to sort out the train ride so we opted for a guided tour. This was reasonably priced and seemed it would take the headache out of getting there and back as well as trying to find our way around. The tour was advertised to last about 5 hours, two of which would be the ride there and the ride back.

We got to the tour guide stand early and were on our way at 9:30 am. The first stop, Sedlec Ossuary. Yay, we thought. Then we were reminded why we don’t travel with tour groups. The total amount of time allocated for the Ossuary was 20 minutes. The was way too rushed for me to really relax and take the photos I wanted to take.

You see, the Sedlec Ossuary is a very unique thing, not only in The Czech Republic, but I would bet you would be hard pressed to find anything like it in the entire world. The ossuary is a small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec which is a suburb of Kutná Hora. And it is tastefully decorated….with the skeletal remains of an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 people.

The abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Palestine Holy Land in 1278. When he returned, he brought with him a small amount of earth he had removed from Golgotha, the biblical location of the crucification of Jesus Christ. He took this and sprinkled it over the cemetery to consecrate the ground. This caused the property values of this small plot of land to go through the spiritual roof! Everybody wanted to be buried there so they flocked to Sedlec to die. Add to that the victims of The Black Death in the 14th century and those who were killed during the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, you had many thousands of new residents is a rather small cemetery.

The graves had to be dug up and the remains removed to accommodate new arrivals. The ossuary itself dates back to 1511 and it was the task of a half blind monk to gather up the bones of the former residents and stash them in the crypt.

So what do you do with a crypt containing the skeletal remains of 40,000 to 70,000 people? Well, if you’re Duke Shwartzemberg in 1870 you find yourself a wood carving artistic type like Frantisek Rindt and you tell him to go nuts!

When viewing from you can click any of the images to see a larger version. For some of these, this is a must.

Here is the entrance to the ossuary

Descend the stairs and enter the ossuary.

The room is dominated by a skeletal chandelier

Here you see the signature of the artist, spelled out and dated using bones

And here is the Shwartzemberg coat of arms done in, you guessed it! Bones!

Bones are piled in 4 corners of the ossuary in a pyramid shape with ventilation holes going through the center

You can get up real close and personal, just don’t touch!

Bones decorate everything. Strings of skulls adorn the walls like those ornamental chains made of popcorn you used to decorate your Christmas tree with.

All in all, I’m very happy I had the chance to see this. I wish I would have had more time and it wasn’t so crowded. I could have done better. But I pulled this off in 15 minutes, 1 lens change and no flash or tripod.

Prague – Day 6

Man, the weather again today was fantastic! We didn’t really have anything specific on the agenda today. Cynthia calls it a “free day” where we just walk around and shoot pictures of whatever we want. With the sun being out I decided to try and capture some detail on the astronomical clock. I setup the tripod and captured these images:

I’ve got some more and some plans for processing to make them more “interesting” but I’ll need some time. I’m just wanting to find a different way to capture and present this magnificent clock.

We walked around the old town square shooting a few things and marveled at the clear blue sky.

We decided to cross Karlov Most (The Charles Bridge) back over to the far bank of the river. The crowds were already building up. There’s a fantastic jazz band that plays on the bridge every day and the music really sets the scene. Their name, cleverly enough, is The Bridge Band.

We strolled casually down the bridge, stopping frequently to snap pictures of the various statues that line Karlov Most

There’s this one statue on the bridge of St John Nepomuk

It is said that touching the plague beneath this statue brings good fortune and that you can make a wish. But you can only make one wish in your lifetime. Cynthia has made hers and I am mulling mine over currently.

We wandered and wandered quite a bit. I was shooting a lot with my Zeiss 70-300 which is unusual for me as I am primarily a wide angle kind of guy. But it was nice to capture some detail.

As we wandered down the river we came across a sculpture garden that was in the courtyard of the Kampa Museum of Contemporary Art. There were many interesting pieces, but this one stood out for me

It is what it looks like, a crochet car. It was created by a Jitka Havlí?ková in 2001 and is called Viktor – pomnik automobilu which roughly translates to Victor (or maybe Victoria) – Memorial Car.

We also took the opportunity to fulfill our travel tradition of dropping a Mr. Zippers feather at our travel destination. Mr. Zippers was Cynthia’s beloved Quaker parrot and w take a feather and drop it on every trip.

We dropped it in the river in sight of the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle.

From the river we turned into the city again and walked all the way to Wencislas Square. On the way I spotted this odd mirrored building that was reflecting the more traditional building directly across the street. I don’t know why this sort of thing fascinates me, but it does. Just like Haus Haus in Vienna did on that leg of our trip.

I don’t know what Nova Scena is, but that ball in the middle of the sign is made of yarn.

We walked and walked and walked. As Cynthia has been fond of saying: I’ve walked so much my dog are woofin’

We headed back to the apartment where I actually laid down and took a two hour nap. After which I got up and Cynthia and I walked down to Slovansky ostrov to go to, of all things, The Prague Wine Festival.

Cynthia and I do enjoy wine. Unfortunately we’re pretty vino ignorant. Still, we tried some Czech wines and enjoyed them. And we got to listen to some traditional Czech music. But before long the long day took it’s toll and we declared an early evening and headed back home. It was a lovely stroll back to the apartment after a very nice and relaxing day.

Prague – Day 5 – Part 2

After leaving the Lennon Wall we passed by the water wheel. From up on the bridge we noticed people stopping at the wheel and lingering. We thought they were just looking at the wheel and getting in the way of our shots. Turns out they were marveling at the wall of padlocks.

More precisely, “love padlocks

We’d seen something like this before in Florence Italy. Apparently lovers profess their undying love and the bond they share by locking a padlock to this gate and then throwing the key into the canal. Awww, how romantic! Engraved, painted and adorned with ribbons, they are really quite interesting to see. I found myself shooting quite a few pictures before we moved on.

Our next destination was Petrín, a hill in the center of Prague above the left bank of the Vltava River. Mostly just parks, but there is 1/5 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower up there that is supposed to offer some of the best views of the city.

On the way to there we came across the Victims of Communism Memorial

It shows seven bronze figures descending a flight of stairs. The statues appear more “decayed” the further away they are from you – losing limbs and their bodies breaking open. It is supposed to symbolize how political prisoners were affected by Communism.

From there we made our way to the fenucular that would take us to the top of Petrín Hill. Once to the top we went to the minature Eiffel Tower and bough tickets. At the top the view was nothing short of spectacular!

After going to the top of the miniature Eiffel Tower we went to the basement to see the museum dedicated to Jára Cimrman. This was absolutely HILLARIOUS! Jára Cimrman is a fictional character created in the 60’s and he is presented as one of the greatest Czech playwrights, poets, composers, teachers, travellers, philosophers, inventors, detectives, mathematicians, politicians, lovers and sportsmen of the 19th and early 20th century. Playing the game on his real existence is part of his characterization. My favorite Cimrman quote “I am such a complete atheist that I am afraid God will punish me.” Check out the link above to learn more.

That was pretty much a full day. We had dinner last night at Boatel Matylda, a VERY nice Italian restaurant on the top deck of a floating boat hotel. Then we went to the Dancing House to get a night photo of the building. You’ll see that later. Now is time to sleep for another day awaits us tomorrow.

Prague – Day 5 – Part 1

Another sunny and wonderful day! We woke up early and had breakfast, after which we headed off to the Charles Bridge to cross over to Malá Strana or “little quarter” area of Prague. Crossing the bridge we found the last surviving water wheel that was once one of many that lined this canal next to Kampa Island. It is said that each canal had its own protective water spirit (vodnik). Now that that there’s only the one canal, there’s only one water spirit left…Mr. Kabourek.

The first site we wanted to get to was the John Lennon Wall. John Lennon’s music of peace and freedom was an inspiration to the oppressed peoples of the communist regime. When John was murdered a young artists came to this wall and painted a picture of John on it. The authorities painted over it. The artist returned the next day and painted it again. Eventually the owners of the wall, the Embassy of Malta, stepped in and declared that the wall was sovereign territory and the the local authorities had no right to touch it. Over time many came to paint on the wall their own messages of peace and freedom and to this day the wall grows and changes as visitors come to see this symbol of freedom and expression and add their own messages to the wall.

Exploring the wall I kept finding more and more details.

Cynthia spent the better part of an hour just photographing various small and large detail shots and we both agreed that the wall was quite fascinating and the story behind it very profound. We eventually did add our marks to the wall.

Nothing lofty or pretentious. Just our names. Just something to say we were there

We really enjoyed this space. If you’re ever in Prague, go find it. At first it just seems like a wall full of graffiti. But as you contemplate it and read the messages it unfolds with greater meaning and beauty.

Prague – Day 4

Hallelujah! It is not raining! The temps have dropped but there’s sunlight streaming down from the heavens through some rather picturesque clouds. With joy in our hearts and a spring in our step we were out of the apartment by 7:45 and over the Bohemia Bagel for some breakfast. I will say this, the portions with just about any meal we’ve had in Prague have been hearty. I had trouble finishing my breakfast and Cynthia had to abandon part of hers. But we were happy to have the abundant calories because today was the day we made our way to Prague Castle. That’s it you see to the left of Charles Bridge in the above photo. More accurately, that’s the St. Vitus Cathedral and that’s what we really wanted to see. That, and the changing of the guard ceremony.

The castle complex is way up the hill so walking was out of the question. This meant we had to find the #22 tram and a place to buy tickets.

Google Maps provided the location of the tram stops and a small shop next to the rail line provided the tickets we needed.

We rode the #22 tram up the hill and got off at Strahov Monastery. In an ideal world we would have gotten off at the monastery to visit the famous library, but we knew from our research that it was under renovation. The reason we got off at the monastery was to have a quick look around and then take the pleasant and mostly downhill stroll to the castle complex.

The weather was just perfect. The sun kept coming out and there was no sign of rain at all.

The Prague Castle is probably the most visited tourist spot in all of Bohemia. Bus after bus after bus of tour groups pile into the complex and the crowds can be quite intense.

We wanted to see the changing of the guard, but didn’t know how they did it here so we didn’t end up in a good viewing spot. Cynthia got up on one wall and was able to watch some of it. I, on the other hand, decided to plunge into the crowd with the fisheye lens.

After the changing of the guard things settled down quite a bit We got our tickets and went in to St. Vitus Cathedral.

This is one impressive cathedral. And this cathedral held something very interesting to me

The stained glass window was designed by the world famous Czech Art Nouveau master, Alphonse Mucha.

This has got to be the single, most ipressive piece of stained glass I have ever seen in my life. And, unlike the Mucha museum, photography IS allowed. I shot quite a few pics of this glorious piece and may go back and shoot some more. Here are a few detail shots.

From here were moved on to explore some other parts of the complex but not wholeheartedly. We soon moved on and took the scenic walk down to the river where we had a late lunch and a nice Pilsner beer. After thar it was off to the laundromat to pick up my laundry. Aftet depositing the laundry at the apartment we wend for a walk so I could shoot some extended exposures using my tripod. I’ll have those ready to show later, but for now it is off to bed.

Tomorrow, more adventures and more photography!

Prague – Day 3

Ugh! More rain this morning. It’s bad enough when the light is poor due to cloud cover. Photos are dull and lifeless. But rain! ARRRRGH! Photographing in the rain is not my thing. Protecting the camera gear is priority numero uno. So with the wet weather the camera has not come out as much as it normailly would.

But rain or no rain, we’re in Prague and well darn it, we’ve got to make the best of it. Who knows when or if we’ll be back? Poor Cynthia, she’s more disheartened than I am PLUS she has been working a nice big blister on her toe. Bless her heart, she’s a trooper.

We bought our second umbrella and decided to walk out to Wenceslas Square, the site of the 1989 “Velvet Revolution” that saw the overthrow of the authoritarian government.

It is simply amazing to walk such historical grounds, even if it is raining. We walked up to the top of the square where you could look down the length of it. Just trying to imagine that square filled with over 200,000 peaceful protesters gave us both pause.

Cynthia noticed a building to the left of where we were standing and said “Oh! I know what that is!”

That communist era old building was once the home of Radio Free Europe. It served as their headquarters from 1995-2009. Radio Free Europe played a significant role in the Velvet Revolution and the Czech Republic, out of gratitude, rented them the building for one CZK (Czech Crown) a year. Radio Free Europe had to move to a more secure location after recieving credible threats from Al Quada.

We moved on from Wenceslas Square to find the Dancing House.

By the time we found it the rain had almost completely stopped. It was still threatening and there were some drops to be felt but I figured I would break out the monopod and get some photos of this magnificent structure. With any luck I’ll take a mulligan when the sun comes out, but for now I’ve seen it and photographed it.

Moving on we made our way down the Vltava river back to the Charles Bridge. All the way we were lamenting the weather but making the best of it.

Right after I shot the above photo, an amazing thing happened. For just a few minutes the sun came out. It was only for a short while, but a break in the clouds and golden sunlight shone down on us. Glory be! Then it was gone. Drats!

We walked back to the old town square to make our way back to the apartment and as we entered the square the sun came out again! And this time it stayed out! We shot some pics and rejoiced and then went back to the apartment to recombobulate and decided to go out again and watch the sun go down over Pet?ín Hill from the bank of the Vltava river. I took my tripod and shot some hopefully excellent shots of Prague Caslte and the Charles Bridge. I need to go through them and process a little before I present them here.

The forecast for tomorrow calls for sunshine. If that holds true we’re off to Prague Castle first thing in the morning. We’ve walked our poor dogs to the bone, but some sunshine will breathe new life into both of us!

Vienna – Day 4 – Danube River Art Show

We decided to walk down the Danube River on our last day. We’d noticed some interesting art work slash graffiti and thought it might be worth checking to see if there was more. Turns out, there was. There were murals and sculptures up and down this one portion of the river and some if it was VERY interesting. It was like an outdoor gallery of street art. What follows are some of the more interesting pieces.

Vienna – Day 3 – Part 1

Today we just wanted to take advantage of the sunshine and walk around some of the big sites. We had breakfast at Cafe Mozart and then made our way toward the The Vienna Secession.

Also known as the Union of Austrian Artists, it was formed in 1897 by a group of Austrian artists who had resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists, housed in the Vienna Künstlerhaus. This movement included painters, sculptors, and architects. The first president of the Secession was Gustav Klimt, and Rudolf von Alt was made honorary president. We didn’t go inside as we were mostly content to have a day of walking and we had plans to see the larger Klimpt collection housed at the Belvedere.

As we were waling down the street I noticed a sculpture and remarked to Cynthia “Hey look, a statue of The Mona Lisa. As we got closer I noticed the statue had a beard and mustache.

Still looked like the Mona Lisa but obviously it wasn’t. Then we found the plaque describing the piece. Turns out this was a sculpture by Subodh Gupta who is known as the “idol thief.” This piece was called “Et Tu, Duchamp?” and was, indeed, The Mona Lisa with a beard. Apparently the reference is to Marcel Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q.” piece from 1919 in which Duchamp took a postcard featuring the Mona Lisa and drew a beard and mustache onto it.

Moving on we came across this magnificent building

We just loved the giant owl and all the smaller owls along the roof top. As we were marveling and shoting pictures I noticed a sign that indicated that this was The Main Library of the Vienna University of Technology. Coolest library EVER!

From there we found our way to the baroque St. Charles Church.

In 1713, the Black Plague swept Vienna, and Emperor Charles VI made a vow: if the plague left the city, he would build a church dedicated to his namesake, St. Charles Borromeo. St. Charles was a 16th-century Italian bishop famous for ministering to Milanese plague victims. The emperor’s prayer was answered, and construction on the church began in 1715. The Baroque master Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach did the original work from 1716 to 1722. After his death in 1723, his son took over and saw the project through to completion in 1737.

After St. Charles we walked over to The Belvedere Palace. Another fantastic example of baroque architecture, it is a very large complex with a beautiful garden and a wonderful fountain in the middle.

After we strolled through the garden we took a break at the cafe for some lunch and then went to see the Klimpt collection in the Upper Belvedere. Sadly, no photography allowed. Got to see The Kiss and Judith in person which was pretty impressive.

After that we hiked back to the hotel, stopping (again) at Cafe Mozart for coffee and desert.