Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

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As you enter tiny Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, you may consider crossing yourself and looking over your shoulder. The ossuary is reportably one of the scariest, most haunted places in the world (if you believe sites like Buzzfeed or even CNN and Conde Nast Traveler.) The tiny chapel contains an estimated 40,000 – 70,000 sets of bones: there are garlands made of skulls with arm bones in their teeth; vases crafted from femurs, hip bones and sternums; a chandelier ending in seven skull pendants; and a coat of arms made out of, well, arms.Read More »

Hunter

As we walk through the long corridor, the only thought that comes to mind is “Franz was a mentally disturbed man.” Every free space of the hallway is covered in animal heads, artfully displayed and catalogued, more than 1,500 in total. More shocking is that these heads represent a mere two percent of the total animals the Archduke Franz Ferdinand killed during his 50 year-life. Assuming he hunted every single day of his life, including during infancy, that is more than 16 animals killed per day.

The Archduke also collected guns and other weapons as well as chain mail (including full horse mail) by the hundreds. The sword with the carved women that Daario Naharis is so found of? I’m betting that was inspired by one of the Archduke’s collectibles.

We visited the Archduke’s palace, Konopiště, together with my family when they visited Prague this spring. It lies roughly an hour outside of Prague and is easily-accessible via a train and short 3 km hike. The Frenchman had gotten a virus or some sort of tummy trouble the day before, and, needless to say, bye the time we were finished with the animal heads and our lunch of goulash from deer caught on the castle grounds, I was feeling a bit queasy, too. The castle was a great half-day adventure away from the city and provided a glimpse into the private life of one of the last centuries most important men while also continuing to build on the knowledge of the Hapsburg family we have spent this spring learning about on nearly every outing.

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As no photos are allowed inside the castle to document the oddity, those who are interested can catch a glimpse with this Rick Steves video:

 

 

Chapel

My father posted on his Facebook a quote today: “I wish people cared as much about the Earth as they did about who they think created it . . .” As we celebrate Easter today, the sentiment could not be more fitting. Instead of celebrating Jesus’ miraculous rise from the dead and pose in front of blooming trees for photos in new Easter dresses, we should not forget the true origins of our springtime traditions or loose sight of the beauty around us: the chirping baby birds, the new spring buds (4/20 pun intended,) and the warmth of the sun that has been hidden all winter.

John Muir is quoted as once saying “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” At least once a week we find this happening to us: we will go out for a “short walk” at 3:30 and end up walking and talking until nightfall. Both in Atlanta and Europe we have been lucky to live in places where nature is so simple and welcoming.

My favorite tradition while living in Atlanta were our “Sunday hikes.” I would spend all week researching hikes around the city and planning out our trail to explore while the rest of the Bible Belt belted out gospel tunes in their Peachtree-lining megachurches. Some of those hikes I wrote about on the pre-Europe blog. Since moving to Europe, Sunday hikes have dwindled in number, going from Sunday hikes to Sunday walks to a walk to a  coffeeshop to Sunday is the new Monday working schedules. This has been a result, in part, of our lack of transportation; ironic that to get to somewhere where cars are unwelcome oftentimes a car is needed.

While we were living in France we were unable to keep up with our weekend pastime as accessing nature past the city streets  was especially difficult given that there were very few large in-town parks in Toulouse and Montpellier with anything more than paved sidewalks, and public transportation generally did not run to the truly remote, hiking destinations in the countryside. The Czech Republic, however, has put Sunday hikes back into the weekly schedule, and, as the chill of winter finally leaves the air we find the birds calling us more and more frequently back to the chapel of nature.

Last week, we went on a tour of Prague, and the guide commented that “Czech people dress like they are ready for hiking at all times.” I had to giggle at the observation as it put into words what I had noticed since moving here: Czech people dress atrociously; they all appear to be equipped with backpacking packs at all times, often carrying hiking poles as well; the men sport some kind of quick-dry pant with knee pads usually in contrasting plaid colors; and everyone from young to old and in all dressing circumstances forgoes the European wool coat standard, opting instead to top their outfit off with a hideous snowboarder jacket, always plastic with a geometric print and always in a minimum of colors. The middle-aged crowd also absolutely adores mountain-biking, so much so that even on the most difficult of trails, one must always keep an ear open for the buzz of bike tires.

Our guide also informed us that the Czech people are the most aethiest in the world (a statistic not entirely supported by fact.) For the Czech people, however, it may be said that nature is a majority religion. Today, instead of flocking one of the thousands of churches in the country (the Czech Republic has one of the highest number of churches per capita in the world) the Czech people come out on the weekends to hike by the thousands, especially to our local park, Kunraticky les, Prague’s largest green area and often called the “lungs” of the city. The families make mostly day trips to the parks and forests, with both tiny children, mothers with strollers and grandparents armed with walking poles, tackling surprisingly tough terrain. And every Sunday, if we happen to take a late bus or metro home, every Czech student is dirt-smeared and carrying a tent and sleeping bag as if they spent the whole weekend outdoors.

The other negatives of our current living situation aside, we consider ourselves extremely lucky to be living right on the border of the terrific Kunratice Forest. The forest has most certainly “come alive” this spring, with its floor covered in thousands of tiny white blooms and delicate violets. We try to make it into the forest to explore whenever possible, and have yet only managed to cover a tiny section of the myriad of trails through its valleys and multiple high ridges.

This Easter weekend, we celebrated the Czech way, by entering the chapel of nature. Of course, this would not be a blog about exploration if we did not extend our adventure some: Our walk also took us on a tour of tiny Kunratice village and by one of the most stunningly unique church interiors we have ever seen in the small, baroque church of Saint John the Elder. The pictures simply do not do this tiny church’s dramatic interior justice, and my lack of Czech-speaking ability has left me still wondering who the glassed-in prince fellow above the altar is and why the gentleman above him is surrounded by what can only be clay statutes of ears. Of course, the hike couldn’t have been complete without a stop at our favorite beergarten-in-the-woods, U krále Václava IV, to worship the Czechs’ true God: beer.

You can find a map of our little hike through our neighborhood of Kunratice here http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/396442960.

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