Small Town Czech Republic <3

Kutná Hora

The Church of Bones. It’s a place that commands attention. After hearing about Kutná Hora and the Church of Bones, we decided we had to check it out for ourselves. Only an hour train ride outside of Prague and we found ourselves walking up the hill to the Sedlec Ossuary, aka the Church of Bones. At first I was a tad underwhelmed by the small exterior, until we walked inside. Every single part of the ornamentation in this church was made of bones, human bones. In fact, 40,000 people are in the Sedlec Ossuary. There were four pyramids of bones, a coat of armor made out of bones, but by far the most haunting was the chandelier made of bones. Why so many bones? The plague hit this region and about 30,000 people died. Following the plague was a war which killed another 10,000. With nowhere to put them, according to the legend, a blind (and some say insane) monk started to obsessively arrange and organize all the bones into what they are today.

After hanging out in a dark room full of bones we set off to check out the town of Kutná Hora. We had a wonderful picnic in the town square, then made our way up to the massive, gothic-style cathedral—as our Grandpa says, “an A.B.C.”, another big church. The cathedral was up on a hill with gorgeous views of the valley below. With the leaves starting to really change it was so nice to just spend most of the day outside and enjoying the sun and the crisp air. All in all, I was really happy we went to Kutná Hora!

Třeboň

Packing up and leaving Prague after such a wonderful week, we caught yet another train, this time Třeboň! Třeboň is a lovely little spa town which also is right next to these huge fish ponds which supply most of the Czech Republic with their Christmas carp! We got a hotel right on the old town square, dropped our bags and headed right to the one of the spas in town to make an appointment for a massage the next morning. After about 15 minutes of nice ladies trying to make our appointments while only speaking Czech (there was lots of writing things down and pointing), we had two appointments for Katie and Savan (my handwriting was clearly not the neatest that day) for the following morning. Leaving the spa, we went to explore the park and made our way to the fish ponds. With beautiful foliage around the water, we spent a good amount of time casually strolling and being goofy. We’re small town girls at heart, so we just love a good trail, some gorgeous trees, and fresh air after a week in the city.

After frolicking in the fall foliage, we were quite hungry and decided to finally get some authentic Czech food at the restaurant below our hotel. Two hours later and after the sun had gone down we were finally done eating. The square was deserted and we started feel like it was getting really late. We were wondering if we should head up to our room, so I checked my watch. It wasn’t even 8pm! Classic small town, just like Marion (our hometown). We spent the rest of the night walking around old Třeboň and watching a movie in our hotel room. After being in other people’s space for the past 6 weeks it was SO nice to just have our own room and to just sit back and relax for the evening. In the morning after our massage and a long lunch we caught our 2pm train to Vienna! Stay tuned for our experiences in the city of music!

-S

Praha (part 2)!

Prague Fog

Sarah and I decided we wanted to take an early morning walk in the beautiful city of Prague, to be able to see the streets of the old town area (without the hordes of tourists) by the light of the rising sun. We set our alarms for bright and early at 6:15 one morning, ate breakfast in the dark, and set off to see the sunrise. What we got was even better—a thick fog hovered just above the ground, the perfect melancholy backdrop for a walk across the famous Charles Bridge.

We were aiming for Prague Castle as our final destination, but our wanderings took us up to the Strahov Monastery instead. We arrived at the top of the hill just in time to see the sun burn away the fog for a beautiful view of the city below.

An Iowa Water Nymph turned Czech Opera

After our long walk through the city, Sarah and I had a relaxing afternoon and then got as dolled up as two stinky backpackers can and went to the Národní divadlo (National Theatre) for a real treat: Dvorak’s beloved Czech opera Rusalka, which has some plot similarities with Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid.” It was a lovely theatre and a beautifully staged opera—Sarah said that she was surprised at how much she enjoyed it! Opera sometimes has a stuffy reputation, but this one still felt fresh, and the music, dance, and sets were striking. It was also fun to have an occasion to wear the dress I’ve been dragging across Europe.

Rusalka even has an Iowa connection! Dvorak lived for 3 years in the United States, and spent part of that time in Spillville, Iowa, where there was a Czech-speaking Moravian community. While there, he saw a girl bathing nude in the Turkey River, presumably peeped on her for awhile…and that gave him the inspiration to write the opera. Creepy but cool, I guess?

A Surprise Peek at 1968

During our first few days in Prague, we were noticing some renovations at an intersection near Sue and Tom’s apartment. On our way back from the opera, we saw some workers putting up barriers to close off the street. Being an Iowa girl, my first thought was, “ugh, road construction.” But in the morning as we walked by, we saw that there were some tents and trailers and…an army tank! We realized that there was a movie being filmed! The whole street was made over to look like it did during the Warsaw Pact invasion of Prague in 1968.
We stopped for part of an afternoon to watch the filming process, which was interesting on a couple of levels. For one thing, it was just plain fun to see the workings of a movie set. It was also striking to step back in time a little bit and imagine what the people here experienced during those days. It has been interesting to see the different legacies of Communism in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic—those times are very much in recent living memory, not as far in the past as I always felt them to be.

-K

PRAHA!!!

PRAHA! (Part 1)

We thought we’d never make it there, but after a long and hectic travel day, we arrived after dark in Prague. Our Uncle Nick’s cousin Sue and her husband Tom were going to let us pay them a visit and then stay in their apartment for a few days while they took a trip to Germany. Sue gave us a warm welcome at the train station and walked us through Wenceslas Square to her family’s apartment just behind the National Museum of Prague. We dumped our packs and Sue treated us to a lovely dinner, complete with potato cakes and sekt, a sweet sparkling wine that’s only available for a few weeks in the fall.

Tom joined us for a beer at the restaurant after bringing their daughter Maia home from hockey practice, and we got acquainted with our 3rd currency here in Europe—Ceský Koruna (Czech crowns)! Sue taught us a few survival words in Czech and Tom showed us a very tricky Czech tongue-twister: “Strč prst skrz krk.” It means, “stick your finger through your neck.” A bit nonsensical, but grammatically possible nonetheless!

The next morning, we walked with Sue to pick up Maia from school, and Sue gave us a walking tour of Staré Mesto, the Old Town of Prague. She helped us get oriented to the geography of the city (which was really nice after being vaguely lost most of the time in Berlin), gave us a few insider tips, and pointed out some things we should go and have a look at.

The next day, the Barendregts left for Germany, and Sarah and I spent the day wandering around their lovely neighborhood, called Vinohrady. I picked up a pair of shoes at a thrift shop in the neighborhood…Czech women must have small feet, because I ended up having to buy a men’s pair! Sarah and I found an international bookstore and picked up some reading materials. There are also several lovely parks, lots of beautiful fall foliage, and a very strange TV tower (check out the photos, you’ll see!).

Stay tuned for Praha Part 2!

-K

Leipzig…

A Train Ride A Church

Leipzig turned out to be a very…interesting place. We got off the train and made our way to the hostel, there was something a little off about the neighborhood, a stark contrast from the quaint and charming neighborhood of Kreuzberg where we spent our time in Berlin. It definitely had a grittier vibe than Berlin, and we were imagining that’s what Berlin possibly would have been like before it became relatively cleaned up and touristy. It had more graffiti rather than street art that you would see throughout Berlin. There are also tons of punk people in Leipzig, lots of colored hair and face piercings and face tattoos.

After throwing our stuff in our lockers at the hostel we set off to try and find St. Thomas Church, where J. S. Bach served as canter for many years. Katie had studied the place in her music history classes and wanted to see it for herself. As we opened the church doors we heard the pipe organ, someone was rehearsing! It was amazing to hear Bach being played in the same church that he spent so many years.

After a quick dinner we headed to a bar called die naTo to see a show that Katie had found out about online. The band, called Fenster, was from Berlin and they wore all white and had light-up shoes. The only girl in the band was American which was really cool! It was so nice to be around people our age. We’ve been spending a lot of time with older people, and all most all the time with each other. Fenster played a kind of alt-pop style of music. They had a screen behind them with visuals the whole time as well. The vibe they created was really cool. Overall it was a nice chill show to go to!

We’ve been missing fall back home. It’s slowly feeling more and more like fall here, the trees here in Germany have started to turn. The street outside the hostel was lined with trees which have turned a nice dark gold. The foliage is nothing compared to home though. We are looking forward to experiencing October (my favorite month out of the year!) traveling through the Czech Republic, Austria and France!

Sorry for the lack of photos, there will definitely be more from our adventures in Prague! Stay tuned!

-S

**addendum**

After writing the above blog post the morning we were scheduled to catch our train out of Leipzig, all hell broke loose. We went to the platform to wait for our train, which did not arrive. The screen above the platform that had once had our train (ICE 2443- Dresden) on it now did not. At first we thought that maybe it was late or that they possibly had changed platforms. We found a platform screen with ICE 2443 but it didn’t say Dresden. Still confused we looked at the departures board but our train to Dresden was nowhere to be found. Suddenly an ICE train pulled into the second platform we thought might be where it could arrive. Not wanting to miss our train and wanting to get the heck out of Leipzig we ran for it, jumping on the train just in time. We accidentally got on in first class and were walking through the train to get to second class when I noticed that there was in fact a sign that read, Berlin-Hamburg. We got on the entirely wrong train! Definitely not wanting to go back to where we had come from we ran off the train as fast as we could.

At this point we were at a total loss for what was going on, our train seemed to have never arrived. We had a connecting train in Dresden to catch and people waiting to greet us in Prague later that day. Frustrated and stressed out we needed to find answers. Easier said than done, the line for the information desk was stretching longer by the minute and moving at a glacial pace. Katie posted up in line while I camped out with our bags. I saw two men directing people to their platforms and answering questions, wanting to know where the heck our train was I ventured over to them, but sadly they didn’t speak English. The younger of the two men was trying to convey what had happened in English to another curious and confused traveler, I heard something about a person who was “killed” or “died”. Something had happened either on the train or the tracks before our train got to Leipzig, meaning it had never even arrived.

An hour later, feeling like we were rather shit out of luck Katie finally got back from the info booth where conveniently no one really spoke English either. There was a lot of jabbering in German, she had no idea what he was saying but he handed her a paper with information on alternate trains. As she walked over to find me a train to Dresden arrived miraculously at the platform right in front of us, we weren’t a hundred percent sure it was the right one, but without hesitation we jumped right on. FINALLY, we were on our way to Prague.

Side note: currently writing this while sitting in a train that looks exactly like the inside of the Hogwarts Express. Could not be more excited to get to Prague!

Currywurst, Marathon, Flea Market- BERLIN!

Post-orchard life led us to the great and historical city of Berlin. We spent most of our week there just walking around the city, people-watching and looking at all the great street art. We were staying in Kreuzberg, which is a very multicultural part of the city. There were a lot of great restaurants near our flat, and since we figured that “traditional” German food is probably pretty similar to what we eat in Iowa, we took the chance to try some different cuisines—Sarah ate Thai and Indian food for the first time!

The one thing everyone said we had to try was currywurst. We came upon a little hole-in-the-wall place that just said “Currywurst” on the awning in faded letters, so we figured that would be authentic. We stepped up to order, and the owner asked us if we wanted it spicy. Obviously we said “yes, the spicier the better!” Clearly doubting us, he gave us a sample of some sauce from a bottle with a skull and crossbones on it.

It was spicy.

But we were game for it, so he drenched our currywurst in the sauce. When we started eating, we found that the spice really sneaks up you, so we had to stay calm and focus up. I couldn’t talk, and Sarah kept saying she was going to pass out. We weren’t sure we could finish it, but with the owner watching us, we didn’t want to wimp out. Even the French fries were spicy, so the only way to get a little relief was from the big glob of mayonnaise on top.

It looked iffy for a moment, but we did manage to finish our currywurst. We were sweating pretty badly afterwards, and decided we deserved a nap after that experience, so we went back to the flat and had a lazy afternoon.

On Sunday, we got up bright and early to head over to Mauer Park for the famous weekly flea market. On our walk to the subway station, we happened across the Berlin Marathon. We knew it was happening that weekend, because someone had asked us if we were there to run (we said “no, but we’re flattered that you think we look capable of running a marathon!”). We stood and watched the runners for a bit, and then we realized that the subway station we needed to go into was just across the street filled with runners…so close yet so far! There was no way we could cross the marathon, so we decided to walk alongside and see if there was another way to cross. We ended up following the path of the marathon for about a mile, and had lots of fun looking at all the spectators and runners. There was a swing band playing on one corner, lots of kids with balloons, funny signs encouraging the runners, and flags from many different countries. We must have looked like we knew where we were going, because one lady even stopped us to ask for directions.

We found finally found an overpass, so we were able to make our way to Mauer Park. The flea market was HUGE! We arrived pretty late because of the marathon, so by the time we got there it was packed. There were hundreds of stalls where people were selling clothing, records, jewelry, and antique home décor. My vintage spidey senses were tingling, and it made me miss my Etsy shop—it was definitely inspiring to see, and made me want to take my vintage wares to a flea market back home!

So that was Berlin! Be sure to check out the photos. Now off for a day trip to Leipzig, Germany, and then off to Prague!

-K