As we have said many times, there are certain cities and sites that are must-see for good reason. If you are going to the Czech Republic, you simply must visit Prague. We often find, however, that while we love the “big cities,” it is the smaller, off-the-beaten-path locations that capture our hearts. This trip was no different. We enjoyed Prague, but we loved the charm of Kutna Hora and Cesky Krumlov, both of which are easy side trips from Prague.
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Our first Czech Republic side trip was a day trip to Kutna Hora. This was not part of our original plan, but we had plenty of time and it was a great addition! A relatively small town about 75 miles east of Prague, Kutna Hora is known for the Sedlac Ossuary and silver mining.
We took the train, which cost us about $10 each, round trip. The trip from Prague took about an hour.
The Bone Church
One of the most visited tourist attractions in Czech Republic, the Sedlac Ossuary is also known as the Bone Church, due to its skeletal decorations. The church contains the skeletons of an estimated 40,000 people.
The church and surrounding cemetery date back to the 13th century, with the settlement of the Sedlec Abbey. This site became a desired burial spot after the abbott sprinkled “Holy Soil” from Jerusalem there. As the plague caused many deaths, the site quickly turned into an ossuary, a site for storing skeletal remains.
Eventually, the bones were arranged more formally. The result may sound a little creepy, but is actually rather fascinating. Yes, the bones are real (mostly provided by those lost to the plague or war), but were cleaned well enough to just look like “normal” Halloween decorations.
We spent about an hour touring the church and surrounding cemetery. The most fascinating part of the church is the chandelier, which contains every bone in the human body.
After the Bone Church, we visited the Czech Museum of Silver. Unfortunately, they did not have any English tours scheduled, so we took the one given in Czech. Thankfully, the guide did provide a printed script of the tour.
The tour started by descending about 175 stairs through an old silver mine. It was very tight in spaces and makes us very thankful that we don’t have jobs that require us to work in that type of environment.
Since we have previously toured caves in the US, we were not shocked by the tight spaces or lack of light. While we really enjoyed the tour, we definitely missed not knowing the language. It is really awkward when everyone else is laughing at a joke and you have no idea what was said!
Returning to Prague
Buying train tickets for the return trip to Prague was when we learned to NOT leave our passports in the hotel safe. This was also one of the very few times in all of our overseas travel that we had difficulty with communication due to the language difference.
The train station did not have an automated ticket machine so we headed to the ticket window. Unfortunately, the attendant did not speak English and we do not speak Czech.
We successfully communicated that we needed two tickets to Prague and handed over our credit card to pay. The problem was that the attendant apparently wanted a passport as identification for the credit card. We did not have a passport with us and initially couldn’t figure out why she wanted to see it.
After much back and forth we really just wanted our credit card back, thinking we could find another way to pay and/or get back to Prague. But, she refused to give back the card without the passport. Eventually, Grant presented his Georgia Driver’s License out of sheer desperation and she finally relented, giving us the card and the train tickets.
For the remainder of the trip, we carried our passports everywhere, though we never had any further issues.
Our second trip from Prague was an overnight trip to Cesky Krumlov. While you could do this as a day trip, it is far enough and interesting enough to warrant a night or two. We opted to take the bus, as we had read the train ride was longer and more complicated.
Unfortunately, the three-hour bus ride from Prague to Cesky Krumlov was one of the most miserable travel experiences I have ever had. The bus itself was in good condition, but we were in the corner on the last row and the air was barely moving. It was hot and stuffy, and I felt nauseous most of the trip.
Thankfully, the bus only cost us about $8 total, but I would gladly pay more for a better experience.
There is not much to the town other than a castle and a river, but it is a nice retreat from the big city. The castle sits up on a hill above the city, providing some nice views. The river runs right through town – the main square sits at the “u-turn” of the river – and provides a nice, relaxing atmosphere despite the hoards of tourists.
Laundry and Lounging
We easily found our hotel, Pension Zameka Apartma – Castle Apartments in this small town. Our first order of business after getting settled into our room was laundry. Sometimes, having to do laundry is a pain in the ass, but it allows us to travel lightly and also provides mandated downtime.
Because this is such a small town, finding a place to do laundry was difficult, but we were able to go to one of the local hostels. While waiting for the clothes, we sat by the river with a drink (you can buy a very good mojito on the street for about $3), read and enjoyed our surroundings. We definitely said “this does not suck” several times this afternoon!
After laundry, dinner was at the local brewery, Eggenberg. I ordered my second beer of the trip, a definite rarity. To be honest, though, the fruit beers here are very fruity, so it goes down fairly easily for a non-beer drinker! Grant enjoyed two of the local brews and we shared a massive plate of meat and potatoes.
Following dinner, we did some more wandering around the town and watched the full moon set behind the cathedral tower. The quaintness of this small town was a breath of fresh air after several days in Prague.
Cesky Krumlov Castle
We spent the following morning touring the Cesky Krumlov Castle including the tower, museum, and gardens. Just outside the castle you will find a couple of bear “pits.” The enclosures hold two European Brown Bears, a symbol of one of the local nobles.
The museum was nothing too spectacular, just various pieces from the castle to show its history. Considering the castle dates back to 1240, there is plenty of history on display!
Despite my “fear” of heights, we climbed to the top of the castle tower for a view of the city. Once at the top, my anxiety kicked in and I spent most of the time hugging the wall. Grant enjoyed the views and took several pictures while I waited, as patiently as possible, for him to finish.
The castle gardens were large and very nice. Apparently, there was a graduation of some sort that had just ended as there were many families taking pictures. We wandered the grounds and did our best to not photobomb any pictures!
We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the shade of the city park, right by the river. Our books and the river rafters provided all the entertainment we needed for the remainder of the day.
Before the bus ride back to Prague, we enjoyed one last Trdlenik. (No, I have no idea how that is pronounced!) This tasty Czech treat is basically a cinnamon roll wrapped around a stick and cooked over hot coals. We liked the basic cinnamon sugar variety, but they were also available with chocolate or nuts.
Transportation to and from Cesky Krumlov
We did return to Prague via bus so that we could then take the night train to Krakow. Unfortunately, our bus ride back was only mildly better than the ride to Cesky Krumlov.
According to my research, train travel between Prague and Cesky Krumlov is more comfortable, but much more of a hassle. There is no direct train, so you must make a transfer. Additionally, the closest train station is about a 30-minute walk outside of Cesky Krumlov. The bus station is just a 10-minute walk.
This was the main reason we chose the bus – faster and easier. However, our experience was not great and we definitely would choose the train if we were making the trip again.
A Quiet Respite
Prague certainly has its own charm and interesting sites. But, as usual, we found the calmness of the smaller towns much more our style.
In Kutna Hora, we enjoyed a couple of unique tourist attractions along with the quiet of a small town. Cesky Krumlov is certainly more of a tourist destination. Still, it provided a glimpse into how the “locals” vacation and some true Czech charm.
We found both to be a wonderful respite from the city and a perfect end to our time in the Czech Republic. Whether your visit as a day trip or an overnight, both are worth your time.
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