Drawn to this part of the Czech Republic – like a prepubescent girl to a Justin Bieber concert – by the legend of a church filled with decorative bones, we were served up an unexpected treat when we stayed in the nearby town of Kutná Hora.
The town turned out to be much more than just a place to crash on the way to Prague.
In a bygone era, Kutná Hora rivaled Prague as the main city of Bohemia, the traditional name for the western half of Czech, and several kings took up residence here.
Silver was coming out of these hills in massive quantities during the fourteenth century, perhaps the most ever found in Europe.
The town was rolling in dough and, as we know, kings like dough.
King Wenceslaus II (not the good one who look-ed down at the snow on the feast of Stephen, he was hundreds of years earlier) issued a decree snatching all of the silver for the crown.
Still, the town prospered and became home to the royal mint, where many a Prague Groschen got stamped out.
Before long, Kutná Hora’s coins became the main currency for all of central Europe. History has left Kutná Hora with some remarkable historic landmarks but we were exhausted from the day’s gruesome findings at Sedlec and our main interest was in finding some grub, grog and a night’s repose.
But first a bit of sleuthing. A few years back we had heard a story about Anheuser-Busch filing a lawsuit against a Czech brewery concerning the use of the name Budweiser.
The American beer giant wanted them to cease and desist, Budweiser was their property.
One big snag in their case, the Budejovický Budvar has been brewing Budweiser beer in Bohemia for about eight hundred years, so… guess who gets to use the name around these parts?
We always liked this little David vs. Goliath story and wanted to give the “real” Budweiser a try, so we found a little corner pub and ordered us up a couple of Buds. We’re not gonna lie, there’s no contest, the Bohemian Bud is the superior brew.
To say we stuck out in this joint is beyond an understatement.
Not only were we the only non-Czech speaking people, we were also the only non-tattooed and the only ones not ripped to the gills on a different sort of bud.
After what could only be described as an interesting half hour, we went in search of dumplings.
Veronica grew up on Czech food, almost all of which included dumplings, so we were on a mission to find an authentic local eatery. Perhaps with a less buzzed clientele. By wandering a few streets away from the main part of town, we found our spot.
If the restaurant had a name, they weren’t bothering to advertise it on a sign – not one we could decipher anyway – but the smell and laughter drew us in.
We might have been the first non-native to ever to set foot in the place, a fantastic find. After another Budweiser (just to be absolutely certain that we liked it better than its American counterpart) we ordered the goulash and “the special.”
We were thrilled that there was a special – we love the element of surprise and the ensuing mixed results. Before long, a giant bowl of goulash and a huge plate of roast pork and dumplings arrived. Dumplings! The table bowed a bit under the burden.
The goulash was out of this world. Meat, sausage, onions, peppers and a sauce that was pure Bohemian magic.
The special was this – roast pork, bread dumplings, sweet gravy, some kind of fruit jelly-like substance and whipped cream.
Not whipped heavy cream by itself, but sugar laden whipped cream.
Once getting past that initial slightly off-putting, unexpected bite – we likened it to drinking a cola, only to realize it was root beer at the last second – we found pleasure in the mixture of salty and sweet. Added bonus – no dessert necessary.
We could have easily shared either one of these entrees, this was enough food for four people, but we were determined to eat it all.
Two hours later, we declared victory. With beers the bill only came to about $20 – unbeatable. The stroll a few blocks to our bed was about all we could take.
The next morning we put off our journey to Prague for a day to check out the town.
It could have been because it was such a beautiful day, or perhaps because we were awakened by a brass band playing in Palaký Square right outside our window, or it just seemed like the thing to do, but we are glad we did.
St. Barbara’s Cathedral dominates Kutná Hora from a hill overlooking the city, so it was the obvious first stop. The trek up took us past the Czech Museum of Silver, known as The Little Castle, and the Jesuit seminary.
Along the seminary is a walkway with a row of giant statues of thirteen saints and a spectacular view of the valley below. Because of the limited space, the path leads to the side door of the Cathedral.
A miner’s chapel had occupied the site for nearly a century.
Then in 1388 the miners had a big idea and an enormous project to build this Gothic masterpiece dedicated to St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners, began.
The work continued, on and off depending of the fortunes of the silver mines, until 1905 when it was finally deemed complete and the cathedral was consecrated.
Inside the church there are small chapels dedicated to saints and miners lining the walls, many with murals dating back to 1588 when the structure was finally enclosed.
Interestingly, because the cathedral was not financed by the church, and consecrated so late in its history – grand as it was – it was not the main church for the village.
That honor went to older Church of St. James, with the classic eastern European onion shaped dome, in the center of Kutná Hora.
Back down in town, we made our way to the Plague Column. This monument was raised after the last epidemic of Black Death in 1713.
The fifty feet high tower was carved by František Baugut, also the sculptor of the thirteen statues of saints along the walkway leading to St. Barbara’s.
The baroque memorial begins at the base with tormented looking victims, topped by prayerful saints and crowned with a victorious Virgin Mary.
As we contemplated the anguished figures on the tower, we noticed that many of the letters in the inscriptions were highlighted in gold. On further inspection we realized that all of these correspond to Roman numerals and were curious as to the explanation.
Turns out that the numbers add up to six thousand one hundred and forty six, the total number of victims claimed by the plague in Kutná Hora. Wow. This must be like what the guy in The Da Vinci Code feels like all the time!
Just around the corner from the column is Kamenný dum, known as the Stone House.
This Gothic dwelling from the 1400s is considered one of the better examples of a “burgher house,” or typical middle class Bohemian home.
The structure has been built onto over the years and sculptures depicting the ascent of the soul into heaven were added to its facade in the 1600s.
As with many of the important buildings here, it is now a municipal museum, depicting Czech life through the latter half of the last millennium.
On our way out of town we spotted a man laying in a new sidewalk.
Stopping to watch for awhile, it was fascinating to see the craftsmanship that goes into the beautiful cobblestone paths of the village.
Working exactly like his predecessors have for centuries, he carefully chose each stone, fit it into a spot and tapped it into place with a hammer. The connection to the past and the present was striking because his method was ancient but the result will last for generations into the future.
Yes, no doubt some wanderer in the year 2525, if man is still alive, will look to his spouse, if woman can survive (whoa whoa), and say, “damn, walking on these cobblestones all day has worn my feet out!”
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com