My first view of Prague is from the plane window. I peer through the glass as we push our way through clouds and see the snow-white fields and small villages with red clay roofs. There is one other American on the flight and we quickly make a fleeting friendship as we go to find our bags. It is easy, we say farewell, and here I am.
I have a confirmation number for a nearby hotel. With bag in tow and a fine gray mist, I find the hotel and settle in for a short nap and shower. By evening I walk back to the airport to wait for Philip’s plane to arrive. I am so happy to see him partway around the world!
Within a day we are in a rental car heading towards the village of Nepomuk where a small house in the village will be our headquarters for the week. The house is clean and comfortable with a hob in the kitchen. It is very energy efficient with a tiny washer and modern lights.
We are the only Americans in the village, but within hours we make friends. Philip speaks respectable German, and mine appears to be returning little by little, so with smiles and gestures we manage.
We eat hard rolls, salami, kraut, potatoes, mulled red wine, beer and chocolate at every seating. The food is delicious, and we are trying everything.
After a few days in our new surroundings, we take the car into Prague and park it for a few days at the rental company. From now on we travel by foot, train and the Metro.
I wish I had enough words to describe Prague to you, but I don’t. The architecture is massive, artistic, and has not been ruined by the wars and the Communist rule. We find ourselves downtown at the Old Town Square. The Krist Kindl Markt fills the square with music, light and booths featuring every kind of food and craft found in the Czech Republic. At every turn there is hot mulled red wine, sausages and beer in kegs. Chestnuts are roasted on an open fire as are pecans and almonds. We find ourselves drawn to the Astronomical Clock as it announces each hour in a spectacular way.
Darkness comes early in Eastern Europe, and we have tickets for the concert at St. Martins in the Wall church. We are early and it is open seating so we sit in the front row, in the center. The music is of old world composers, those we all know … Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi and Albinoni. When they begin the piece by Albinoni, I weep. We then stroll across the St. Charles Bridge in the late evening.
It is another gray, drizzly morning and the train takes us into the town of Kutna Hora. This is the home of the Bone Church. We first heard about this from Carolyn and Elten Powers, who shared stories of their visit. I stand at the entrance of the church in total awe and respect for the dead before I even enter. The inside of the church is decorated with the bones of over 30,000 Czechs who died in the plague. These bones were unearthed in the 1700s and were stacked by a half-blind monk. In the 1800s these bones were brought into the church. The chandeliers, the confession booths, the chalice, the cupboards, the walls are all made of or covered with bones and skulls. We are hushed as we walk through in reverence to the dead, and spend hours just looking. One case is full of skulls with sword wounds from the Hussite wars.
We finally go back out into the mist and talk with Vladimir, one of the tour guides. We are curious about the graves since they look new and all are decorated with wreaths, candles, food, and flowers. Many of the graves are unmarked, however, except for last names. Vladimir tells us stories as he blows smoke into the air from his cigarette. When the family stops paying the dues for the graves, the bones or ashes are all dug up, dumped into a bone recycling area. The grave and the stone are then resold, therefore no dates or first names or sayings are on most graves.
The Czech Republic is fascinating. My stories could and will fill volumes in my own diaries.
As for now, we celebrate the Solstice here in our new village, then pack up. I’ll see you next in Hungary!