Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Chandelier of Skulls & The Birds That Fly At Night - Kutna Hora & Prague, Czech Republic

Human skulls perch, jawless, on a ledge by an ossuary window; cobwebs building gossamer bridges between them.

It's easy to imagine them mocking you. It must be my morbid sense of humor, but I didn't feel disturbed or sad in the Sedlec Ossuary. Surrounded by the bones of over 40,000 people - strung up into chandeliers and bedazzling the windowsills with femurs and fibulas - I am ashamed to admit that the first thing that popped into my head was a scene from The Last Unicorn, one of the cornerstones in my personal childhood film canon. 

And I chuckled. And probably should have felt guiltier, because we were inside of a church, after all. 

It took us a couple of hours to get to the Bone Church in Kutna Hora. Our morning actually started at the butt crack of dawn, because I don't understand the concept that when on vacation I am supposed to relax. As painful as those first few minutes are when the alarm clock goes off, and I am cursing into my pillow, I love meandering around cities before people are awake. Not only is the light perfect for photos, but you usually avoid the hordes of tour groups. Usually. Not always so... as you will see below.  

You just can't beat the color at sunrise. You can't. Sunsets are beautiful, but often crowded. I love the peace in sunrise; the pinks and purples that hang thickly in the low fog. The color feels so close, tangible. It changes so drastically and so boldly every few minutes as the fog dissipates. Sunsets are more golden, more far away, more defined, with the clouds floating away so far up in the sky and on the horizon. 

I love that short period of time where the street lamps are still on as the sun comes up. The sculptures on the Charles bridge are so large and solid. They are dark silhouettes against the foggy sky, except where the turquoise patina has crept into the crevices, and where the birds have perched; thin white stripes of bird droppings draping the shoulders of every saint.

When I saw this large monstrosity of a group from the other end of the bridge, wearing bright matching jerseys, I thought that it was a large group of my people. A big group of Americans boldly displaying their touristyness with their loud guffaws at dawn. A morning rooster call, if you will. Alas, they were just a group of our neighbors to the north. I was a bit relieved. And annoyed that they were impossible to avoid in my photos of the bridge.

The contrasting hues of the blindingly bright reddish orange on their jerseys with the lavender sky is actually quite lovely. Castles in the background. Canucks in the foreground. Juxtaposition at its finest. Think positive.

All of their shirts say "Fungals" on the front. Some sort of play on words that I'm sure must tie together their ability to have a good time with being a large group of canadian women... hopefully not a common interest in ringworm and athlete's foot. Note the large maple leaf on the back of that jacket. Upon closer thought, these must be hockey jerseys (Thank you, HOCKEYWITCH 13). The sport of their people. Most were wearing beanies, sorry toques, the hat of their people. I observed from afar before closing in for more inspections. 

We made the train to Kutna Hora by negative 1 minute. We hopped on as it was starting to pull away from the station and could not find a single seat left. We rode in between train cars, sitting on the floor of the bathroom car. It simultaneously felt like we had our own private car, and like we were stowaways. Other than the occasional awkward moment where someone needed to use the bathroom, it wasn't a bad way to travel.

Kutna Hora, the city of the bone church, smells like honey and sewers. We both noticed it as soon as we got off of the train and followed the train tracks into town. So sweet. The air was so sweet and delightful. And then BAM, the smell of sewer. Then BAM again, honey. It was so weird. I noticed a lot of people with beehives in their yard. The buzzing puts Ryan on edge. He has a humorously large fear of bees. I love bees. I used to rescue them from my grandma's pool when I was a kid - set them on the side of the pool and wait for them to dry off the chlorine and fly away. 

When we got back into Prague, we happened to stumble upon a farmer's market. We passed on the Deer and wild boar bratwurst, and partook in the hot cheese potatoes, melted directly from the giant roll of cheese. 

We encountered a lot of rude tourists in the popular part of town near the old clock tower. We heard the intro song from pulp fiction being played on violin. We saw hundreds of people wait anxiously by the clock tower and stood amongst them, waiting to see what all the commotion was about. People were so aggressive, pushing for a better view of the clock tower. It had to be worth it.

After several minutes, everyone began to cheer and take pictures. We realized that a very tiny, comically quiet, golden rooster, came out and crowed on the hour.  I think it was a rooster. See him there? So tiny and gold? He is right below the arch, above all the pretty astronomical clock goodness.

I was so unimpressed with the tiny golden rooster, that I almost wrote off the main old town square right then and there. I was so over the clock tower. I missed the castle area on the other side of the river. It was more touristy, way more crowded, and people were pushy over here in old town. Ryan wanted to go up the tower, a tower that had an hour long line and cost a few bucks. Being cheap and bitter about lines, I almost convinced him it wasn't worth it. But, I obliged him. And my god. I'm so glad he is right most of the time.

Found this bit of graffiti on the stairway up the clock tower.

Prague continues to prove it is the real Disneyland

Ryan's prince charming shot

My fairy princess shot

I didn't even have to tell Ry to look longingly in the distance, he was truly enamored

Just stop it, Prague. Stop being so beautiful. It's unfair to the other cities.

Click to biggify!

I really wanted to see the old Jewish Quarter of Prague on our trip. As one of the few jewish ghettos that remained intact after world war II, it is unique. Since one side of Ryan's family came from Czechoslovakia, I thought it was important for us to see the jewish quarter from a historical standpoint. I had heard about the bizarre looking cemetery with the tombstones crammed in next to each other at odd angles. 

Of course, it was just our luck that we arrived during sunset on Yom Kippur. Everything was closed. Ryan lost some jew points for not realizing this sooner. We were able to peek into the cemetery from a small fist sized hole in a wall that I crammed my camera lens into.  

For some reason, this building in the jewish quarter reminded me of some of the buildings you find in San Francisco.

The marionettes of Ryan's people

Somehow we stumbled upon the National Marionette Theater and went in to see a puppet performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni. The theater was so tiny. It felt miniature. Somehow they fit balcony seating into a room that looked as small as a two story version of my own living room. The chairs even felt small. I know I have a larger than average rear end, but I had to squeeze my butt into those chairs. Once my butt was firmly planted in the seat, I noticed the very upright, hard, wooden backs. It was like some sort of mild torture device, the kind that aims to annoy you into submission. Ryan and I felt like giants. Nevertheless, the performance was really fun to watch. The marionettes were huge. I'm talking about 4 ft tall. Despite how cute it was, Ryan and I were exhausted and I kept nudging Ryan as he nodded off every few minutes. We left during intermission and took the couple mile trek home in the dark.

When we got to the Charles Bridge to cross back into the Castle Quarter, we noticed that lots of things were swooping around in the sky. Big white birds took off from the rooftops in unison, like big albino bats against the moon. I tried so hard to capture it, but I just couldn't get a picture of them in flight, it was so dark. But here they are on the rooftop, waiting a couple minutes before their large group flights in the sky.

Violinists and musicians played on the Charles bridge, some playing classical music, others playing ABBA. I searched for the glass harpist we had seen the night before, but he was nowhere to be found.  Part of me was glad. It made that moment special. Happenstance. I feel lucky to have stumbled upon it once, and if I had seen it again, I would have been comparing it to the first time. I wouldn't have been able to appreciate it as much. 

For the same reason, I don't plan to ever go back to Prague - no matter how much I love it. There are just too many wonderful things to see, and every place I fall in love with confirms that more. I have so many places to go. I could be in Venice by the same time tomorrow. And I would.

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