Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Flexible Schedules are the Best

Visiting a place one time is all that is possible on many occasions. However, if you can go back to a place a few times it is generally worth the trip.

In the Czech Republic, I've been to Cesky Krumlov, Karlovy Vary and now Kutna Hora twice. They are beautiful places all. Czechs usually poke a little fun at Kutna Hora though. There isn't a lot of industry there, save a giant Phillip Morris factory that you're not going to get a tour of. I personally think it is a fairly underrated place.

From what I can see Kutna Hora depends a lot on tourism and the main attraction is the Sedlec Ossuary which isn't technically in Kutna Hora, but rather Sedlec -- funny that.

The ossuary is a small chapel with a graveyard. The basement of the chapel happens to be decorated with the bones of tens of thousands of people who were buried there. Ossuaries and catacombs aren't really something we have in the US. There is enough land to throw bodies in for eons. However, considering the fact that there are more people alive on Earth right now than the sum total of those who have died in the entire course of human history it is easy to see how some places might run out of room to keep corpses.

A friend of mine had a summer job at the Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Ky when he was in high school and he once asked the head grounds keeper if anyone was worried about running out of space for graves. The reply was that if people were to die at roughly five times the rate they are now the owners of the cemetery would start to think about solutions in 100 years. I don't think one can build a parking garage in Europe without unearthing some sort of ancient graveyard. As such, ossuaries are a novelty for Americans.

This is clearly evident by the unending line of tour busses lining the road in front of the Sedlec Ossuary. I recommend getting to the place before 10a.m. if you'd like for it to not be packed with idiots who don't understand the meaning of the word "reverence." It just so happens the place is still a church, and a graveyard. Take off your hat and use your inside voice. I'm talking to you American kids on your senior trip. Yelling to your friends who are on the complete other side of the building, however small it may seem, is just not acceptable.

Ranting aside, the ossuary hasn't changed much from when I was there a year ago. I'm pretty sure they still had the same light bulbs. If you do go, do yourself a favor and take a look at the chapel upstairs, no one else does. You will be alone and there is lots of extra information about the history of the ossuary and town.

Pretty much your standard fare here with skulls and bones stacked on top of each other. The light was nice inside the basement part of the chapel though and someone had placed a small flower arrangement on one of the corner areas. I won't bore you with a multitude of stacked-bone photos. If you really want to see those you can look back to my first post about the place.

The one thing I did forget to do last time I was here though was photograph the outside of the chapel. You really get to see that it is a functioning, although it really isn't difficult for a grave yard to function, graveyard. I did wander around a bit and learned a new Czech word "rodina." It means family and at first I thought, "wow, there sure are a lot of people with the same last name buried here. I'm slow sometimes.

There weren't a whole lot of other photos for me to take of the place that were different from when I was there last time and really it was getting so crowded that I just wanted to escape. So I worked on a few things and decided to make my way into town.

I was a little hungry so I went to a krcma (pub) that was not near the center and had some beer and lunch. The pub was also pretty empty except for the wedding that was happening in the garden. As far as city centers go, Kutna Hora's isn't exactly exciting. You could skip it and not miss anything. 

My plan after lunch was to visit the silver mine and take the tour, mainly because there is no other choice. For hundreds of years Kunta Hora was a center for silver mining. I thought this tour would be pretty cool. I waited patiently in line behind a elderly Ukrainian couple whose understanding of Czech was worse than mine and even worse than their understanding of English. The frustrated girl at reception was trying to explain something to them and all I could get from it, because she got pissed that they only understood Russian, was that something lasted one hour. 

When it was my turn at the counter I immediately told the girl I didn't speak any Czech. I lied, but in this case it was the right move. Czechs aren't really used to people who aren't native Czech speakers. Sometimes it is best to pretend you don't speak it at all, because if you say a few things you are answered with a rapid-fire completely impossible to understand fusillade of language and then you have to apologize and explain that you're an idiot and only understand a little Czech.

She told me the tour that goes down into the mine was sold out and that I should have made a reservation online in advance, oops. The only option was a tour of the museum, completely in Czech, that lasted an hour and started at 16:00. I'm not going to pay 150czk to have someone show me a museum and read signs to me in a language I can't understand. I can wander around and look at those signs and not understand them by myself thank you very much. I was a little disappointed by this, but my schedule was flexible so I decided to head over to the Church of Santa Barbara.

The light in the church was fantastic. I came across this great scene that spoke to me about breaking away from the pack and doing your own thing and thought it would be a fun photo.  

The upper gallery of the church was open and I decided to venture up there. If you can I think it is worth seeing. There is a lot of information about the history of the place and how the construction progressed from 1380 or something. The place is OLD. My favorite part of the history was a story about how the monks at the Jesuit college next door took over the church for a while and replaced the baroque roof with a renaissance one. Everyone hated it, except the monks of course, and as soon as the town got control back the first thing they did was replace the baroque roof. The church also happens to be one of the only ones in the world, if not the only one, with dual flying buttresses. I couldn't really find any information on it on the internet. You can see in the photos the double buttresses, and baroque roof.

As I was wandering around the church I noticed that people were setting up for some sort of symphonic concert. I didn't think a whole lot of it and I assumed that whatever event it was would begin long after I left. Then something started to happen about 16:00.

They started warming up. It was loud and chaotic and yet still impressive and beautiful. The acoustics in the place during the warmup were absolutely amazing. It was so loud that the above flautist was forced to play mere inches from this pillar to even have a chance of hearing himself. The funny thing was this tumultuous cacophony of noise was anything but an assault. It really did sound beautiful thanks the the design of the church. Then about 16:30 this happened.  

The warmup changed into a rehearsal of one of the pieces in set for the performance, complete with violin soloist. While the piece itself was beautiful, it wasn't really the most amazing composition I've ever heard. The sound however, was nothing short of moving. There really isn't any way to describe it with mere words. It was all around you and literally the most amazing "concert" I have ever seen in my entire life. The only thing I could think to do was try and record it at least a little bit. There is a video at the bottom here that I took with my phone. Watch it, listen to it. The sound is still impressive even though it was recorded with a crappy phone microphone. It was so moving and inspiring that I was actually glad the mine tour was sold out, because if it weren't for that unfortunate inconvenience I never would have experienced this beautiful moment.