Czech Republic

For me, the Czech Republic always conjured up images of gritty, gothic buildings, with people scurrying about their business in the rain. While this is obviously a mental caricature, probably created from the likes of the films Blade 2 and Underworld being filmed there, the parts of the country we visited do live up to the preconceptions I had, at least without the vampires (or vampire hunters in the case of Blade).

We travelled from Bratislava to Prague, and having booked our seats, it was our turn to try and ignore the people crammed into the aisle of the overbooked train. While we did feel for them, the best we could do was advise those who we spoke to while boarding that next time they should reserve a seat. Prague central station looked more like an airport than a train station, but we managed to navigate to our hotel without too much trouble. Staying in the hotel was cheaper than dorm beds, an ever increasingly recurrent theme on this trip. One thing that can catch you out as a budget traveller, however, is staying somewhere without any self catering facilities, as you will end up spending more money on food than what you may have saved on accommodation.

One of the primary tourist attractions both Jess and I really wanted to see was the Sedlec Ossuary, located about an hour away from Prague in a town called Kutná Hora. Known colloquially as “The Bone Church”, it became a very popular site to be buried in the late 1200s. The abbot at the time, upon returning from the Holy Land with a small vial of earth from Golgotha (the place where christ is said to have been crucified), sprinkled the earth all over the church grounds. Over the next two centuries, so many thousands of people were buried there that there was simply no more room left. A half blind monk was tasked with the job of exhuming the bones and storing them in the ossuary. Around 1870 the church employed a woodcarver to organise the heaps of bones, and the result is the incredibly macabre decor you can see today.

The weather was gloomy and miserable, and fit the mood perfectly. As you descend down the stairs into the catacombs, you are confronted with thousands upon thousands of bones. Although there were a number of other visitors, thinking about the reality that you are surrounded by the remains of people, that all once walked around, and had their own lives blocks all of that out. Despite the fact that everyone laid to rest here is now anonymous, I still felt as though there was great care and respect given, as the attention to detail in the arrangement was staggering. While I’m not sure if I would want my remains to wind up in a place like this, I can certainly see the appeal.

The following days were spent in Prague, doing the usual things. We went on a free walking tour, learning facts and important dates in the city's history, 95% of which I have forgotten. While knowing the history does help, Prague, at least for me, can be appreciated simply by walking around and taking in the atmosphere, which it has in spades. Walking down the streets lined with gothic and neo-classical buildings, you often have to stop as the almost narcotic aroma of a chimney cake stand hits you.

The food in general was a high point, having some similarities to Hungarian cuisine, with hearty goulash dishes being a staple. We found a brilliant restaurant that served cheap, well made traditional dishes right in the centre called Havelská Koruna. Not fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but to have a hot, hearty meal at the end of a day of walking around was truly a welcome thing.

One of the main attractions in the city centre is the astronomical clock, built in the 1400s. This is the worlds oldest functioning astronomical clock. Every hour, the apostles (well, little mannequins thereof) walk past two windows up the top of the clock. However, it’s the main dial that really captured my imagination. Later that night we were able to go up to the top to get a birds eye view of the city, but I have to apologise for the potato-cam quality pictures, as it was quite squeezy and there was no way I could use my monopod to get a sharper image.

The lift inside the clock from the bottom.
The lift again. I like the retrofuturistic feel to it, like a medieval spaceship.

Another fantastic area is the Prague Castle, located up a hill above the city, it provides excellent views of the city, as well as being beautiful in itself. The area, which is made up of numerous buildings and churches, currently houses the Czech president, but has a history dating back to the 9th century. The most famous church is probably the St. Vitus church, a masterpiece of gothic architecture, which was built in it’s current form in the mid 1300s.

It’s hard to define exactly what about Prague it is that I enjoyed so much. Sure, there are plenty of individual sights to point to, but I think the city is more than the sum of it’s parts. We spent much of our time simply sitting in the main square, munching on chimney cakes or drinking a beer, watching street performers and simply soaking up the atmosphere.

For me personally, I think Prague is what I was hoping or expecting Budapest would be. The two cities are often compared, and Budapest, as far as I have seen is often favoured by people making those comparisons. There are many things that can have an affect on ones perception of a place; weather, mood, prices etc. Being on the road for so long, each place you visit becomes a part of your life, so it can so it can be difficult to stay objective, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This blog was never intended to be a travel guide, but merely a journal of my experiences.

The next stop on the trip was Berlin, a city that I had been looking forward to. With any luck I won’t be too lazy, and will write the entry before I have forgotten everything.

— Thomas 2016.03.14

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