The Church of Bones (and Prague!)

I woke up in Kunta Hora feeling refreshed and ready for the day. It helped that I had a relatively short riding day to one of the most famous cities in Eastern Europe, and before I got on the road, I would make a stop at the Church of Bones – the main reason I had elected to stay in this little town that night. I felt enthusiastic and eager to start my day.

Lugging luggage across parking lots is never fun, but a necessary evil. In the United States, I always try to park my bike as close to my hotel room as possible, sometimes close enough that I can see it outside my room. Out in East Europe, it’s not uncommon for the parking lot to be a block away from your hotel. I had made the mistake of not loading/unloading close to the hotel entrance, so I was stuck with carrying my stuff out to the hotel parking lot. It wasn’t far and I pack fairly light, but it was hot out and I was sweating profusely by the time I had it all hitched up and was ready to go. I cooled off pretty quickly once I started moving though.

The GPS directed me to the church, which was a few kilometres away. I was afraid that parking might be an issue, so I parked a couple of blocks away outside another church. It was too hot to walk around in my gear, so I took my jacket and pants off, draped them on the bike and ran my steel cable lock through them and my helmet. This done, I crossed the street and walked a few metres to the Sedlec Ossuary.


I had first heard mention of this church in “Long Way Round” – the motorcycling documentary most adventure riders cite as their inspiration. Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman made a stop at this church on their way out of Europe towards Russia. The history of the church details that for myriad reasons, the church was considered sacred enough that a lot of people wanted to be buried in its grounds. They were soon being buried on top of each other after they ran out of space. In time, they started running out of space and one of the monks was charged with doing something with the bones. The end result was the church as it stands today. The tiny chapel is decorated with an elaborate chandelier and decorations all made from human bones. Macabre perhaps, but also a thing of beauty. It had looked spooky enough in the movie that I had made up my mind that someday I too would go visit this church. For some reason, I had imagined that it was in Romania, so imagine my surprise and delight from Christoph had mentioned that it was actually just an hour east of Prague! What a fantastic beginning to my journey!

The minute I walked through the doors of the chapel, I realized that reality was far removed from what I had imagined. Ewan and Charlie must have merited special treatment and the church must have been closed off to visitors while they filmed. Right now it was crammed full with tourists busily taking pictures. I cursed myself for not having stopped there the previous evening when there might have been fewer people.

I had to force myself to ignore the people buzzing all around me, The hushed spookiness and effect of the skulls and bones was entirely gone, but I could still appreciate the workmanship that had created this work of beauty. The chandelier was magnificent, as were the chains made of human bones that stretchec all the way across the ceiling and down the walls. The four corners of the chapel had gated off rooms piled from floor to ceiling with human skulls. I wondered at these humans that had lived and died hundreds of years ago, whose final resting place was this pocket of the world. What might they have thought at being the object of admiration of other humans from such a completely different era?

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After I’d had my fill, I left and walked down the street back towards my bike. I stopped at a couple of stores that sold crystal and picked up a set of beautiful hand-made crystal glasses, which I would later ship to Ljubljana from Prague. It would be a lovely momento of my time in the Czech Republic, and I dearly hoped they made the journey unscathed.
To Prague! 60 short km to this big city that I’ve wanted to see for so long. I entered the city in a deluge of traffic in too narrow roads. I found my hotel – St. Christopher’s Inn at the Mosaic House without too much difficulty. They got me checked in and I had to park my bike a few blocks away in an underground parking lot. I’d rather have just left it parked on the sidewalk, but so many people had warned me about theft in this part of the world that I reluctantly opted on the side of caution.

The Inn itself was probably one of the swankiest places I’ve ever stayed at, not unlike some of the new boutique hotels in the US catered towards younger people. The receptionists were hot, young guys who were Czech but spoke in American accents. The ground floor had a bar area with a gigantic projector screen that was showing the British Superbike race with electronic music playing in the background. Welcome to Prague! I felt like I was in a movie.


I took the elevator to the fifth floor to my room. The corridors were dark with wood panneling and pleasantly perfumed. My room had a single bed with huge, soft, square pillows (I made a mental note to find pillows like these for my apartment back home.) :P The sight of that comfortable bed made me want to spend the entire afternoon indoors, curled up with a book. I was on vacation after all!

I went back downstairs to the restaurant, ordered some goulash and potatoes, which were excellent, and ate while watching the end of Superbike race. We had to come up with something like this for Seattle, I told myself. Our MotoGP nights held at our apartments on our LCD TVs were great, but what I really wanted was to ride to a big pub and watch the races on a movies theatre like screen while drinking good beer.

I fulfilled my resolve to spend the afternoon in bed with a book. I think I liked being on vacation.

Towards the end of the day, I decided to drag myself outside and walk to the main city centre to have a looksee and maybe a bite to eat. It was about a 15 minute walk to there, with numerous cool little shops lining the streets. They were closed now, but it was fun to check out the window displays and thinking about which ones I’d go to the next day.

As I neared the city center, I had the same reaction as I did in Vienna. I froze at the sight of a billion tourists thronging the streets. They didn’t have the smoking ban here either and it felt like everyone smoked. I wandered miserably for about an hour before  giving up and retreating to my hotel. I decided that I would wake up early the next morning and walk back again to the see the city before everyone woke up.

This is precisely what I did end up doing. On day 2, I saw a few of the sights like the astronomical clock, and did a little bit of shopping. I also caught a musical performance at the Municipal House in the evening where a few members of the Prague Symphony performed selected pieces by Mozart and Dvorak. It was delightful to hear Eine Kleine Nachtmusik being performed live in such a beautiful place. That made two musical performances in two gorgeous cities so far! I felt pretty lucky and privileged to have experienced them.

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The next morning I intended to head out early, see the Prague castle, take some pictures and then head north to Berlin.

In hindsight, I think Prague is a city that I would like to come back to with a group of good friends someday. I’d probably want to keep avoiding the more touristy parts of the city and experience more of the nightlife instead.

Update from Kutna Hora…

I was riding up a steep, cobblestone street trying to find the turn my GPS was asking me to take only to find that it didn’t exist. The street I was on looked like it was going to end in gravel. I was tired, sore, hungry and thirsty and just wanted to find a place to rest. Asking for directions was out of the question seeing as my Czech was almost as non-existent as most people’s English out there. And then the GPS froze. In my despair I wondered why on earth was I there and what had possessed me into coming here and thinking I could do this.

Fast forward to a few hours later, after a good meal and rest, and flying through one of the many little backroads leading up north from the Czech border and I knew exactly why.

It’s unfortunate that riding isn’t consistently a euphoric experience where everything is always right, the sun is always warm, but not too warm, it never rains, there is no traffic or construction on the roads you happened to pick, little children on the street smile and wave and blow kisses at you and your Garmin Zumo never freezes. Anyone who has been doing this for a while knows that reality has its way of crawling into your dream motorcycling vacation and turning it into your worst nightmare in the flash of a second. The highs and lows that come with it are not unlike being in a turbulent relationship. At the end of the day, whether you think it was worth it is what determines how much longer you’re going to be in it.

So it was with today. I got out of Vienna as planned. I appear to need very little sleep these days and wake up at 6:30 like clockwork even if I go to bed after midnight. The good Christoph guided me to a couple of spots where I could see some good views of Vienna. Unfortunately there was a hazy fog hanging over the city, and I wished I had taken him up on his offer of seeing it last night instead.

He rode with me to Klosterneuburg where I stopped to get a full tank of gas and then we said goodbye. Words cannot express how grateful I am for everything he helped me with, in spite of being a complete stranger. Of course, I could have made it this far on my own, but to have someone get me through that first intimidating day of riding in a foreign country, putting me up at his place for three nights, taking me out with his friends, helping me fix and troubleshoot stuff with the bike, helping me plan out routes and generally do a hundred little things makes me feel like there still are good people in the world who look out for each other. It took a lot of the pressure off and helped me ease into the ride.

Riding to the border of Austria and Czech Republic was slow and boring. I passed through endless little towns all of which looked so deserted and unnerving that they reminded me of The Village of the Damned. It was really windy too and I always get a little psychotic when it’s windy out. My helmet gets super noisy, I constantly feel like I’m going to get blown off the bike, I have the death grip of doom on the handlebars, and I feel like I’m going to crash and die any minute. I’m not sure if this is some sort of disorder that only manifests in my head, because most other riders appear to be immune to it. :|

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The aforementioned getting lost and tired and frustrated happened in the early afternoon. That’s when I took a deep breath, stopped at a restaurant and decided to go get a good meal, even though my original intention was to just grab something quick from a gas station to save on time.

My heart sank when I saw that the menu was entirely in Czech, but with the help of the super-nice waitress, I managed to order a roasted fish and a salad. I wasn’t expecting much but the fish was probably the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten – it had to have been doused with its own weight in butter to taste that good, but I tried not to think about that. I was surprised to find that it was really cheap too. Apparently the exchange rate is about 24 Czech koruna per euro, so my meal cost less than 5 euros total. It would probably have been a good $30 meal in Seattle. There was a bit of muddle when it came time to pay and I produced a 50 euro note, and the waitress had only 20 euros. Apparently they prefer to use their local currency to the euro. I asked her to give me my change back in koruna, killing two birds with one stone. It saved me a trip to the ATM to get local money, and she didn’t have to deal with paying me back in euros.

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After my meal, I was considerably tranformed. I had gotten off the main highway and was taking the smaller roads now. They were super narrow which made me a bit nervous, but I got used to it soon. The landscape until then had been very flat, like the American midwest, but there were pleasant little copses of trees and small towns to break up the monotony. The roads also had a lot of elevation changes. The temperture was perfect too. About the only aggravating thing was a couple of times when I got turned around by construction and the Zumo’s detour function didn’t work that well. I wasted a good hour going back and worth between a set of roads around this one town that I thought I’d never leave.

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Leave it I did though because come 5:30 I was fed up, enabled highways/interstates on the GPS and took the fastest route up to Kunta Hora. It wasn’t all that bad either, and that worked out well. I got into town around 7, found a 40 euro room in the downtown area and checked in. The room is clean and comfortable and my bike got gated parking.I

I got dinner and wandered around the deserted town  little bit before returning back to my room.

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Tomorrow I plan to wake up early and go see the Sedlec Ossuary (Church of Bones) before heading west to Praha.

All in all, a good day of riding! So I guess this partcuolar relationship continues.