We’ve well crossed the halfway mark for the year, and those of us with kids will soon be hunkering down for the kids’ impending exam season. (My household is in holding position for the IB.) Now’s not a bad time to start planning for the year-end holidays and look out for good deals from the airlines. If you’re planning a private tour, which is something I often do, it gives you and the agent plenty of time to organise a really great personalised itinerary. On one such holiday to Prague, we asked the travel agency — our favourite Chicago-based R.Crusoe & Son — to weave in a few really special places to visit. In addition to the usual tourist sights, this is what we saw and what you should see if you’re heading that way.
Sedlac Ossuary in Kutna Hora. Not for the faint-hearted, and indeed, not for every taste, this grisly skeleton church is one perverse piece of aesthetics. Located in the pretty town of Kutna Hora about an hour’s train ride/drive from Prague, it’s a relatively small church whose entire interior is covered in the skulls and bones of over 40,000 people, from plague victims of The Black Death in the 14th century and soldiers killed in the Hussite wars in the 15th century.
These bones were made into huge elaborate chandeliers, banners, arches and even a family crest. Look out for display cases which show some skulls of people who died during the past war, sporting great holes in their skulls. Makes you ponder about life and death. But about 15 minutes of morbid fascination is enough. Then we moved on to the majestic UNESCO-Heritage stamped St Barbara’s Cathedral a short walk away, with its gorgeous paintings, stained glass windows, soaring arches and decorated ceilings. After that, stroll around the picturesque town to see its quaint, historic architecture, the public drinking fountain and sit by a cafe and sip some local wines.
The Strahov Monastic Library. This goes down as one of the top most magical places I have ever set foot in. We saw this in an art textbook some time ago, and the daughter said she would really love to see it. So when we realised we were heading to Prague, we asked the travel agent to see if they could organise a visit there. They did. They made some special arrangements to get is in to see, feel and touch the incredibly old books.
On average the books around us dated from the 1500s, all wrapped in bleached pig skin softened with time. The “really old” books are locked away, the oldest being a bible dating back to circa 800AD. The library is stunning to say the least. The globes, the writing tables were what the monks actually used to write or copy the books around us. What’s even more amazing is that when we visited, the library was not actually open to the public. You could take a peek from the door, but we were so blown away that they had arranged a special visit just for us. Now, from what we understand, the library is open to limited numbers. You can get the information here.
The Lennon Wall. Take a leisurely stroll around the city of Prague and make your way to the Lennon Wall near Mala Strana, near the French Embassy. It’s a beautiful wall completely filled with graffitti, many with references to the Beatles, and Lennon in particular. You could spend quite some time reading the graffiti and appreciating the street art, which is really quite clever. But what makes this wall so special is its role in the fight for freedom when Czechoslovakia was still under communist rule in the 80s. Western pop was banned then, including The Beatles, who sang about peace. But the youth were agitating for freedom, and would scrawl anti-communist graffiti on the wall at night — considered subversive to the state and which could have gotten them arrested.
When Lennon was murdered in 1980, he became something of a heroic figure to the youth then, and at night, the youth would write tributes to Lennon in the form of lyrics from his songs, even pictures of him, and their own thoughts about freedom and peace. Every time the authorities white washed the wall, new graffiti would appear the next morning, of poems and paintings of Lennon. It became a symbol of the youth’s non-violent rebellion against the regime, and some believe it played a role in inspiring the Velvet Revolution which ended communist rule in the country in 1989. Graffiti still continues to be painted on the wall in tribute to Lennon, and the owners of the wall — the Knights of the Maltese Cross — continue to allow it.
Where to stay: The Four Seasons Prague is perfectly located for exploring Prague, just by the river and a short walk to the iconic Charles Bridge. Get the Renaissance Rooms (at least) which were renovated relatively recently. They are a very decent size (from 40 sq m) and are very tastefully appointed in classic European style with a contemporary restraint. The food is very decent, too, in its all-day bistro, if you’re too tired to venture out after a long day of walking. Sit by the terrace and watch the river in the sunset (if the weather permits). They also surprise you with a small dessert treat every evening at turndown.
(This trip was my own personal holiday, paid fully by myself. Recommendations here are not paid for nor sponsored. )