The Mystery of the Green Lobster – Kutna Hora, Czech Republic – Day 5

Oh, breakfast.

The best way to start another long day of touring, walking, and traveling, certainly, and I appreciated the built-in breakfast part of our hotel stay. I really appreciated the bacon, real, smoked European bacon (much like British bacon rashers) which I hadn’t enjoyedin quite some time. With hot coffee and bacon to fortify me, it was time to catch the shuttle van to Prague’s main train station, Praha hlavni-nadrazi.

At the train station, it was very easy to get tickets for the one train we wanted, but the problem came in when everything on the ticket was in Czech. I had no idea what any of the numbers meant, and we needed to find our train platform. We tried watching the television, which had various numbers on it for other cities, but Kutna Hora did not display a platform number yet.

The train ride in an individual
apartment was so…Harry Potter.

Curious, I went into a local store to ask the woman at the desk if she could tell me if the number happened to be on the ticket since I couldn’t read it. Most of the younger Czech speak three languages – Czech, English, and either German or Russian. I’ve not had an issue finding someone who spoke English. When I asked her, I got a very brusque, “Look at the television.” I explained that our train left in fifteen minutes, and it didn’t list a platform – did the ticket have anything on it? “Look at the television. That’s what I told you.”

Church of the Assumption
of Our Lady

Yipes. I asked a younger guy passing by, and he said, rather helpfully, “It sometimes doesn’t say until five or ten minutes before the train gets here,” and he was very nice. Glad I caught someone on a good day! I had found so far that younger men were much nicer than younger women, who had a tendancy to act like they were permenently PMSing and liked to be really prickly if I asked them for help. Dang. I’m polite, but I’m not from around here. Just a little help is nice…

Crest of the family who took over the
Ossuary’s care.

Once we found the platform – roughly ten minutes before the train arrived – we waited in the old vaulted platform for our train to arrive. Transportation was generally very punctual in Prague, which is appreciated too. It was another cold, gray-skied day, but at least there was no precipitation. The train arrived right on schedule, and it was a very comfortable traveling situation. The countryside flashed by intermittently as I read my book – The City of Dark Magic – and looked out the window.

Kutna Hora had two train stations, but trains from Prague dropped travelers off in the suburb of Sedlec, which was home of the famous ossuary anyway. Logically, our first visit would be there, then a long, long, LONG walk into town to St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

Ye olde choir stairs in church’s attic

Assumption’s attic

While many people from the train continued on to Sedlec Ossuary, a large, rather grand church to the left of the street attracted my attention. It was Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, a very recently restored church built during the 1100’s on top of an old Roman church. Since no one had stopped there first, Julie and I scored no lines and got our tickets much more easily. It was a combo ticket for the ossuary, Assumption church, and St. Barbara’s.

Assumption is beautiful – soaring naive, gorgeous gilt and painted altar pieces, and the chance to explore a cold, creepy attic room that used to be the choir loft. It’s a treat to walk through a medieval church’s attic, just by the bells, and into the loft where you can get a fantastic view of the entire inside of the church from the balcony. It’s a bit like a scene from a horror movie in there, but it was well worth the squeaking, creaking wood beneath my feet to see the whole church laid out before me.

Naive of Assumption Church

We checked out the preserved bones of old church leaders – carefully coffined in glass with flowers and whatnot decorating it – looked down into the ancient Roman ruins of the church.

From this church we turned right and walked up to Sedlec Ossuary, a very surreal trip through an older cemetary to the ossuary. We went inside, and instantly, we were greeted by the two large urns on either side of the staircase leading down into the actual ossuary, urns built out of human bones. With skull toppers. Vertebrae scooped around the top of the stairwell like a macabre Christmas garland.

The ossuary is similar to something out of a horror flick – dark, dusty spaces, human skulls and bones everywhere, candles burning in human skull-candelabra, and a noise like an air raid siren outside. The air is filled with dusty particles which glitter on the little bit of light available. There is a certain dank smell to the room as well, and it’s not as large as one would imagine – it’s a rather confining space, piles of bones to the right and left behind metal netting, and the large family crest made out of bones. It’s a sight – something one must see to fully understand.

Bone Pyramid 

I think my first reaction was shock – I’m not accustomed to seeing a place decorated with human bones (40,000 people’s worth). Then, it reminded me of my tour through the Paris catacombs seven years ago, when I suddenly realized that we spend so much time in life gathering things, trying to look better than the next person, and then, we just – well, die. And then, we all look the same – white, crusty bones piled into the ground or the masoleum. And we spend more time like that than actually alive. It’s a creepy realization.

The cold chill – along with fathomless black holes in skulls staring back at me – made me want to jump out of the ossuary. Upstairs, there is a display of Cubist-like Stations of the Cross paintings. And, after one last circle walk around the ossuary, we decide to make our way into the main town centre, which is a heck of a walk, roughly 3 km.

We walked, rather frostily, into town, which took about a good hour as we decided to go up the hill to the square. By now, we were both rather hungry and cold, so we found a local cafe, which turned out to be more of an ice cream parlour than a restaurant, and ordered crepes and for me, a hot latte.

After eating, we still had about another 1 km walk to St. Barbara’s Cathedral, the mega-Gothic church southwest of the square. Several other smaller, pretty churches dotted the streets, including the lovely St. James Cathedral, whose churchyard we crossed to go down the street to St. Barbara’s.

Town square of Kutna Hora

We walked down toward the cathedral, past a lovely stone wall still covered with green vines, and then upwards, keeping away from the winding creek below. The trees still looked like they should have back in October, and despite it being a cold winter, some color still existed on the leaves.

Inside the enormous church, it seemed even colder than outside. After several days of seeing churches and church artifacts, I felt that everything was starting to look the same as the last place. With its fantastical stained glass windows and soaring buttresses, it was certainly worth the touring.

St. Barbara’s was definitely beautiful on the inside, as it was built to be a sister church/rival to St. Vitus

St. Barbara’s, in the distance

Cathedral in Prague Castle. Barbara was the patron saint of miners, which is a large part of the region’s economy – with restored wall art and paintings to view. One painting, a sequence based on the seasons, I noticed a green lobster painted into the sun of one of the scenes.

So, this was the third or fourth time a “green lobster” had shown up in art. My hotel name was “Green Lobster” and the cute little cafe we’d discovered had a green lobster off to the side of its door. Now, here was a green lobster painted into a sun. My first goal was to Google this and find out the mythology behind it. It was a mystery that I wanted to solve. *

The sun was trying very hard to
appear on such a cold, snowy day.

We spent some time wandering in St. Barbara’s until we figured it had to be warmer outside than inside the church. Snow fluttered down, soft, fat snowflakes, and we trudged back into town. We passed over a bridge with statues of saints, said to be created to rival the Charles Bridge in Prague.

A block from the cathedral we came upon an inviting Czech restaurant that looked pretty deserted but warm and toasty, which was what we needed. It was almost like a B&B style type of place, with little rooms filled with tables with chintzy cloths and dusty fake flowers in the centre. Dark green walls, dark brown wood, and halls filled with smoke, beer mug stains on the cloths. Pretty and so very Eastern European.

St. Barbara’s Cathedral

As we defrosted, we ordered dark draught Czech beers (some of the best beer I’ve ever had, bar none) and filled our bellies with homemade sausage, flour dumplings, sauerkraut, and fried potatoes with onions. We ate until we couldn’t eat any more. Filled with a delicious meal and dark beer, we were rather sleepy and very unwilling to walk all the way back to the 3.5 km away train station. Besides, the snow was blowing harder, right into our faces, and I was freezing cold.

Fortunately, our waiter was very nice and told us we could catch a taxi in the town square. For 150 cz, we got a warm ride back to the train station. This train required a transfer in the next town, and we had to wait awhile for more people to show up before the train departed.

Back toward town: more lovely
red roof tops and church spires.

Back in Prague, we ended up getting screwed over by an overpriced taxi (good travel tip – don’t grab a cab from the train station. Walk to Wenceslaus Square and get a fair price cab). We dropped our things off at the hotel and met again for a hot coffee and a short walk to Shakespeare and Sons Bookstore, near the Charles Bridge. It’s a pretty large English-language bookstore where we were able to pick up some interesting reads – both fiction and nonfiction – about Prague’s history. I was particularly interested in books about WWII/Holocaust history in Prague, since that is the time in world history that has always fascinated and horrified me in turns.

Bridge in Kutna Hora to
mirror Charles Bridge
in Prague.

After the bookstore, we picked up bakery goods again to tide over any hunger that might sneak up on us later. I went for my classic apple strudel – amazing, by the way – and the trdalo, the cinnamon sugar pretzel-like thing from the Easter market.

We were both tired, and the next day was our last full day in Prague, and I had to check train times out to Karlstejn Castle, another good day trip from the city. I was feeling a bit melancholy that it was one of my last nights in Prague, especially since I had come to absolutely love the city.

And, though it might be a bit heretical coming from an anglophile such as myself, I really was thinking that Prague might even beat out London on my top 10 cities…

**Nota bene: And solve it I did. After doing some extensive Googling back at my hotel room, I had found that both lobsters and crabs are used to represent the zodiacal sign of “Cancer” (the crab) which means, usually, June/July months, when plants were plentiful and greenery was everywhere. The green lobster is quite symbolic in this way in Czech art and architecture, it appears to this traveler.

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