As I rushed to catch the train from Prague to Kutná Hora I felt a little bit like Harry Potter when he searches for Platform 9 and 3/4… Does it exist?? Am I going to make it?? The reason behind my confusion started with the fact that my platform had a weird “S” behind it’s listing. As I asked around, someone told me the S stood for south, so I should go to the “left side” of the station, but as I hurried up the steps to the platform I was confronted by just about all letters other than S…
It was around “D” where I found an attendant who confirmed for me that I was indeed in the correct location… and it was around “E” where I ran into a group of English-speaking travelers asking the same question: Is this the platform for the train to Kutná Hora?!
They called themselves the “Squirtle Squad” and immediately welcomed me.
“You’re lost too?? Come with us! Join our family!” said a guy I would later come to know as “Ohio”.
A minute later the train pulled up and all ten of us piled inside a single cabin. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew it would be interesting to say the least.
On the train I learned how these 9 travelers had come to be connected, and how they had partied their way through Europe, bumping into one another in various locations along the way. Now they had all come together to stay in the same hostel dorm of the cleverly named Czech Inn. The Squirtle Squad was a group of partiers, with the lead girl having had her “last beer of the night” only hours prior to our AM train to Kutná Hora, but they were all interesting and fun-loving folk. The group was made up of four Aussie girls, one Aussie guy, two guys from Uruguay, a guy called Ohio, a girl called Alaska, and myself, Michigan.
Two of the girls had already been to the bone church of Kutná Hora, so upon arrival they served as our guides to navigate to the area. As we walked the streets, we had a “soundtrack to our lives”, thanks to portable spekers and Uruguay 1’s great taste in music. We were all smiling and walking with swag, when Ohio burst out and exclaimed, “You know those moments in life when it’s just like, ‘I’m exactly where I am supposed to be right now..’ Yeah, this is one of those moments…”.
We made it to the Ossuary of Kutná Hora and learned about the history of the place. A guy (Henry, the abbot of Sedlec) had gone over to the Holy Land of Jerusalem and brought back a handful of dirt from Golgotha. He sprinkled it on the cemetary’s ground outside the church, making it a desirable place to be buried. During the years of the plague in the 14th century and the Hussite wars of the 15th century more than 30,000 people died and were buried there. Years later, after running out of space, some monks removed the bones and started piling them around the church, and later eventually started making designs from the bones within the church. There are 4 pyramids of arm and leg bones, many arches of skulls, a chandelier made with every single bone of the human body, as well as many other designs. It is estimated that there are bones from over 40,000 people in the church, and it was incredibly impactful, and bizarre, to see these human remains stacked so artfully.
As the time came to move on, the Squirtle Squad raised their Squirtle hands and did a role-call to make sure no group member had been left behind. We made our way towards the main train station, but this is where my path split from my newfound friends. I wanted to explore the small town of Kutná Hora more, and the group was heading right back to Prague. With a Squirtle salute we fondly parted ways. As I walked through the town on my own I came to the city’s edge and walked along a river, then up a hill overlooking a vast expanse of trees starting to show the signs of autumn. I enjoyed my moments of solitude and nature, then made my way on to visit the beautiful St Barbara’s church before making my way back to catch an afternoon train to return to Prague.
While waiting on the platform to head to Prague I made one more wonderful connection for the day. I met a sweet pre-teen girl on her way to the city for violin practice. We talked and talked, and slept, and talked some more. She loved the opportunity to practice her English, and I loved hearing what she had to say about the small cities outside of Prague. We now follow each other on Instagram and the way she describes herself is charming- “A little girl in a big world”. It is exactly these types of connections that make me smile and help quench my thirst for exploration. You never know who you will meet, but the important thing is that you are open to whatever the connections may bring.
When I arrived back to the bustling city streets of Prague I felt rejuvenated in my travels. The wonderful conversations with the people of the day left me buzzing with positivity, but the time spent in nature added a sense of purity. With less than an hour of sunlight left in the day, I made my way to listen to the music on the infamous Charles Bridge. There, surrounded by strangers, I settled into the crowd, admiring the bridge’s sculptures and watching the sun sink below the skyline, leaving a warm afterglow. The jazz of the musicians floated in the air around me as I reflected on the day and welcomed whatever the night would have in store…
Well, the first stint of my nomadic life abroad has come to a close. Let’s call this The Central and Eastern Europe Edition. I chased busses, jumped bathroom stalls, slept in the houses of countless strangers, lived like a vagabond from country to country and made some of the best memories of my lifetime. I delighted in meeting dozens of new and wonderful people, and indulged in trying delicious (and sometimes not so delicious) local cuisines. I learned a lot about the cultures and the history of the countries I visited, and I explored cities and countrysides alike. As I often say, my eyes have had a beautiful life.
With this trial-run of backpacking travels I proved to myself and many others that when you are determined to make something happen, you can do it! There is no need to live in fear, simply seize the day!
When I was about halfway into my travels, I wrote a postcard to my beloved grandma, Oma, and in the limited 2inch space I tried to recap my highlights for her. There were dozens of amazing things that had happened in the first few weeks, but those that made the cut for the postcard went something like this:
– Stayed with a local fisherman in Croatia and cooked octopus salad
– Bathed for hours in the luxurious and relaxing baths of Budapest
– Experienced both Latin and Czech culture in Prague, and saw a church decorated with the bones of over 40,000 people in Kutna Hora
From there, I continued on with my travels to Austria, Slovenia, and Italy. If I had only two square inches for postcard highlights of my time in the countries that followed, they would be summed up as such:
-Tried on an astronomically expensive drindl and visited a cat cafe in Vienna
– Discovered roasted chestnuts in Ljubljana, Slovenia and put my crew/rowing skills to use with a rowboat on Lake Bled
– Enjoyed a vespa ride around the Italian countryside and indulged in every gastronomical pleasure that Italy had to offer
Of course there was so much more that took place in these 7 countries and 6 weeks of travel, but to see more details, without the “postcard highlight” overview, take a look at the blog entries for:
Veneto Region Italia