Sunday, 14 September 2008

Kutná Hora

Kutná Hora is an unremarkable little town. The architecture pales compared to the olde worlde charms of Prague's Old and New Towns, and the surrounding rural scenery's nothing special either. Probably the only reason you'd ever venture those eighty kilometres east of the Czech Republic's capital city would be to visit the ossuary (kostnice) in the little suburb of Sedlec.

On his return from the Holy Land in the thirteenth century, the local abbott brought with him some earth from Golgotha, the site of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, which he sprinkled in the monastery's cemetery. After this it was alleged that bodies interred here would decompose quickly, leaving only a bleached skeleton with no rotting flesh after only three days. Sedlec became the fashionable town for dead folks to be seen in.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Black Death and Hussite Wars also increased the supply of bodies, and several excavations were made over time to exhume older remains and make room for the newly deceased. The piles of bones were beginning to mount.

In 1870, with the remains of an estimated 40,000 bodies on site, the local Schwarzenberg aristocratic family employed a woodcarver and carpenter by the name of František Rint to "tidy" them. The result was an interior makeover you're unlikely to see on HGTV. Using only skulls and bones he constructed huge bell-shaped mounds, over-sized chalices, a Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms measuring about ten feet across, and as a centrepiece, a massive chandelier with at least one of every bone in the human body. A more thorough history can be read at the official website.

I find most tourist spots a little predictable and tiresome. They're soul-less, over-commercialized, and lacking in any distinguishment. Not Sedlec. If I live to 120 I don't think I'll ever forget that little chapel and its beautiful, macabre decor.

Saturday, 13 September 2008


I see my noble cuz Stephen from California roughly every three years, thanks in no small part to Mr G Lucas of Marin County and his ever-declining Star Wars franchise. Oh, George, where did it all go wrong?

Anyhoo, it had been three years since the last meetup and no plans had been formulated for 2008. What to do? Stephen suggested Europe, since he was planning a cruise around France, Iberia, and the Med in the late summer. Sounded good, all that was needed was a specific city and a date.

Trouble brewed when I saw his itinerary. We couldn't rendezvous at the start of the trip in Amsterdam because I'd be unable to get time off work -- a colleague would be on his honeymoon at the time and the department was short-staffed. And the end date in Prague clashed with a big business meeting (Saturday 13th September) and my Dad's 70th birthday (Sunday 14th).

Things didn't look good until Stephen suggested combining the holiday with Dad's present, i.e. bring him along for the ride. Dad is Stephen's uncle, so it'd be a family reunion for them as well. Flights, insurance, and accommodation were sorted quickly thanks to this new-fangled t'interweb, and next thing I knew we were on an EasyJet flight to the Czech Republic. Skvělá věc!

Had a great time. Lots of walking on day one to take in the tourist staples (Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, St Vitus Cathedral, ye olde Stare Mesto, etc). Dined on dumplings and pork knuckles in the evening too, to immerse ourselves in the culture a little deeper. Day two took us south by train to Karlstejn Castle, before we returned in the evening to the capital city, Wenceslas Square, and a dead horse suspended from the ceiling of a shopping mall.

And day three... well, day three deserves its own blog post, frankly. In retrospect I'm not convinced it was the very best place to take someone for their 70th birthday, but it was quite an experience for the rest of us.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Fort William

After my success getting published at the end of June, I thought I'd give photojournalism a second go. For the last couple of years I've been a fan of Angela Mudge, the two-time (2006, 2007) Skyrunning champion from Scotland. She was competing at the annual Ben Nevis Race up and down Britain's highest mountain, which this year was part of the Skyrunner world series.

Good news: she won again. Bad news: the big newspapers had sent up a photographer on assignment, and besides, my shots turned out pretty poor. I didn't even bother submitting them.

Still, it was a nice weekend with some great weather. On the Friday I drove out to Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point on the British mainland. After a meandering drive along a winding single track road for miles and miles, I found there was nothing there but a lighthouse, and it was shut. Nice to see somewhere that hadn't succumbed to tourist-leeching consumerism.