The question “Have you traveled a lot while studying and living in Prague?” often gets answers such as: “Yes, of course! I have been to Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona.”
But few students tend to travel outside the capital throughout the country. “Ah, no. I haven’t been outside Prague in the Czech Republic,” says Robert Muzeski, a Macedonian business student at the AAU who has been living in Prague for the past year and a half.
Prague is truly a stunning city. It attracts a lot of visitors. It is the main reason for people coming to the Czech Republic. But the country has a lot more to offer if one is eager about traveling a bit further.
The beauty doesn’t always lie in the architecture of great buildings, bridges and monuments nor in glorious historical moments. Sometimes it is the legend and mystery, the creativity and the singularity that attracts people. Even though they are not as famous as the Charles Bridge, they still have their admirers.
It is said that Houska Castle, the castle built for no purpose, has a great designation indeed. It is built in a place so inconvenient that no one could ever use it for a meaningful cause. If one examines the way it was constructed, it seems as if it was supposed to keep something inside. The legend says that the chapel of the castle was founded on a rock that held the gate to hell.
“I love mystery TV shows and I also liked the movie ‘The Ninth Gate’ with Johnny Depp so I might be curious to visit that castle,” says Roman Oeschger, an international relations graduate student from Switzerland.
There are Gothic paintings on the walls which show a half-woman half-animal holding a bow with her left hand and pointing it at a human. In the days when the castle was built, people believed that left indicated something odd and sinister. It is also said that the word “houska” comes from the Celtic word “gosca” which means gate. Creepy, isn’t it?
Getting there: Buses leave Prague’s Holesovice station (www.idos.cz) for Duba, which connects with the bus to Blatce, a two-hour trip for 110 Kc. From there the castle is a four-kilometer walk.
One Czech destination impresses not with scary stories but by having parts of it built from human bones. Under the cemetery at the Church of All Saints in Kutna Hora lies is an ossuary. The victims of the 1318 plague were buried there and, in 1709, their bones were used to decorate the inside of the underground chapel.
Estimates place the number of people whose remains cover the walls and ceiling at 40,000. People once wanted to be buried there because supposedly in 1278 the abbot brought soil from Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. Although there is nothing mysterious to these bones it is interesting to know that people used them as decoration in order to save place.
“I would prefer visiting nature reserves since I haven’t visited one yet,” said Aleksandra Tomich, an international relations student at the AAU. The Rock Town, situated southeast of Turnov, belongs to the area of Cesky Raj on what’s called the Golden trail of the Bohemian Paradise.
It is indeed a nature reserve, where remarkable sandstone towers, some 90 meters high, are protected. The town was inhabited in 5,000 BC and in the medieval ages several fortifications were added. Today it is an attraction for rock climbers as well as for nature lovers with its paths that cross the whole town. As hikers take on the hills, the ordinary tourist can spend hours on the footpaths, admiring rock formations and simply chilling, surrounded by idyllic nature.
Getting there: Prague trains from Hlavni Nadrazi (www.idos.cz) go to Turnov and a bus continues to Hruba Skala, a trip of about two hours for around 200 Kc.
Hila Efrati, a former exchange student from Israel who studied at the AAU in fall 2012, got quite a rich experience traveling not only through Europe, but the Czech Republic as well.
“I also went for a day to Cesky Krumlov because they had a wine festival,” she said of the castle town in southern Bohemia. Even though the closest wine festival is not until November, the city is still worth visiting, famous for architecture and art in the old town as well as for the vertiginous 14th-century castle perched on a promontory overlooking the Vltava.
For those not thrilled with architecture and art, a relatively new tradition will roar to life again this year on May 24 for a weekend: car racing. All the ceremonies are held in the historical center so you get to experience it pretty well, even amid the gunning engines.
Getting there: Student Agency buses (www.studentagency.cz) with discounts for students reach Cesky Krumlov from various Prague stations in three hours for around 200 Kc.