Bluegrass-Bands n' Bones

Trip Start Aug 14, 2001
Trip End Nov 07, 2002

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Flag of Czech Republic  ,
Saturday, September 1, 2001

We were headed back to our room at the hostel after a picnic supper overlooking the beautiful, green valley of Kutna Hora. Katrinka had been painting and I had along my mandolin, so we were feeling a little inspired when we heard music coming from somewhere near our hostel in the village. We eventually tracked down the sounds (banjo, guitar, bass....) to a cubby-hole bar which expanded out back into a huge courtyard where there was a band just finishing sound-check.

There were a whole bunch of tables but they were all half full already so I didn't know where to sit. Luckily for me, my wife is not as shy as I can be, cause soon we were sitting at a table with a few locals, drinking 'pivo' and 'vino' and having a good time, doing sign language and pictures-on-paper talk!! (our Czech vocab was only up to about 15 words...)

A group of musicians sat at the next table, eyes flashing at the case holding my mandolin. 'Charlie' finally came over to see what I had and was excited because as I gathered, their's was a Bluegrass Band!! I understood this word, but everything else was Czech... I couldn't believe it, a bluegrass band in Kutna Hora!?!

Next thing I knew, they were asking me to play with them down the street somewhere. I couldn't wait to hear them, so I followed them as they tried to find somewhere to setup and play a few tunes. (We couldn't play at the pub cause another band was presently doing a set...) We found a place in the square next to a big statue and out came guitar, banjo, two mandolins and an upright bass! We exchanged notes and chords to ensure the proper tuning and then, Charlie announced the first song! (The only English he had yet to utter)..."Footprints in the Snow...Bill Monroe."(Czech accent) A little nod with a smile...and then, bang! They slammed into the song like it was in their blood. I was blown away by their powerful versions of this and other traditional bluegrass songs. All sung in (almost) perfect English, harmonies and everything. I had several opportunities to play with them and it was so much fun but I had to get back to rescue Katrinka from the local-boys at the bar! She was very happy to see me when I returned!

All night, we sat and drank pivo (giving cheers of 'Nazdravi!') with these folks and eventually, Charlie found us an interpretor and finally, we could talk and share our excitement over the music which we shared! They found it as strange to see me there with my mandolin as I found it to discover them playing bluegrass! We were treated so nicely by all of these people and we found that bars here are much different places than at home. They let loose and had fun together until closing time and one old guy gave us gifts of handmade ceramics. Katrinka was dragged out to dance by the local girls while they sang with the band (who by now, were off stage and on the tables...) No one was rude or stupid or ignorant. It was just a whole lot of fun.

Kutna Hora is a small town built in the 1300's during a silver mining boom. It is perched on a hill above a picturesque green valley with a little stream running through it. Remarkable is the Gothic Cathedral of St. Barbara, the miners saint. But, absolutely crazy is the Ossuary in Sedlec (15min walk from Kutna Hora). Inside this tall and crooked old church lie the bones of 40,000 people! But wait, it gets crazier!!! They are all on display in the form of church-decore including chandeliers, pillars, crucifixes and 4 HUGE pyramids of stacked bones and skulls!!! Real skulls! Very weird!

A few days later, we were in Brno. It is 200 Km southeast of Prague. Here, we visited Dan and Michael, a close friend's we relatives. We went on several day hikes and trips in areas surrounding Brno. Most notable were our hikes through the Moravsky Kras area, a forest full of caves, chasms and canyons... The big thing to see there is the Macocha Abyss, a huge abyss connected to several caves full of gorgeous formations which we paid to walk through, into the abyss. It was breathtaking. Like being deep in the mouth of a dormant volcano, the abyss was alive with lush, green plants turning the suns golden rays to colors of lime. After a boat ride through the rest of the flooded caves, we also saw the abyss from above and then walked 6km to Sloup to catch a bus back to Brno.

In an attempt to out-do our 'Bones-in the-Basement' experience in Kutna Hora, Michael took us to visit the 'Krypta" in the basement of Brno's Capucine Monastery (1651) where, on display are the intact mummies of monks and local leaders of the 17th and 18th century. Coffin-lids have been replaced with )glass!) so you can take a VERY close look at dry, dusty bones and crusty eye-sockets draped in leathery blankets of crispy skin! One room had about 25 monks simply laid to rest on the sandy floor. It was surreal, absolutely crazy!! Michael is a typical young man who sleeps way too much and ever since, I have referred to his bedroom as 'The Kryptia'. We both seem to get a laugh out of that...
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