The human bone church

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

Sedlec Ossuary

In a sleepy suburb of Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary is home to around 40, 000 skeletons. They’re not a memorial to a past massacre or genocide, but actually part of the spectacular, if rather macabre, interior design. From bone chandeliers, bone family crests, bone vases, bone… well, you get the idea. There are skulls, tibias and other body parts, many I don’t know the name of, adorning every available surface. 

Liz with skulls

As the train rolled into Sedlec, after miles of snowy villages and industrial wastelands, we wondered if we had the right place. It seemed too still, too empty to house the fantastical church we’d read about. A delicately winding path lead us through a small cemetery of plush, but snow-sodden grass. Thick steps dipped down into the crypt where it was cold and colourless and lacking any of the expected musty smell, which was a bit of a relief considering the banging hangover we were both suffering from.

skull_tunnel

The skeletons have hung in these elaborate arrangements since 1870. In the 13th century the abbot scattered a handful of holy soil in the cemetery, he’d brought it back, supposedly, from the grave of Jesus in Jerusalem. The ossuary soon became the most popular place to be buried in all of Bohemia. It becoming so desired, in fact, that they ran out of space. The monks decided the best thing to do was dig up the old bones and chuck them in the crypt, making room for the freshly dead. 

Schwartzenburg coat of arms

František Rintn, a local woodcarver, was given the task of finding something to do with them. He bleached the bones and made the bizarre chandelier, the Schwarzenberg coat of arms, which includes a human bone sculpture of a raven pecking at a Turks severed head (there’s a lot of that in the Czech Republic), and put his signature, in other people’s bones, on the wall. Why not?

Rintn bone signature

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Fussy eater abroad: the best of Prague

Pizzeria Ristorante Giovanni

There are a lot of average restaurants in Prague, but Giovanni‘s certainly isn’t one of them. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was one of the best – perhaps even worth the expense of the flights to get there.

The front of Giovanni's in Prague old town

After an hour of trawling the streets desperate to avoid the tourist traps, of which there are many, and dodge the promo teams, of which there are even more, we dipped into an empty looking side road off the Old Town Square and BAM – there it was.

It’s an Italian, so you’re probably thinking pizza, pasta – so what? But Restorante Giovanni is so much more than that. Rustic yet modern, charming not twee, quiet, but not empty and with a distinctly welcoming, relaxed atmosphere.

Giovanni's interior secondary dining area

Perhaps it’s the warm lighting, or just the large glasses of specially imported Montepulciano, but this restaurant offers the perfect amount of indulgence for those fuzzy tingle times.

Interior of Giovanni's Prague

The menu features an interesting mix of classics alongside inventive newbies. Italian, but without the tired carbonaras and dull mushroom risottos.

The dishes were Italian by name but described in both Czech and English leaving no room for confusion and the maître d’ assured us that many of the ingredients were sourced locally.

For starters we shared a simple garlic bread (OK, not the most adventurous of choices but the perfect comfort food after a long day in the fierce outdoor chill) – beautifully moist, and full-bodied.

For mains my other half ordered a medium steak (he’s boring like that) – thick, juicy and er… Tender (lifelong vegetarians rarely understand these things, I was assured it was “beautiful”) – with seasonal veg cooked to buttery al dente perfection.

As a fussy eater I’m not used to having options, but unusually the vegetarian choice extended beyond mushrooms and, or with, aubergine (that’s egg plant to my American audience). For that alone I would like to give the chef a huge wet kiss.

I went for an asparagus and truffle tortelli – technically a mushroom, but as only a tiny amount is used I was prepared for the challenge and for just £6, who couldn’t?

truffle and asparagus tortelli at Giovanni's in Prague

The tortelli was firm and nutty, the sauce of the perfect consistency, adding moisture to the dish without drowning it. The slight acidity of the tomatoes cut through the richness of the cream and the Parmesan added a hint of fruitiness. Wonderful.

We were feeling naughty, or greedy, or both, and ordered dessert to share – poached pear stuffed with chocolate and hazelnut. What it lacked in presentation it made up for in brilliance – delicately perfumed soft pear contrasted against a robust nutty stuffing, rich but light with a refreshing citrus drizzle. Utter bliss when accompanied by a little more of the gorgeous red wine (compliments of the house).

Giavanni''s pear and hazelnut dessert

It was probably the least Italian, Italian, I’ve ever been to. Not because it lacked authenticity, but because the menu was so exciting.

Giovanni’s is a rare food gem that has somehow, thank St Wenceslas, remained untarnished by the hoards of drunken British tourists that have ravaged most of Prague.

The whole meal came to a little over £20, we couldn’t believe it, and, as one of Prague’s least gimmicky restaurants, it’s easy to get a table. Better get booking those flights then.

Rating – 4/5

A Fussy Eater Abroad: surviving Prague

The other half at Giovanni's Prague

Andy – he really enjoyed it despite the miserable face.

A Fussy Eater Abroad: surviving Prague

Prague’s a pushover

As travel destinations go, Prague is not a tricky one to survive as a fussy eater. It’s a tourist hotspot so just about every taste is catered for.

In the most touristy areas such as the Old Town, it’s hard to come by traditional Czech food. The grandiose street are dominated by a mix of Turkish street vendors, American theme bars, curry houses and steak restaurants. If you like meat, cheese, or eggs, you shouldn’t have a problem anywhere, but there are vegetarian, and vegan friendly places too.

Omlette that is in fact, just several fried eggs.

“Egg Omlette Grandma’s Style”

The trusty omlette – like many European countries, the Czechs love their red meat and cheese. If that’s not for you then you may end up eating a few of these. ‘Grandma’s style’ is essentially chunks of potato nestling within some fried eggs.

Czech Goulash with Bread Dumplings

Czech Goulash with Bread Dumplings

Beef Guláš – tender, if a little fatty (so I’m told), beef goulash, a dish borrowed from the Hungarians. Bread dumplings however, or knedliky, are a traditional Czech side dish made from wheat or potato flour, boiled in water as a roll, then sliced and served hot. They’re quite doughy, but good for soaking up the tasty rich sauce.

Time For Tea

It can get pretty chilly in the Czech Republic (my whole face was chapped for a week) so hot drinks are a must and, well, GREAT!

Take a break from the cold in a swanky bar, or just warm your hands on a cup of something cheeky from a street vendor.

Hot Wine

Hot Wine

Hot wine – another delicacy shared with the Hungarians and almost worth a city break alone. It’s simpler and less sickly than mulled wine. I’ve found a recipe for it here, but it won’t taste as good without the dramatic gothic architecture.

Hot cherry or apple – fruit liqueurs with hot water.

Hot cider – I’m sure you can figure that one out.

Grog

Grog

Grog – rum, hot water and a squeeze of lemon or orange. This is quite strong and varies in taste depending on the rum used, it’s usually pretty horrible.

Hot milk with a lump of chocolate to melt on a stick

Hot Chocolate On A Stick

Hot chocolate – familiar to us all, but have you ever had it with a tot of amaretto or rum, or more bizarrely, on a stick?

* If your thinking of heading to Prague I’d suggest a cheap deal that will take you there out of season (some time around January). Not only will you save a lot of money, you’ll avoid marauding Stags and Hens, but no matter when you go you will get hassled by promo teams.

Wrapped mints named Bye Polar

Feeling a bit menthol