They say the journey is half the fun, but getting to Kutna Hora was an adventure in itself. We were to have two free days between our bike ride and a week in Prague, and it seemed like a good idea to relax somewhere in the Czech countryside. Rick Steves made Kutna Hora sound like an easy choice: “The best Czech stop outside of Prague,” he writes. “A typical Czech town.” “Refreshingly authentic.” It’s so close, he says, that one can easily go for a day trip. We don’t want to rush, and besides, we have from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon. I see on the Rome2Rio website that trains go hourly and take 59 minutes; I book a hotel room.
My husband asks, “Where are we going again?”
“Kutna Hora. It will be easy,” I say.
At the end of the ride, we have six bags between the two of us including helmets and bike paraphernalia. We ask the hotel to call us a taxi to get to the train station, Praha hlavní nádraží, abbreviated Praha hl.n. Tip: every city’s central station is called the hl.n.
We find our way downstairs to the ticket counter and ask for two senior tickets to Kutna Hora mesto, “mesto” being the next station past the Kutna Hora hl.n., just like Rick Steves says to do. Worrying that there may not be an in-person ticket seller at the smaller station on Sunday, I add, “We would like to buy round trip tickets.”
Middle-aged lady at counter: “Coming back today?”
“No,” the ticket seller replies.
To my husband I say, “I guess we’ll have to buy the return tickets there.”
“No. We’re coming back on Sunday.”
Without further conversation, this dumpy Czech woman of few words hands us two small papers, pointing to one, “Two people today,” and, pointing to the second small paper, “Two people, Sunday.”
We’re happy. We ask which platform and she responds, “Boards upstairs.”Toting our bags up two flights of escalators, we see hoards of people staring up at big boards with strange words, waiting for their platform to be announced. To our eyes it looks like gibberish; an occasional announcement makes no sense. Our eyes and ears have not yet become attuned to the difficult Czech language. Nothing sounds or looks familiar.
I see a middle-aged Czech man helping a couple of Asian girls read their ticket. His red jacket suggests that he might be a station attendant to help tourists. We stand nearby and he sees that we can use some help too. Telling us to follow him, he stops at a smaller electronic self-service kiosk, punches a couple of buttons and backs away in disgust: “Out of order.” He motions to follow, and we walk several minutes to the “J” platform. We learn from him that the J stands for jižní, meaning south and the S platform stands for severní, the word for north. (Who knew?) We want south. He leads us up to number 4J. On the way there, he says he lived in the U.S. for years and that he worked for the embassy. I don’t think so, but maybe.
He finds the self-service kiosk at 4J to be working, and explains how to look for the train to Brno with an in-between stop in Kutna Hora. Well, neither Rick Steves nor Rome-2-Rio mentioned Brno, plus Brno trains with the Kutna Hora stop only go every two hours. He finishes with “sometimes––rarely, but sometimes––they use platform number 3 rather than 4.”
Then he asks for a tip. His information was invaluable, and well worth the 200-koruna note that Irv knows he has handy, but 200Kc seems like too much since that’s close to the price of two tickets. Irv has no coins or smaller bills. Not one to waste time, the guy says, “Euros or U.S. dollars OK.” Our one- and two-Euro coins are somewhere in our bags, but I dig out two $1 bills US, and he’s off to help another couple. The man has found himself a niche gig to make some extra money.
While we wait, we ask a couple people about luggage cars and find they don’t exist. When asked if there is space for luggage, a young mother with a stroller laughs. “Sometimes.” Our train shows up on the kiosk screen a half-hour later, and sure enough, it’s to arrive on platform 3. We go down the escalator, walk to number 3, and go back up the escalator. The train comes in short order––we would never have had time to get to that location from the big boards in the main waiting area, even if we did know what we were doing. The young mother totes her toddler and her baby and her stroller down, over, and up, just as we do with our six bags.
Lucky us, we are some of the first to enter the train and I spot a couple of seats at the end of the car we enter. We pile our bags next to a foursome seat arrangement and in an additional empty seat across the aisle. A straggly-looking young man is seated in the window seat, his pet cat in a small carrier opposite him. When asked if he speaks English, he replies, “A little.” I mention Kutna Hora and he rattles off the three stops that we will pass before reaching Kutna Hora.
People continue to pile on and we see the same people walking through the cars looking for empty seats. A couple from Florida––he originally from Kentucky and she from Russia––finally help move our bags from the extra seat and ask the straggly guy if they can hold his puppy. “It’s a kittie,” I say, and then we go on to have a nice conversation about our completed bike ride and about travel in general.
An hour later, the straggly-looking guy, who hasn’t said another word until now, smiles and says, “One minute.” We load up our three backpacks and move our three wheelies toward the door. Out on the platform, I wave good-bye to the man holding his kitty. He smiles and waves back.
Now we have to make the connection to the local train that goes to mesto, which I think might mean the “old town station.” We follow the crowds to a wide concrete stairway. A young man in a beanie stocking cap sees Irv struggling and carries his heavy bag down. We wheel our bags through the tunnel and then struggle up another set of concrete stairs on the other side to see a two-car tram-like vehicle filled with people––the “cute little yellow local train,” Steves calls it. I see the guy in the beanie and ask, “Does this go to mesto?” Yes, this is mestotrain. I had thought it would be a difficult connection, but this little local train is the only other vehicle in the little station, existing solely to get us to the central old town.We bump and barge our bags through doors that are way too small and sit down at two empty seats, our bags piled in the narrow aisle next to us. The train is packed with young people on day trips. They’ve all read Rick Steves. The train takes off, goes maybe a hundred yards, stops, and reverses direction. People look puzzled, then shrug. In a few minutes, the train stops, and most get off, stepping over and around our pile of bags. “Is this mesto?” The guy in the beanie is, I think, getting tired of us, but says “No, Bone Church.” I had forgotten that Steves had mentioned to get off for the Bone Church before going to the old town, but no matter, that information was for day-trippers and we are here for a real visit.
Another hoard of people get on the train and I ask a young British couple, “Is this going to mesto?”
“Yes, next stop.”
Finally we are at Kutna Hora mestostation. The hotel’s web site had said that we should walk 500 meters to the square and see the hotel there. What they didn’t say was that the 500 meters was a steep uphill over cobblestones. It seems longer when you are loaded with backpacks and hauling wheeled bags. Half-way up, I see three young people watching us looking lost. Panting, I ask about the hotel, and one young woman points to the other one, who tells us in perfect English that we should continue up to the square and turn right. She smiles big when I compliment her English.
I worry the hotel won’t have a room for us because when I sent an email a couple of weeks earlier confirming our stay, we received no answer. But the young woman at the desk has our room and it’s ready early, and, best of all, there’s an elevator. We go in the room and flop down on the bed for a rest.
And then: Kutna Hora! Good choice for a quick trip. We take a walk, using Steves’ guide to point out the sights.
I wouldn’t say that getting there was easy, but Steves’ recommendations for restaurants and view spots are on the money, and we’re happy we don’t have to hurry our visit. We take a taxi to see the Bone Church, where everything is neat and tidy,
and then catch a local bus back to the cathedral of St. Barbara, patron saint who watches over miners.The town sits atop an abandoned silver mine that produced fortune and prosperity in the area from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries.We take walks and enjoy the views, the museums, the old gothic buildings, the small town ambiance.On Saturday afternoon, we are treated to a town festival with food and craft stands in the square adjacent to the hotel: a celebration of 30 years without Communism. We drink lemonade and eat freshly grilled meat on a slab of rye bread
while we listen to mediocre country-western music from the square’s temporary stage. We end our celebration of freedom from communism with generous gelato cones that cost 20Kc per dip (87 cents, US).
On our return, we skip the mesto station and take a taxi directly to the Kutna Hora central station.
When we board, the train is already full. For ten or fifteen minutes, we stand at the end of a car and struggle to keep our bags from rolling away, before squeezing ourselves and our luggage into a family cabin where a middle-aged Czech woman is fast asleep and a couple of young European women are staring at their devices. A fourth woman on the benchseat smiles nicely and moves over to make room.
Once back in Prague, we notice for the first time, huge lockers at the train station––what a great idea that would have been!
If you go, read that chapter in Rick Steve’s book, Prague & the Czech Republic. During our week in Prague, two travelers chose to take a day trip to Kutna Hora with a local tour company. Kutna Hora has an interesting history and that couple’s guide didn’t even share it. We learned so much more from Rick Steves than they did from their tour guide.
Where we stayed: Hotel Medinek
Date of travel: late Sept, 2019.