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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Enough with the Count Up!

St Barbara’s Cathdedral in Kutná Hora, cz

The days roll by, but why count them as if there’ a goal? Or worse, limit. So out with the numbered days as post headings, and in with some pithy title that somewhat points to the subject to be discussed.Vrchlice River valleyI went to Kutná Hora to see St Barbara’s Cathedral, begun in 1388 on a rocky outcropping inside the city’s walls (it would not be finished until the 1560s, after stoppages for war, deaths of the numerous master planners, and money). The church overlooks the Vrchlice River valley, where you can hear dogs barking today. St Barbara’s is a dramatic architectural wonder built in the Gothic tradition of the prevaling era. The flying butresses stack together from afar like a lot of pretzel sticks, but the unique look of this Cathedral are its bottom-stout, top-protracting spires. Very Central European in fashion, they look from afar like chocolate meringue dollops.

Inside St Barbara’s is a grand organ, at which an organist began playing to the delight of the visitors as I entered around 4 o’clock (and for the parishioners present, it must be said; not everyone was snapping pictures). The music was loud, reverberating through the stone arena. I imagined Ozzie Ozbourne and Black Sabbath would have put on a great show in this venue. I bet the cathedral can be rented out, and a concert staged. Money talks.

St Barbara’s vaulted columnsThe falling light of late summer streamed through the vaulted windows, producing dramatic rays and shadows that slanted across the nave. For the 14th Century penitents, this “lamp of God” must have given them a panoply of possible reactions: a) energy & comfort; b) the willies; c) true belief. Outside, the views of the valley and Kutná Hora gave me the sense of history having been a solid part of this European hamlet.

As towns go, Kutná Hora hasn’t much else going for it but the cathedral and a bunch of other Medieval sites. This is enough for me, usually … and then I walked across old old cobblestones and through a diminutive wooden door above which the sign – “V Rútharde Restaurace” – showed a bare-breasted serving wench dressed in otherwise period costume. The old bar & hearth room was vintage; I could see a few knights from King Charles’s court sitting around, thinking of ways to make the Czech language more inaccessible to outsiders.

Carved tapper headsI ordered a dark beer (cerné) and opened the menu. Right off, I saw this was no touristy pizza-oven joint found in every town. The “grill” list gathered some real Czech food that promised to stick to my ribs:  pig’s knuckle, sausages, dumplings stuffed with smoked meat, cabbage and horseradish; potato pancakes; mutton; fresh pike roasted with vegetables. The prices reflected the traditional hunters’ menu, too.

The smells coming from the kitchen were fabulous. I ordered the meat-filled dumplings and a side of horseradish cabbage. The first beer went down like chocolate milk. Dark beers in Czech Republic have a sweet flavor to them, reminiscent of caramel, rich but not syrupy. Two tankards is well within the field of such a meal.

dumplings and cabbageI only wished it was winter, when I know the hearth would have a red fire going to heat the room. Today though, the back room & garden were open to sunshine. Kids played on the lawn; couples smoked and talked; I took photos of my food when the wench placed it before me (in these modern times, this girl was, unfortunately, not bare breasted like her Medieval sister posted on the outdoor sign, the menu, and the beer coasters). As expected, the food tasted like a meal ought to taste: home cooked, savory, no need for added salt or pepper, and when you finished you know you had just eaten.

The train ride to and from Kutná Hora was swift, on an old communist-era coach. I went out there in a packed train, sitting among six other Czechs, in their twenties and talkative, lively, friendly, passing around snacks and beers. The return train left nearly empty, and I read a book and made more and more of my little notes on a pad, such as I do, as the yellowing crop fields fled past on either side.


  mlbeyer wrote @ September 14th, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Your description of St. Barbara’s reminded me of how different the cathedrals I saw in Europe were from the churches in Coptic Cairo, Egypt. The cathedrals in Europe are very regal and somber–beautiful, and one can tell they were meant to be evocative of the wealth and power of the rulers who ordered their construction, not just the ‘glory of God’. The churches in Cairo had more of an earthiness to them. Instead of the stone carvings of their European counterparts, they were filled with woodwork, colorful mosaics depicting Biblical scenes, and ornate ironwork on the windows and lamps. It showed how different the two cultures were despite the shared religion of much of both populations.

  mlbeyer wrote @ September 15th, 2008 at 3:43 am

Today at Palms Dining, the meal was an option of a cold burger and fries or fried pork with rice and green beans. Afterwards, when I went to bibliogrind to see if you had blogged again, I looked at your writing about your meat-filled dumplings meal and the accompanying picture. I felt a weird mix of envy and anticipation…please describe your food again sometime. (Imagine me smiling sans braces)

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