Creepy or cool? Czech Republic’s bone church

After a brief train ride from Prague, we found ourselves in a quiet and ghostly town called Sedlec near Kutna Hora. We were there for one purpose and one purpose only: to explore the “Bone Church.”

A bone church? A church made from real human bones?

Yes, it’s exactly as bizarre as it sounds.

Here’s the dirt:

In the 13th century, a monk returned from Palestine with a handful of “holy soil.” He sprinkled the soil around a patch of land. Instantly, it was believed to be holy land and people were dying to be buried there (lol).

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This tiny, sacred cemetery became the most desired final resting place in Central Europe, and the number of bodies quickly surpassed the capacity of the graveyard. The plague and the Hussite War brought about many deaths, leaving thousands and thousands of bodies resting underneath the holy soil. Several years later, a church was built in the center of the graveyard. The bottom floor of the church became an ossuary of sorts, holding 40,000 skeletons that were displaced during the church construction.

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Three hundred years later, the wealthy Schwarzenberg family claimed ownership of the church. They paid a woodcarver named František Rint to adorn the church with the bones. They wanted something to symbolize the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death.

Inside the church, you can find a chandelier made from every bone in the human body, four pyramids made from skulls and femurs, display cases featuring skulls inflicted with traumatic war wounds, the Schwarzenberg family crest and Rint’s signature made from, of course, finger bones.

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Chandelier made from every bone in the human body.

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Part of the femur and skull pyramid.

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The family’s crest with one pyramid of femurs and skulls behind it.

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Rint’s finger bone signature

As we wandered around, I continually felt like I should be terribly troubled by my surroundings. But for some reason I wasn’t.

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I knew the bodies didn’t die just to be featured in a small town church in Prague and maybe that’s what kept me eager to see more. Or maybe it didn’t really register that those were real human bones until after we departed.

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At one point, I even thought it would be cool to have my bones displayed in a place like this after I die! Ornately decorating a church rather than rotting under the ground.

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Services are still held in the church, and unfortunately, we were just one day late for the Christmas mass!

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However, the messages of impermanence and death come through loud and clear. Forty thousand humans make up the inside of that church. Forty thousand people who were once just like me.

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So what are your thoughts? Is this “bone church” creepy or cool? I found it to be exceptionally interesting and not at all creepy, but I’m sure this could be slightly disturbing to some!

A photo safari through Madrid

After about two weeks of rain and pitiful weather, the sun shyly began to peer through the clouds on Sunday. Spencer and I knew we had to leave our apartment and do something. But we didn’t really know what.

We had just purchased nine plane tickets, so spending money of any kind was nixed from our Sunday afternoon agenda.

Go for a run? Pssh.

Museum? I hate them.

Go shopping? Oh right, we choose to buy flights, not clothes.

Take a walk? Maybe…

And then it hit me. A photo safari!

So I did a little research, created ten categories and off we went to one of Madrid’s quirkier neighborhoods on the search for some big game.

With our cameras around our necks, we needed to find these items in Malasaña:

  1. Geometrical shapes
  2. Something sexy (not a human)
  3. A person doing their job
  4. Nature in an urban setting
  5. Something that represents Spain
  6. An emotion
  7. A pattern
  8. Symmetry
  9. Something that won’t be around in five years
  10. A lazy sunday

The beauty of this game is you can interpret the categories in any way you like! It also forces you to do a little exploring and see your surroundings differently. Plus, it fit into our $0.00 budget quite nicely!

Here’s what I found…

1.  Geometrical shapes.

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2.  Something sexy

“With you to the end of the world.”

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3.  A person doing their job.

One of the best jobs in the whole world… am I right?!

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4. Nature in an urban setting

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5. Something that represents Spain

Nothing I love more than a Spanish-style street. And alliteration.

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6.  An emotion

Hm…

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7. A pattern

If this isn’t a pattern, I don’t know what is.

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8.  Symmetry

I don’t know if you can call this symmetry, but remember how you can interpret it any way you like?!

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9.  Something that won’t be around in five years

I don’t reeeally know if this will be around in five years or not, but it’s worn and completely different than it’s surroundings.

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10.  A lazy Sunday

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The rest of these photos are just other things that I found I love about Malasaña and Madrid. They didn’t exactly fall into any of the categories, but I like them nonetheless.

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I’ll take one of each, please. ^

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Valentine’s Day gone terribly wrong or nature in an urban setting?

If you want to see Spencer’s version of the photo safari, click here!

Have you ever done a photo safari? Is this something you might consider trying in the future?

Hiatus!

Things have been slow around here as I’ve been consumed with managing a blog and social media for the Kilimanjaro Warriors. This opportunity has been a true honor and inspiration, and if you’re not familiar with this wonderful project, get familiar and like them on Facebook! I’ll be managing their outlets for about a week more… but I do have some great adventures coming this way!

The Canary Islands… Valencia… Venice… Budapest… Barcelona.

Things will be busy, but stay tuned for new content!

Thanks for following along!

–Erica

Nearly naked in Morocco: My first hammam experience

“Take off clothes,” she mumbled as she handed me a one-size-fits-all string bikini bottom wrapped in plastic.

“Right here?” I hesitated as I pointed to the carpet beneath both of our feet.

“Oui!” she said in French, not bothering to turn around or cover her eyes.

Desperately wanting to make small talk with this stranger (because somehow that could make this situation less uncomfortable), I stripped in silence, wondering how things were  going for Spencer.

After struggling to understand which way was up on my new budget bikini bottom—seriously, that’s not a game you want to play when someone is impatiently watching you undress—I found myself nearly naked in front of a large Moroccan woman at a hammam in Marrakech. This was never how I imagined I would celebrate Super Bowl Sunday.

I followed her into the next room that had four marble tables. A different, larger woman wearing a white one-piece swimsuit entered the room and motioned for me to sit on a wooden stool. I was apparently now assigned to her.

She repeatedly filled a bucket with warm water and poured it onto my body. When she felt that she had appropriately drenched me, she gestured for me to lie on one of the cold, marble tables.

Shivering, I did as she “said,” wondering how the in the world anyone could compare a hammam to a spa. She covered every inch of my body with Morocco’s famous black soap—which looked like a pile of poop, but thankfully didn’t smell like it.

Then, it was back to the stool for another “bath.”

She then grabbed my arm and led my soaking wet body into a large, circular steam room. I sat on the frigid concrete platform and awaited the steam’s arrival.

“Should I sit? Should I lie down? Is anyone watching me?” I pondered. I haven’t spent very much time in steam rooms, and not surprisingly, no instructions were provided.

I awkwardly tried both and decided it was probably better to sit. Thank god I was alone.

Finally the steam turned on, my lungs filled with moisture, and I could no longer see. I’m such an amateur at steam rooms, and occasionally I had to put my head between my knees to breath the fresh air that hid at the bottom of the room. After about fifteen minutes of fidgeting and antsiness, I went down for another breath and looked to my left. I was startled to see another pair of feet resting very near to mine. I immediately popped back up to the steamy atmosphere.

“OMG, how long has she—oh, I hope it’s a she. It’s got to be a she, right?—been sitting there?!” I thought.

Suddenly, I heard a grunt and felt someone grab my arm. I was about to drop some naked self-defense, but just in the knick of time, I recognized the large faceless figure as my Moroccan lady.

Obviously, this was exactly the serene experience I had been hoping for.

Exiting the steam room, I had this image of myself in my head. You know the one. Sleek hair, moisturized skin, a soft, natural glow. Although I felt far from refreshed, I assumed I looked somewhat like an Herbal Essence model fresh from the shower.

This image swiftly vanished when I passed a mirror and was reminded of the makeup I had so carefully applied that morning. In case being frazzled, dripping wet and pulled around by a Moroccan woman wasn’t agony enough, the mascara from each of my eyelashes decided to participate in a rat race down my cheeks. I was certain my dear Moroccan friend would help dissolve this mess on my cheeks, but no… I guess she preferred to bathe me in this pitiful state. Who was I trying to impress anyway?

Now it was time for the scrub down, the chief purpose of this entire experience. Once again, I lay down on the table, and my Moroccan woman reapplied the black soap. She wore a red cloth glove with a rough surface and scrubbed away at my skin. I actually quite liked this part, and when I opened my eyes, I was rather horrified to see the mountains of dead skin resting on the table. I instantly thought this whole strange and uncomfortable process was worth it. I felt like a new (soft) woman!

Then it was back to the stool for my third bath, followed by the massage room.

I hopped onto another cold table covered in plastic, ready to be lathered with argon oil and massaged.

I assured myself I could definitely relax here.

After about five minutes another nearly naked and blushing tourist, probably the one I was so surprised to find in the steam room, interrupted my meditation as she was assigned to the table next to me.

After adjusting to this undesirable version of a couple’s massage, I was ready to zone out again when giant drops of icy water started falling onto my stomach and forehead. I assumed it was just condensation carried over from the steam room, but they were bitterly cold and far from pleasant. The drops were soon joined by howls of laughter coming from a nearby room—most likely employees scheming up new ways to humiliate tourists like myself. As she massaged my neck, her ample, dangling breasts smashing into my face, my Moroccan lady made her first attempt at making this a somewhat pleasant experience and hushed the laughing hyenas in the other room.

After my “45-minute massage” (but who’s counting, anyway) it was back to the marble table for a loofah scrub down and my fourth and final bath. This time, there was a naked French girl on either side of me, leaving no safe place to rest my eyes.

But alas! The end was near. I was handed a bathrobe and led back to the changing room where it all began. After delighting in how soft my new skin felt, I eagerly changed my clothes and returned to the lobby to sip on some mint tea and wait for Spencer. After about ten minutes, he came around the corner with enormous eyes, sat down, and poured himself some tea without saying a word. I smirked at him, feeling slightly guilty but mostly tickled for convincing him to do this.

What an experience. I didn’t love it, nor did I hate it. It was weird and uncomfortable and far from what I expected, but my skin has never been softer! If anything, it was only 25 euros, and I got to keep the scrubbing glove.

Have you ever been to a hammam? Would you be interested in experiencing one? 

Kaiping Daiolou Watchtowers, China

For the first time in three weeks, I found myself engrossed in tranquility. Birds were chirping, tiny pieces of blue sky pried through the infinite smog and the landscape actually appeared to be breathing. There was no hustle. There was no overflow of tourists. Just my study abroad group and the watchtowers in southern China’s Guangdong Province, specifically the Kaiping Diaolou village.

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These impressive watchtowers (below, not the little minis above) are scattered throughout the rice fields in the city of Kaiping. From the 1300s, the Chinese used these towers to protect themselves from bandits and floods. By the 1930s, there were almost 3,000 towers built throughout the province.

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We visited the Li Garden, which is home to the more luxurious watchtowers, gardens and waterways.

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This UNESCO World Heritage site makes for a unique and peaceful afternoon “off the beaten path” and away from the busy city of Guangdong.

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Scattered throughout the towers in the Li Garden, we found marshy ponds, lush green fields, harmless snakes and turtles and colossal sunflowers.

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I recommend climbing to the top of the towers for a stunning panoramic view of the area.

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Wandering through the garden took hours, and although hot, it was void of tourists–a rarity to find when traveling in China. There are several other watchtower locations around the province and I definitely would have been keen on seeing more–if the group’s itinerary would have been up to me.

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I have no idea how we arrived here since we were bused everywhere with a tour guide, but according to this CNN article, this may be your best route if you are interested in adding the watchtowers to your China itinerary:

“Fly to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, take a taxi to Tianhe Coach Terminal Station, which should cost about RMB120 ($20); buses depart from Tianhe Coach Terminal Station to Kaiping from 7:30 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.; tickets cost RMB38 ($6).”

Have you been here before? Would you add Kaiping to your itinerary if you were heading to China?