The Kutna Hora Bone Church: Life, Death, and Silver in Bohemia

kutna hora bone church

The Kutna Hora Bone Church:
Life, Death, and Silver in Bohemia

At first glance, Kutna Hora seems like any other once-prosperous European town. Big churches, beautiful cobblestone streets, and a central square that serves as the heart of the city and the center of life. If you haven’t ever heard of it before, your initial impression of the town might be that it seems pretty and quaint and nothing particularly out of place for a traveler looking for a bit of ‘Old Europe’ to experience. You would be correct.

The old town of Kutna Hora in Bohemia.

You would also, as it turns out, be missing the most famous and photogenic and delightfully gruesome part of Kutna Hora and no doubt the thing that keeps tourists coming in droves to this otherwise quiet corner of Bohemia: the Sedlec Ossuary.

Details view of the Kutna Hora Ossuary.

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    Categories: Czech Republic, Travel Words | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

    The Best of September: An Instagram Update

    The Best of September: An Instagram Update

    What a month! First snow leopards, then the World Nomad Games, and now all of a sudden I’ve got to get a Magazine together within the next few weeks. Add to that commitments to write aboout the Nomad Games for other sites and a few ongoing writing commitments like at GoMadNomad and, to be quite honest, I don’t have much time at the moment to write more about Vienna and Prague or the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Luckily, I do have a LOT of pictures from the past few weeks! I also (finally) set up an Instagram account at the end of August, so as you’re looking at these photos make sure to add me on Instagram if you haven’t already.

    My most popular photo on Instagram in September was, probably not surprisingly, this picture of hiking in Kyrgyzstan in the mountains above the little sanatoria at Issyk-Ata. This remains one of my favorite hiking spots in the Chuy Valley that surrounds Bishkek, because its accessible and pretty and somehow just grounds me and calms me down when I’m feeling stressed and need to get up into the mountains. This shot was a *bit* of a cheat when it comes to Instagram, because I think it was taken something like 15 months ago! Not to worry, though, I should have more and current epic mountain photos coming soon in late October.

    Also quite popular, again as I kind of expected, was this snow leopard that I met at the NABU Wild Animal Rehabilitation Center on the northern shore of Issyk-Kol. You can (and should) read more about the NABU Center at that link, but from a personal and photographer perspective I’ll say only this: it was incredible. Yes, they’re captive and yes, that is sad. But when a snow leopard is standing about five feet away from you purring like an oversized kitten you very quickly lose sight of the negative points. I’m hopeful (and fairly confident) that I can get back over there during winter to take some snow-scattered photos to add to the gallery, so keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook pages to make sure you don’t miss ‘em.

    These two both got quite a lot of likes, with the first from Bir-Bulak Canyon and the latter in the rarely-explored Chon Kaindy Valley. The second shot, especially, makes me feel a little bit like I found Jurassic Park every time I look at it. To be honest, hiking there felt a bit the same – when we got done all of us were drenched in water from fording rivers and scratched all up from bumbling through branches and briars.

    Finally, to be sure, the World Nomad Games! Despite the number of words I’ve written on my own site and others, I still wonder if I’ve done a good job of accurately capturing just how much was going on and how amazing it all seemed at the time. Not only were there crazy sports – Kok Boru and Horse Wrestling being right at the top of that list. But there were also just a ton of really amazing people, whether actors or spectators or fellow travelers/journalists, who made it not only a picturesque week of nomadic culture but also a really fantastically good time.

    So, that was September. Want to see more? Make sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

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      Categories: Kyrgyzstan, Photo Blogs | Tags: , | 3 Comments

      Saving Snow Leopards in Kyrgyzstan: the NABU Rehabilitation Center

      Snow Leopard Images from Kyrgyzstan

      Saving Snow Leopards in Kyrgyzstan:
      the NABU Rehabilitation Center

      Alternate Title: Gratuitous Pictures of Snow Leopards

      The whole thing started, really, with a ‘Special Exhibition on Snow Leopards’ in the Kyrgyzstan State Museum of Fine Arts. Walking through those quiet halls looking at a hundred-odd photos and drawings snow leopards made by artists from across Kyrgyzstan there really can only be one overriding though: “I want to go to there.”

      kyrgyzstan fine arts museum snow leopard exhibit

      It took several months, a lot of research, a new job title, and more than a bit of “show up and hope for the best” but in the end: Snow Leopards! Gratuitous snow leopards. Snow leopards sunning and playing and stalking and frolicking. All the snow leopard once could hope for, in fact, outside of that rare chance encounter in the actual wild.

      snow leopards at the NABU rehabilitation center in Kyrgyzstan

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        World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan: A Nomad Olympics

        World nomad Games Ethno Town

        World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan:
        An Olympics for Nomadic Cultures

        If you’ve been following my Facebook Page or Instagram you have undoubtedly seen a flood of images from old-school portraits to crazy sporting events, all from one very specific and amazing event: The World Nomad Games 2014.

        Eagle and Kyrgyz flag at World Nomad Games

        Hosted by Kyrgyzstan and featuring teams from across the Pan-Turkic world and beyond, the World Nomad Games has been touted as equal parts celebration of traditional nomadic culture and competition in the many sports that come out of that nomadic tradition. No matter whether watching a close match of Horse Wrestling or just walking around the town of Cholpon-Ata looking for lagman noodles, the entire event has had an incredibly festive atmosphere.

        Kyrgyz kids playing before the opening ceremony of the World Nomad Games


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          Categories: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Photo Blogs, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

          Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day Holiday: Celebrating Nomad Style

          Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day Holiday:
          Celebrating Nomad Style

          Holidays are always an awesome time to travel, and Independence Day is a particularly fine festivity. No matter whether Hot Dogs and Fireworks for the 4th of July in the US or Military Parades on Bastille Day in Paris, Independence Day holidays are usually a combination of patriotism and tradition and more than a little raucous celebration. But of course, not every country can celebrate with the panache of Kyrgyzstan.

          the goal in a kokboru match

          As both a male and a foreigner, my interest is always drawn inexorably towards the Ak-Kula Hippodrome and the horse games there. This is a traditionally male-dominated environment, to be sure, and like any big sporting event it attracts a fair amount of bravado and celebration and overripe team spirit. It also happens to be fantastically photogenic.
          [Females should have no fear, but you will certainly be in the minority once you get there.]

          kyrgyzstan ulak tartysh match


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            On Beautiful Places in Kyrgyzstan: Hiking in Shamsi Gorge

            On Beautiful Places in Kyrgyzstan: Hiking in Shamsi Gorge

            On Beautiful Places in Kyrgyzstan:
            Hiking in Shamsi Gorge

            walking in shamsi canyon

            There are countless beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan – I often feel like every new valley and every new gorge offer some new and incredible view. Mountains, alpine pastures, shepherds and yurts galore. It was with some excitement, then, that I signed up for a Trekking Union trip to what is widely regarded as one of the prettiest valleys in the Chuy Valley that surrounds Bishkek: Shamsi.

            kyrgyz child standing with yurt

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              Terezin Concentration Camp – Visiting the “Model Ghetto”

              terezin concentration camp

              Terezin Concentration Camp:
              Visiting the “Model Ghetto”

              terezin concentration camp sign

              History isn’t always pretty and so, by extension, with travel. There are so many dark parts to our collective pasts, whether you happen to be in Prague or America or Cambodia or… anywhere really. Learning about these things in a book, at school, tends to leave one with a logical understanding of the horrors of history. Being there in person, however, just makes the places and people involved a lot more real.

              holocaust victim jewish identity documents

              Which is exactly why I think its important to visit places like Terezin Concentration Camp. Because to walk the halls of a place where unthinkable systematic cruelty happened makes for an understanding so much more visceral than to read about the same. To know that THIS is where 140,000 were imprisoned and worked as slave labor for the Nazi state. The point from which over 70,000 of those people were sent on to their deaths at Auschwitz and Treblinka.

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                Categories: Czech Republic, GYG Tours | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

                Aynalikavak Pavilion – The Ottoman Sultan’s Garden

                aynalikavak pavilion ottoman garden

                Aynalikavak Pavilion – The Ottoman Sultan’s Garden

                Much like the magnificent Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, the AynaliKavak Pavilion stands as a forgotten reminder of Ottoman power in the middle of an otherwise quiet neighborhood on the Golden Horn. While places like the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia get millions of visitors each year, Aynalikavak gets barely a trickle of that. When I visited, in the height of the August tourism season, I was literally the ONLY tourist there.

                outside the aynalikavak pavilion


                Which speaks a little bit, actually, to both the history of the Aynalikavak Palace and why you would even consider visiting it today. Though once a grand and sprawling summer palace all along the shore of what is now the Hasköy neighborhood, the growth of the Ottoman Empire and the need for an increasingly large naval power saw the palace destroyed bit by bit to make room for expanding shipyards. The only reason the present-day Aynalikavak Pavilion was spared, really, was so that the Ottoman Sultans would have a place to rest and receive visitors while they were here to inspect the progress of the Ottoman Navy.

                aynalikavak pavilion interior

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                  Categories: Turkey | Tags: , | 1 Comment