There were four of us (Petr, another Czech friend, joined us) and we based ourselves at Ondra’s cottage – a lovely house hidden in the hilly forests of north Czech Republic. After late night conversations over the bottle of wine we were a little bit tired but so ready for the adventure. The car’s roof was trembling from all the raindrops but singing along to Franz Ferdinand songs kept our spirits up. I was really impressed with this area – how neat the small towns were, how the rolling hills made a perfect landscape. I haven’t really visited this part of Europe before and up to now I’m wondering why – it is so close from Poland and it is such a perfect yet underrated area.
Our first stop was Kraliky and Monastery of Holy Mother located on the hill above town. The pilgrimage site played the important role in the times of the communism regime when it served as a detention camp for clergy. When we visited the site I just couldn’t believe that some bad things might have happened there – it was a perfectly quiet and still place. With the surrounding hills and a picturesque town at the footsteps of hill it looked like an ideal location to spend few days to recharge batteries and rethink life. The spiritual atmosphere was so much felt there! We spent quite some time just sitting in the chapel, each of us lost in our own thoughts…
From Kraliky it was just a short ride to Poland. It still keeps amusing me that there’s no control and no border at all, you just drive / walk between two countries like it’s the most obvious activity you can do. It hits me the most in Cieszyn / Cesky Tesin (oh how much I like this place!) but here it was pretty incredible too. We just turned right and suddenly were in Poland! But even if there’s no actual line that divides these two countries there’s a mental one. Even if my Czech friends all live not far away from this place they didn’t really cross the border before, for the reason unknown even to them they just didn’t feel the need to do so. I bet it’s the same with Polish people living in the area. Even if this part of Poland, Kotlina Kłodzka, is one of the most beautiful places in the country and the Czech side with Jeseniky mountains is pretty incredible too the local, regional tourism doesn’t really exists… I truly hope this will change one day!
We didn’t go very deep into Poland, just visited an old wooden church in Kamieńczyk. What a place it was! Built at the beginning of 18th century and located at the hillside it is so meager with no details from outside. It was such a great example of the simple sacred architecture that I’m not surprised it’s listed as one of the registered heritage monuments of Poland. Too bad it was closed but we could take a peek inside through the (dirty) windows and it looked incredible too. The church was surrounded by the old cemetery with graves from before 1945, showing the difficult history of the region. The majority of the names and inscriptions were in German since before the World War 2 this land was inhabited by the big community called Sudeten Germans (it is still a pretty difficult issue, especially in German-Czech relations). Even if there were no new graves since 1950s and the relatives of the people buried in Kamieńczyk were no longer living in the area the cemetery was surprisingly well maintained. True, some of the graves were partly destroyed and crosses were covered in the moss… The rainy and gloomy weather and the fact that there was no one around besides us made the place a perfect scenery for the horror movie. Everything was incredibly beautiful but for most of the time I felt some kind of thrill. I bet when it’s a sunny summer day you don’t get these kind of emotions there yet for some reason they just seemed right at that time.
Another short ride and we were in the Czech Republic again. We were slowly getting hungry, it was lunch time so we stopped in the mountain chalet “Chata u Rampusaka” to get some food. I’m very predictable when it comes to the Czech food, almost always I go for cesnecka (garlic soup), smazeny syr (fried cheese) and Kofola (Czech version of coca-cola) and this time was no different. It was so nice to finally sit down, relax and warm up. The food was extremely delicious, so were drinks, and we could have spent much more time enjoying the place but there were still some more places we wanted to explore on that day. We set off from a small hike around, in the forest trail, surrounded by big rocks and the rapid sound of Orlice river. I just couldn’t stop thinking how breathtaking this place must be in the autumn, with all the incredible colors at its best!
On the way to our next destination – Neratov – we spotted yet another church standing alone on the fields. Of course we stopped to take a look! As it turned out the building used to belong to the abandoned village Vrchni Orlice – this way we came across the history of Sudeten Germans again. To our great surprise to church was open…and abandoned! What looked pretty unobtrusive from outside was a true gem inside. The interior lacked many of typical church amenities but walls were full of work of local artists – poems, pictures etc. The benches were half destroyed and decayed, the air smelt musty, half burnt candles were covered in dust… Again I felt slightly uncomfortable, just like in Kamieńczyk, but I couldn’t leave the church, I was transfixed with it. This was definitely the place I will remember forever, the most unique church I’ve ever visited. The creaky stairs lead us almost to the roof, from up there we could admire the inside of the building in its fullness. The meadow around the church hid the small cemetery, again full of destroyed German graves, probably in even worse condition than the ones in Kamieńczyk. We all agreed that it was the highlight of our road trip, a surprising place we didn’t expect to visit. I’m sure the area on both sides of the border has even more hidden gems like this, just waiting to be discovered!
Eventually we reached Neratov. At this point the rain got really nasty so we drove all the way to the church standing on the hill and dominating the village. It was a weird structure, a mix of old and new and with no tower – a must part of any church! But the most surprising thing about the structure is the way it was made – the church was built in the baroque style however the roof is glass! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sacred place like that! The reason for this church to be that unique is very simple – at the end of the World War 2 it was hit by the anti-tank shell and part of it burnt down and then collapsed. Now the interior is very simple and raw, the bricks on the walls are clearly seen and the only element that draws attention is the sculpture of the crucified Jesus hanging high above the altar. Even if the day was gloomy the inside of the church was very bright due to the glass roof that also enhanced the trembling sound of pouring rain. Very quickly each of us went his/her own way, deep lost in thoughts. I don’t know if it was because of the decor or the brightness but – that might sound cliche – it really felt like a very spiritual place, close to the God.
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It was slowly getting dark so before heading back to Zabreh we quickly stopped in another mountain chalet for a cup of tea. This one is called Masarykova Chata, after the first president of the Czechoslovakia, and is located right at the border with Poland. The weather got really nasty, at some point it was even snowing yet we are in excellent moods till the end of the day! We drove some 200kms and saw some exceptional places that truly were off the beaten path. For most of the time I felt like I’m in some forgotten land yet located right in the heart of Europe. This road trip made me more interested in the cross-border region and its difficult history that not many talk about and I’m sure that I will be back there, to explore it some more! But only when I have such a great company again!
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