A macabre coat of arms at the Kostnice in Kutna Hora(Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
Europe's train systems make it possible to reclaim a sense of adventure--and still be back in time for dinner.
PRAGUE TO KUTNÁ HORA
The eeriest tourist attraction anywhere in Eastern Europe: Kutná Hora is a Gothic village with much of the charm of Prague's Old Town, minus the crowds, and the hilly location makes for excellent photo ops. The train stops at the town's Hlavní Nádrazí (main train station); a smaller commuter train will take you onward to local stops. Get off at the first stop, Kutná Hora-Sedlec, and follow the signs to the Kostnice, or ossuary (a 10-minute walk from the main train station). It's a collection of 40,000 human bones--mostly from the plague years in the 14th century--artistically arranged; there's a chandelier composed of every bone in the human body and a coat of arms made of human skulls and scapulae. Back at Kutná Hora-Sedlec, grab another commuter train to the station called Kutná Hora-Mesto, near the old town (or walk--the ossuary is a mile and a half away). Kutná Hora was an ancient center of silver mining and minting. Those riches paid for the stunning Cathedral of St. Barbara, founded in 1388; the flying buttresses and soaring spires make it one of the best examples of late-Gothic architecture in Central Europe. A three-minute walk down Barborská Street, the Czech Museum of Silver offers tours of the remaining mines and displays of historic coins. When it's time to recharge, wander over to Dacický Pivnice, where the hearty meat-and-potatoes fare is updated from medieval recipes and the boisterous taproom pours five types of beer--the pilsner is excellent with the buttery roasted trout. Get in a quick game of ninepins in the pub's backyard before heading over to the creepy Alchemy Museum, devoted to the times when people tried to convert base metals into gold. Finally, for a one-of-a-kind souvenir, pick up a colorful handmade hat by milliners Bára Jelínková and Lucie Franková at the Salon Meluzína.
A box of Karlovarské Oplatky, thin round wafers that are filled with chocolate, vanilla, or hazelnut paste. You can find them at station kiosks for $2 or so.
Kostnice: Zamecka 127, 011-420/327-561-143, kostnice.cz, $2. Cathedral of St. Barbara: Barborská 1, 011-420/327-512-115, $2. Czech Museum of Silver: Barborská 28, 011-420/327-512-159, $3 for museum, $6 for museum and mine, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org in advance to reserve an English tour. Dacický Pivnice: Rakova 8, 011-420/327-512-248, dacicky.com, entrées from $5. Alchemy Museum: Sankturinovský dúm, Palackého Námestí, 011-420/603-308-024, alchemy.cz, $2. Salon Meluzína: Jakubská 3, 011-420/327-513-660, meluzina.cz, from $33.
One hour each way. Round-trip ticket: $7. The fast train to Kutná Hora (direction Brno) from Prague's Hlavní Nádrazí station departs daily at 9:54 A.M. The trip takes just over an hour. A return ticket ($7 round trip) is the best deal, but you must come back within 48 hours; you can book it in advance from an agent at the station or on the day of travel, but be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before your train leaves. First-class is just a few dollars more. From Kutná Hora, there's a fast train back to Prague at 4:59 P.M. Schedules at cd.cz.