Boating along the Vltava river in Prague
Forget the Blue Danube, it’s the greeny-brown Vltava which is the watery muse of artists and musicians in this part of the world. The Vltava is the Czech Republic’s longest river, stretching more than 400 km. It is also the main waterway through the Czech capital Prague, and has been most famous in recent years for bursting its banks in 2002. The floods caused billions of crowns’ worth of damage to the capital alone, and put the city’s metro out of action for several months.
But on a summer’s day the river is lovely, and reassuringly low. It’s the perfect weather for boating, and it’s tough work, but someone’s got to do it – in the name of this week’s Spotlight, I ventured out onto the Vltava with Captain Jarda Knapp:
A lot of cities like Amsterdam and Stockholm have a river which really functions as a central part of that city, and lots and lots of people can often be seen out on boats. Is Prague the same? Do lots of people go boating here?
Jarda Knapp helps run a boat rental service set up by his mother, Helena Knappová. Among other things, the family runs a ferry service between the Barrandov district on the left bank of the river, and the pleasure beach Žluté lázně on the right. You can go on this ferry over the river with a normal tram or metro ticket as it is part of the capital’s integrated transport system. Helena Knappová is no novice at the helm:
“I worked around water and around boats all of my life, and I really enjoyed it, and I wanted to keep on doing something I like.”
“I worked at a port, a port for all boats on the Vltava at Smichov and at Radotin.”
And what sort of things were you handling there? Freight or people?
“Everything. There were lots of shippings of coal and building materials in particular.”
“You can ride at around 20 – 25 km/h. That is if you are not too heavy. It depends on the weight of the people and things on board. The engine is not as powerful as the ones installed on big boats, because you need a license to drive something like that. But it is possible to use this raft as a proper traffic, transport boat.”
“It is true and I can understand why, because a lot of changes happened after the revolution. Before, there were a lot of factories and companies pouring their waste into the river, and after the revolution the law was changed, so it is much better now. And also, the number of places in and around Prague to spend time and relax along the river Vltava have increased considerably.”
The Vltava is maybe still not considered to rank amongst the cleanest of rivers, but Captain Knapp insists that it is nonetheless a great place to look at nature:
“If you go out of Prague, maybe not completely out of Prague, but at least in this direction away from the city, you can see a lot of nice situations, like birds diving into the water and swimming 20m underwater before flying out again. It is really common to see things like that. And we are just right now heading towards a place where I have seen for the past two years a cormorant who lives alone all by himself. And it is really nice to see him, just sitting there, everyday. He’s our friend, you know, and we call him Oskar.”
What I should be doing in order to drive this boat?
“It’s really not hard to drive this boat because here are only two things you have to do. One is controlling the amount of gas you use, and the other is controlling the direction of the boat. So it’s really nothing difficult to understand”
So, we’re sort of going in the right direction, but if I want to turn a bit to the left, I’m supposed to pull the engine right, is that correct?
Oh no, our boat is wobbling! Am I doing alright?
“Yes, I think so, yes, you’re fine.”
And if I wanted to speed up?
“You turn the accelerator to the right in your hand.”
“This gulf here, this enclave, it really looks like somewhere in Cambodia or something. Because it is so green, and there are all these old crashed boats, you know. It’s really funny, I think.”
So, how’s my driving?
“It’s really fine, I feel really good.”
So I proved my worth as a deckhand in the end, and sailing down the Vltava in Prague was fantastic. As a displaced Scot, I’d even go as far as saying that its banks were nearly as bonnie as those of the Lomond.