Tales of the riverbank: Prague's newly-renovated waterside walkway

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating 2002 floods here in Prague. Since the deluge, billions of crowns have gone into repairing the damage wrought by the floods. This clean-up operation has also meant a facelift for several parts of the city that, for decades previously, had been looking a bit down-at-heel. One such area is the right bank of the river Vltava, which Prague City Council is now hoping to transform into a promenade lined with attractions, to rival that of Berlin or Paris. Rosie Johnston went down to the bonnie, bonnie banks of the Vltava to take a look:

It's early days for the City Council's plans to transform the Vltava's right bank into a walkway packed with bars and cafes. At the moment there are a couple of stands, a couple of boats offering tours or serving as restaurants, and some snazzy new benches stretching as far as the eye can see. But still, all walks of life are down here. Cyclists and rollerbladers continuously swoop past, and the promenade seems to be a haunt for dog-walkers.

Karel Vorlicky has been coming here for the last 65 years to fish. He explains how the area has changed over time:

"The tow-paths have changed, the water is cleaner, but people don't have the same relationship with nature as they did in the past. But I like it here; I can come here on public transport, no problem. In recent years it has got prettier, and gone up-market. But there are a lot of visitors here, and for some people that's probably a good thing, but not for us fishermen."

But it's very much a work in progress: Filip Dvorak is one of the town councilors behind the plans to regenerate the waterfront:

"Up until now, the riverbank was accessible, of course. But everyone did whatever they felt like down there. You had to scramble your way over mountains of rubbish. When the Vltava rose and flooded the bank, mud was left absolutely everywhere. You could go down and walk there, but it wasn't in the least bit pleasant. Our aim is to change that, and attract Prague residents down there to relax. We would like cafes and restaurants down there, and various other attractions. To start this process off, four stalls have just been opened."

Illustrative photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
Eva Kasalkova is the owner of one of these four newly-opened stalls. She sells smoothies, and staroceska trdla, sweet rolls of pastry coated in cinnamon or chocolate. She tells me a bit about how her first month of trade has been:

"Sales are good, especially sales of fruit juice. A lot of people walk past this spot and are interested in one of our fruit juices, especially because they are all natural and free from additives. For the most part, it is foreigners who are buying our smoothies, because they are more used to the concept. English people, in particular."

The walkway may not be fully decked-out with all the souvenir stands, beaches, playgrounds and performance spaces that Prague City Council envisage on the site by 2011. But even as it is, it satisfies a large number of purposes. Here is what a handful of people I bumped into there had to say:

"If I compare this to what was here before the revolution, it's much nicer. It really has its own atmosphere. I really like this waterfront, because it is all newly done-up, and it's oriented towards people."

"There is a sign saying this is a cycle-path, but it isn't a special path for bikes. I find it really difficult to go over these cobble-stones. I normally take another route."

"The benches are well designed, but it's a pity that that sculpture there, with the old trees - there is no explanation accompanying it. There is a little board saying who made it, but no further explanations. But that's something you find in the whole of Prague, no? Yeah."