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RAFTING CZECH REPUBLIC: A two-day canoeing and camping adventure down the Vltava river

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Published on May 17, 2017

Banter, beer and beauty on an epic two-day rafting, canoeing and camping trip down South Bohemia's mother river, the Vltava. Read the full story at: http://czechstories.com

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"The campfire snaps, firing up bursts of orange into the night sky, throwing shadows across the dark outline of our teepee and the woods behind. A short distance to my right, through a curtain of trees, I can hear the white noise of the beer-brown river flowing downstream. From somewhere there is the sound of a guitar being strummed.

“Rafting is strange, isn’t it?” Says Martin, an English student from Prague as he pours himself a drink and stares into the flames. “My muscles hurt because I’m not used to the movement, but on the other hand I’m totally calm. I’m exhausted physically, but relaxed psychologically. Do you know what I mean?”

I reach for another beer and nod. I know exactly what he means. We’re in Kamp Branna, halfway along a journey down the Vltava river. Despite only being on the water for a day, there’s already a feeling of being in a totally different gear, tuned to the river’s speed. Little wonder that rafting or canoeing down this, the Czech Republic’s iconic ‘mother’ river, is regarded as something far bigger than a holiday.

As I’ve already been told numerous times by fellow rafters, a trip down the Vltava is more like a rite of passage, one that draws legions of paddlers every summer keen to experience its unique river culture, history and jaw-dropping natural splendour.

It hadn’t taken long to see its appeal. Arriving earlier in the day at the pretty Renaissance town of Český Krumlov, perched above a series of the river’s winding bends, my co-rafter and I had been met by Honza from raft hire company ‘Rafting Krumlov’.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” He’d said immediately, gesturing towards the South Bohemian town’s chocolate box skyline, framed by a bright October sky. “When I was young we came on a boat here every year. Twice sometimes. It was a traditional family trip. Whenever possible we all came rafting or canoeing.”

As directed, we climbed into the back of a battered van with a large red and black inflatable raft strapped to the top. Pulling out of town, we were soon heading upstream towards our place of embarkation.

It turns out that deciding exactly which stretch of the river to raft is down to the skill of the paddlers. The Vltava is enormous; it runs, roars and meanders 430km from the Šumava National Park in the west of South Bohemia to the mouth of the Elbe beyond Prague, giving it a reputation as a river of many personalities. Fortunately there’s one to suit any level. While more serious paddlers might frequent the higher and more challenging white water reaches found in Šumava, others – like us – plump for a more well-paddled path: the two-day trip from the village of Vyšší Brod downstream to Český Krumlov.

After swerving along country roads for half an hour, gaps in the thick woodland began to reveal an impressive spire and tumble of quaint orange roofs. Vyšší Brod may now be a somewhat forgotten spot, but the spire forms part of what was once a large Cistercian monastery built by South Bohemia’s powerful and influential Rosenberg family, and it dates back to the thirteenth-century. Following a tumultuous history that saw it requisitioned for a loot store by the Nazis and its monks being turfed out during communism, it’s now a monastery again, exuding a stately feeling of serenity. With the river looking similarly gentle, Honza pulled in and released the raft from its moorings, sending up a cloud of dust.

Loading it with our kit – paddles, sleeping bags, sun hats, food, water, cameras packed in waterproof bags and a slab of Budweiser Budvar – Honza gave us a scratch lesson in tackling the river’s many weirs. “Look for the arrows pointing you to one side or the other, and do what they say. Then point the raft down the channel and go for it. Don’t go over the main weirs or you will capsize.” Then, with promises to call him to organise a rendezvous as we approach Český Krumlov, he put his foot on the raft’s stern, gave us a hefty shove, and we were adrift.

I say adrift. The first weir was only a few paddle strokes away meaning that we were soon being pulled into its current, approaching the surging channel of white water stern first. Being seated at the back, I took evasive action and turned us around using a paddle against the bank just as the raft’s prow disappeared down the slide of water ahead. A strong drag, down, and we were pulled through to jolt back up into the river’s heart, arms aloft, whooping with joy..."

Read on at: http://czechstories.com/go-with-the-flow

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