A ferry nice surprise

28-01-2017

A river ferry service across the Vltava, courtesy of the Prague public transit system (MHD) offers those in the Czech capital a delightful extra way to use their bus, tram and metro tickets. One such service is found in the Troja district in northern Prague.

Photo: Dominik JůnPhoto: Dominik Jůn

I’m walking along the bicycle and pedestrian path on the right bank of the Vltava river that leads north out of Prague. About two kilometres past Prague Zoo, and it pretty much already feels like I’m out of the capital city completely. To the right in the distance, you can just about see the apartments of the Bohnice district up in the hills. But as far out as it seems you are, in fact the Prague municipal transport system (MHD) has something on offer here, too. Not a tram, or a Metro, or a bus – but rather a ferry service.

There’s a ferry station just up ahead that crosses the Vltava. I’m on the right side, which is called Podhoří station – that’s the name of this area of Prague. And over on the other side is V Podbabě station – Podbaba is the name of the area on the west bank that has a hilly park.

You can use your regular MHD ticket on the ferry. It takes about two minutes to cross over, and the service runs from about 0530 to 2200 every day (from 0630 on weekends). It is officially the P2 line, or technically the 696 route. There are actually five such ferry lines in Prague within the city’s municipal transit service. Only two of them operate year-round – meaning like now in winter as well. The other one is even further north along the Vltava up in Sedlec.

I’m walking now along a wooden plank and stepping onto a docking harbour area on the river. I can see the ferry on the other side of the Vltava, so I am just going to wait for it to cross over to me.

There have been crossings here going back to the year 1888. The line as it is now was renewed back in 2006. It is run by the Pražské benátky company on behalf of the municipal transport service. The ferry itself is called the Baba. It’s 11 metres long and 3.7 metres wide. Apparently there are about 450 or so passengers per day. The ferry has a maximum capacity of 40 persons and it is built around a 19th century design. It is motor-powered.

The funny thing is that the ferry has one of those MHD ticket-stamping machines to validate your MHD ticket. By the shore there is also a standard red MHD sign with a timetable and with a ferry logo on it. The service runs about every fifteen minutes.

The ferry is arriving now. It actually heads out not by heading in a direct line across the Vltava, but rather it heads out diagonally into the current, then it makes a sharp turn and lets the flow of the river push it into a sideways docking at the port. There are about five passengers onboard ready to disembark here. The motor is throttling down... On this side there are two other people – one with a bicycle – waiting to go across.

Photo: Dominik JůnPhoto: Dominik Jůn The ferry has arrived, and the captain is mooring the ship with a rope. The outboard passengers are disembarking. Inboard passengers can read a sign reminding them that they have to have their tickets ready for inspection.

I’m boarding now...

“Dobrý den.”

I’m being greeted by the captain. There are wooden benches around the ferry for passengers to sit on. There is a green tarpaulin over our heads to keep out any potential rain. The motor remains on in neutral. I’m going to talk to the captain later. But right now, I’m going to record this trip in real-time with no (audio) edits.

The captain unmoors and pushes the ferry away from the dock by hand. The motor revs-up, and we’re at full power! It’s quite unbelievable to imagine that this is the Prague MHD. But here we are, crossing the Vltava. It really doesn’t even feel like we are in Prague at all. But, just now as we reach the middle of the Vltava I can suddenly see Prague Castle in the distance looking south. There are swans in the river. The Czech flag is flailing at the back of the ferry.

We’re more than half-way across now. And now we are approaching V Podbabě. The engine throttles down; the captain turns the vessel sharply to align it with the dock. We are being greeted by some ducks, here even in the winter. A train passes on the track just above us – that’s the northward line towards Ústí nad labem.

The captain has just moored the vessel, and we are here. So, about two minutes. The gate opens and the passengers disembark. I know the captain speaks a little bit of English, so I will ask him a few questions. Incidentally, on this side of the river, he has a kind of little green caravan, presumably as a base of operations.

The Captain, photo: Dominik JůnThe Captain, photo: Dominik Jůn So you call yourself the captain, right?

“Yes, that’s right.”

How long have you been captain of this ferry?

“I’ve technically only been a captain for one year. Before that, we didn’t need a captain's license.”

Do you consider this a fun job – to ferry people back and forth across the Vltava...? It seems like a fun thing to do.

“Yeah, it’s fun here. You can ask my customers...”

There are two lady passengers here (giggling). Would you say that most people come here for practical reasons – to cross the river – or is it mainly sightseers and so forth?

“Yes, I think that around 70 percent use this ferry to go to their jobs or to school.”

And you are here from five in the morning till ten at night? That must be tiring.

“No, we (have shifts) and I come in at 1pm. We work for 24 hours and then change over.”

And this green caravan, I notice a sign offering “kachny” or ducks. Is that a side job? Are you also selling ducks here?

“No, no. That is the name of the ferry newsletter which we offer here.”

And that is called Podbabské kachny...

“Yes.”

So over on this side it’s very easy to walk up to the street and catch a bus towards Dejvická Metro station. If you’re going the other way, then you can then take a nice walk towards the whole Troja area. So that's it! This ferry is an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of Prague.

28-01-2017