Posted Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 3:51pm by Darren Baker
The Czech Republic is often described as being in the heart of Europe, which sounds nice, but what it also means is that this is a landlocked country with not an ocean or seaside in sight for hundreds of kilometers. That always gave me the impression that going abroad in search of a week or two on the beach was a big deal here, and it is when you consider the million or so people who drive to Croatia and the Adriatic Sea this time of the year. Some time back I met my friend Pavel and asked him if he and his family were going to Croatia that year. We were standing below the weir on the river close to where we live. He looked at the beer garden next door, then to the mountains just off in the distance, and said he didn’t see any reason to when they had all this around them. He then put his head under the waterfall before going up to the garden and downing a few beers.
He had a point there about the beer, but I wasn’t sure about the weir. The water was only ankle deep at the bottom of the fall, with lots of rocks that were slippery, slimy and some of them sharp as hell. And that water, flowing down from the mountains, rarely got above 20°C. But being into all that river of life stuff, my wife and I did make an effort to get our kids to swim in a waist-deep section upstream from the weir when they were small. Then the city came along and built a water park on the outskirts of town, full of slides and warm, chemically-treated water, and the presence of people at the river began to dry up. The adults still came, but got no further than the beer garden and adjacent outdoor volleyball court.
Last year the decades-old weir underwent reconstruction. In the process a huge hole was excavated under the current base of the waterfall and lined with concrete walls and foundation. That way it would fill up with enough water to form a large swimming pool before the water spilled over the side of the wall and the river continued on, mostly ankle-deep, on its way to Poland and the Baltic Sea after that. It was a huge project, and because we generally took walks along the river every day, we saw it progress over the course of the year it took to build it. At one point it came to a full stop after heavy rains washed away a good deal of the natural barriers they had erected for the work.
But in June of this year, still on schedule, they finished and the new weir was opened to the public. It has been an incredible hit. For one thing it’s free, but another is you’re swimming in nature. And since we’re not talking about the Amazon here, there’s no need to worry about dicey creatures lurking about. No snapping turtles, electric eels, snakes, alligators or piranha. The most I have seen are minnows. I did spot an otter once upstream, but he has yet to put in an appearance. The water this inaugural summer has been warmer than usual and the waterfall keeps the enormous pool flowing and aerated. You also can’t beat that sound, just as pleasing to the ears as waves crashing on a seashore somewhere.
The first time we met Pavel and family at Little Niagara since it opened they were on the riverbank cooking sausages over a campfire and drinking beer. I didn’t even think to ask him if they were planning to go abroad to some seaside that year. Better to ask if they had some extra sausages and beer.
About our author, Darren Baker (1961- ), his career path is almost as unlikely as Simon’s own! He was born in California and spent his formative years in South Carolina, before joining the U.S. Navy. His first book was based on his years in the submarine fleet. He later attended the University of Connecticut, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in modern and classical languages (a double Russian and German major with a minor in classical Greek). A backpacking tour of Eastern Europe in 1991 led him to settle permanently in the Czech Republic.
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