Savoir-vivre on the banks of the Seine

de66ebf0712cead3513d57abb2b54ef6Paris: the romance capital of the world. When strolling through its many streets, in which countless hearts have been solaced, the problem becomes not so much finding romantic places to walk in Paris, but choosing which romantic place in Paris to take a walk. May I offer a simple solution to this conundrum? Take a walk along the river Seine. The Seine is certainly not meant for bathing, but it is a romantic place to enjoy a walk.

Many great cities, prior to the advent of modern plumbing, were founded upon a great river. Rome was founded on the Tiber, which is always filthy, or London on the Thames, a river surrounded by commerce and the iconic London bridge, but Paris is founded on the Seine, which means taking the time for romance, as it is a slow, peaceful river.

At least… it is today. Historically the Seine kept up with the Joneses’ in terms of filthy rivers, carrying not only, ahem, waste, but also run-off from tanning operations, and was far worse than even the Thames with respect to the amount of street runoff flowing into it. The French however, over two and a half centuries, have transformed the Seine to surpass Romulus’ posterity and Victoria’s efficiency to become the river it is today. In a city of cafes, street artists, museums and layers of historical monuments, there is nowhere better to take an arm-in-arm stroll with your beloved than along the banks of the Seine.

The romantic Quays of the Seine begin with King Francis I, the great Renaissance monarch who first began transforming the Louvre into a museum, and Henry IV, the first Bourbon king. They began connecting Quays along the Seine as well as building new ones to create one direct route. Cleaned and sanitized during the French Revolution and Napoleon’s Empire, the banks of the Seine are dotted with historic and romantic parks, bridges, museums and excellent restaurants.

Where to start? The Seine runs the length of the city, and continues on to Normandy. To start at the beginning and tromp your way to the end would defeat the original purpose. Many blisters and many miles quickly remove the luster of romance, and give quite a different meaning to the French phrase “Tu me rends fou” (you drive me crazy!). As with French food, the rich river is best enjoyed in small bites, slowly savored.

For your first time out, to get a blend of everything romantic, from the quiet to the extravagant, may I suggest starting with a lovely dinner? For this you might try the restaurant Beaurepaire on rue de la Bûcherie. This attractive and affordable four star restaurant features classic French dishes, like Grilled fillet of duck breast, carrots and ginger purée, and Wild snails, done with butter and parsley. From this elegant atmosphere you can venture down to the Quay de Montebello, and enjoy a beautiful view of the Cathedral of Notre Dame from across the Seine, as iconic as any scene from Paris. Looking at it from a distance makes it possible to admire its grandeur and beauty while enjoying the calm and quiet.

Continuing northwest along the Seine, you can stroll through the quiet Square Rene Viviani, named for the Prime Minister of the 3rd Republic during the first year of World War I. This park with its enticing gardens, contain the oldest tree in Paris, a Locust tree which was planted in 1601. Continuing North of the Seine, you can make your way to Pont Neuf, (New Bridge), which, in spite of its name, is actually the oldest bridge in the city. In the middle ages, as well as the Renaissance and early modern period, Pont Neuf was the heart of the city, where all manner of charlatans, entertainers, artists and thieves would congregate. Imagining the people of times past still flitting about the walk inspires some interesting emotions.

Crossing over, one can view the Equestrian statue of King Henry IV, the first Bourbon, and the king whose election ended the French Wars of Religion. Sadly, he met an untimely end by an assassin’s blade. The statue was commissioned by Queen Marie de Medici. If you haven’t exhausted your taste for historical places or spectacular views, you can venture on to the Square de la Place Dauphin, a public square designed by Henry IV for the Dauphin, the future Louis XIII.

Retracing your steps back across the Pont Neuf, you can continue north, admiring the view across the Seine with every step, until you reach the Pont des Arts, which has become an attraction among couples. In recent years, the tradition has come into being of attaching a pad lock to the rails with the first names of couples written or engraved on them, and the key thrown in the river. The locks have grown so numerous over the years that their weight now threatens the integrity of the structure of the bridge. Perhaps one could come up with a symbolic lock and key, and still participate in a time honored romantic custom without adding to the bridge’s woes.

Coming back to the western bank of the Seine, you may continue northward to the Invalides, a museum dedicated to great military events in Paris’ history, and where Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb and death mask are located. If, however, you’re too keen on the minutiae of history, continue further westward and take a bus to the Pont de l’Alma. From here you can tread that path tread by so many lovers before you (and hopefully after you) approaching the Eiffel Tower from the North. As the sun sets, the light will hit it from your right, and you can enjoy the visage of what is so renowned of Paris the world over, to love in the city of love, before its greatest symbol. And here, softly caressing your lover’s hand, you might quietly impress your lover with a whispered quote from Terre des hommes by Antoine de St-Exupéry, “Aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction.” That is, “Love doesn’t mean gazing at each other, but looking, together, in the same direction.”

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