The Seine is one of Europe’s most historic rivers, famously winding its way past some of Paris’ most iconic landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais, Place de la Concorde, Musée du Louvre and Notre-Dame Cathedral. It flows slowly from Paris to the port of Le Havre, and commercial boat traffic still plays a significant part of the river’s life. In the centre of Paris though, the Seine is the preserve of pleasure boats and tourist traffic.
Earlier this year, the Seine hit international headlines for all the wrong reasons. As it threatened to burst its banks and flood some of Paris’ most illustrious buildings, art collections in the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay had to be relocated to higher ground. Thankfully, the waters receded and Paris returned to normal, but for a moment the normally placid Seine turned from the river of romance to a raging torrent.
Our walk to reach the river at the Pont Royale took us through the grounds of the Musée du Louvre. We didn’t have time on this trip to visit the Louvre, but walking through the former residence of French Kings was a fascinating insight into contemporary tourism. For anyone familiar with the concept of Peak Oil, the Louvre must come very close to Peak Selfie.
Crossing the river onto the South Bank, we strolled past the familiar sight of stalls selling books, records, tourist memorabilia and reproductions of masterpieces found in Paris’ museums. We stopped on the Pont des Arts, the pedestrianised bridge that once hosted tonnes of ‘lovers’ padlocks’, to take in the view of the Ile de la Cite. Finally, we crossed the oldest and most famous of Paris’ thirty seven bridges, the Pont Neuf.
The Ile de la Cite is the bigger of the two islands that sit in the middle of the Seine, in what is considered the ‘heart of Paris’. It’s full of grand buildings and landscaped squares, all of which are overshadowed by the glorious Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. We hadn’t planned to visit the cathedral but as we walked towards it we decided we should, only to discover an enormous queue of people with the same idea.
Despairing of getting into Notre-Dame, we observed human life instead. This is also a selfie hotspot, but what caught the eye was a young couple taking wedding photos, massive white wedding dress included. It was a lot of fun, with tourists taking photos with the bride and groom. Meanwhile, a woman, in a very different white dress, was being filmed walking up and down in front of the cathedral in what can only be described as a sultry manner. All very strange.
The Ile de la Cite is regarded as the epicentre of Paris, and is also where the city’s earliest human settlement was founded. The Roman’s built their first outpost here around 50AD. The square outside Notre-Dame Cathedral is said to be not only the centre of Paris, but of the whole of France, psychologically at least. Today some of the most expensive real estate in the city can be found on the island, as can a sizeable number of tourists.
We wanted to have lunch but there didn’t seem to be many cafes on the island, those that we found were packed with people. We decided to head over to nearby Isle-Saint-Louis, which is home to authentic and elegant 17th century houses lining atmospheric streets, and just as many tourists. We gave up on the idea of lunch on the islands and wandered off to find a bistro in Le Marais’ bustling streets instead.