780 km long, the Seine measures a mere 13 km in Paris - but that 13 km is truly amazing. The best of Paris - from nightlife to the arts, religion to commerce - line the banks of the river, and the 36 bridges which span it are a vital part of Paris. We hadn’t thought of booking ourselves a cruise down the Seine, but a trip to the Eiffel Tower, at the foot of which most cruises start, tempted us. Many river-cruise companies have set up shop here; and we bought tickets (50 francs each) from one called `Vedette de Paris’, for an hour’s cruise, passing below 21 of the 36 bridges.
The cruise we took began at the ultimate in Paris’ sights, La Tour Eiffel itself. A quick glance up at the tower (which we’d already had a look at), and we were ushered onto the boat, a large one with wooden benches (peeling paint and all, but with a quaintness about it which was quite beguiling). It was a wonderfully sunny day, and the hour-long cruise remains one of my best memories of Paris.
The cruise took us along very interesting territory - we saw, on either side of the river, the Eiffel Tower , the Palais Royale and the Louvre ; the golden statue of the flame (a replica of the flame held by the Statue of Liberty - to commemorate French-US friendship); L’ Hôtel des Invalides , L’ Obelisque Egyptienne, Saints-Chapelle, Nôtre Dame, the Musée d’Orsay , and more. Name a Parisian attraction, and chances are you’ll be able to see it from the boat you’re on.
The view’s gorgeous, with even the bridges being works of art. One of the most ornate bridges is Pont Alexandre III , inaugurated by the Tsar Nicholas II. It’s heavily carved, with huge human figures in the center, and a fair amount of gilt. The oldest is Pont Neuf (strangely enough; `neuf’ means `new’!), and the most romantic, or so they say, is Pont Marie . It’s said that if, when passing under it for the first time, you close your eyes and make a wish, it’ll come true. I wished that the camera I’d lost the day before would reappear by magic - but it didn’t, so there!
Near Pont Sully , the boat rounded the curve of an island and headed back. At the turn is a house which used to be once inhabited by Chopin, Mozart and Goethe (presumably at different times?). Further on, at Pont de L’Alma (built to commemorate a French victory over the Russians during the Crimean War), a soldier, called the Zouave, has been carved on one side of the river. The Zouave is generally used as a watermark - the highest the water has been is up to his chin.
On the whole, it's a neat way of seeing Paris - historic, interesting, and worth every franc you spend on it.