The afternoon sun twinkles off the Seine’s surface, making it shimmer like a diamond necklace. People stroll along its banks or sit at cafes, soaking in the afternoon sunshine, while cruise boats carrying camera-toting tourists drift past languorously. I am at the Pont de Sully, one of the 37 bridges across the Seine in Paris, beginning my exploration of the river.
My journey begins at the Notre Dame Cathedral, a fine example of French-Gothic architecture. Built over nearly two centuries starting in 1163, the cathedral’s architectural features – from flying buttresses to ornate arches, stone-carved gargoyles and chimeras to biblical figures from the Old Testament – will leave you spellbound. Step in and marvel at the sunshine streaming through the multi-hued stained glass windows, especially the towering north Rose window that bathes the cathedral in an ethereal light.
Crossing the river via the Rue de la Cite brings you to Shakespeare and Company, an iconic bookstore that hosted the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Ian Rankins and Dave Eggers. The floor-to-ceiling collections of second-hand books on rustic bookshelves are heaven for any bookworm. There are other hidden treasures around the shop too like walls covered with handwritten notes from visitors and beds for aspiring, but cash-starved writers, nestled between bookshelves.
A croissant and coffee provide the nourishment that I need to carry on with my walk down the river. The road is dotted with cafes and bistros, perfect to grab a bite while browsing the art shops around them. Shops on the riverside sell paintings of Paris and handmade trinkets, and it is nearly impossible to walk past them without picking up a souvenir.
The Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge across the Seine, built in the early 17th century by King Henry III. It consists of a series of arches, decorated by 381 mascarons – stone masks representing satyrs, sylvains and various figures from ancient mythology. The bridge is a wonderful place to get a panoramic view of all the famous monuments of Paris, from the Eiffel Tower at one end to the Notre Dame at the other.
Crossing the bridge brings you to the Louvre, once the main residence of French kings. The facade of the museum, decorated in the French Renaissance style, will enchant all, with caryatid pillars and arches with decorative tympanums. The glass pyramid at the centre of the courtyard is recognisable to anyone who has read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Its modernist tone serves as a perfect foil to the baroque palace. I explore the courtyards, taking in the intricate architectural details.
The sun is near the horizon as I enter the Jardin des Tuilleries. Once the garden of Queen Catherine de Medici, who commissioned it in the mid-16th century, it was opened to the public after the French Revolution. Today, it is a popular leisure spot for Parisians. I sit on the benches near the garden’s central pond and watch the ducks paddle around as the sunset casts golden shadows over the greens. The Seine has been a trusty guide for my afternoon stroll, tracing the history and architectural heritage of the city.
Words: Arundhati Hazra