Saturday, 9 July 2011

On a Boat Tour on the Seine River

It's summer and Paris happens to be a popular stopover for organized tours or weekenders. For those who come on their own time with no set itineraries, one of the best ways to have an overview of Paris is to go on a boat tour along the Seine River. It takes about one hour to just go on a cruise, or with the eight stops it makes, you have the option to disembark and get back on, later, at the same stop or another location.

There are several companies that specialize in boat rides for a cruise on the Seine River - the Bateaux Parisiennes, Vedette de Pont Neuf, Vedette de Paris, Bateaux Mouches, Batobus Paris - just to name a few.  In French, "bateaux" means "boats" and  "vedette" means "star." 
For the locals and the tourists, the Batobus is a river-boat shuttle service. For each stop, a member of the crew gives a commentary as the cruise progresses. 

If you want to just cruise down the river for an hour, you may want to choose the other cruise lines with open deck sitting. There you can feel the breeze and have the sun shine on you as you sit back and relax. Enjoy the ride, remember the places you will want to visit next time, and be sure to take pictures. 
It's time to get going. First, find a ticket kiosk by the Seine River. There is an "horaire" (schedule) given in military time, and please take special note of the end-of-service in each stop, as the last boat-departure schedule varies from stop to stop.

Year-round Schedule: April 1 to May 31, then September 1 to November 2 - 10:00 to 19:00; June 1 - August 31 - 10:00 to 21:30. 

Boat fare: one-day pass - Adult 14€, Child (under 16) 7€; two-day pass - Adult 18€, Child 9€; five-day pass - Adult 21€, Child 10€. There is a discounted rate for holders of student IDs, and other group-cards members. The annual pass is - Adult 60€, Child 38€. I would recommend buying a two day-pass if you are using this as a shuttle service.
Should  you decide to combine your Seine shuttle service with L'Open Tour (by bus), the fares are:  two-day pass - Adult 41€, Child (under 12) 20€; three-day pass - Adult 44€, Child 20€. 

The other means of getting around that you will need is your leg power - to walk around to visit the sites. Be prepared - put on your walking shoes, don comfortable clothes, wear a hat (in the summer), have a map and a guidebook on hand. Learn some French words now. It will be helpful. Part of your efficient, trip planning is to get your Paris Museum Pass, online.

Here are the eight stops where you can hop on or hop off...

starting at the Eiffel Tower, which is the hub of several boat lines. Start early and go with pre-ordered tickets to get up the tower before you go to your next stop. It's a breathtaking view of the city from up there.

Other places to visit: the Quai Branly Museum - an exhibition of the indigenous, tribal cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania; Parc du Champ de Mars - an open park with beautifully landscaped gardens, picnic grounds,  and walkways. 

As the cruise gets underway, there are several points of interest to notice, such as... 

the most beautiful bridge in Paris - the 19th century Pont Alexandre lll - built for the Universal Exposition of 1900, and opening at the same time as the Petit Palais, the Grand Palais, and Gare d'Orsay. It enabled the 50 million visitors to easily cross over from one side to the other, to visit the different locations of the exposition. It is now a thoroughfare that connects the Esplanade des Invalides to the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais

The Palais Bourbon - Assemblée Nationale - is the seat of the French national assembly. It was built in 18th century by the reigning royal family at that time, the Bourbons. However, it was taken over by the government after the French Revolution and turned into the parliament building. Facing the Place de la Concorde from one end of Pont de la Concorde (bridge), the façade of this building matches the Eglise de la Madeleine on the other side of the Seine River.

As this is a government building, bring your passports or national identity cards to present at the entrance if you want to take a guided tour.

On the Seine, most of the boats plying the river carry sight-seeing tourists. During the summer, the boats are top-down and sometimes decorated. This one is Vedette de Pont Neuf.
If you would like to celebrate or have a romantic cruise on the Seine, Bateaux Mouche offers dining services.
Also on the river are yacths that can be rented for company occasions, as well as house boats that are docked or cruise up and down the Seine.
Next stop: Musée d'Orsay

Located opposite the Jardins des Tuileries (Tuileries Gardens) the musées was originally the Gare d'Orsay, a richly designed train station that was inaugurated in time for the Paris World Exposition on July 4, 1900. After 39 years, it fell out of use as its short platforms could not service the longer trains that were in use. After that time, it had many other uses as a parking lot, a shooting stand, a theater, a reception center for prisoners of war until it was abandoned. Due for demolition, President Pompidou stepped in to save it. In 1978, President Giscard d'Estaing had it converted into a museum for 19th and 20th century art forms - such as sculptures, engravings, photos, film, architecture and urbanism. The work took about seven years, 1979-1986, and it was finally inaugurated and opened to the public as Musée d'Orsay by President François Mitterand on November 29, 1986.

In your visit, you will find art pieces from the 19th century to 1914, of works by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Rodin and many others. Special exhibitions are scheduled as well. Currently showing up to July 25, 2011 is Manet, the Man who Invented Modernity. Come September 13, 2011 - January 15,2012 Beauty, Morals, Voluptuousness will be on exhibition.

This stop will also lead you to the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood, but it will just be a bit of a longer walk.

Something just caught my unusual sight. Notice a dwelling made of boards, cartons and sheets? It is strange that it has not been torn down. Some homeless people stake their territory on the river banks, but usually they use pop up tents for shelter.

People just sit by the banks of the Seine River to read, meditate, relax, to watch, to pic nic, have a date, to rest, to take a nap or get a sun tan. The breeze, the peace and quiet are what you will find around here.

Saint-Germain-des-Pres Stop

This is the disembarkation point for you if you want to explore the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area, which is so rich in history. Visit the cathedral, have a light lunch at Les Deux Magot Café and tea at Café de Flore where French philosophers like Jean Paul Sarte and Simone Beauvoir used to hang out. Now, these places are frequented by the modern-day French intellectuals and artists. 

On the long stretch of Boulevard Saint Germain des Pres, meander through the little side streets and see the neighborhood. Make your discoveries of little shops and boutiques, tearooms, creperies, galleries, quaint hotels, international foods in the different specialty restaurants, and visit the Delacroix Museum. Squeeze in some shopping for a souvenir from your visit. It may even be market day on Boulevard Raspail when you get there on a Sunday - for the organic market, or Monday and Friday for the regular market. 

Other points of interest: La Chapelle de Medaille Miraculeuse (Chapel of the Miraculous Medal) 140 rue de Bac; Hermés Boutique on 17 rue de Sevres;  Hotel Lutetia on the corner of rue de Sevres and Boulevard Raspail. Just keep on walking and discover for yourself unique products, and indulge yourself with some chocolates, glaced fruits, artisanal cookies and some pastries. 
This is a pedestrian bridge. Walking in one of these bridges can be rather nice as there are artists of sorts to entertain you - some painting on the spot;  a soloist playing those romantic French melodies on his accordion like "La Vie en Rose" or, a violinist performing sweet sounds of classical pieces or ballads. When you stop to watch or take a picture of them, you are expected to drop something into their little hats or cups. 

This is also a picnic place of choice for some. And because it is constantly filling with people, there are some who are out to get one over you. With pads of paper on their hand with the heading of Association de les Sourdes et Muets (Association of the Deaf and Dumb), young girls will approach you, and in sign language motion for you to please sign on their sheet. Then, they ask you for money. I saw an American couple give whatever coins they had that amounted to less than a euro. They were asked for more, and when they said they had no more, the deaf and the mute started to curse them! Beware, too, of those who all of a sudden find a golden ring from the ground and ask if it's yours. Don't even touch it and just keep on walking. If you take it they will not leave you until you dole out something. Most of the time, I see people giving them a coin and hand back the ring just to get out of the situation.
Just like street traffic, the river has two lanes going in opposite directions. Still staying on the keep-right river lane, at this point, the river splits because of the small islands that sit on the middle of the Seine - Île de la Cité,  Île de Saint-Louis, and Île des Cygne - and becomes one way. 

Pont Neuf

This 16th century structure is rated as another beautiful bridge, next to Pont Alexandre lll,  which consist of two bridges that connect the Île de la Cité to the left and right banks. This was the first bridge made with pavements. Much to the delight of the Parisians, it became a favorite place to meet and socialize with people.
If you want to jump ship, there's this floating restaurant, docked just before the Notre Dame de Paris. 
 On the approach to the next stop is this recognizable side view of the cathedral on the île de la Cité.
 Notre Dame Stop

The Notre Dame de Paris - another French iconic landmark that is filled with tourists, daily. Patiently stand in line on the parvis (the open space in front of the church), to get in. By the way, there is a point-zero mark on the parvis, which is the origination point for the calculation of distances from Paris to the the other cities of France.
As soon as you exit and go up on the street level, there are sidewalk stalls before you can get to the cathedral. They are filled with souvenirs you may want to buy and take home - old and new, art pieces, old books and magazines. Do stop by and support the sidewalk economy.

After a visit to the church, you can head, either, to Le Marais or Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Add rue de Buci to your places-to-visit list in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Pres (near Metro Saint Michel). 

Le Marais: This once historically aristocratic place has metamorphosed into a trendy place. It is now the place with a lot of action: Centre George Pompidous - the National Museum of Modern Art of France;  Musée Carnavalet - about the history of Paris; Picasso Museum;  rue des Rosiers (Jewish section) for a Falafel meal or a treat of Jewish pastries; rue de Temple - Chinese Church of Paris ( Chinese community - now in the wholesale business for  jewelry and other fashion accessories, in the North side); Marché des Enfants Rouge on 39 rue de Bretagne Paris 3e - a market with an international flavor - where you will find ingredients from all over the world and restaurants serving specialty foods. 

There are countless trendy shops and fashion boutiques, restaurants, cafés, bistros, creperies, boulangeries and patisseries, tea-tasting rooms, perfume-making shops, and mini-markets. Judging from the existence of gay bars, cafés, nightclubs, and shops, Le Marais has also become a neighborhood (southwestern portion) for the gay population, since 1980. 
Heading to the next stop while getting a good view of the exterior, gothic details of the Notre Dame - the flying buttresses, the rose window, the roof line, steeples,  notice how clean the building is after years of reenforcing the structure and cleaning out the black soot that had settled on the exterior. This is how it would have looked like when the project was finally finished.
Jardin des Plantes Stop

While on the river bank, take a while to walk around the outdoor space and notice the many plant species used in the landscape, admire the flowering plants and trees and sculptures that grace the open space.

This stop leads to the Jardin des Plantes on the Left Bank of the Seine River in the 5eme Arrondisement, which is a botanical garden. The gardens are planted to flowers, ornamental and exotic plants, vines and trees - all organized in plots, filling up a big space of 69 acres. Go at your own pace and learn about the different varieties that come from far away places. There is also the Museum of Natural History, a botanical school, and a small zoo that used to be inhabited by the royal collection of wild animals.

Other points of interest to visit from here, within walking distance: L'Institut de Monde d'Arabe (foundation and museum for Arabian art and culture and other matters) on 1 rue des Fossés- Saint Bernard 5eme Arr.; rue Mouffetard - one of the oldest and liveliest neighborhoods in Paris; Le Boulanger de Monge on 43 rue Clef for some organic breads.   

This is the turning point to go from the Left Bank to the Right Bank on the Seine.
Now on the Side of the Left Bank, we can see the cathedral from the rear as we head to the next stop.

Heading towards the Hôtel de Ville Stopon the Right Bank are the residential apartments on the île de St. Louis. It is connected to the île de la Cité by Pont St. Louis, as well as to the left and right banks. If you decide to walk around by the Seine on this island, read the wall plaques and you will find that some members of the royalty, the aristocrats, and the intellectuals had made their homes in this 17th century setting. This charming little island, named after King Louis lX of France who was canonized as St. Louis, is complete with a number of restaurants and cafés, ice cream parlor, and a church. Although there is no metro station, it has two bus stops.

Hôtel de Ville Stop
The side-view of Hôtel de Ville

Named after this prominent building, the Hôtel de Ville is the City Hall of Paris. For that matter, all cities have a Hôtel de Ville, and often tourists mistake them to be part of a hotel chain.

Palais de Justice on the île de la Cité - where justice is carried out. Located on the former residence of King Louis IX, it houses the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before she was guillotined.

Second to the last stop: Louvre

This is your stop if you want to get a glimpse of that famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the "Mona Lisa." Much more awaits you in the Sully and Richelieu wings of the Palais de Louvre. For the art enthusiasts, a day maybe too short to see the works of art in the curatorial departments for Egyptian antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Painting, and Prints and Drawings.

Go to the courtyard to enter through the glass pyramid. It was designed to become the museum's main entrance by the  American architect, I. M. Pei, and was buit in 1989. However, it was welcomed with mixed reviews. Today, it is much appreciated as it was a good solution to create an entrance to the Louvre without touching any part of the historic building. It also brings in natural lighting to the underground level.

Next to the Louvre grounds, you can walk over to the Jardin des Tuileries. On the corner of the garden, on the side of the Seine River, by the Place de la Concorde, is the L'Orangerie - a museum with a permanent exhibition of Claude Monet's murals entitled "Les Nympheas," of his famous water lilies in his pond in Giverny. There is also an extensive collection of impressionist art.

Parallel to the L'Orangerie is the Galerie Nationale de Jeu de Paume - museum of contemporary art on the side of rue de Rivoli, on the north-western side of the Tuilerie Gardens. 
Last Stop: Champs - Elysées 

Just as you guessed, this is where you get off to see the famed Avenue Champs des Elysées. It's a tree-lined promenade from the Place de la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle where the Arc de Triomphe stands out as the center of one of the busiest round abouts in Paris.

With much to see and do from the Rond Point de Champs-Elysées to the arc, spend a couple of hours to join the crowds on both sides of the avenue. There are several luxury boutiques, stores, cinemas, restaurants, cafés, pizza joints, car display boutiques, a supermarket-department store, pharmacies and more. Let the highlight of your visit here include an order of macarons from Ladurée, a climb up the Arc de Triomphe, a dinner-show at Lido de Paris, or a picture taken with the distinctive sign of this famous avenue. 

Used for all major celebrations, come for the July 14th celebration of Bastille Day - now a celebration of French culture. There will be a military parade,  and a spectacular fireworks display. Another big celebration will be held on July 24th when the Tour de France 2011 comes to it's grand finale on the Champs Elysées. 

I hope you enjoy your summer visit to the city of Paris. Promise yourself, that there will be a next time. And to those who have not been here yet, make your plans and set the date. This is a city like no other.


  1. JG, I hope you have listed down the places you want to visit the next time you come. There is so much to experience over here, so many discoveries yet to be made by you and your hubby. Come back soon.



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