Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cruising the Seine

Nearly everyone who visits Paris hops aboard a Bateau Mouche, an open-air sightseeing boat that meanders up and down the Seine. The boats move slowly enough to take in views of the city’s major sights – Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower.
Vedettes du Pont Neuf is a good option for frugal tourists. Although a snack bar is on-board, there are no obligatory meals or drinks. You may bring your own instead, stopping at a grocery store (epicerie) in advance. BYOB alcoholic beverages are permitted on board (hey, this is France!).
The departure point is from the western tip of the Île de la Cité, under the Pont Neuf adjacent to le Square du Vert-Galant (named after Henri IV) – just take the steps down from the bridge. From there you can get a sense of intimacy with the river, for this is how the Romans knew the Paris islands, not from the present ground level of the Île de la Cité, which has risen 23 feet over the centuries.
There are twenty departures a day between 10:30 am and 10:30 pm, so you can drop by whenever it's convenient (roughly every 45 minutes). I recommend in particular the late evening cruises, a great option after dinner when you’re not ready for bed, but your feet are weary from intense sightseeing. Buying a ticket does not commit you to a particular time, but you can get a 4-euro discount off the 11-euro price by buying your ticket in advance online. That’s only 7 euros for a one-hour cruise with commentary in English. There is also an option to print out a coupon for a 2 euro discount for those who would rather not buy a ticket in advance using a credit card.
The web site also has a link for Canal St-Martin cruises (Canauxrama). The site has French, English and German language options, and you can print out an English language description of the major sights in the order they will be seen on the cruise. There are videos of a fast-forward day cruise (sound track is Gershwin’s An American in Paris) and a night cruise (Beethoven).

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