I had visited Paris twice before; once as a 10-year-old on my first trip outside of the US and a second time as a college student after completing a semester in Spain. Both were whirlwind tours of the highlights – the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Eiffel Tour, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur. This weekend, 13 years after my last visit, I had to no itinerary. My plan was simple – walk and wander.
I arrived in Paris at 4:30 pm on an October Friday and enacted the plan immediately. I dropped my suitcase in a worn room in a tired, but perfectly situated hotel in St. Germain du Pres and headed back out to the streets, camera in hand. The skies were gray, but the air was unseasonably balmy. My jeans and casual burgundy suit jacket were too warm for the humidity hanging in the atmosphere and I began to sweat as I crossed the Seine towards Ile de St Louis. Autumn travelers crowded the narrow streets of the tiny island, licking ice cream cones and applauding street performers. I weaved through the crowds, pausing occasionally to snap a photo, no particular destination in mind.
I found my way to the right bank of the Seine and turned left in the direction of the Louvre. I walked along the surprisingly quiet sidewalk, the Seine flowing peacefully below to my left and the high wall of the Tuileries on my right. I enjoyed the movement after sitting all day at work and two hours on the train.
I glanced down the Seine through an opening in the trees that lined the sidewalk. I looked west, towards the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and saw a distinct break in the clouds along the western horizon. The walk and wander plan was immediately put on hold and I had a sudden and clear destination – make it to a bridge where I had a chance to see the sunset with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. I quickly consulted my map, counted the bridges until the turn in the river that would afford me a view, and started to run. Three bridges to Pont Alexandre III. The running shoes I had unfashionably paired with my jeans and blazer now served me well. I clutched my purse tightly against my midsection to avoid jostling the Canon camera inside. The light sweat I had broken earlier began to stream down my face. I passed a few pedestrians, but I didn’t pause long enough to look at their faces and know whether they were bothered or confused by my sprint. I was focused only on making it to the bridge.
After several minutes of running along the Quai de Tuileries the road veered left and I knew I was close to my destination. I arrived at the Pont Alexandre III just in time to see the sun emerge from the clouds, its bright rays reaching out towards the top of the Eiffel Tower.
I paused for a moment to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my forehead. I snapped a few pictures to capture the moment just in case the lighting unexpectedly deteriorated, but everything in the sky told me the show was just beginning.
After digitally preserving the scene, my eyes moved away from the sun and towards my fellow revelers. A young Parisian man leaned against the ledge of the bridge, as if he couldn’t be bothered to turn around and witness the sunset. He wore a fitted green jacket and tight cuffed beige pants, the kind of outfit that would be immediately recognizable as European anywhere in the US, where men prefer an extra inch or two in the circumference of their clothing. His right foot stood firmly on the ground and his left rested on the inside edge of a skateboard turned on its side. The cigarette that hung in his outstretched hand completed the picture.
An Asian woman stood to his right dressed for the season and not the weather in a beige trench coat and burgundy scarf. She snapped photos of herself in the sunset with the aide of a selfie stick, undoubtedly searching for the perfect Facebook profile pic or jealousy-inducing Snapchat to her friends at home. She delivered pose after pose – smiling, gazing dreamily towards the camera, head turned slightly in one direction, then the other. She even flaunted duck lips. I was so amused by this scene that I started taking photos of her. She didn’t notice.
Another man dressed head to toe in dark gray and carrying what can only be described as a purse spread out a large map along the railing of the bridge. He stared at it, perhaps planning his dinner location or plotting the way back to his hotel after the sunset was complete.
I transferred my attention westward as the sun sank closer to the horizon and adjusted the white balance on my camera to prepare for the perfect moment ahead. The empty spaces on the bridge filled with accumulating onlookers that had paused their evening plans to enjoy the show. Thick clouds hung eastward from Eiffel Tower, but there was a half circle of clear sky perfectly positioned above the Seine that created a frame for the live film unfolding before us. The sun flamed in orange, the fiery backlight accentuating the crisp profile of the Pont des Invalides in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. A long barge of tourists glided under the bridge below me and added another texture of silhouette to the scene.
The rippled waters of the Seine flickered fuchsia and orange as the sun traversed the horizon. Wisps of clouds painted gold, mauve, and ginger streaks across the sky where the sun had just passed. I adjusted the aperture on my camera several times with the hope of capturing at least one photo that would accurately reflect the landscape around me.
The colors faded quickly after the sun disappeared. I tucked my camera back into my purse and enjoyed a few minutes taking in the view without my lens. I left the bridge and turned back in the direction of the Louvre with the sky still bright in the early dusk. The relatively short run became a rather long walk back to my hotel. The air chilled and I was grateful for the blazer that had caused me to sweat earlier. I considered tomorrow and wondered what surprises my walk and wander plan might reveal, but the city did not need to do anything else to impress. Three hours into the weekend and my trip to Paris was complete.