Water, water, everywhere

In the great yin and yang of things, the firm terre on which we tread our adventures shoes would be nothing without a bit of water for balance. And so it is with Dame Paris, with a vital liquid life force running through her very heart (no not wine, behave), the majestic river Seine. Why it’s taken me so long to dedicate a post to what is probably the simplest, most delightful and goddamn free-est part of this fair city, je ne sais pas. But investigate it in the name of the written word I surely have, so sit down, grab a glass (no not river water, behave) and I shall begin.

Let’s get the all-important stats out of the way, you can’t take selfies with those. 777km long running from its origin at Source-Seine (north-west of Dijon), France’s 2nd longest river (after the Loire) flows into the English Channel between Le Harvre and Honfleur in Normandy. Divided into five distinct parts, its middle section the Traversée de Paris weaves through the capital at 24km above sea level with an average depth of 9.5 metres. Here you’ll find river-going vessels a-plenty passing under 37 bridges, five of those strictly pedestrianised (posts on the honourable mentions coming in the future).

Named after Sequana, the river’s Gallo-Roman goddess, the Seine’s very existence ensured the origins of Paris itself, being an important trade route for the city’s first settlers, the Parisii tribe, way back in 250 (ish) BC. Historically speaking, the old gal (yes, she’s a la) has seen all the trials and tribulations of the birth and growth of a major city, from Viking invasion, too many conflicts to count, and many a poor soul destined to rest on her bed for all eternity (including Joan of Arc; her ashes were allegedly scattered in the river at Rouen in 1431). Many a flood has shown her darker side, most notably the big one in 1910, and as well in ’24, ’55, ’82, ’99–’00, ’16 and January 2018. Despite this constant threat of deluge, her banks were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

Why I haven’t quite appreciated up until now just how much the Seine reflects my simply delightful (and free, most importantly) ethos, I can’t tell you. Perhaps born under a fire sign I’m unconsciously wary of her powers. But as I’ve recently walked along the banks taking photos in preparation of this post, I find it hard to believe why you’d want to come to Paris go anywhere else. She quite simply has it all (ok, apart from Sacré-Coeur) as the lion’s share of the city’s heavyweights line her bank proudly, reflecting their beauty in her sparkling waters. We’ve seen how metro line 4 can give you all of the capital’s flavours north to south, but the Seine can do the same from east to west, so even if you’re (un)lucky enough to be in Paris for only a couple of hours, follow her contours and you won’t miss much.

There are of course many ways to do this (though I’ll put my foot down, those maddening electric scooters will NOT be tolerated). The river boat bateaux mouches will glide you briskly (though not cheaply) past the sights, with the added bonus of unique under-the-bridge vistas (mind your head). Given that much of the lower banks have been developed and fully pedestrianised, cycling and strolling are much finer choices, with ample entertainment provided for pensive pauses gazing at the water flowing past, and sun-tan-tastic Paris Plages for self-bronzing devotees. Many have been so charmed by the banks that they’ve decided to make them their home, and many a be-floraled houseboat can be spotted too, especially the further out of the city proper you go.

Those interested in more artistic pursuits (beyond gazing at the outside of museums) will revel in ambling by the hundreds of bouquinistes selling their literary wares on the banks at street level. Dancers can get their teeth into a tango at the Jardin Tino Rossi down by the river in the 5th (pm), and fish botherers can fill their boots (well, waders perhaps) if they rock up with permit and rod in hand (salmon allegedly returned to the water in 2009, but I wasn’t that lucky, and this is all I could tempt onto mine). These days sport takes on a whole other dimension as preparations for the 2024 olympics are well underway, with the river earmarked for swimming and triathlon events.

There’s a whole tourist boat full of stuff about the Seine that I’ve missed here (I didn’t even get to the part about the dead bodies), enough probably to warrant another post (I’ll add it to the list..) In the meantime here’s my glass (of wine, naturally) raised to the watery maiden that only expertly stokes, rather than subdues, the flames in my fiery heart. Cheers!

A river runs through it

Kimfish2In Paris, why yes it certainly does. A big blue snake providing tourists with a perfectly glideable passage across the city, given that a great deal of the best sights hug the banks of it. The Seine is also a godsend for the more permanent beings of Paris too, offering kilometres of meandering cobbles along which picnics are encouraged, if not practically compulsory.

Many choose to settle next to the flowing water when a sunny evening beckons armed with good conversation, cheese and wine (is there anything else in life you could possibly need?), whilst others prefer to dream of beach volleyball, sheened and bronzed torsos, and string bikinis on the urban sand at Paris Plages. But I’m the kind of girl who likes to go against the grain, and as much as I’d be perfectly content with either option, I rather keep it more real.

Well, reel at least. One of the last things you expect to see whilst strolling along the river bank are handfuls of folk dipping long sticks into the water, hoping for an animal from the deep to take hold, but holy baited hooks Batman, in Paris the fishing bug has well and truly bitten.

It found me when I was merely a young sardine, carted along with my dear granddad to the beaches and piers on the south coast of England where I caught my first tiddler aged three (I suspect the grown-ups helped me out a bit with that…). Never did the prospect of river-tickling enter my thoughts when thinking of activity-filled days in the French capital.Kimfish3

Then I entered the world of French employment and met Ed, a fellow Brit and rod-dipping maniac (enthusiast seems too disengaged a word somehow) who lured me back to the shore, and took me for my first riverside expedition. Lucky for me, he’s a well-kitted out sort of chap, so I was able to ride off the braces of his yellow fishing dungarees and avoid the expense of procuring my own equipment, and more happily, putting the worms on the end of the hooks (though it turns out a certain type of dog food is in fact his secret weapon). Two fins up.

Our chosen spot is as central as you could possibly get, slap-bang between the two islands Cite and Saint Louis, where there’s a bridge supplying both ready-made rain coverage and punter’s gallery for the onlookers to marvel at the beasts we dredge from the bottom of the murky flow. I’d like to say the applause doesn’t penetrate professionals like us, but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s the glory we’re all after.

I’m not going to lie to you. It’s as much about the beer and the socializing than anything else, though the fishing element definitely adds a sense of purpose to hanging around aimlessly on the banks of the Seine (I resemble a Jack Russell puppy in my constant inability to sit still and the need to be constantly doing something, so it suits me fine). With his wonderfully patient and accepting girlfriend Beth, Ed can spend hours waiting for the rod to twitch all but a few millimetres, and for him it’s a rain-or-shine deal (not so for me and Beth who creep indoors when the heavens open).

Kimfish1But the wait is worth it. In the first picture you’ll see my first catch, a 30-odd-kilo catfish of nearly mythical proportions  – wot I caught myself whilst wearing a dress (Ed’s fishing buddy Mathieu swears I’m the only girl in Paris ever to have done so). In the second, you’ll see last weekend’s spoils, again reeled in whilst wearing a dress (you’re welcome).

These bottom-feeders aren’t for eating though; if you’re surprised there are fish in the Seine at all due to the less-than-clean water quality, you’ll understand why we get our glory snap and throw them back. And hopefully you’ll understand more about the activity than some of the passers-by who have quizzed us during past expeditions. “How on earth did you get the idea?” one Parisienne asked, clearly flummoxed by the whole exercise. Not wanting to insult her by explaining the centuries-old equation of rivers = fish, I claimed the whole thing as my own. Kim – Princess of scales.

To get involved you need a rod and related equipment, obviously (which Decathlon et al do decent lines in, amongst others), but more important, a fishing permit (you can get the just for the day), available from www.cartedepeche.fr.

Though if you encroach on our patch, it might be you being fed to the fishes. Know what I’m sayin’?