Gary’s Romantic Afternoon with his Sweetheart along the Seine

Marilyn has always loved France. Her father had family in France, and her great-aunt had sent gifts to her and her sisters, and had written letters to her from France when she was a little girl. Marilyn has many fond memories of receiving those letters. She also had a couple of books and some pages of comic strips cut from newspapers that her great-aunt had sent. When her great-grandmother had passed away when Marilyn was a toddler, her father had gone to France to settle some legal affairs, and later he received his aunt’s possessions. Their house was full of furniture from France.

Marilyn had studied French extensively in school. She enjoyed speaking and conversing in French. She was interested in French history, current affairs, and culture. She had belonged to the Alliance Française since her college days. (We have attended numerous parties and events of the Alliance Française here in Austin.)

When I first met Marilyn, she was preparing for her first trip to France. She was really excited about it. She had planned every detail, what cities she would go to, what she would see, who she would see. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, Chartres Cathedral, Nice, the list went and on and on. Her journey would start and end in Paris.

Six months before she was to go on her big trip, she met me. We liked doing things together, and I liked to hear her tell me about things. When she did go to France as she had planned, she kept wishing that I was there to see it with her.

When she came home, she came to the farm and met my parents, and after my first tour of sea duty we got married and had a family. She continued to love France and sometimes she wished that she could go there again and show me all the things that she had seen. She was teaching French in high school, and she attended Alliance Française meetings regularly to keep her vocabulary up to date. We sent our daughter to France for a summer exchange visit, and we sent her to England for a year of study abroad. But after twenty-five years of marriage, we had never made it to France together.

So, to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in 1997, Marilyn and I decided to visit Europe, or more specifically England and France, together. I had been doing a lot of travel on business in the U.S., and going to Europe would be a treat. We planned to spend two weeks abroad, with the first part of the journey in England and the remainder of the time in France. We would take the new high-speed Eurostar Train that went under the English Channel across the Strait of Dover, traveling at 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour from Waterloo Station in London to the Gare du Nord in Paris in about two and a half hours.

I was really excited to try the new train, which had come into service about three years earlier. It was an engineering marvel, and the construction of it had interested me for quite some time. They had been discussing building one in Texas, and I had gone to several meetings about it, although in the end nothing ever came of the idea.

Marilyn was so excited to have me along! We explored the south/left bank of the Seine in Paris during our first days in France. We saw the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides, we attempted a trip to Palace of Versailles (but we didn’t make it) and much more. Marilyn was like a personal tour guide, telling me something interesting about each place that we saw, speaking French with the locals, and just having the time of her life.

I even got so I could almost understand some of the French that was spoken around me. One time, we were walking back from the vicinity of the the Eiffel Tower to our little hotel when we decided to have dinner at a rather upscale outdoor café. We were shown to a nice table and we sat down. I saw something on the menu that looked really good. So I decided to try ordering it myself. The waiter, dressed in a very nice dinner jacket, a crisp white shirt, and neatly pressed trousers, with a folded white towel over one arm, came over to take our order. Marilyn ordered her dinner, and it went fine. Then I ordered my dinner. Marilyn looked up and tried to hold back a laugh, and the waiter looked absolutely SHOCKED! Needless to say, Marilyn ordered from then on. (She later told me I had ordered “shoe sole.”)

Another time, we were walking through a nice park and we stopped at a cute little sidewalk café. We gave our orders to a middle-aged woman who seemed very friendly and nice, and we had a good meal. At the end of the meal, the waitress came up and asked, “Fini?” and I answered, “No, but my grandfather was.” I somehow thought she said “Finnish” instead of “finished.” She looked at me very strangely. Marilyn explained my mistake after we left the café. I was certainly wondering how the lady knew I was Finnish!

After a few days in Paris, we took a train to Chartres and spent some time exploring the town and the and the cathedral.

After the visit to Chartres, we returned to Paris, this time to explore the north/right bank of the Seine for several days before we went back to London and headed home. We were staying in a really old hotel that was right across Rue de Rivoli from the Louvre Palace. We spent a day at the Louvre Museum, and then on another day we took a walk along the river. We were headed out toward the Notre Dame Cathedral. (Pictures above)

On our way to Notre Dame, we passed a little bakery and Marilyn told me how good the croissants were in France. So we stopped to a have a cup of coffee and a croissant. The cup of coffee was nothing to write home about, I thought. It was in a tiny little cup and it tasted very strong to me, almost like they were giving us the coffee from the bottom of the pot. But the fresh croissant was great, flaky and buttery, warm from the oven. (I should admit that in my old age I have now learned to love strong coffee in little cups, and my daughter even gave me a special coffee maker to produce it. I couldn’t live without that coffee now!)

After our coffee and croissant break, we headed on to Notre Dame Cathedral. When we had tried to visit it in the previous week it had been terribly crowded, and we had decided to skip it, but this time we were able to actually get inside, and were able to take a few (non-flash) pictures.

After some time exploring Notre Dame, we continued our walk along the Seine. I had just climbed some stairs to see what was up above the riverbank when Marilyn started calling and waving for me to return. When I came back down, she said that a “bateau mouche” (a small river cruise boat) was just about to leave, and if we hurried we could get on it, and then we could have dinner on board and see Paris from the river, as the boat moved along. So we scampered quickly, and got aboard.

Marilyn directing Gary to the departing bateau mouche.

There were only a few other people on board, so we got a lot of the attention from the staff — and they actually spoke English, so I had no problems. Marilyn was so excited to point out all the things about Paris as we went along the river, and to tell me all the stories. We ordered our food, and the staff started bringing it to us. It was a seven course meal, like many we had in France. It was delicious. If I remember rightly, the main course was fish.

As we ate, Marilyn would point out things that we were passing as we went along the. Even the beautiful and ornate bridges had stories. However, there was one building that perplexed her as we passed it. It had a blue dome, and sat across the river from the Louvre Palace, with only a footbridge for access. (Many years later, I have finally figured it out what it is, with the aid of Google. It is the official meeting place of the Institut de France, providing a secluded location in central Paris where nationally recognized experts belonging to the national Académies, which exist in a wide variety of different fields, like language, sciences, arts, music, and so forth, can share and discuss their work.)

Dusk descends on the River Seine as we head back to our hotel.

Finally, at the end of our dinner cruise on the Seine, the boat docked at its mooring, and we returned to our hotel. I was stuffed, and slightly tipsy. It was a wonderful day that I will remember for a long time.

Now, in the winter of 2021, Marilyn and I are approaching our fiftieth wedding anniversary, which will come next year. We are currently in COVID 19 lockdown. I have been going through our old photo albums, and when I discovered these photos, I thought I would write about the wonderful time we had visiting France long ago. Indeed I have had a wonderful time with my wife for nearly fifty years.

This is the end of the photos and descriptions of our journey. Please scroll down if you want to read the historical notes I relied on.

Institut de France

The Institut de France is a French learned society, grouping five académies, including the Académie Française.

The Institute, located in Paris, manages approximately 1,000 foundations, as well as museums and châteaux open for visit. It also awards prizes and subsidies, which amounted to a total of over 27 million per year in 2017. Most of these prizes are awarded by the Institute on the recommendation of the académies.

The building was originally constructed as the Collège des Quatre-Nations by Cardinal Mazarin, as a school for students from new provinces attached to France under Louis XIV. The inscription over the façade reads “JUL. MAZARIN S.R.E. CARD BASILICAM ET GYMNAS F.C.A M.D.C.LXI”, attesting that Mazarin ordered its construction in 1661.

The Institut de France was established on 25 October 1795, by the French government.

The Pont des Arts or Passerelle des Arts is a pedestrian bridge in Paris which crosses the River Seine. It links the Institut de France and the central square (cour carrée) of the Palais du Louvre, (which had been termed the “Palais des Arts” under the First French Empire).

Between 1802 and 1804, under the reign of Napoleon, a nine-arch metallic bridge for pedestrians was constructed at the location of the present day Pont des Arts: this was the first metal bridge in Paris. The engineers Louis-Alexandre de Cessart and Jacques Dillon initially conceived of a bridge which would resemble a suspended garden, with trees, banks of flowers, and benches. Passage across the bridge at that time cost one sou.

On 17 March 1975, the French Ministry of Culture listed the Pont des Arts as a national historic monument.

In 1976, the Inspector of Bridges and Causeways (Ponts et Chaussées) reported several deficiencies on the bridge. More specifically, he noted the damage that had been caused by two aerial bombardments sustained during World War I and World War II and the harm done from the multiple collisions caused by boats. The bridge would be closed to circulation in 1977 and, in 1979, suffered a 60-metre collapse after a barge rammed into it.

The present bridge was built between 1981 and 1984 “identically” according to the plans of Louis Arretche, who had decided to reduce the number of arches from nine to seven, allowing the look of the old bridge to be preserved while realigning the new structure with the Pont Neuf. On 27 June 1984, the newly reconstructed bridge was inaugurated by Jacques Chirac, then the mayor of Paris.

The bridge has sometimes served as a place for art exhibitions, and is today a “studio en plein air” for painters, artists and photographers who are drawn to its unique point of view. The Pont des Arts is also frequently a spot for picnics during the summer.

Pont de la Concorde and the Palais Bourbon

The Palais Bourbon serves as a meeting place of the French National Assembly, the lower legislative chamber of the French government. It is located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, on the left bank of the Seine, across from the Place de la Concorde.

The Palace was originally built beginning in 1722 for Louise Françoise de Bourbon, the duchesse de Bourbon, the legitimized daughter of Louis XIV and the Marquise de Montespan. Four successive architects, Lorenzo GiardiniPierre CailleteauJean Aubert and Jacques Gabriel completed the house in 1728. It was nationalized during the French Revolution, and from 1795 to 1799, during the Directory, it was the meeting place of the Council of Five Hundred, which chose the government leaders. Beginning in 1806, during Napoleon‘s First French EmpireBernard poyet‘s Neoclassical facade was added to mirror that of Church of the Madeleine, facing it across the Seine and the Place de la Concorde.

The Palace complex today has a floor area of 124,000m², with over 9500 rooms, in which 3000 people work. The complex includes the Hôtel de Lassay, on the west side of the Palais Bourbon; it is the official residence of the presidents of the National Assembly of France.

The bridge

The Pont de la Concorde is an arch bridge across the Seine in Paris connecting the Quai des Tuileries at the Place de la Concorde (on the Rive Droite) and the Quai d’Orsay (on the Rive Gauche). It has formerly been known as the “Pont Louis XVI”, “Pont de la Révolution”, “Pont de la Concorde”, “Pont Louis XVI” again during the Bourbon Restoration (1814); in 1830, its name was changed again to Pont de la Concorde, the name it has retained to this day. 

Eiffel Tower and the Pont d’Iéna

The Eiffel Tower is a wrought-iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower.

Locally nicknamed “La dame de fer” (French for “Iron Lady”), it was constructed from 1887 to 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair and was initially criticised by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.91 million people ascended it in 2015.

The tower is 324 metres (1,063 ft) tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building, and the tallest structure in Paris. Its base is square, measuring 125 metres (410 ft) on each side. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930. It was the first structure in the world to surpass both the 200 meter and 300 meter mark in height. Due to the addition of a broadcasting aerial at the top of the tower in 1957, it is now taller than the Chrysler Building by 5.2 metres (17 ft). Excluding transmitters, the Eiffel Tower is the second tallest free-standing structure in France after the Millau Viaduct.

The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m (906 ft) above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or lift to the first and second levels. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the climb from the first level to the second. Although there is a staircase to the top level, it is usually accessible only by lift.


Pont d’Iéna (“Jena Bridge”) is a bridge spanning the River Seine in Paris. It links the Eiffel Tower on the Left Bank to the district of Trocadéro on the Right Bank.

In 1807, Napoleon I ordered, by an imperial decree issued in Warsaw, the construction of a bridge overlooking the Military School, and named the bridge after his victory in 1806 at the Battle of Jena, disregarding names considered previously: pont du Champ-de-Mars and pont de l’École militaire.

Prussian General Blücher wanted to destroy the bridge before the Battle of Paris in 1814, as Blücher had been present for the Prussians’ humiliating defeat at Jena, where approximately 28,000 Prussians were killed to France’s 2,480, after which Prussia was occupied by France. The Prefect of Paris tried everything to change the mind of Blücher – without success – and finally went to the wily diplomat Talleyrand, asking him whether he could write a letter to the General asking him not to destroy the bridge. Talleyrand instead approached Tsar Alexander, who was staying with him in Paris. The Tsar was asked to grant to the people of Paris the favour of personally dedicating the bridge under a new name (Pont de l’École militaire). The Tsar accepted, and Blücher could not then destroy a bridge dedicated by an Ally, and renamed.

Later, after the Waterloo Campaign in 1815, the allied armies of Prussia and Great Britain occupied Paris, and the Prussians, again, attempted to destroy the bridge on 9 July 1815. According to Lady Frances Shelley, the Duke of Wellington, who believed that destroying a useful structure such as a bridge, for purely symbolic reasons, was ridiculous, prevented the demolition by posting an English soldier on the bridge, with strict orders not to leave his post. Wellington went in a fury when he discovered that the Prussians continued to place gunpowder under the bridge anyway, even in the presence of English sentries. Fortunately, the Prussian soldiers were not very experienced demolition workers. Wellington snorted afterwards: “The Prussians did not know how to handle gunpowder. We, having blown up so many bridges in Spain, would have finished the job in five minutes”. Instead, the Prussians blew a hole in one of the pillars, but the blast was directed outwards and not inwards, which wounded some of the Prussian soldiers and threw one into the Seine. The demolition work continued until the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm III arrived in Paris. He immediately agreed with Wellington that the demolition should be stopped at once, but even that did not deter Blücher. Het told his king that “we need to do this to defend Prussian honour and avenge the desecration of the tomb of Friedrich II by Napoleon’s armies.” It was not until Czar Alexander intervened on the evening of 10 July 1815 that Blücher finally backed down. The Napoleonic eagles on the sides of the bridge were not removed and the city council repaired the superficial damage on the bridge quickly at a cost of 12.000 Francs. After the incident, the wronged Prussian general refused to stay in the city and moved his headquarters to Saint-Cloud. There, “poor old Blücher” (in the words of Wellington) fell off his horse when he tried to impress a couple of ladies with equitation prowess and lost his mind.

Talleyrand later had the bridge reverted to its original name under Louis-Philippe.The Pont d’Iéna at night.

The structure was designed with five arches, each with an arc length of 28 m, and four intermediate piers. The initial construction, the cost of which was enormous at the time, was fully financed by the State and spanned six years from 1808 to 1814.

The tympana along the sides of the bridge had been originally decorated with imperial eagles conceptualized by François-Frédéric Lemot and sculpted by Jean-François Mouret. The eagles were replaced with the royal letter “L” soon after the fall of the First Empire in 1815 but in 1852, when Napoléon III ascended the throne of the Second Empire, new imperial eagles, this time by the chisel of Antoine-Louis Barye, replaced the royal “L”.

Put in place in 1853, on the two ends of the bridge, are four sculptures sitting on top of four corresponding pylons: a Gallic warrior by Antoine-Augustin Préault and a Roman warrior by Louis-Joseph Daumas by the Right Bank; an Arab warrior by Jean-Jacques Feuchère and a Greek warrior by François Devault by the Left Bank.

Towards the second half of the 19th century, the inadequacy of the bridge’s carrying capacity started to become a pronounced problem. With the increasing traffic resulting from the expansion of the districts of Trocadéro, Auteuil and Passy, the necessity to enlarge the structure (the width of which was no more than 14 m, including the pavements) in a durable fashion grew as time went on.

Not until 1937, with the prospect of the upcoming World Fair drawing closer, did the French government decide to execute the project, which was all the more necessary as the structure was starting to show sure signs of deterioration. As well as the widening operation, reduced to just 35 meters from the planned 40 meters, the project also transformed the bridge with two additional concrete elements placed at either end, joining to the existing bridge with metal girders. Stone facings were used to protect the concrete tympana, the imperial eagles put back in place and the four statues repositioned accordingly during the bridge expansion.

This bridge has been part of the supplementary registry of historic monuments since 1975.

The steps leading off the bridge are popularly known among film fans as the “Renault stairs”, as they featured in a scene in A View to a Kill where James Bond (played by Roger Moore) drove a hijacked Renault 11 taxi down the steps in pursuit of an assassin later revealed to be May Day (Grace Jones).

Notre Dame

Notre-Dame de Paris (meaning “Our Lady of Paris“). Referred to simply as Notre-Dame, is a medieval Catholic cathedral on the Île de la Cité in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. The cathedral was consecrated to the Virgin Mary and considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Its pioneering use of the rib vault and flying buttress, its enormous and colourful rose windows, as well as the naturalism and abundance of its sculptural decoration set it apart from the earlier Romanesque style. Major components that make Notre Dame stand out include its large historic organ and its immense church bells.

The cathedral’s construction began in 1163 under Bishop Maurice de Sully and was largely complete by 1260, though it was modified frequently in the following centuries. In the 1790s, Notre-Dame suffered desecration during the French Revolution; much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. In the 19th century, the cathedral was the site of the coronation of Napoleon I and the funerals of many presidents of the French Republic.

Popular interest in the cathedral blossomed soon after the 1831 publication of Victor Hugo‘s novel Notre-Dame de Paris (better known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame). This led to a major restoration project between 1844 and 1864, supervised by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The Allied liberation of Paris in 1944 was celebrated within Notre-Dame with the singing of the Magnificat. Beginning in 1963, the cathedral’s façade was cleaned of centuries of soot and grime. Another cleaning and restoration project was carried out between 1991 and 2000.

The cathedral is one of the most widely recognized symbols of the city of Paris and the French nation. As the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris, Notre-Dame contains the cathedra of the Archbishop of Paris (Michel Aupetit). In 1805, Notre-Dame was given the honorary status of a minor basilica. Approximately 12 million people visit Notre-Dame annually, making it the most visited monument in Paris. The cathedral was renowned for its Lent sermons, founded by the Dominican Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire in the 1830s. In recent years, an increasing number have been given by leading public figures and state-employed academics.

The cathedral has been progressively stripped of its original decoration and works of art. Several noteworthy examples of Gothic, Baroque, and 19th-century sculptures and a group of 17th- and early 18th-century altarpieces remain in the cathedral’s collection. Some of the most important relics in Christendom, including the Crown of Thorns, a sliver of the true cross and a nail from the true cross, are preserved at Notre-Dame.

While undergoing renovation and restoration, the roof of Notre-Dame caught fire on the evening of 15 April 2019. Burning for around 15 hours, the cathedral sustained serious damage, including the destruction of the flèche (the timber spirelet over the crossing) and most of the lead-covered wooden roof above the stone vaulted ceiling. Contamination of the site and the nearby environment resulted. Following the fire, many proposals were made for modernizing the cathedral’s design. However, on 29 July 2019, the French National Assembly enacted a law requiring that the restoration must preserve the cathedral’s ‘historic, artistic and architectural interest’. Stabilizing the structure against possible collapse was completed in November 2020, with reconstruction beginning in 2021. The government of France hopes the reconstruction can be completed by Spring 2024, in time for the opening of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Pont des Invalides and Hôtel les Invalides

In 1854, the previous Pont des Invalides was demolished to be replaced by a new one in time for the upcoming 1855 World Fair in Paris. Paul-Martin Gallocher de Lagalisserie and Jules Savarin used the existing piers of the former suspension bridge and a newly added central pier to build an arch bridge in masonry on the same site. The new pier was adorned with sculptures in two allegorical themes: the Land Victory by Victor Vilain upriver; the Maritime Victory by Georges Diébolt downstream, whereas the two old piers were adorned with sculptures of military trophies bearing the imperial coat of arms, both the work of Astyanax-Scévola Bosio.

Despite being stronger, the new bridge still sustained a subsidence between 25 and 30 cm in 1878, and lost two arches during the winter of 1880 (restored by the end of the year). The bridge has been quite secure since then and the only modification made in the 20th century was the expansion of its pavement in 1956.

Les Invalides (We did not get any pictures)

Les Invalides, formally the Hôtel national des Invalides or also known as Hôtel des Invalides, is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, France, containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the original purpose of the site. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church, the tallest in Paris at a height of 107 meters, with the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon.

Pont Alexandre III

The Pont Alexandre III is a deck arch bridge that spans the Seine in Paris. It connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with those of the Invalides and Eiffel Tower. The bridge is widely regarded as the most ornate, extravagant bridge in the city. It has been classified as a French monument historique since 1975.

The Beaux-Arts style bridge, with its exuberant Art Nouveau lamps, cherubsnymphs and winged horses at either end, was built between 1896 and 1900. It is named after Tsar Alexander III, who had concluded the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. His son Nicholas II laid the foundation stone in October 1896. The style of the bridge reflects that of the Grand Palais, to which it leads on the right bank.

Pont de Grenelle and replica of the Statue of Liberty

Île aux Cygnes (English: Isle of the Swans) is a small artificial island on the river Seine in Paris, France, in the 15th arrondissement. It was created in 1827 to protect the bridge named the pont de Grenelle. It should not be confused with an earlier Île des Cygnes that was attached to the Champ de Mars in the late 18th century.

The uninhabited island is 850 metres (2,789 ft) long and 11 metres (36 ft) at its widest point, making it the third-largest island in Paris. A tree-lined walkway, named L’Allée des Cygnes (Path of Swans), runs the length of the island. Since 2012, there has been a public workout space with bicycles and a climbing wall underneath the Pont de Grenelle, close to a Statue of Liberty replica donated by men in the U.S. Army after World War I.

The island is crossed by three bridges: the Pont de Grenelle, the Pont Rouelle and the Pont de Bir-Hakeim

The name Grenelle Bridge comes from the name of the Grenelle plain that was accessible through this bridge. Grenelle was a town in the Seine department in 1830, before it became a part of Paris’s 15th arrondissement in 1860.

On 18 June 2016, the bridge was renamed « pont de Grenelle-Cadets-de-Saumur » to honor the students of the Cavalry School who defended the Loire region in the Battle of Saumur that took place in June 1940.

Pont de Bir-Hakeim

The Pont de Bir-Hakeim (English: Bridge of Bir-Hakeim), formerly the Pont de Passy (Bridge of Passy), is a bridge that crosses the Seine in Paris. It connects the 15th and 16th arrondissement, passing through the Île aux Cygnes. The bridge, made of steel, is the second to have stood at the site. It was constructed between 1903 and 1905, replacing an earlier bridge that had been erected in 1878. An arch bridge, it is 237 metres (777 ft) long and 24.7 metres (81 ft) wide.

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