I’ve been spending a lot of time traipsing back and forth over various bridges these days. This is due in large part to the fact that Sciences Po is a 15 minute walk from me on foot and across the Seine from my apartment (the metro is not direct and takes at least 25 minutes).
I usually traverse Pont Royal when I’m heading to school in the mornings. My route takes me straight down rue des Pyramides, between the jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre and straight across the bridge down rue du Bac on the rive gauche. On the way home from school I walk straight up rue des Saints Pères and across Pont du Carrousel, which leads me straight through the glass pyramid-filled courtyard of the Louvre.
I’ve also been spending a bit of time on Pont Neuf with my art class, which connects the Eastern façade of the Palais du Louvre with the tip of Île de la Cité and the 6ème arondissement. Every bridge has its own character and history – I think there are something like 36 of them. There’s the sunset bridge, the romantic bridge, the make-out bridge, the political activists’ favorite bridge and probably countless others that I haven’t yet picked up on.
Pont Neuf is supposedly the best make-out spot in Paris, but I’m not sure I believe it. The name means “new bridge” which is kind of funny because it’s actually the oldest bridge still standing in Paris. According to my art history professor, it was named such because when Henri III started building at the end of the 16ème siècle it was the first bridge to be built without houses and buildings on it. This was supposed to present an unobstructed view of the Louvre so the citizens of Paris would be sure to never forget who held the power.
I think it’s supposed to be a good make-out spot because it’s lined with little alcoves and benches, but in my experience it’s more the bridge where you’re most likely to be sexually harassed. Rather than couples stealing kisses in the alcoves, they’re filled with obnoxious guys yelling at every girl who passes them. It was on Pont Neuf where a particularly hairy guy who was probably older than my dad asked, “You want me to give it to you?”
A much more romantic bridge can be found just to the west of Pont Neuf – a pedestrian traffic only bridge called Pont des Arts. On any nice day (and some not-so-nice ones too) the bridge is filled with couples having picnics or bottles of wine. At times it’s hard to walk across, the bridge deck is so filled with people in love.
Pont des Arts is also often the site of political statements. Right now the architecture students at l’École des Beaux Arts are angry and protesting because they don’t have enough space to learn in – according to the fliers they’ve strewn around the city, there are something like 11 classrooms for the 1.300 students in the program. Last weekend they set up these sculptures built out of cardboard boxes in protest. Unfortunately for them, it started pouring rain just a few hours after they’d set up, and the boxes were mush by early afternoon.
Passerelle Solferino is a favorite bridge of the few street runners of Paris – the bridge has a normal deck on top (pedestrians only), and underneath it has a long flight of stairs arching up from water level to the bridge deck and back down to water level on the other side of the Seine. A popular running route (as popular as a running route could possibly be in Paris) is to lap the jardin des Tuileries, then run the Solferino stairs to the rive gauche, and run along the Voie sur Berge. On weekdays, this is dangerous because the street is a busy highway with no sidewalks, but on Sundays the street is closed to cars, and this is where the runners of Paris can be found. (Though I still haven’t determined whether people run on any other days of the week here).
Passerelle Solferino is also known as the sunset bridge, because this is where crowds of strangers come together every evening to watch the sun set behind the Grand Palais. Watching the sunset-watchers from my spot on the right bank of the Seine (preferably with friends and a bottle of wine) is one of my favorite things in Paris.
I don’t think I have a favorite bridge yet, but I’m still looking. I have about 20 more that I’ve never set foot on, so I’ll need a little time to assess before choosing. So far though, I rather like Solferino.