Memories resurface on the Seine
As a 5-year-old French girl, I had an unforgettable adventure with my parents one evening, cruising along Paris’ River Seine aboard a “bateau-mouche.”
My father had just given me a gift he bought at FAO Schwarz in New York: a radio teddy bear! Unheard of in France in 1964, the teddy bear looked like any other stuffed animal, except for three big buttons hidden under the fur on its back.
I was living a fairy tale, sitting proudly by a window in the dining deck, holding my precious teddy bear while looking with astonishment at the moving light show and bridges around me.
The term “bateau-mouche” literally means “fly-boat” and originated in the marshy, fly-infested areas of the River Rhône near Lyon, where the boats were first manufactured. Today, several cruise lines offer boat tours of Paris, but the term “bateau-mouche” typically refers to tourist boats in general.
The boats glide through the high stone embankments of the Seine, passing famous Parisian monuments such as the Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the Pont de Grenelle bridge, the Pont Alexandre III bridge and Les Invalides.
Each year, the fleets travel a distance equivalent to three circumnavigations of the earth.
An elegant dinner cruise on the Seine is one of the finest ways to fully understand why its banks were made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.
On a recent visit to Paris, I decided to pass on the experience to my own children, and I booked a table with La Compagnie des Bateaux-Mouches—the same cruise line from my childhood fairy tale. Having raised my three children in the heart of Manhattan, I was unsure if they would feel the same charm that embraced me four decades ago.
As we dressed for dinner, my 11- and 14-year-old daughters giggled while rehearsing their wardrobes in front of a mirror. My 12-year-old son, dressed in a crisp shirt, proudly sported what he called his “French” hairstyle (parted on the side, small bang on the forehead).
We checked in at the plush red velvet reception area of our bateau-mouche, and a glimpse of my children’s sparkling eyes made me smile with contentment. The dream would live on for another generation.
The captain welcomed us aboard while a waiter escorted us past a live orchestra to a magnificent table at the nose of the boat. With only the glass-enclosed deck separating us from the water, we had the best view in the “house.”
The dinner menu was very French:
A choice of appetizers included duck liver pâté, seasonal mixed salad, crayfish, snails or frog legs. The main course was a choice of beef fillet, lamb roast, quails, fillet of sole and monkfish, sea bass or lobster. Cheese was offered before a dessert selection of Grand Marnier soufflé, apple tart, flamed meringue ice cream or chocolate cake.
Chocolate truffles concluded the meal as the orchestra played its finale, accompanied by a warm round of applause from the guests.
My children and I raised a toast to their grandfather and the beauty of the moment—one I promised to revisit in another 40 years.
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