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Rick Steves: Enjoying a romantic afternoon in Paris

Paris is a city for walking, hand in hand, with just the right person. Make the most of the French capital’s parks, cafes and sights.
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A sunset stroll along the Seine River is one of Paris’s most romantic experiences. CAMERON HEWITT

There’s a spot in Paris that’s an ideal place to share a box of macarons. Pulling the ribbon on a tiny box of them — gilded with tradition and the Parisian flair for good living — is the perfect start for a romantic afternoon with my favourite travel partner and my favourite city.

Nibbling our pastel confections — rose, lavender, peach and pistachio — we dangle our legs over the tip of an island that splits the Seine River, which splits the city. Ahead of us a series of bridges gracefully arch over the river as it recedes into the distance.

Paris is a city for walking, hand in hand, with just the right person. In a tiny park on the island, we tune in to the sound of pétanque balls cracking against each other and the cackle of old-timers wrapped up in the game. We share a Monet moment near a pond of water lilies, where children nudge toy boats along with sticks.

We celebrate the chance to become temporary Parisians — to not just blend in, but join in. We explore the city as cultural chameleons, relishing the novelties all around us (such as how poodles here actually sit on chairs at cafés). And as we watch children practise their social skills in the sandbox at the Place des Vosges, we find comfort in the universalities.

We mimic the relaxed sidewalk dance of couples who are clearly as old as our parents and still in love — with each other and the city they call home. The friendly bustle along a market street reminds us that this vast city is really a collection of close-knit neighbourhoods. Like locals do, we give market strawberries the sniff test and covet the countless goat cheeses spilling from a fromagerie onto sidewalk racks. We watch and listen, happy to go ignored, as chance meetings of friends are followed by sweet little popping sounds made by air kisses just beyond each cheek.

We’re not really hungry, but at a corner bistro we spot two rattan chairs and a rickety table that are just too inviting to ignore. Settling in, we appreciate our mutual taste for escargot, agreeing that snails really are delicious if they come with enough garlic. The curiously appetizing sound of a knife slicing a crusty baguette lets us know that another basket of fresh bread is on the way, just in time to soak up the last bit of that buttery sauce. Over a glass of wine, we ponder the countless love affairs that can be blamed on Paris. We draw up a list of past Parisian romantics — from Frédéric Chopin to Edith Piaf to Ernest Hemingway — and vow that we’d turn them all down for each other.

A dainty bird alights on an adjacent chair, taking a sweet break from her daily chores. She cocks her little head at us and blinks — as if reminding us of our goal in Paris: to hit pause on normal life, take time to reflect, and focus on simply being here. So when the crème brûlée comes, we prick our ears for the mouthwatering sound of our little spoons cracking through its roof before we devour it…slowly. Then we settle ever deeper into our wicker chairs to sip pastis, that anise-flavored liqueur that demands you just sit and experience it. It’s so Parisian.

After climbing the steps of Montmartre, we grab a perch at the top. From here, we survey the city as it sprawls before us. France, like every culture, has a soul — the accretion of its art, its history, its people, and their struggles. We ponder how, for generations, it’s been not the elite but the fringe of Parisian society who’ve enjoyed this top-notch view — the bohemians of each age. We feel a kind of communion here, on the steps of Montmartre. As we snuggle, so do strangers around us. They may be of different generations and nationalities, and speak a different language, but there’s a oneness here — an intimacy of being surrounded by strangers carrying on their own love affairs with Paris.

As we look out over Europe’s grandest skyline, the sun sets, and the City of Light starts to turn itself on. District by district, neighbourhoods are illuminated. As if all connected to one sliding switch, the floodlit monuments gradually glow brighter. And then, at the top of the hour, as church bells ring, the Eiffel Tower twinkles like a constellation in the Paris sky.

We put our phones away, thankful we have nothing scheduled but time together.

Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European guidebooks, hosts travel shows on public TV and radio, and organizes European tours. You can email Rick at rick@ricksteves.com and follow his blog on Facebook.

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