Anglaise vs. Eos: Seine-side Sunrise

You’ll have to excuse the geeky Greek mythology reference in the title; strange though it may seem, Classics grads don’t get to use their degrees too often in real life. If you’re not into slightly obscure deities from ancient cultures (though I find it hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t be), Eos is the Greek goddess/personification of dawn.

Trust me, it’s relevant.


Let me take you to the end of last summer, somewhere in the middle of September. I’d just gone back to work after six months of full-time furlough, and having spent half a year with no demands on my time or obligations to anyone other than myself, I was filled with resolve to make the most of every single moment I didn’t now owe to my employer.

So, one Monday morning, finding myself inexplicably awake around 5am, instead of doing the normal-human thing of turning over for another couple of hours of sleep before work, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was naturally conscious at an hour I would never usually have been able to prise myself out of bed at… and go and catch a sunrise.

As I quickly threw on a jumper and jeans, I dithered over my destination. My main dilemma was whether to opt for altitude – the hill in Montmartre on which the basilique du Sacré-Cœur sits was a strong contender – or proximity to the Seine. In the end, I settled on Pont Alexandre III on the basis that there’s nowhere I like to catch a parisian sunset more than by the river, and that the famous bridge would be close enough that I’d make it in time on foot. The distance was an important consideration; I didn’t have long if I wanted to arrive in time to see the whole show.

When I stepped out onto the street, the city still seemed to be shrouded in the deep velvet darkness of the night. No sooner had I turned the corner, though, than I could see that black was already bleeding into blue on the horizon. I immediately picked up my pace. The race was on: anglaise expat on her quest for a Seine-side sunrise, vs. the lightening sky.

Cathédrale Saint-Louis-des-Invalides

I strode through the silent streets, retracing the route to the river I’d taken dozens of times before. Since there was nobody around, I even dared to pull my facemask off (we’ve been required to wear them in all public places since last summer), and thirstily drank in the cool early-morning air, revelling in the easy breathing and the feeling of the fresh breeze on my liberated face. 

By the time I was circling around Les Invalides, the inky blue overhead was starting to give way to lighter hues; the looming golden dome of the cathedral made a striking silhouette against the first pale pinks and yellows fading into the skyline. I didn’t have long.

Fortunately, I also didn’t have far to go. Once I was on the other side of Invalides, it was the final leg – just one straight stretch of road between me and my destination. 

…Only, no sooner had I reached said destination than I realised that, rather than admiring the sunset from Pont Alexandre III, the significantly better view would be the one with the magnificent bridge in it. So I hightailed it over to the next bridge along the Seine, and made it just in time to see the real show start. 

What can I say? It was everything you could want from a sunrise. A perfect specimen. The colours were magnificent, the transition from dawn to daytime doubly lovely for being reflected back from the silky surface of the Seine, surprisingly smooth beneath my feet. And dividing the reflection from the real thing, the impressively extravagant Pont Alexandre III.

The 19th century structure is actually classified as a “monument historique”, and it’s easy to see why. Between the intricate moulding and elaborate lampposts running the length of each of the arches, the enormous pillars topped with gilded statues on either side of both banks, and the ornate copper reliefs marking the midpoint of the pont, this is quite clearly no ordinary bridge. Suffice to say, it made a stunning addition to the main event. 

I watched the sky gradually cycle through a spectrum of pretty pastels from my vantage point right in the middle of the-next-bridge-along, leaning on the cold stone ledge until my forearms went numb. Then, taking the discomfort as my cue, I made my way back to Pont Alexandre III and caught the sun cresting the horizon from there. 

Something I find particularly fascinating about sunrises and sunsets is that those two brief moments are the only times at which you can really see the sun moving. I’ve always thought it funny, how it looks for all the world to be completely stationary if you glance up at any given point of the day – but that it does its disappearing and reappearing so quickly. Enthralled as ever, I watched the tiny blazing ball of orange make its distant ascent.

I stayed until the sun was well on its way up and the sky had turned almost entirely bright blue, save for a last lingering lightness around the edges. I must have taken a hundred photos and I could have taken hundreds more; I spent all morning wavering between the desire to enjoy the moment IN the moment, and a compulsion to capture such breathtaking beauty. 

Even then, though, I wasn’t quite ready to return to “real life” (i.e. my job). I decided being up and out so early merited a special breakfast (not like the sunrise itself wasn’t reward enough, but any excuse), so I took a (significant) detour via a fabulous boulangerie called Du Pain et des Idées (literally, “Bread and ideas” – what a wonderful name) and picked up a pain au chocolat. Arguably the best pain au chocolat I have EVER tasted, incidentally. Well worth trekking half way across Paris for, and a suitably enjoyable conclusion to my mini morning adventure.

Mission accomplished and breakfast obtained, I set off back the way I’d come, practically skipping through the streets as the sleepy city woke up around me. I think I smiled the whole way home.

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