Saturday, December 22, 2012

Paris 3rd Time Around - Day 6 Floating down the St. Martin Canal

Another cold and gray day in Paris but time again to try something new.  I had been reading about the Canal St. Martin cruise -- a more than two hour glide down one of Paris' oldest and historic canals. Last year, the waters were too high and most sailings were cancelled but we were in luck this time around.

We took the metro to Jaures and easily found the Basin de Villete where Canauxrama, the company that runs various cruises docks its boats.  We got in early for the 2:45 pm sailing so there was time to sit and enjoy the canal view.

We set off towards the Ourcq Canal where we would make the u-turn to enter the St. Martin canal.  This would be a good way to spend a cold afternoon, relaxing and seeing views we hadn't seen before.

Paris as seen from the canal is mostly residential sections -- bridges span the narrow waterways where locals cross to and from each side.

I left the comfort and warmth of the indoor cabin to check how a lock works.  This was the first of 4 locks that our boat would go through.  So interesting to see the water slowly fill up the other side of the gate -- once the other side is full of water, the gates open and the boat slips through.

It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for each lock crossing which is why you have to put aside two and half hours for this excursion.  Some people may find it boring, but we felt otherwise.  The Canal St. Martin used to be a major byway for trade in old Paris. Nowadays, it is mostly used by smaller pleasure boats and cruise boats -- the barges carrying produce and goods have become too big to fit through the narrow canal.

The canal meanders through old districts and old buildings.  The building in the background is Paris' oldest hospital -- where people suffering from the plague used to be quarantined.  Throughout the tour, there is a guide on board who gives a running commentary in French -- but seeing there were 2 non french speaking guests on board -- she translated certain parts in English  for us.

It was almost 6 pm and quite dark by the time we reached the end of the cruise -- which is at the basin around the Bastille area.  This dock is where a lot of houseboats and yachts are parked.

Sailing is thirsty work!  We hied off to Chez Clement, a few steps away from the apartment where we were taken to a window table, warm and cosy against the chill and drizzle outside.  1664 beer and people watching -- what a perfect combination for a cold and rainy night in Paris!

Chez Clement is a restaurant d'  hotes, meaning it is a restaurant that also serves breakfast --  it is open most of the day.  Since it is in a tourist area -- Place St. Michel and Rue Andre des Arts -- I had little hopes for the food that would be served.  But the ambience was quiet and not touristy  -- and the service, while not quick was also not unfriendly.

I ordered the formule-- since I had fallen off the vegetarian wagon in Strasbourg, my baser foodie self ordered me to go with the porky saucisse Aveyronnaise.  It came with a mountain of golden and perfect frites -- I was back in hog heaven!
The sausage was not your delicate frankfurter variety but had chunks of brined and cured meat inside the casing.  Truly french, truly delicious!
Chez Clement may have been in a tourist area but the food was authentic and good -- I changed my impression - it is not a tourist trap at all!

My formule came with dessert -- a well done riz pudding.  Sitting on a puddle of vanilla sauce and sprinkled with chocolate sauce and finely chopped pistachio nuts -- it was a sweet note to end a surprisingly delicious meal!

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