Discovering Canal Saint Martin in Paris

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We’ve come to Paris for a long week-end to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday, organised by her daughter as a surprise. As usual, we’ve fitted in a few medical appointments, as there is a severe lack of specialists in Blois, and some pleasure time with friends. I have found a home exchange with an Australian/French couple like us who live in a house in the west of Paris and exchange a two-room flat near Canal Saint Martin on the 5th floor. It’s not an area we know very well but our friends Susan and Simon from Days on the Claise always stay in this part of Paris when they come.

A tempting little restaurant on Rue des Vinaigriers
A tempting little restaurant on Rue des Vinaigriers

From what we can see, the area is very trendy. When we arrived last night, there were bars and restaurants open everywhere with people milling around the streets and pavements.

The spiral staircase in our apartment building
The spiral staircase in our apartment building

We’re in Rue des Vinaigriers just a short distance by foot from the canal so we set off to walk along it to the Bastille market where we’re going to buy oysters to take back to the flat for our traditional Sunday lunch.

We arrive just as a barge is passing through the lock at the end of our street. There is also a swing-bridge for vehicles that opens to let the barge through. We’re not the only people watching. Several locals are enjoying the scene and there is a group of seniors on a walking tour.

View of the canal from one of the humpback bridges
View of the canal from one of the humpback bridges

There are several humpback pedestrian bridges that give us a bird’s eye view of the canal.

Statue of Lemaître, the comedian
Statue of Lemaître, the comedian

We pass the statue of “Frédérick Lemaître, Comédien, 1800 – 1876”. The French actor and playwright was one of the most famous actors on the celebrated Boulevard du Crime, the nickname given to nearby Boulevard du Temple because of the many crime melodramas staged every night. It is notorious in Paris for having lost so many theatres during the rebuilding of Paris by Baron Haussmann in 1862.

Just one of the beautiful buildings along the canal
Just one of the beautiful buildings along the canal

We have already noticed the many beautiful Haussmann buildings with their finely sculpted doors and windows that line the street along the canal.

La Grisette
La Grisette

The next statue is La Grisette de 1830, sculpted in 1909 by Jean-Bernard Desomps. In the vocabulary of the 19th century, a grisette was a young seamstress who worked in soft furnishings and fashion, a flirt and coquette who occasionally sold her charms due to poverty rather than vice, so it would seem.

Richard Lenoir promenade above the canal
Richard Lenoir promenade above the canal

After a while, the canal goes underground and becomes a planted walkway called Promenade Richard-Lenoir. One of the four squares, Jules Ferry, is named after a French politician who drafted the 3rd Republic  bills that made lay education compulsory in France. Many schools in France are called Jules Ferry.

Bouly Ceramics
The former P. Bouly ceramic manufacture

P. Bouly, Carreaux de Faïence (ceramic tiles), on the left hand side is a reminder of the many factories that once flourished in the area.

Le Bataclan concert venue
Le Bataclan concert hall

On the right is a colourfully trimmed building surrounded by a fence – Le Bataclan, sadly famous for the terrorist attacks that led to the killing of 90 people in the concert hall on Friday 13th November 2015.

La Friche Richard Lenoir
La Friche Richard Lenoir

As we get closer to Bastille, we see a church in the distance on the left that we’ve never noticed before. Just in front is a sort of fenced-in area with small wooden huts. A sign on the gate says “La Friche Richard-Lenoir”. (Friche means “wasteland”). When I check it out later I learn it is a pop-up bar and open-air entertainment area with refreshment stalls, games and music that appeared in Septeember this year.

The memorial plaque to Merabet
The memorial plaque to Ahmed Merabet

A sobering sign on the promenade fence has a bouquet on top: “In memory of police officer Ahmed Merabet killee here on 7 January 2015 in the line of duty, a victim of terrorism.  He was shot after firing at the gunmen’s car during the Charlie Hebdo shootings during which 11 people were killed.

The Bastille market on a Sunday morning
The busy Bastille market on a Sunday morning

After more Haussmann buildings on the left and more modern constructions on the right, we come to the bustling market which is very colourful and pleasant under the trees along the promenade.

Buying oysters at the market
Buying oysters at the market. Jean MIchel watches as the man with the cigarette hand-picks the fattest oysters!

We find our oysters (from the same supplier as those we used to buy when we lived in the Palais Royal in the centre of Paris) and pick up some butter and baguette from two other stalls (we brought our Sancerre wine with us from Blois).

Vélib' and baguette
Vélib’ and baguette

Now for the Vélib’ city bikes. We’ve only ridden them once before but after cycling in New York City, we figure we are experts. Although Jean Michel assures me they are exactly the same bikes, I don’t find them as comfortable. They are infinitely cheaper though. As an occasional user, you pay 1.70 euro for a one-day ticket (8 euro for 7 days). The first 30 minutes are always free (you can swap your bike at a Vélib’ station every 30 minutes or pay 1 euro for every additional half hour). (More information here). Three-quarters of an hour’s cycling in NYC (with Black Cat’s City Bike subscription) cost us near 20 dollars each!

More buildings along Richard Lenoir promenade
More buildings along Richard Lenoir promenade

We follow the canal back up as far as Hôpital Saint Louis. As we walk back to our flat, I try the baguette and decide it’s not very tasty so we go looking for a traditional bakery called Du pain et des idées recommended by our home exchange hosts on Rue Yves Toudic. Unfortunately it’s closed on Saturday, like many of the other shops around us, most of which were open late last night.

The highly recommended bakery on rue Yves Toudic
The highly recommended Du Pain et des Idées bakery on rue Yves Toudic

On the way we pass a building with Douches (showers) written on the front. I don’t know whether these particular ones are still in operation but there are still a half a dozen free public shower establishments scattered throughout Paris. You can find the list here. Take your own towel and soap :).

Public showers in Paris
Public showers in Paris

We go back to our flat, past Café Craft, a co-working space. I later learn that it caters to people without offices who need a space to work. It has fast internet, a comfortable working atmosphere and healthy food and drink and you can spend the entire day  there if you want. What a great idea! Next time I’ll check it out.

Café Craft - a coworking space
Café Craft – a coworking space

But for now, we are going to climb our five flights of stairs, open our oysters and our bottle of sancerre and enjoy our favourite Sunday brunch!

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9 thoughts on “Discovering Canal Saint Martin in Paris”

    1. Yes, the plaque is indeed poignant. It’s a great area. I agree that the spiral stairs are very attractive!

  1. All in a day’s walk! We often found that our best days out were unplanned and that our final destination was never reached as there was simply too much that distracted us on the way. I enjoyed the slices of history and the photos very much. Thank-you.

    1. Thank you. So glad you enjoyed it. And that was only the morning! After lunch we got on our Velibs again and cycled to Nation to take the RER to see friends in Neuilly sur Marne where there were more locks and the Marne!

  2. Great overview of the area. Because you stayed kind of in between the two places we normally stay you saw quite a bit of stuff I’ve never noticed too (that tile factory, for example). I haven’t seen the memorial to the policeman. The last time I was there it was only a couple of weeks after he was shot. My memory is of flowers, candles and messages everywhere. There seemed to be a colour theme and some organisation of the flowers. It was very moving, and what really strikes you is what a nice ordinary neighbourhood it is under normal circumstances. I think we should use the co-working space when we are in Paris, but Simon isn’t convinced. It isn’t expensive. I remember looking it up a while ago and was pleasantly surprised.

    1. I had imagined you knew the whole area. How terrible to have been there only a couple of weeks after the policeman was shot. You could just go into the co-working space and have a coffee then decide whether to stay there. The people looked very New Yorkish and cool!

  3. I’m sorry that I don’t think that we shall ever get to see Paris and certainly not in such a detailed way. Thank you for sharing.

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