A couple of years ago some friends of ours visited Paris, enjoying a long weekend with some friends of theirs who were living in the City of Light and attending the Cordon Bleu. They returned with tales of taking a canal ride in Paris.
Hmmm. This had me a intriqued. Yes, I think of water—the beautiful Seine—when I think of Paris, but not canals. One goes to Venice or Brugge to see them. So, this trip we made a point of visiting the Saint Martin Canal and checking it out.
It’s a delightful surprise and a different view of Paris.
The canal was built by Napoleon in the early 1800s to provide water to a city and, of course, for transportation. It runs from the Bastille area that connects to the Seine out to the outskirts of the city.
The two and a half hour tour takes you through an interesting park—Park of la Villette –the largest green space in Paris with long boardwalks, bike paths, Science Museum and interesting red sculptural looking structures. I understand the bike paths extend for 100 miles away from the city and are planned to eventually take one to Prague and then on to Moscow.
The boat tour also goes through almost series of 19th century locks, making the trip very leisurely. If you’ve never gone through a lock, it is really interesting. What I enjoyed was most watching the tourists watch us, daily life going on besides the canal in working class neighborhoods and the slow pace of life around us.
We saw old swing bridges and even one bridge that raises and lowers like an elevator. Abundant horse chestnut trees line the sides of the canal making for a lovely ride
The most interesting part o f the trip, however, was underground through a very long tunnel that took us about 20 minutes to traverse. It was spooky and eerie….and amazing to think that a bustling city life was going on over head. The tunnel took us under the Bastille.
As an effort to entertain, the tour boat company projected a sound and light show on the tunnel walls. Unfortunately the angle of the video and the distortion of the sound made the presentation of the history of the tunnel almost unintelligible but the idea was a good one. I think they need to consult with Disney to get the execution right.
After the long tunnel, we came out into the light at a small harbor. It was fun to see the boats tied up and ready for cruising.