A Canauxrama Cruise up the Canal Saint-Martin

Bonjour! It is a sunny day here in Paris as I write and I am torn between making another adventure for myself, writing here, cleaning the bathroom, calling my best friend, taking a shower, or researching more gluten-free places to eat in Paris. So many things, so little time!

The winner for now is going to be a kind of adventure in reverse and an adventure expanded; ergo, writing and posting here.

In my previous 10 July blog, I wrote about my walking adventure along the Canal St-Martin. This past Saturday night, PJ and I took the Canauxrama cruise I mention in that blog from the Port de l’Arsenal to the Parc
de la Villette and back to the Quai de Loire dock. It was a delight!

When reviewing my previous adventure with PJ, I relayed to him the same information I wrote here in the blog: “…still trying to figure out how the boats get from the Marina at the Port de Arsenal at the Seine between the 4th and 12th of central Paris. Do the boats go on the portion of the canal that is under the streets? The canal does go underground at Rue de Faubourgh de Temple…”

We live very close to where one of the Canauxrama cruises dock, at the Quai de Loire in the 19th. Every time we have gone to the MK2 theater there and we see a cruise in action, PJ has expressed how boring it looks. Sitting on a boat, going up and down the canal! YAWN! So I carefully expressed, “You know, I’d love to have someone come and visit me so I have an excuse to get on one of those boats and find out just how it is that it goes underground such a long ways. I’m really curious about that!”

PJ’s Romantic Soul got the better of him, and last week after I expressed my curiosity, he said, “Let’s go on the cruise together. It could be fun…” I was worried that he was just being nice, but I also knew this was something he was
doing as a gesture of love: it was an activity he proposed because we love one another, and sometimes love means trying new things. PJ is also always interested in experiencing new things, and so he got on board with this one
(literally). I got really excited. To solve the “Mystery of the Disappearing Boat”! I felt like Nancy Drew faced with the possibility of cracking the case. Yes, I believed cognitively, according to the map, that the boats did not sprout wheels
and go on pavement between the Bastille and the Rue de Faubourg de Temple, and I had read there was an underground portion of the canal, but this was something I wanted to see and experience for myself.

WHAT WE DID

Peej got online and ordered our tickets. http://www.canauxrama.com/ In fact, we got an internet special for ordering online: http://www.canauxrama.com/produits/e_fiche92.htm A special offer between June and September of this year, the “Atmosphére! Atmosphére!” evening cruise was only 11 € per person, compared to the usual 15
€. The tickets were emailed to him, he printed them off, and we left at about 8 pm on Saturday night to leave plenty of time for traveling to M° Bastille at the Port de l’Arsenal, from where the “croisière” left at 21.00. That’s 9:00 pm for
those of us who don’t use military time. The instructions on the tickets told us to arrive 30 minutes before departure.

You can also get tickets the day of the cruise by visiting the Canauxrama ticket booths at either the Port de l’Arsenal or the Quai de Loire in the Bassin de la Villette, and I saw people with tickets in hand from FNAC, which is
an electronics, books, and video store with locations throughout Paris. FNAC is also a good place to get tickets to select museums (like the Louvre), theme parks, and other events. The link for the Canauxrama Cruises at FNAC is here.

We arrived at the M° Bastille and took the Rue de Lyon exit, followed the signs for the Jardin de l’Arsenal. There were obvious signs about where to go.

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HISTORIC BACKGROUND OF THE CRUISE

The name of the cruise, “Atmosphére! Atmosphére!”, I discovered, has its roots in a classic 1938 French film called “Hôtel du Nord.” Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database articles are linked. It is a movie that takes place at the Canal
St-Martin, although, as we found out on the cruise, it was not actually filmed there, but re-created for the film on sets.

The plot reads stereotypically of French drama: “At the Hotel du Nord, located along the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, patrons and clients gathered at the table to celebrate a communion. Enter Pierre and Renée, two sad young lovers, who come to rent a room to commit suicide. Mr. Edmond, he fled the community and lives with Ms. Raymonde bedroom terraced. During the night, a shot rings out …” (translated from the French Wikipedia page about the film). The lines “Atmosphére! Atmosphére!” appear in the film.

Our vessel was christened the “Marcel Carné,” the director of the film.

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THE JOURNEY

Reversing and extending the journey I took when I walked the Canal , we started at the Seine at the Port de l’Arsenal (bottom star in the map below), traveled beneath the park where I had been, past the Rue de Faubourg de Temple between Boulevards Jules Ferry and Richard Lenoir, and emerged to pass through several locks between the Rue de Faubourg de Temple and the Parc de la Villette. The canal goes briefly underground between M° Jaurés, Line 2 and M° Stalingrad before popping up again at the Bassin de la Villette and continuing on past the Pont de la Crimée and for a short time into the Canal del’Ourcq, which sounds like (“Lork” and makes me think of “Mork fromOrk” — top star in the map).

The entire journey: Map from http://maps.google.fr/maps

03 map - Canauxrama Journey

1. Walking down to the dock.

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2.  Our boat, the Marcel Carné.

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3. Our boat, with the statue at the Bastille in the background.

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4. People boarding to go on another cruise.

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5. Houseboats lined up at the dock.

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6. Our journey begins!

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Here we entered the below-ground portion of the canal, which is shown here in green on the map:

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The ride took on characteristics of the part in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the original film) when Wonka brings the children and their parents on the boat going through the tunnel. To refresh your memory, here is a video clip from YouTube:

UPDATE: Whoops!! Video embedding apparently does not work the same way as with other blogs! It was brought to my attention that the video embed did not work here. Here’s a link instead, and I will figure out how this all works in WordPress later on. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nphv4nrn3U

Okay, so the ride was a lot less psychedelic and scary, and slower, lol, but we were shown a film, in French and English, about the historical features of the canal and points of interest (that we were flowing beneath bodies buried in a crypt
under the Column of July at the Bastille, for example) projected onto the tunnel walls. I was so captivated by being on the boat underground and taking photos that I did not pay much attention to the presentation. It was kind of sensory overload for me with the projected images on the tunnel walls, the shifting back and forth between French and English, and all the stuff I was seeing from the boat.

Another reason to get a DSLR soon: most of my photos of the journey were incredibly blurry. I kept thinking, “Oh! If only I could set the aperature and shutter speed and capture what I am seeing on film!” It was hard not to be disappointed by what photos my camera could not take, but the results are kind of groovy and abstract, if viewed with an artistic sensibility.

Here is a collage of the most psychedelic shots I got.

11 July 2009 - Canal St Martin Canauxrama

Yup. That’s Peej and I doing shadow play on the walls, once we realized it was possible!

I noted, too, that the grates I saw at the park when I walked:

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are in fact the ventilation grates for the underground portion of the canal! I had no idea that whole time I was walking right on top of the canal.

Here’s what they look like from the other side:

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7. Locks, locks, and more locks.

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Each lock had a name, but in the five or six we went through (I think it was, I lost count), I can’t remember what PJ told me they were called. Most of the portion of this tour was now in French from our guide that appeared to be about sixteen (I am sure he was older, but not by much. He did have facial hair, though). One of them was called the “Lock of the Dead,” and there was also the one that appeared in “Hôtel du Nord.” An explanation appears at this blog here ( http://buttes-chaumont.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html):

“Walking south from Jaurés along the quai de Valmy the first lock is marked by a canopy of trees at Square Eugène-Varlin that shelter the cheerfully named écluse des morts (lock of the dead). From the footbridge can be seen the first glimpse of the magnificent 120° curve that presents a vast sweeping expanse of waterway, wide enough to accommodate 3 Grand Union Canals. The curve gives way to the next lock spanned by the passerelle des Récollets, also known as passerelle de l’Hôtel du Nord. The hotel on the quai de Jemmapes gave its name to the famous Marcel Carné film of 1938 although the external hotel footage was all filmed on a purpose-built set.” (Phil Beard, http://buttes-chaumont.blogspot.com/)

There is more history and information about the Canal and the surrounding areas here: http://knol.google.com/k/daniel-kopel/paris-canal-saint-martin/2f9fygatjcgi/4#

Oooooh, in fact, I am super-envious of the above article. It is *really* well-constructed and informative. If you are interested in seeing some great photos and learning more about the canal, be sure to take a peek at the above link.

8. Okay, after I have seen that fantastic article, I realize I need to find an angle of my own, here, lol.

The ride could not help but touch the cockles of PJ’s and my romantic hearts. I know, it seems a bit clichéd, but in fact, cruising at a leisurely pace along the canal in a boat was really romantic in the traditional kind of way: sitting side by
side, seeing the beauty of the city around us, listening to Edith Piaf renditions by our “chanteuse,” France. There was the cutest couple in front of us, French-speakers, but perhaps from interior France or maybe French-speaking Switzerland (they looked like they were from Boulder, Colorado, no kidding, with matching windbreakers, tan Docker’s trousers
and Salomon hiking-style tennis shoes. They were definitely *not* Parisian). The were so cute, and young enough where I was pretty sure they might not have kids yet, and may have even been on a honeymoon trip. Their clothes were new-looking, as if they had just been purchased just for the vacation/honeymoon. They were not into overt public displays of affection, but were clearly into each other, were taken with the ride, and enjoying each others’ company. What can I say? It was catching! There was a mood of enchantment on the boat into which all seemed to flow, even the people having late summer evening picnics at the side of the canal, and people crossing the bridge, who waved to us and praised the singer with cheers when she finished a song.

It was a lovely evening.

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If you come to Paris, I recommend this journey. There are daytime cruises, too, but on a warm Parisian summer’s night, I’d say get on board this Canauxrama cruise.

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4 thoughts on “A Canauxrama Cruise up the Canal Saint-Martin

  1. PJensi

    The trip sounds super! The photos *TRULY* rock.

    Sorry about your bf, though. Anyone who needs to be convinced to go on an adventure shouldn’t be allowed to be in a couple…

    • pariskarin

      Hey PJensi! It was actually a joy to be with the BF. To see the transformation in him from believing in the past that the Canauxrama would be boring, to see and know his true enjoyment, especially as happiness (and the Canauxrama) is better when shared was priceless! It was really a magical evening. 🙂

  2. Lauri

    Another wonderful adventure, Karin!!! I will add the Canauxrama Cruise to my “to-do” list for my next visit to Paris (hopefully in February/March). I love the pictures.

    • pariskarin

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Lauri! I really hope you can make it to Paris soon. You know, I am not sure if the Canauxrama runs as regularly in the winter months (basically before March & April). I will have to look into that. I don’t know if the cruise would be very enjoyable in the cold, but, the Canal walk would be perfect! Lots of cafés and shops along the Quai de Valmy to stop inside and get warm. It is a very pretty canal — not big and flashy like the Seine and its cruises, but quaint and kitch. Very “off-the-beaten-path” in this way. Thanks for reading, Lauri!

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