July 2, 2015 (Thursday) – I had no idea what or where the Place de la Republique was before I visited Paris. My only exposure to the name was through a beautiful and melancholic French song that is named after this iconic square. Beatrice Martin, or Coeur de Pirate, is the one who got me interested in this square at the crossroads of the 3rd, 10th, and 11th Arrondissements.
The Place de la Republique used to be a giant square surrounded by traffic on all four sides. However, changes in 2013 that restricted traffic from the east side of the square has reconnected the space to some of the surrounding buildings.
A CityLab article about new Paris squares says:
Republique is now a cleaner, more welcoming space, a square you can stroll across without walking through exhaust fumes or feeling the need to make a will.
In terms of car traffic and fumes, yes, one feels free to wander the square. However, the monument at the Place de la Republique is not so squeaky clean. Graffiti and protest posters stuck to the base of the monument detracts from the beauty of the square. I am not privy to all the events that may have lead to the defacing of the monument, but it certain doesn’t look nice nor welcoming.
From the Place de la Republique, we snaked our way east through Parisian side streets in search of a well-known boulangerie, Du Pain et Des Idées. It was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover Paris. The bakery is very highly rated on travel review websites and Bourdain’s show featured the owner and baker himself. So I was really interested in what they had to offer. I thought the perfect plan was to grab a snack from the boulangerie and then nom on the pastry along the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin.
Two problems went awry with my plan. First, I picked an pastry with a lot of apricots on it. The taste wasn’t really to my liking. It was more tart than I expected and the apricots were generous, but too much for me. I think if I picked a different pastry, it might have been better. Second, the Canal Saint-Martin is not what you might think it is.
The Canal would be an awesome urban oasis to which one can retreat, except for the garbage strewn in and around the canal itself. Not to mention that there’s a lingering smell of pee in the air in and around certain parts. So one’s senses must be keen to find a decent spot along the canal. Or one’s senses can be totally unkeen, be blissfully ignorant of the surroundings and be perfectly happy along the canal.
Even though the garbage and odour can be a huge turnoff, I could still find the charming qualities of Canal Saint-Martin that make it famous. It is definitely fun to spend time along the canal and watch the bateaux ply the waters and traverse via the canal locks. We spent a few minutes tracking the pictured tourist boat make its way along the canal and its locks.
The many paserelles, or pedestrian bridges, offered unique views of the canal itself. I didn’t venture too far upstream to see what was there. I only got as far as where the canal bends.
We didn’t linger in the surrounding neighbourhood for dinner, though. Even though I hear there is plenty of night life and dining in the area. The graffiti, garbage, and odour did turn me away from staying longer. Even the locals are getting fed up with what’s happening to Canal Saint-Martin.
January 29, 2016 – It is unfortunate that this neighbourhood surrounding the Canal Saint-Martin was the target of terrorists in the November 2015 attacks. I hope that’s as close to home as these kind of attacks get for me.
Currently, the city of Paris is dredging the Canal Saint-Martin. Roughly 100 of the city’s Vélib bike share bicycles were found along the bottom of the canal in this clean up. Hopefully, the smell and garbage will be cleared up and the canal will become more inviting.