Before moving to Paris I’d fantasize about cycling the city’s cobble-paved streets on a traditional Dutch bike, trench coat and middie skirt batting the wind as my red pumps hooked carelessly onto the wide pedals. That was circa 2000. Now the ugly, clunky, but oh-so-practical Velib’s are available with pedals that unabashedly murder a girl’s shoes, yet sensibility has won out and I am often seen struggling along in whatever happens to be the outfit du jour. I still live the dream from time to time, finding it especially rewarding when men turn their heads, and their handle bars, ending in near fatal accidents.
But that’s during the week. On weekends Mr French keeps me in check. I get serious about my cycling and we head out on some pretty great adventures. Sunday’s adventure began with lunch on the terrace at La Cantine de Quentin where an ageless, artsy crowd mixes with senile old locals and young families to enjoy tradition French cuisine with an original twist, like the steak tartare served with finely minces mushrooms instead of fries. Or the lentil salad with a foie gras chantilly. Delicious.
I know that doesn’t sound like serious cycling, but a girl’s got to eat (and maybe enjoy a glass of rosé). Soon enough we were off, heading north up the Canal St Martin to the Canal de l’Ourcq, with its 25 km of reserved cycling path beginning within the city of Paris, running along the Canal, through the lively La Vilette area with its museums, parks and astounding mirrored geodesic dome. At the city outskirts the scenery starts getting very industrial, very quickly, with cement plants and train yards and fantastically graffiti-ed abandoned warehouses.
At one point, among lawn and poplars, a group of very talented taggers was hard at work tagged as they partied to rap music and bbq-ed a picnic to share with another group of fans; severly disabled adults with their caretakers and souped up wheelchairs. Turns out these taggers have been tagged by the city of Bobigny and they were being sponsored to beautify the area. They were doing were doing an astounding job and were remarkably cool to visit with.
The canal was alive: barges went past, Canauxrama boats sped by and trains clamoured along – everyone was on the move. There was a mini-shanty town, temporary espresso bar, the Chat Qui Peche guinguette, kayaks on loan, and many, many other sportsmen cycling, running, or blading along.
16km later we came to the Parc de Sevrans and its gunpowder museum. Yes, Virginia, there is a gunpowder museum. There is also a teaching farm, apiculture center and a climbing wall, but we were pretty tired by now, so it was time to head back, pedaling directly into the wind the entire 16km to La Villette, before heading home. I can’t say we minded that it was the final match of the Euro Cup Sunday night, providing us with the perfect excuse to sit at home, acting like couch patates. Two happily exhausted souls.
RESTAURANT/ La Cantine de Quentin
52 rue Bichat, 10e / 01 42 02 40 32/ (M) Jacques Bonsergent