Great Paris 'hoods: The Canal Saint-Martin
Back in the day (the early 1800s) the Canal Saint-Martin was dug for the express purpose of relieving dysentery. How romantic! Connecting two big rivers—the Ourcq and the Seine—the canal provided fresh water and freight by boat. Two hundred years later, its primary purpose is pure leisure.
Winding gracefully through the 10th arrondissement from a point near République, the "open" portion of the Canal (some parts are underground) is perpetually lined with picnic baskets. Parisians of all ages, and an increasing number of visitors, come here to sip rosé, stroll hand in hand along the water's edge, and reenact the stone-skipping scene from Amélie.
They also come here to shop. The west side of the canal has become a destination in recent years, with fashionistas flocking to The Kooples (32 rue Beaurepaire), Médicine Douce (10 rue Marseille), Antoine et Lili (95 quai de Valmy) and Stella Cadente (93 quai de Valmy) and Agnès B (13 rue Marseille for women, and 1 rue Dieu for men). I also love the design bookstore Artazart (83 quai de Valmy) for glossy coffee-table tomes and a range of Moleskin notebooks.
After shopping, it's nice to kick back with a drink at hipster central Chez Prune (36 rue Beaurepaire). This café is a neighborhood institution, along with its rival across the water, Le Jemmapes (82 quai de Jemmapes). The latter specializes in Belgian beer, sold in takeaway cups for sipping along the water.
When appetite strikes, there are plenty of cheap and cheerful options near the canal. My absolute favorite, which is open only for lunch, is the Cantine de Quentin (52 rue Bichat, 011-33/1-42-01-40-32). They offer a two-course menu on weekdays for €14 ($19.50), with updated classics like smoked duck breast with carmelized apple. Another haunt is Le Verre Volé. This shoebox-sized bar à vins specializes in natural wine and serves a small but delicious selection of charcuterie, cheese, and hot dishes. They're always packed, so be sure to reserve (67 rue Lancry, 011-33/1-48-03-17-34).
If you're ready to take a break from French food, Maria Luisa and Pink Flamingo both make great pizza, with the latter delivering by bike anywhere along the canal. For delicious and cheap Cambodian, the locals line up nightly at 8:00 p.m. to give their name at Le Cambodge. They then head to wait by the water's edge until the restaurant calls with a ready table. Brand-new on the scene is Rosalito (52 rue René Boulanger, 011-33/1-77-35-92-11), a tapas bar from the same owner as (foodie fave) Da Rosa. Small plates range from €2–9 ($2.80–$12.50), with homemade sangria for €5 ($7).
And finally, as I wrote about in my earlier blog post "Paris Bakery Buzz", no trip to the canal is complete without a stop at Du Pain et des Idées. Christophe Vasseur was named the city's best boulanger and sells his wares at a beautifully restored hundred year-old bakery. Try the chausson à la pomme fraîche—it's unlike any apple turnover you've ever had (34 rue Yves Toudic).
Paris bakery buzz: Du Pain et des Idees
A few steps from the Canal Saint-Martin, the handsome hundred year-old bakery Du Pain et des Idées has been revived by the passion of Christophe Vasseur. A late-blooming baker, Vasseur hung up his corporate suit at age 30 and dedicated himself to becoming the best in the city. His wish came true—after only six years in business, Vasseur was recognized by the gourmet magazine Gault & Millaut as the city's best baker "Meilleur Boulanger de Paris." The menu Vasseur insists on time-consuming methods and fresh ingredients. His chausson à la pomme fraîche is simply bursting with juicy apples and unlike any turnover you've ever had. Pair it with a pain chocolat banane, and grab a sack of niflettes (puff pastry tartlets filled with pastry cream, photo here) for the road. These little pastry squares are dotted with orange scented cream and perfect for nibbling along the banks of the nearby Canal Saint-Martin. For something savory, try one of the mini-pavés—small breads stuffed with combinations like spinach-chèvre or tomato-feta. His wildly popular pain des amis (friendship bread) makes me want to move to the neighborhood. Light but chewy, with a nutty fragrance and deliciously charred bottom—it's one of the best I've ever tried. The bill Most pastries, like the chausson and the pain chocolat cost around €1.80 ($2.50). A sack of ten niflettes is €3.30 ($4.60). A 250 gram hunk of the outstanding pain des amis is €2 ($2.80). The mini-pavés are only €1.30 ($1.80)—grab two of these plus a pastry and you've got a sweet little lunch for under €5. The buzz Who doesn't love this place? Pastry chef and author David Lebovitz has raved about the whole grain loaf. French magazine L'Express wrote that Vasseur makes "one of the best chaussons in the city." And three-star chef Alain Passard told the (London) Times last year that the pain des amis is "the best he had ever eaten." TimeOut Paris named it as a "Critic's Choice" and cooed about the artisanal croissants. The coordinates 34 rue Yves Toudic, 10th arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-40-44-52. Métros Jacques Bonsergent, République. Closed Saturday and Sunday, dupainetdesidees.com.
Russia's Hermitage opens a "wing" in Amsterdam
As you walk through the new Hermitage Amsterdam, you may feel a bit underdressed for the occasion. Luckily nobody will be staring at you because the elaborate ceremonial court dresses and uniforms that engulf the room are all worn by mannequins. It's part of the opening exhibition "At the Russian Court: Palace and Protocol in the 19th-Century." The current exhibit shows off extravagant artifacts from the lives of six tsars, from Paul I to Nicholas II. A few noteworthy items to check out: the famous Romanov throne, jewelry pieces by Fabergé, and the last tsarina's grand piano. Open since June 20, the Hermitage Amsterdam has become the hottest attraction in the capital of the Netherlands. About 100,000 visitors have passed through it already. [CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the original version had the incorrect opening date. We regret the mistake.] The museum has a deal with the Russian government to produce exhibitions together with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, though it is not owned by Russia. It currently holds more than 1,800 objects on loan from Russia. It's housed in the Amstelhof building, which had previously been an elderly care facility for 324 years. The museum gives visitors a glimpse of St. Petersburg and the surrounding countryside via paintings, watercolors, drawings, photographs, and films. One of the highlights is an astonishing 15-foot-long panorama of the city as seen from the Peter and Paul Fortress on the North bank of the River Neva. During the current exhibition, you'll find mannequins dressed in magnificent uniforms and elegant dresses. Remarkably, even the colors of the dresses were governed by a strict protocol set by the tsar Nicholas I himself, a museum representative told Budget Travel. Also check out the clever re-creation of a nineteenth-century ball, which includes revolving round display cases with music and projection images from the film "Russian Ark," shot in the Hermitage St. Petersburg. The exhibit lasts until January 31, 2010. A tip: Weekdays are better for visiting to beat the crowds. Another tip: If you're more keen to see masterworks, it might be worth waiting to poke around the museum after March 6, 2010, when the "Origins of Modern Art. Braque, Matisse and Picasso" exhibit debuts. —David Cumming Amstel 51, Amsterdam, open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 pm, Wednesdays to 8 pm and closed on January 1 and December 25, 011-31-20 530 87 51, hermitage.nl, admission is €15 for adults. Anyone under 16 years of age gets in free. Word to the wise: Admission is free if you have the I amsterdam Card, which also gets you free public transportation, admission to dozens of other museums and offers discounts on restaurants. MORE ABOUT THE EXHIBIT ON THE WEB Jaunted, Gadling, and intheknowtraveler. REAL DEALS Holland & Belgium Cruise, 9 Nights, From $1,322 Per Person
This weekend: A stitch in time in Lincoln, Nebr.
Quilts were once left to gather cobwebs on guest beds in people's houses. But today they're increasingly the star attractions at many museums, vying for the spotlight with other objects. Quiltmaking is being recognized, at last, as an art in its own right. Today's shows, exhibits, and festivals that celebrate the best quiltmakers are part of a broader trend. The number of quilt-makers in the U.S. has doubled in the past decade, reports the Wall Street Journal. The reason? New tools make quilt-making easier than ever. With 3,000 quilts (forming the largest publicly held collection in the world), the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebr., has exhibits and educational workshops yearround. One such exhibit, "A Fairyland of Fabrics: The Victorian Crazy Quilt" is debuting this Friday. The special collection features 19 one-of-a-kind quilts from the Victorian era, the late 1800s and early 1900s. Lovingly called "Crazies," the quilts were made using irregular shapes and patterns with all sorts of different materials and textiles—things as varied as cigar ribbons, silk taffeta, and even shells. The resulting look is random, a clever deceit, as each quilt actually has a intricate design. In their time, the quilts were seen as the epitome of sophistication. In addition to the new exhibit, which runs through October 25, the museum also has a display of quilts from 1870 to 1940, or the "modern age." Quilts, like other art, often reflect the sentiments of the time, and the ones in this exhibit display blocky, rigid patterns and characteristics of the colonial style. The museum also hosts free guided tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11 a.m., including this Saturday. 33rd and Holdrege streets, Lincoln, Neb. Admission is $5; parking is free. Call 402/472-6549 or visit quiltstudy.org for more information.
Paris's best outdoor film festival: A guide
I firmly believe that Cinéma en Plein Air—one of the city's many free summer festivals—is one of Paris's Top 10 Free Events in July. I'm such a fan that I want to nudge twice and tell you how to make the most of this fun occasion. Step 1: Choose your film. More power to those who speak French. They'll have access to the full program. But don't worry if you don't! There are a number of excellent English-language films on offer, including: Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg) July 21 Into the Wild (Sean Penn) July 25 Scarecrow (Jerry Schatzberg) July 28 Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmush) July 31 Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee) August 1 Mulholland Drive (David Lynch) August 4 Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton) August 6 The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones) August 8 In this World (Michael Winterbottom) August 13 About Schmidt (Alexander Payne) August 14 Amistad (Steven Spielberg) August 15 Step 2: Assemble your basket. For many, these films are little more the pretext for a picnic. I like to pick up fruit and wine from the small shops on the rue Eugène Jumin (near the eastern entrance of the Parc de la Villette). There's also a good Monop' at the corner of this street and the avenue Jean Jaurès. You'll find rows of ice cold rosé, along with cheese, sandwiches, salads, chips, sweets, and other snacking essentials. For the truly lazy, there's a McDonald's just outside the park and a kiosk with snacks and drinks inside. Step 3: Strap on a strampontin. There's no admission fee to see the film, but you'll have to fork over €6.50 for the optional strampotin (lawn chair) and blanket. Save money by bringing your own blanket, but be warned that the temperature drops after sunset. Step 4: Plan your exit. Depending on the time of sundown (a bit after 10 p.m.) and the length of the film, some showings will last well past midnight. The Paris Métro stops running south from this point around 12:30 a.m. on weeknights (Friday/Saturday are an hour later). If your film runs later, you may be facing a long walk or a cab ride home. Those opting for a cab should leave the park a few minutes early if they hope to hail one before the hordes arrive. The Cinéma en Plein Air festival runs every night at sundown from July 15 to August 15 (Parc de la Villette, 211 avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th arrondissement). Entry is free.