When I imagined the Belleville area in Paris, I envisioned scenes from the cartoon Triplets of Belleville - cool jazz, vivid colours, art galleries. What it turned out to be was more of a China town/Kensington Market without the charm. The farmers/artists market that I read about was actually more like a farmer's market/big Honest Eds sale that spanned over 10 blocks! There were ethnic stores and restaurants abound, predominantly Chinese but also Tunisian and Mediterranean. The one known Artist compound that was supposed to contain works from over 200 artists turned out to be closed, possibly permanently.
There was one cobblestoned street that was lined with brightly painted poles and colourful mosaic flowerpots. On both sides of the walls were large vivid murals. Rue de Belleville is very steep and at the top of it, you can see the Eiffel tour even though it is quite far away. We saw people pushing their rented Velib bikes up the steep cobblestoned road and were glad that wasn't us. There was a pretty Belleville park that was unusual since was only about 1 block wide, but contained about 3-4 flights of stairs, each leading to another platform of walking trails. This park had more height than width or depth.
The Canal St Martin area was a nicer and more upscale area with restaurants and shops lining the canals, and quaint little streets intersecting it. We could an outdoor cafe facing the canal for a quick bite. In typical Parisian style, we sat cheek to cheek next to the other diners and our table. Our little table was no more than a foot and a half wide. But we were sitting down to ice cold Chocolate Frappes, looking at a pretty view of the canals, so life was good.
We went next to Rue Mouffetard, which is a great street in the 5th arr. of the left bank, just south of the Latin Quarter. It was full of restaurants, meat, cheese, wine, chocolate and fois gras shops. We found a chocolate store that sold us seven chocolate truffles plus an ice cold chocolate drink for a mere 7 Euros.
There was a store that specialized in nothing but frozen foods including gourmet entrees, vegetables (including exotic mushrooms!) and gourmet desserts. I'm thinking we definitely need one of these in Toronto!
But the best and most unexpected part of that visit was the free massages that were being offered on the cobblestone street. My masseuse turned out to be an American student visiting Paris for the summer, so I was able to chat with him. He told me that the massages were being sponsored by a patron who wanted people to be relaxed as they shopped on Rue Mouffetard. He asked me if the strange man taking photos of me was my husband, or did I have a stalker... luckily it turned out to be Rich, or I wouldn't have photographic memories of this nice experience.