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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Visit the Dead in Paris 10.29.11

Since Halloween is just a few days away, I decided to recall one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been that was creepy, cool and also almost free! You don’t often come upon places like this in your travels, and if you do, it doesn’t seem like other people think it’s as fascinating as you do (which can be good if you’re trying to avoid crowds). When I go to a place, I like to see things that tourists are into and then things that most tourists wouldn’t even think of doing. In London we took the train to Orpington to visit the Chiselhurst Caves (also creepy if you are in the area and looking for something to do this Halloween) that were old mining caves used as a bomb shelter and later as concert venues for up-and-coming acts, like the Rolling Stones. In Paris, our stop was Cimetière du Père Lachaise, the final resting place of over one million people.

Now, why would we choose to go to a cemetery when there are so many other amazing sites to see in the City of Lights? The obvious answer is: Why not? There are so many other amazing sites to see in Paris, but this is one of them. It’s a great way to get away from the crowds near the regular tourist attractions, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, plus, even with a bunch of tourists entering at any given time, you barely see another person as you wander the cobblestone “streets” between the graves and mausoleums. The cemetery is so large, it requires a map to find your way around. Walkways are labeled with street signs and you could spend the entire day here without ever seeing the whole thing. It is 110 acres and the largest cemetery in Paris. I would wager it is also one of the most unique.

For the donation of a Euro or two, you are supplied with a map and sent on your way. Instantly, you know this is unlike any gravesite you’ve ever been to. Pere Lachaise opened in 1804 and was far enough from Paris that not many people wanted to be buried or to bury their loved ones there. To make the place more enticing, the city moved the remains of Jean de La Fontaine, a French litterateur, and the French playwright Molière to Père Lachaise and then in 1817 the remains of lovers Pierre Abélard and Héloïse along with their crypt where love letters of other lovers or those unlucky in love are placed – either to commemorate the couple’s love or find some luck in finding their own true love. After these two were moved to the cemetery, Père Lachaise became the “It” place to be buried, proving that celebrity doesn’t fade just because you died. Within a few years over 32,000 newly deads were buried in the cemetery.

These streets are better than some neighborhoods
Today you can see the tombs of those dead for hundreds of years and those dead for only a few decades. While the cemetery is brimming with the deceased, the living are “dying” to get in, too. Beyond the first few French celebs buried there, you can also visit the grave of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Marceau, Jim Morrison, Sophie Blanchard, Chopin, Max Ernst, Gertrude Stein and many more. We wandered the streets for several hours and did find Jim Morrison’s grave, which is now cordoned off after being replaced several times due to vandalism, but were so engrossed by the tombs, graves and mausoleums themselves that we didn’t really hunt for those of the famous dead. Some graves have been there so long that tree roots have become one with them, cracking through the large slabs of cement covering the ground over their plot. Not everyone is buried in the ground though, just as many that are buried underground are “buried” above. The cremains of those wishing to be cremated are held in the columbarium.

Jim Morrison's grave
This tree just grew right through this grave
Among the tourists, you will also find those coming to visit the graves of their family and possibly a few sweeping the grave and the area around it to keep the site of their loved one tidy. It’s an amazing place to visit, whether it’s Halloween or the middle of March. Bring your camera and snap pictures of some architectural wonders in the cemetery world. You wonder how much one would have to pay for columns and a roof with a surrounding yard, especially when you know how much a regular plot near your home costs to keep you there for all eternity. All the photos here are ones I took on our visit and for every one you see, I have 20 more that you don’t. There was so much that caught my attention, I wanted to remember it all. I could easily get enlargements made in black and white and use them all over the house for Halloween decor. They would be both spooky and attractive. Père Lachaise is definitely a must-see on my list for those visiting Paris for the first time or the twelfth time. Enjoy the peace you feel over the place where the dead still speak to the living. You can certainly see why anyone would be honored to spend their afterlife in such a beautiful and well-known location. The dead never truly die in Père Lachaise. They are visited every day by people from around the world.

Have you been to Cimetière du Père Lachaise? If so, did you love it and would you go back? What are your other unusual must-see “attractions” for visiting Paris.

Happy Halloween!

We have several good things to talk about this time! Shereen Travels Cheap has been going through some good changes. The STC book will be available for purchase in the next few days. Woot woot! Look for a dedicated blog post and newsletter:

Which prompts me to remind you that we have a great newsletter that goes out once a week (maybe twice if something too good to miss presents itself) with updates, tips and blog reminders...you'll get a fancy one as soon as the book is available for you to buy copies for everyone on your holiday list!

I've become a new frequent contributor on FareCompare, which is a fantastic site that brings you amazing travel sales, tips for finding the best airfare anytime of year. Next up, saving money and time as a business traveler. If you've missed my last few posts, you can read them here:

5 Strategies for Avoiding Airline Fees

Making Overbooked Flights Work in Your Favor

Explore London While Staying Within a Budget

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