I have a newly acquired love for cemeteries. European cemeteries to be precise.
When thinking about things to do back at home, I don’t think it has ever crossed my mind to visit a cemetery other than perhaps for the obvious reasons.
It all started with the wonderful visit to the non-catholic (or protestant) cemetery in Rome. So when I was thinking about how to spend some time following the incredibly hot, dusty and crowded walk through central Paris on Sunday, I decided to visit Pere-Lachaise Cemetery.
I usually try and do a little research before I visit something. I have a ton of guide books piled up here in the apartment, thankfully left by prior visitors. That coupled with access to the internet supplies me with a ton of information. Every single thing I read gave instructions to take the metro out to the cemetery. Which is fine, but I like to walk. All of the maps here make everything look really far apart, but I know from the last week or so that this city is very walkable, even the things that are further out. I map out my path (love Google maps walking directions) and hit the trail.
Since I am staying in Le Marais, I am not too far off track to begin with. As I head out, the weather is still cool but sun is out. Perfect for walking. My directions take me through some new areas of the city. I enjoy seeing a little more of the nitty gritty when I travel. I find if you stick to the perfectly manicured things that they want you to see, you never really get the full picture. My walk took me back through Belleville, the area I had spent some time at photographing street art last week.
I have to say, I have never once felt nervous being in Paris, either later at night or in the outskirts. Have always felt very safe, other than probably the first hour or so I arrived and had no idea where I was. Felt this way in Rome as well. The only difference there being I had to hang on to my bag a little tighter in crowded areas. But really, traveling solo has been quite easy. I know this probably sounds a little naïve, but as I had never traveled alone before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now that I know… I feel I can go anywhere. Already thinking about my next trip, but that’s a topic for another day.
Arrived at the gates of the cemetery and was immediately blown away at just how incredibly beautiful it was. Right from the very first tomb with statues of two women standing over a grave, there was a feeling of peace. The cemetery feels a little English and a little French at the same time. A free flowing and yet planned garden of monuments to those that have passed.
I thought to myself that when I depart, it would be lovely to be holed up in one of those moss covered stone houses with your family and loved ones for eternity. I have no idea what those houses or monuments are actually called, but they are quite beautiful. If you look inside, many have gorgeous stained glass windows that catch the sun perfectly. A blast of color from within the grey and white exteriors. Like little mini churches. My other observation, in contrast to the Rome cemetery, is that in the older parts, the tombs were simply noted with the name of the family. No flowery poetry or life statement reflecting on one’s contributions. Communal and simple vs. individual and flowery. Note: this comparison doesn't apply to the structures which are in some cases quite ornate and I did notice that the newer parts of the cemetery do seem to trend more towards the individual.
Twisting and turning paths. Stone dappled with sun and shade. Peacefully green. Old. This may sound weird, but the cemetery was also very romantic. Like the kind of place you’d want to spend the day at with your loved one. Maybe a little picnic and wine. Probably inappropriate, but the place just makes you want to hang out for awhile.
I spent the entire afternoon walking up and down the paths exploring. The details, like everywhere else in Paris, are amazing. You’ll recognize some famous names that are buried here. Chopin, Delacroix, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde.
If you find yourself in Paris with some time after taking in the big sites, I highly recommend making a trip out here. It would definitely make my Paris top ten. You can take the metro, or if you are so inclined, I’ve tested it now and it is really not that far of a walk through some interesting parts of town. A beautiful spot and peaceful way to spend the afternoon.