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I returned to London today after spending a few days in Paris with Victoria, a friend from Australia who was in my hemisphere all too briefly, and who invited me to join her in Paris in an apartment overlooking Parmentier Metropolitain station.
We spent about 2.5 days together wandering around Paris. Our first stop, on our first afternoon there, being Pere Lachaise cemetery. Though I have been to Paris twice before: the first time with my family on a "round the world" holiday in 1991/92; the second on a "team building" day out with my work colleagues in 2001, I hadn't yet had a chance to visit this icon of cemeteries.
My obsession with cemeteries began only a few short weeks after my first visit to Paris. My family and I went on a tour of one of the major cemeteries in New Orleans and I fell in love. I would have to hunt through records to confirm 100% which cemetery it was, but it was majestic, full of mausoleums (above ground burial is compulsory in New Orleans because of the swampland), and full of history.
On my second visit to Paris, with co-workers, I didn't feel comfortable asking if we could wander amongst the dead so I could take photos, though we did wander freely through Pigalle (admittedly in the "downtime" of daylight hours).
So when Victoria sent me details of the apartment she had booked, the home of an American musician who was back home on holidays, and I saw it was near Pere Lachaise Cemetery, I was pleased to find she was as keen as I was to visit this fantastic cemetery.
Visiting there during intermittent rain on Sunday afternoon, we wandered amongst the elaborate mausoleums and statues, and even met a "local", a lovely man with the surname Papillon who was visiting his late wife and showed us her grave.
We both managed to get numerous photographs of various resting places in the cemetery; and we decided to forgo visiting Jim Morrison, but dropped in to see Oscar Wilde on our way out.
The few days we spent in Paris were really enjoyable: wandering around the city without getting too caught up in the tourist fray. Apart from Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the closest we got to tourist spots was Montmartre's Place du Tertre and Basilique du Sacre Coeur, both of which I'd visited before.
I found the Metro quite easy to navigate (especially with the assistance of an app on my iPhone), and actually felt much less daunted by the city than I expected, even with my limited knowledge of the French language (I recognise far more words in written form than I would ever understand spoken to me!)
One of the highlights of our trip was totally fortuitous: we had bypassed a cafe in the Marais area after quailing at the sight of the line for the free Impressionist exhibition at Hotel de Ville, and stumbled into Le Pick-Clops, a cafe down a side street, to grab a hot chocolate and a tea out of the rain, on Tuesday. Speaking broken French to the waitress, I was embarrassed to realise she was actually American, but she was very helpful with suggestions of places to wile away our rainy day, including Jeu de Paume where we were exposed to the self-portraiture of Claude Cahun.
The only downside to the trip is the amount of weight I may have put back on from indulging in copious amounts of cheese and bread and wine. Even with all that walking, I possibly overdid it!