Paris’ most famous cemetery

Friends think I’m macabre (or maybe just weird) when I urge them to visit Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. But this is no common graveyard: It’s a living museum, filled with the stories of more than one million souls.

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The luminaries’ names span the centuries — from the 12th-century lovers Héloïse and Abélard to the 20th-century Lizard King (Jim Morrison). Frédéric Chopin and Gertrude Stein are here. So are the writers Honoré de Balzac and Marcel Proust, the dancer Isadora Duncan … painter Eugène Delacroix … the list goes on and on.

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Chopin’s tomb is always adorned with flowers and little Polish flags.
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And it’s all set in 110 acres of contemplative, tree-lined cobblestone streets.

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Père Lachaise is so vast that if you wander along the walls — or pause atop the hills — you may even forget you’re in a cemetery.

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How it all started

Père Lachaise was born out of necessity when Paris’ other cemeteries became insalubrious and overcrowded. Under Emperor Napoléon’s authority, a magistrate named Nicholas Frochot annexed a parcel owned by some retired Jesuit priests (whose order included Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François d’Aix de La Chaise, for whom the cemetery is named).

When Père Lachaise opened on May 21, 1804, its first burial was five-year-old Adélaïde Marie Antoinette Paillard de Villeneuve — the daughter of a bellhop in Faubourg St. Antoine. Sadly, her family didn’t buy a plot “in perpetuity” and all traces of her have disappeared.

Parisians mostly shunned the new cemetery, however, until Nicholas Frochot had a stroke of marketing genius: In 1817 he decided to reinter of the beloved 17th-century French authors Molière and Jean de La Fontaine — and soon Père Lachaise was the place to be dead in Paris.

Héloïse and Abélard were also reinterred as part of Frochot’s plan, though there is considerable doubt that the remains actually belong to the star-crossed lovers. But who cares? It’s a lovely monument, and it keeps their story alive.

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In fact, Père Lachaise contained mostly modest family plots and communal pits until the first sculptural tombstone was installed in 1809 — a mother’s tribute to her fallen son.

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After that, the race was on to keep up with the (dead) Joneses. That’s when Gothic family chapels of all sizes started popping up …

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… and funerary statues became a thing.

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The stories of one million lives

In addition to being beautiful, many of the sculptures at Père Lachaise are also meaningful. Some tell us who the person was in life, like this simple homage to a painter-poet.

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Other memorials are more ornate, like this sepulcher for Étienne-Gaspard Robert. Under the stage name Robertson he performed a “phantasmagoria” show with optical illusions so shocking that his audiences would faint. He was also a keen hot-air balloonist, although sadly there are no balloons among the bats.

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Then there’s the Belgian writer Georges Rodenbach, whose flair for drama and romance extend into the afterlife as he climbs out of his tomb, clutching a rose.

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Victor Noir’s tomb is known for romance and drama of an entirely different kind. Born Yvan Salmon, Noir adopted his pen name when he went to work for La Marseillaise newspaper in Paris. In January 1870 he was sent to arrange the details of a duel, but instead got into a scuffle with Prince Pierre Bonaparte and was shot dead on the spot.

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Sculptor Jules Dalou sketched the scene and — *ahem* — “erected” a life-sized statue of the fallen 22-year-old. Legend says that rubbing the statue’s manhood will bring fertility, enhance your sex life, or fetch a husband within the year. So many women have molested the poor statue that it may soon need repair.

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Of course, stories like these aren’t always so evident: Only recently did I learn that Oscar Wilde isn’t alone in his tomb, for instance. Next to him — in an urn — are the ashes of his friend Robert Baldwin Ross, who commissioned the monument but is not mentioned on the statue.

I also read somewhere that the groundskeeper of Père Lachaise found the enormous “member” on the statue so scandalous that he chiseled it off and used it as a paperweight. I wonder if it has turned up on eBay yet — and if so, what keywords one might use.

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More recently, thousands of women (and presumably some lipstick-toting men) have paused here to kiss Wilde’s tomb. The practice was halted a couple of years ago with the installation of plexiglass barriers, but now visitors are smooching the plastic. Things like this must drive the city officials mad.

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Hidden among the more obvious tributes are many smaller, symbolic gestures — like the simple Star of David that adorns Marcel Marceau’s grave. Before he was world-famous as a mime, he joined the French Resistance against the Nazis and with his brother Alain saved dozens of Jewish children.

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Another tomb that contains hidden symbolism is that of Théodore Géricault, the Romantic painter whose huge Raft of the Medusa is among the most-visited paintings in the Louvre.

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But why is he shown bald and reclining? As a wealthy young man, he had two loves: painting and horses. Because these passions were sometimes at odds, though, he would have a servant shave his head so he’d resemble a convict (and be too ashamed to go out, so he would therefore stay in and paint).

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Sadly, a series of serious equestrian accidents left him disabled and eventually claimed his life. Perhaps that’s why he is shown unable to stand, reclining with his palette for all eternity.

The sheer number of stories like these is so overwhelming that you’re bound to miss a few of them on the first (or ninth) visit. This memorial had always caught my eye, for example —

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— but not until yesterday did I learn that it’s dedicated to Jean-Joseph Carriès … a fine sculptor and miniaturist himself. He was only 39 when he died of pleurisy.

Jean-Joseph Carriès. by Nadar

Although a few of the tombs have been classified as historical monuments, most are private property — which is why they’re in various degrees of (dis)repair.

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Still, enough vestiges remain of even ordinary lives to provide a tangible and compelling connection to the past.

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And this is why I come here: To be reminded that no matter how small — or how large — our lives may be, each of us has a story. To be reminded that our actions will influence how we’ll be remembered … and that the most permanent and worthwhile of all achievements is to love and to be loved.

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Are you dying to see Père Lachaise for yourself? You’ll find directions at the bottom of this post.

But if you desire a more permanent stay, you may be disappointed to learn that Père Lachaise has officially been full for 60 years. There are still a handful of burials every month, however.

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If you can cough up the €16,000 for a plot and meet the criteria — belonging to a family that owns a tomb “in perpetuity,” keeling over in Paris, or having an address in Paris when you cast off your mortal coil — you, too, could be buried among the luminaries at Père Lachaise.

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Admission to Père Lachaise is free.

Hours are seasonal: From November to mid-March it’s open weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturdays from 8:30 to 5:30, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. From mid-March to October it’s generally open weekdays from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., Saturdays from 8:30 to 6:00, and Sundays and holidays from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. NOTE: To enjoy a leisurely visit, please give yourself at least two hours before closing time.

Maps of Père Lachaise are for sale at many of the florists surrounding the cemetery, or you can download one for free from the city’s website. This same free map is also available at the office (“Conservation”) near the Porte Principale on Boulevard de Ménilmontant. Para personas de habla Hispana, este mapa también se ofrece en Español.

Getting there is easy via public transportation. Located in the 20th arrondissement, Père Lachaise has two entrances. The main entrance is on the Boulevard Ménilmontant, with nearby Métro stops at Père Lachaise (lines 2 and 3) and Philippe Auguste (line 2). You can also take bus routes 61 or 69 to the main gate.

The second entrance is on the rue des Rondeaux, served by the Gambetta Métro station (line 3) or several bus routes (26, 60, 61, 64, 69, 102).

Still want more? Here’s a feast of Paris cemetery trivia, and Paris’s official web-guide to its municipal cemeteries.


  1. Such a fascinating place! Your photographer’s eye does not fail you in capturing the beauty there.

    And such a wide variety of ways to commemorate the dead, from the deeply religious to the simple to the grandest monuments to self and excess.

    • You are so kind, J.P.; thank you! I’ve visited eight times but even by combining photos from all of those visits I didn’t feel I could do it justice — perhaps because of the sheer variety of monuments, as you noted. But I’m grateful to have you along on this virtual stroll, incomplete though it may be. Thank you!

  2. What a stunning place! I am drooling over your pictures! Also I had to laugh at some of your comments. (keeping up with the dead joneses. Lol.) It is definitely a lace to visit and explore! Thank you for sharing! ❤

    • It really is stunning, Kate — my photos really don’t do it justice! If you return to Paris among your other travels I really recommend checking it out. In the meantime, how lovely to have you along for this virtual stroll. Thank you (as always) for stopping by, and for your kind comment. xoxo

  3. Well this is a fantastic collection of images from the Pere Lachaise. I do love cemeteries in general. Pere Lachaise is obviously famous with lots of famous people but I always like walking through cemeteries and imagining the lives of the people who lie there. Plus, often, the cemeteries are full of trees and look more like a park than a cemeteries. Nicely done. (Suzanne)

    • I like wandering through cemeteries of all sizes and styles too, Suzanne — exactly for the reasons you describe. But I found Père Lachaise more rewarding than many, perhaps because it contains so many beloved and familiar names. Anyway … I greatly appreciate your kind words. Coming from you, it’s quite a compliment! Thank you.

  4. I’ve spent many moments wandering around examining tombstones during my family tree research but some of these you’ve shown us here are really beautiful.
    Most of my research has found farm labourers, so the graves have been poor and un marked, but one branch made their mark as policemen, reaching superintendent and detective superintendent levels in Newark and Sheffield so there was more money available. The headstone for my Great, great great grandma still stands in a cemetery in Sheffield. 😊 😊

    • How lucky you are to have such a tangible connection to your distant past, Sallyann! I don’t even know my great-great-great-grandparents’ names, let alone where they lie. Makes me wonder if perhaps I should pay less attention to these dead strangers in Paris and look into my own family. 🙂 But how wonderful to discover that at least one branch of YOUR family was devoted in its service to others. Thank you so much for stopping by!

      • The words “in service” made me smile Heidi, I’ve been digging deeper (in a manner of speaking) into my Uncles and Aunts of the 1800’s and there was a lot of service to be found. Service to the public as police officers yes, but also as parlour maids, bar maids and Landlords.
        And you wouldn’t believe the scandal and gossip I’ve found from over a hundred years ago. 😊 😊 😊

  5. “Yes, death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of death’s house, for love is always with you, and love is stronger than death is.” – Oscar Wilde

    Fascinating post H. Next time in Paris, I will be heading straight to Père Lachaise for a post of my own. Great shots btw.


    • Poor Mr. Wilde to have ended up in one of the noisiest cities on earth, with no grasses within miles. But as his tomb attests, love is indeed stronger than death. Wonderful quote, MB!

      And next time you’re in Paris please DO head to this gorgeous place. I shall be very keen indeed to see it through your eyes and hear your impressions. Thank you as always for stopping by!

  6. If I was in Pere Lachaise there’d be a statue of me with crazy long hair that’d look more like a ratty Charles Spaniel, I’d be featured taking bread out of the toaster for my kids and a cup of coffee would be in the other hand. Maybe women (and some men) would rub my butt (it’s kind of big) for good luck. Nah! Just dump me in the Elwha and let me float into the Pacific (not my body, I mean just the ashes although with my luck I’d end up hull scum on a big freighter coming in from China and get headed right back to Seattle). Splendid essay, Heide. Fascinating little insights, surprises and superb images. How much of a cross-section of visits by you do these pictures come from?

    • If you were in Père Lachaise I would bring you flowers every day — and maybe the occasional cup of coffee. But I’m so much happier knowing you’re out there somewhere, alive and kicking! Because as you know, there is a terrible shortage in this world of beard hair on toast. 🙂 I’m totally with you though on not wanting some cold stone monument (even at the risk of returning to Seattle on the hull of a big freighter … ha ha!). In my case, I would like any usable parts to be distributed for reuse, and for my husband to then build a trebuchet and fling me over the fence into our former neighbors’ yard. Their trash was always blowing into our yard, so why not repay the favor? I say … why be boring?! All morbid joking aside, thank you so much for stopping by, and for your kind words. Though I’m realizing now that I’m a bit late in replying to your equally kind and funny email, to let you know this post is live, eh? But as I mentioned ages ago, if you do go back to Paris I hope you’ll visit Père Lachaise. Oh! And since you asked: This is a cross-section of eight visits, between January 2006 and April 2017. But I bet I could go at least eight more times and still not see it all …
      Thank you again for making my day.

  7. I love this post so much! It has been many years since I visited Père Lachaise, but you remind me why I fell in love with the place. You have shared so many wonderful stories, none of which I knew when I stumbled upon the memorials of those both famous and unknown. Now I think I must return…and I will reread your post before I go. Merci! x

    • I am so honored you enjoyed this! I learned many of these stories from a British fellow named Colin who has spent his retirement researching the cemetery — but even he says that after many years of daily strolls he’s only scratched the surface. And if you do decide to return please let me know, so I can send you a PDF of my annotated map! Thank you so much for stopping by …

    • It’s almost impossible to sum this place up in one post, isn’t it? But I’m glad this one at least brought back some happy memories for you. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  8. Wow what great images, cemeteries can be hard to photograph. Thank you for giving me a smile and providing so much information, another place to add to the bucket list.

    • Thank you so much … your kind words mean the world to me, because as a photographer you do indeed know how hard it can be to capture the “spirit” of such a place. Thrilled also to know it’s now on your bucket list! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

    • I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post and do hope you’ll have the pleasure someday of seeing this place for yourself — though I should warn you in advance that it’s addictive, and that one visit is never enough. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by!

  9. Wow that took my breath away! I still really love your photos! I am trying to post my pictures, but it may be a while because my site is under construction. Talk later Heidi!

    • Thank you so much for joining me on this virtual walk, Tom. If you and Melanie ever decide to visit Paris I highly recommend a visit with a good guide. Though there are some pretty good cemeteries even in our beloved state, if ever you’re up for an unconventional sort of stroll! 🙂

  10. What a glorious place! I would love to wander among these gravestones. I first recognized the wonder of cemeteries when I started birding. It is a great place to see many birds. Thanks for sharing.

    • How funny that you mention birds, Patti … because I thought about showing photos of the birds I’d seen at Père Lachaise (mostly ravens, quite appropriately), but the post was getting so long as it was that they got the axe (if you’ll pardon the expression). You’re right though that these parklike settings become another habitat for our furry and feathered friends … and that is oddly comforting, too.

    • I *love* your double-comment, J.P.! Looks like I wasn’t the only one who was thinking about All Saints’ Day yesterday — but how great to have a few more to add to my “someday” travel plans. Thank you for passing along the link!

  11. Thank you for sharing this! I think cemeteries are like museums in open areas and they put before our eyes how short, but intense at the same time, life can be. They are the perfect place for deep thoughts ^^

    • You are so right, dear Penelope, that cemeteries can be useful reminders to make the most of our lives while we’re still alive! As you say: the perfect place for deep thoughts. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  12. Heide, what a beautiful photo essay. We spent a full day at Pere Lachasie on a cold November day back in 2006 and it was one of the highlights of our Paris trip. Your photos bring back memories of that day while filling in some interesting details for us. Thank you.

    • I’m so pleased to have brought back some lovely memories for you! Thank you for your visit, and especially for taking the time to leave your kind comment.

    • We’re of like mind — I could spend an entire visit here too, and still not get tired of it. Thank you so much for stopping by; I’m honored to see you here!

  13. Hello Heide.

    You have done excellent background before publishing Your awesome post. My hat. We have been there three times during our life. Every time we have searches the tomb of Jim Morrison and found it after search without map, but it was not easy.

    Every time we have also visited the tomb of Grave of Edith Piaf. This graveyard tells many stories. One is the grave of Victor Noir. I am glad that You noticed it.

    Thank You for this post. I Enjoyed it very much. Tomorrow it is my time to present the sixth oldest wooden church in continuous use in Finland. Inside there is a very beautiful Votive ship.

    Have a wonderful day!


    • Thank you so much for your kind comment, Matti! I’m so honored you liked this post, and that my photos brought back many happy memories for you. But would you believe that even after eight visits I’ve never seen Jim Morrison’s tomb? Maybe next time. 🙂 I’m also looking forward to YOUR next post! I’m enjoying learning so much through your blog. Have a wonderful say as well, and thank you so much for stopping by.

  14. Beautiful photos! This post reminds me of my visit to this cemetery over thirty years ago. I had read the letters of Heloise and Abelard and was fascinated with their passionate, forbidden love. I like to think that their remains are there, because as Solomon puts it in his famous biblical song, “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.”

    In addition to the stunning collection of remains of passionate and creative people, the cemetery is a tranquil place for reflection and inspiration for one’s own endeavors.

    • I’m so pleased this post reminded you of your own visit to Père Lachaise! Thank you for sharing that beautiful quote from Solomon — and your hopeful vision also that Héloïse and Abélard are together for eternity at last. You’re also absolutely right that cemeteries can be the perfect place in which to reflect on our own lives. And that’s a big reason I keep going back: for the reminder that we only get one shot to make the most of our lives. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  15. Heloise, who survived Abelard by some twenty-one years, gave instructions that she was to be buried alongside her husband; and legend has it that when her body was carried to the open tomb, Abelard raised his arms to receive her and clasped her closely in his embrace.

    • Wow, Xpat — there’s a story I’d never heard before! Can’t decide whether it’s romantic or really creepy, though. Good thing it probably didn’t happen. 🙂

  16. I don’t think it’s weird to visit cemeteries. Always interesting, particularly the ones that have been there for a long time. And you can capture some really interesting photos—as you surely did.

    • Thank you, Otto! And the next time I visit my photos will be a notch or two more creative, thanks to your lessons and inspiration.

  17. Heide, such an incredible post – so many exquisite photos, a wonderful travel piece, and a beautiful reminder to both honor the dead and keep loving intentions while we’re living. Thank you –

  18. What stunning photos of this fascinating place. I’ve been to several old cemetaries during my travels so I can completely relate to your interest and fascination. They’re a piece of history. As I was reading your lovely piece, it reminded me of a book I read several years ago, that I can’t, for the life of me, remember by title. It’s funny what triggers memories. If it surfaces, I’ll let you know.

    I didn’t know that about Marcel Marceau. I’m always touched and impressed by the bravery of others during the holocaust. And is that a life-sized chair within one of the tombs? It also looks like someone lined a tomb and slept there (or had a party). What a place, eh?

    And this: “I come here: To be reminded that no matter how small — or how large — our lives may be, each of us has a story.” You are a good soul, HB. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, words and photos with us.

    • Thank you as always for your kind and thoughtful words, dear Alysbee. 🙂 It is indeed funny how things can trigger totally disparate memories sometimes — as with the book you read some years back. If it comes back, please let me know because now I’m dying of curiosity!

      And it is indeed both touching and impressive to consider the risks so many people took during the Holocaust, imperiling their own lives to save total strangers. To my shame, I don’t think I would have such bravery. (May it never be put to the test.)

      As for your two questions: Yes, that is a chair inside the tomb! A few of those have survived, with their curious proportions of a full-sized butt cushion but very short legs (maybe12 inches tall, at most). Esteban and I rented an apartment once whose living room was furnished entirely with such pieces, and it was hilarious watching my 6-foot-something darling try to sit on the sofa. The absurdity reminded me of “Being John Malkovich” or maybe something Salvador Dalí would do.

      Of course, some people do also sneak into the tombs to either sleep or party (especially around Jim Morrison’s grave). One can only hope they’re more respectful to the living — because how rude!

      Well, lest my reply grow longer than the post itself I’ll leave it there. But thank you so much for stopping by and brightening my day with your kindness, dear Alys. You are a good, sweet soul yourself. xx

  19. Fascinating ! As Spock would have said. I’m sad that we missed it on our visits to Paris. You’re photo’s make every turn a discovery of treasures. I marvelled at Jean-Joseph Carriès hair. He’s rather contemporary looking I thought.
    I was also drawn to the simple photo of 1850 with dabs of moss growing on it. That bit of greenery seemed to tie the past to the present for me. You and your trusty camera do notice the most interesting things. It’s the telling of a good photographer I suppose. I wish I noticed these things more often. Perhaps I’m moving too fast…must slow down. But not as slow as to be considered at Père Lachaise, LOL.
    Did you take a guided tour or arrive on your own? You’ve shared so much great detail with you photo’s, I feel like I’ve been to an inthralling history class. It seems like you’d need the whole day there? The mounds of garden mums really stand out since everything else is various shades of tan and grey. Aren’t the statues so amazing. I really can’t imagine such a glorious tribute. My personal idea of a nice tribute is a bench, with a statue of a cat sitting on it and a nice water bowl that would be filled by….someone. tee-hee, maybe I need to work out the details, hopefully I have lot’s of time for that. Happy Sunday lovely xK

    • It’s very wise of you to not move SO slowly as to be “considered at Père Lachaise,” Kelly. HAHAHA! You crack me up, lady. 😀 I’m very honored by all your kind words, but can’t take too much credit as I learned many of these stories from a British fellow named Colin, who has spent his entire retirement researching the stories of the people — both common and famous — who are buried at Père Lachaise. I met him by chance the first time as I was idly strolling and ended up spending the whole day with him. And then I ran into him again, totally unexpectedly, about two years later — and again another day of ambling and taking notes. In all, this post represents eight visits (plus a ninth I had totally forgotten about until after the post went live, gaaah). And I didn’t even scratch the surface … oh, the stories I could tell you! Perhaps someday we’ll be lucky enough to meet up there and work out the fine details of this cat statue. 🙂 As always, thank you SO MUCH for stopping by and for making my week with your kind words!

      • The happenstance of your time with Colin is incredible. What are the chances really? The place looks like a huge maze, not to mention the ‘time and day’ kismet of it. Seems that acquaintance/ friendship was surely meant to be. Sorry to hear he’s now passed on. Do you know if he ever wrote a book about his research? I hope to travel back to Paris sometime. Jim didn’t really enjoy our last visit. World Soccer Match was going on and it was banana’s everywhere. I also enjoyed our first trip, was October, more. The summer crowds had dissipated and the weather was perfect. I was just thinking, I probably would need two kitty statues, one chubby, one not. I couldn’t leave out either Petals or Blossum (yes. spelt wrong but that’s what was on her adoption paper, so we went with it 😀 ) xK

        • The timing of running into Colin a second time really did seem like kismet — although given that he’s there almost every day, I suppose that improves the odds a bit. I’m sorry if I gave you the impression he has joined the choir eternal, though. Not to my knowledge, anyway! And hopefully if he did kick the bucket he was buried at Père Lachaise — and hopefully he passed on his research, too! Gosh. Now you have me thinking I should get in touch and say hello.

          As for YOUR most recent trip to the City of Light, I’m sorry to hear it was less than ideal because of the soccer festivities. What a bummer! Hopefully the memories of the crowds will fade soon and you’ll be able to talk Jim into going back, though. It’s worth visiting again because it’s always, always a different experience. My only suggestion would be to bring the kitty sculptures with you, because I think they’d be cheaper here. LOL. Thank you for your sweet comment!

          • Omgosh, don’t know why I thought Colin had passed away, gah! Sorry a-boot that mix up :p (joined the eternal choir, lololol) Presently taking foot out of mouth !

          • No worries at all, lovely miss Kelly — as Colin himself would say, “it’s really just a matter of time,” ha ha. You do have me wondering how he’s getting on, though. I think I’ll drop him a note and see if he replies. 🙂

  20. Oh I’d definitely love to visit here. My husband and I usually visit different cemeteries (not been to any since birth of Aya though). There is just something about them that usually appeal to us, tranquility and all that. Oh my Heide… this one is super grand though isn’t it?!! The one with with the kisses is interesting, and the yes… this must drive the council people crazy not being able to stop people doing it even after putting up the barrier! Haha. Thanks for sharing this! Xx

    • I’m so glad you saw this and enjoyed it, Alicia! Yes, I suppose carrying Aya around in cemeteries would be less than appealing, ha ha — especially one as vast as Père Lachaise. But soon she’ll be walking next to you and appreciating her mum’s lessons in history. As for those kisses: People are funny, aren’t they? To me it seems less than hygienic to kiss a tomb, but who am I to judge? 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by, and for your kind comment. xx

  21. A magnificent post, Your friends (and mine) can call me macabre as well, if they wish. They don’t realise this garden cemetery offers so much history, beauty and serenity, it is worth a full day visit, and I will make up for my previous short visit there at some time in the future.

    You should host tours there. You’ve shown me a lot of details I failed to find or appreciate. I’ve bookmarked this post of yours.

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