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Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Kellee and I waited in the airport until Mary’s flight arrived. Since none of us knew where we were going – it was better to begin this adventure together. Kellee has never been to Paris and Mary had a short and unsatisfactory stay on a solo trip during college. I’ve been to Paris many times for short stays but it has been many years since I have travelled as a vagabond. (My trip of choice nowadays is to land in a place, stay there, and immerse myself in the culture.)

Hailing a taxi we began.

The view from our top-floor apartment...a matching building.

The view from our top-floor apartment…a matching building.

We were committed to nursing our jet lag by staying in the open air and waiting until a reasonable bedtime to collapse in our Paris flat in the Bastille. Tired as we were, we made it up the four flights of stairs* where our landlord unlocked the door to another interior flight. What?

But the apartment was worth it. Air B&B is a great way to score a home away from home. We walked into someone’s home with all of the amenities. Surrounded by books and art we could spread out in the living room (my granddaughter slept on the couch when she arrived) and feel like Parissienes.

Wandering and gazing.

Wandering and gazing.

Still, we forced ourselves out into the sunshine and kept ourselves going.

We were a bit desperate for food but our timing was off. As we wandered alleys that we knew would be hopping in the evening, the restaurants refused us in the late afternoon. And so we chose one of the ubiquitous corner cafés with outside seating.

A drink, some food, and being a part of the Paris scene – what more could we ask?

A client of Kellee’s told her not to miss the famous Paris cemetery, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. Before our trip, Kellee, Mary, and I watched Midnight in Paris to whet our appetite for the city. After that, visiting Gertrude Stein’s grave was even higher on Kellee’s “list”. Why not begin there?

It's fascinating that Chopin's grave is covered with flowers and surrounded by visitors.

It’s fascinating that Chopin’s grave is covered with flowers and surrounded by visitors.

So we wandered to (it felt like 10 miles) and through the famous cemetery that Kellee dubbed, “The Cemetery Where Everyone is Buried”. And seemingly, every famous Paris denizen of the past is there. We located Edith Piaf, Chopin, Modigliani and scores of other familiar names as we walked among the exotic and awe-inspiring crypts and the well-marked graves. The winding paths and roads led us up hills and down dale. In our bedraggled and jet-lagged state the cemetery felt huge and mountainous.

Modigliani lies here.

Modigliani lies here.

We hadn’t realized it was closing time until speeding guards began combing the streets for stragglers. At one point I hid behind a large marker as they drove by, buying time because we hadn’t yet spotted Gertrude Stein.

A quick look had to suffice as they shooed us out the large back gate. Sadly, Mary missed her goal for the trip – the sunset from the hilltop.

Many stones adorn Stein's grave.

Many stones adorn Stein’s grave.

But it was a fascinating way to spend our first afternoon. And it provided more education. When Mary remarked on the barrenness of Stein’s grave in comparison to the be-flowered and be-decked graves of Chopin and Edit Piaf, we learned that the stones that covered and surrounded her tomb are a Jewish tradition. Far from being abandoned and poorly decorated, the stones represented her impact on those who visited her.

The rest of the day is a blur to me. I know we had dinner. I know we stayed up fairly late. And I know that I was happy to be tucked into my bed. And in Paris, no less!

The Wanderer

*Really? Stairs again? Did I mention the third floor walkup in New York that had the not-to-current-code steps that sucked the life out of us by the second floor landing?

TRAVEL NOTES: The Paris Métro station Philippe Auguste on line 2 is next to the main entrance, while the Gambetta station on line 3 is near the back gate where one can enter and go downhill instead of climbing the winding lanes uphill.