Whoever said you can’t walk everywhere in Paris hasn’t met Michael and I. Last October we proved all naysayers wrong by the power of our own four feet. One of our best days of our week was the one we named our DAY OF THE DEAD.
No, we didn’t die that day. Trust me, it was a thematic name choice.
In Paris, we stayed in the 9th at an unassuming little hotel called Hôtel de Paris Saint Georges. We don’t go big on hotels, because they’re only for sleeping in when your goal is to take in every inch of every city you visit. The hotel is not important, as long as it’s clean.
Our first goal on the Day of the Dead was to make our way to Père Lachaise Cemetery all the way over in the 20th arrondissement. Google Maps told us it was a mere 5.2km away. A walk in the park that would take us 1 hour and 8 minutes, according to Google. Google also doesn’t know us. We knew we could cut that number down to an hour.
My first time in Paris was action packed with Left Bank Writers Retreat stuff, so I didn’t get to see Père Lachaise. The days were too fully planned out to sneak away, and the cemetery was closed at night. Who closes a cemetery at night?! The nerve!
I had several graves on my visiting wish-list, and we booked a walking tour at the cemetery to make things easy for us. It’s a huge cemetery!
Unfortunately, our Day of the Dead was going to begin with a fail. Not surprising, since we were still dead in the middle of the pandemic. The tour didn’t sell enough tickets, so it was cancelled. The worst part was that the tour company didn’t tell us it was cancelled. Michael and I stood by the designated Metro stop waiting for the guide to appear for far too long. After doing several somersaults and finally contacting the tour guide people, we discovered we had been waiting in vain. We were on our own.
Even though we didn’t see everyone on the list, we did manage to see a few of the famous people I wanted to visit. Having waited decades to see this historic cemetery, I was not disappointed. Sure, it would have been a hundred percent better with the accompaniment of a guide, but it was still an amazing morning!
We saw Wilde, Piaf, Proust, Moliere, Balzac, Chopin, and Morrison, among others. Then we accepted our defeat and put Père Lachaise onto the bingo card for our next visit to Paris. Next time, hopefully, we will have a guide. There’s still quite a few people on my wish-list that we missed. Take my word for it, if you’re going to visit Père Lachaise, get a guided tour. You may think you can do it alone, but it is really overwhelming once you’re there. Even with a paper map or Google Maps. I was just too overwhelmed to remember half the names I wanted to visit. And we did some crisscrossing we could have avoided. GET. A. GUIDE.
With our mad dash throughout the cemetery over, we were off to our next stop! Did somebody say Panthéon?! And how does the Panthéon work into our Day of the Dead, you might ask if you’re not familiar with the building in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Off to the 5th arrondissement we go!
Panthéon, temple to all the gods. Sitting atop Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Panthéon (Built from 1758-1790), once a church, is now a mausoleum for the remains of France’s most distinguished citizens. This incarnation of a mausoleum could very well be the building’s last and eternal purpose.
Once we made the brisk 4.1km walk from Père Lachaise, with a quick stop at a yummy Indian restaurant we stumbled upon along the way, we were ready to meet more of history’s illustrious dead.
We visited almost everyone resting there. From Voltaire to Zola.
A highlight of the visit, for me as a writer and reader, was Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo.
Since we were in the neighbourhood (the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement), we also visited Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which is just behind the Panthéon. This church was made newly famous after appearing in the movie Midnight in Paris. I had visited the church back in 2014 when the Panthéon was closed for some restorative work. We took an iconic (to us) photo of ourselves on the church steps where Gil sat in Midnight in Paris, right before he was whisked away into the Paris of the 1920s.
And here’s the facade of the church. The steps made famous in the movie are on the left hand side of the photo below.
After visiting the greatest of France’s late citizens, we were off to visit the bones of some of Paris’s late great cemeteries. Say that ten times fast. Anyway, Catacombes de Paris in the 14th arrondissement were the next stop on our Day of the Dead.
If you can, always get your tickets online in advance. You will avoid a headache, or even the possibility of being turned away at the door.
The Catacombes were another place I missed on my last visit to Paris, and, therefore, a must see during this visit. We made the 2.7km walk in no time, even with the quick detour through the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement! We couldn’t walk by this treasure when we could almost as easily walk through it!
Getting down to the dark underbelly was a feat in itself. The spiral staircase brought back memories of climbing the never-ending staircase to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, or the just-as-deadly staircase to the top of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. Paris sure does love the spiral staircase!
The Catacombes were everything we hoped they would be. Death made creepy by darkness and dirt, with a little dripping wetness thrown in for good measure. We were under Paris, surrounded by the bones of millions of long-dead displaced Parisiennes.
Watch your head!
The Catacombes holds the remains of over 6 million people. It is something to see. If you’re visiting Paris and have no problems with mobility issues or claustrophobia, I highly recommend it. I will say, however, that it is probably a one and done. There are many places in Paris I will visit again and again. The Catacombes, incredible as it was to experience, probably isn’t one of them.
The parts of the Catacombes open to public are roughly 1km in length. You’ll never guess where one arrives after climbing the almost identical spiral staircase up out of the dungeons of Paris. That’s right! A gift shop! All of the world’s attractions and rides now deposits its adventurers off into the coveted gift shop. A sure sign of Commerce Above All Else!
After our tour of dead things, we capped off our day at my restaurant of choice in the hopes of having a chance encounter with a ghost from Paris’s glorious literary past. Between the Catacombes and the Jardin du Luxembourg, you will come to one of Paris’s most famous literary restaurants. That’s saying a lot, as quite a few of Paris’s restaurants were made famous by the patronage of many of its literary elite from the time of the Lost Generation.
The one I chose was La Closerie des Lilas, which was a mere 850m from the Catacombes.
We had a lovely (if overpriced) meal outside on the patio while I imagined Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald tucked away in a corner making literary chatter and writing away in their battered journals while drinking light aperitifs.
With dinner over, so too was our day at its end. Almost. In Paris, the day is always only almost over…
Now, we only had to walk home! And you bet we made some stops along the way. The dead things may have been behind us, but there was still a lot to see!
We had our meal at Closerie, but it was time for dessert! Where else but Amorino Saint Louis?! What else, but gelato?!
Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île will always be one of my favourite places in Paris. When I stayed there in 2014, I loved to wake up early and get out into the tiny street and watch it come to life! Such simple magic!
Next! 750m to The Lady. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. I mean, it was right there! We couldn’t NOT visit. I know it’s closed, but just to walk by it…
This concluded our Day of the Dead. After another 3.8km of walking through the nighttime streets of Paris, we were back at our hotel. It was time to sleep, to recoup and prepare for our next day of concurring the streets of Paris one footstep at a time!
My step counter for this day showed 35,173 steps, or 27.6km. Just a stroll in the big scheme of things. How often do you get to wander around the streets of Paris seeking out dead things?!