Dead Famous

Pere Lachaise cemeteryToday was to be the day of the dead. First on the agenda: Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Jules and Alex didn’t want to come so us and Neen headed out on the metro. There’s not many people we could convince that spending a hot, sunny day in a cemetery is the best thing ever. Give us a city of the dead over a beach any day. We can get a tan, see beautiful mausoleums and leave without getting sand in places where sand has no right to be.

Pere Lachaise cemeteryThe metro stopped right outside, so we walked across the road, bought a map of the cemetery (without one, we’d probably still be there until the council is forced to bury our well dressed skeletons) and marked off the people we wanted to see: Oscar Wilde was top of our list, along with Jim Morrison for our friend, Rodney, and some people who either haunted it, or their graves we’d seen in our book about haunted places in France. Neen wanted to see Gertrude Stein for Zoe. And then we spotted a name we had to visit – Sex Toy. No idea who this person is. And no, we’re not Googling it. We’ve fallen for that ploy many times.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Raspail family tomb

Pere Lachaise is rumoured to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. Visitors report intense eerie feelings, a deep sense of unnatural calm, shivers down the spine, ghostly apparitions and orbs. Jim Morrison is apparently seen near his grave and Chopin likes photobombing people. Some say Oscar Wilde haunts it, as well as lovers Marcel Proust and Maurice Ravel, who apparently rise from their graves searching for each other. This will be us when we’re dead – rising from our graves, searching for Red Bull. Pere Lachaise opened in 1804 on Napoleon’s orders to cope with the overflow of bodies from the Revolution. There are over 300,000 people buried here. It’s the place to be seen dead in.
Pere Lachaise cemeteryWe wandered the graveyard, taking photos and getting ideas for our tomb. So far, it’s going to have steps, skeletal hand sconces, gargoyles and castle towers. And a plaque that reads: ‘this is the story of C L Raven (they die at the end).’ But unless we start selling more books, we’ll probably end up in a pauper’s grave. Or eaten by our cats.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Etienne Gaspard Robertson’s grave

We made our way to the closest grave on our list: Etienne Gaspard Robertson – a magician who liked to terrify people. He invented the phantasmagoria, using lantern slides to create horror shows. His grave had featured in the book and had an incredible carving of the living on one side, the dead on the other and a flying skeleton between them, playing a trumpet. We stopped by a tree and consulted our map, certain we were in the right area. Then we turned around. It was right beside us. The carving was fantastic. He also had skulls on the top of his monument. A French couple asked us where Chopin’s grave was, so we directed them.

 

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Jim Morrison’s grave

Despite our poor map reading skills, we managed to navigate the cemetery easily. Neen said it was because it was something we’re interested in. This is true. If we’re not interested, we won’t put effort in. Hence constantly failing school exams. There were quite a few people around Jim Morrison’s grave, but we managed to squeeze in and take photos. There are railings up around the whole section where he is to stop people going to his grave.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Marie Elizabeth Demidoff’s grave.

The next grave on our list belonged to Russian princess Marie Elizabeth Demidoff, who apparently stated in her will that she would leave part of her inheritance to anyone who spent a year beside her corpse. Her monument was impressive, with columns and wolves’ heads. We stood at the bottom, trying to figure out how to get up to the other side. We eventually walked all the way around and up. Only to discover that had we gone the other way, a flight of steps would’ve taken us right to it. We were not shining today.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Sex Toy’s grave

Our next mission was to find Sex Toy. That grave was off the path, so we had to explore amongst other graves. After fifteen minutes of failing to find it, nearly falling over and being attacked by brambles, we realised we were in the wrong area. We crossed a path to another section and continued the hunt. Cat slipped and her hand landed on some brambles. We hunted for another fifteen minutes then Lynx stopped to change her camera battery. And happened to stop by Sex Toy’s grave. Neen had walked right past it. We were expecting something phallic shaped, or with chains. Maybe even something that vibrated. Nope. A simple slab with SEX TOY written in old English font. So like men who can’t find the g spot, we were poking around, trying to look like we knew what we were doing, only to find it rather anti climatic.

Pere Lachaise cemetery, Oscar Wilde's grave

Oscar Wilde’s grave

We stopped for a picnic on a bench before finding Oscar Wilde’s grave with no difficulty. He wrote our favourite poem, the Ballard of Reading Gaol, so we had to find him. We expected it to be crowded like Jim Morrison’s was, but there were only two guys there. Oscar’s grave had a glass case around it, because there was a tradition of people kissing it and leaving lipstick marks all over it, inspired by his quote ‘a kiss may ruin a human life.’ And graves, it seems. The oils in the lipstick were damaging the stone, so the family paid to have them cleaned off and put a glass barrier around it to protect it.

 

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Auschwitz memorial

We headed to the eastern wall where 140 communards were shot at dawn on 28th May 1871 after fighting their way across the cemetery. They were buried where they fell but apparently visitors have seen them. We didn’t see them. There were some incredible memorials to the victims of the holocaust and those that died in the resistance. They showed skeletal figures, reminding people of the horror they suffered. We much preferred them to regular plaques. We found Gertrude Stein’s grave easily. She was a lesbian American novelist, playwright, poet and art collector. We also saw Edith Piaf’s grave as it was near the exit. A French woman asked us where Oscar Wilde’s grave was, so we pointed it out to her then gave her our map.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Auschwitz memorial

We stopped at a café across the road to rest our painful feet before limping our way to the metro stop to go to the Musee Fragonard. We got off and walked down the really long Avenue de General de Gaulle. We couldn’t find it so went into a shop to buy a drink and ask where it was. They didn’t have any squash so we bought a big bottle of lemon water. The cashier didn’t know of the museum. We kept going until Neen checked the number. It was back near the metro stop. We turned around and hobbled back the way we’d come, only to find a solicitor’s at number 7. Neen got out her map. We were at the wrong end of the street. We got back on the metro and went another couple of stops. We had not come this far and put up with this much pain to quit now. We were going to the museum and it had better be damn well impressive. It also closed in an hour.

Musee Fragonard

Musee Fragonard

The museum is inside a university and was well worth a visit and the pain. We did the audio guide but there was so much information, we didn’t have time to listen to it all. There weren’t as many flayed people as were hoping – it was mostly animal skeletons and organs, as it was a veterinary university, but it was still fascinating. And cows don’t have four stomachs – their stomach is divided into four, with each section doing a different job.
Eiffel TowerWe got back on the metro to meet Alex and Jules at the Eiffel Tower. For some reason, we expected it to be silver, not brown. We got pictures as we walked past it then had to walk a long way to find the café they were in. By now, Cat’s bad knee had given up too, but luckily she’d brought her walking stick and had bought ice patches on our first day in Paris. A helpful American translated to the waiter what we meant by vegan then we sat and had chips. Our boots came off the minute we sat down. One waiter said “cook fries in with the meat? Who would be crazy enough to do that?” We replied “The UK.” He was impressed with our French when we asked for the bill.

Seine

Seine at sunset

The queue for the tower was still long so we did a cruise along the river Seine at sunset. It was the best time to do it. The boat was quiet, whereas in the day, the boats are always packed. We’d seen the Seine plenty of times in the day. It was beautiful as the sun went down and the lights came on. There was this annoying couple by us at the back of the boat. All the woman was did was take constant selfies without smiling in a single one, but doing those partial smiles with closed lips, ‘cos heaven forbid your smile should crinkle your face. The typical ‘identical facial expression in every photo so I always look beautiful’. Us and Neen had posted many unflattering photos of ourselves. We were glad when they left the boat, otherwise we were going to push her in. Let’s see her look picture-perfect after a dunking in the Seine.

SeineWe gave each other dares during the evening. Lynx had to ask a guy where the River Seine was, as we cruised along it. She even asked in French but he couldn’t understand her. Jules and Cat had to twerk picnickers as we sailed past. Having never twerked before, Jules had to teach Cat. They did it and got cheered by the picnickers.

River Seine

twerking it

Neen’s dare had been to ask someone where the Eiffel Tower was, as we stood across the road from it. He helpfully pointed it out then a man stopped his car and got out to have his photo taken with us. Alex had to lick her ice cream bowl. Us and Neen claimed it wasn’t a dare, as we’d do it anyway, so Neen dared Alex and Jules to tie their plaits together and walk around. They did it on the boat, but told the captain it was a dare so it didn’t count.

SeineIt was getting dark by the time we got back so the Eiffel Tower was lit up red white and blue. It looked beautiful, so we video called our mum and sister by it so they could see it lit up. Sarah asked if we could ring her when we were up there. We didn’t have to queue long – advantage of going up at 11 p.m. Security check through your bags at every major tourist attraction and the woman confiscated our big bottle of lemon water we’d just bought. Neen tried arguing it was just water, but the woman binned it. Not just confiscated. Binned. We spent €1.65 on that! Luckily, Neen had instructed us to pour some into the bottles we’d used for our squash, so some was saved. That wasn’t taken off us. Either the woman didn’t believe it was water, or she thought Neen looked the type to lob it at unsuspecting tourists. The top of the tower was closed unfortunately. We got the lift to the second floor then video called our mum and sister.
Eiffel TowerIt was so beautiful up there. It didn’t matter that we didn’t make it to the top. To be honest, we would’ve been terrified up there. A man behind us proposed to his girlfriend and we’re guessing by the applause that she said yes. Neen did a fake proposal to Lynx and people thought it was real. We had to explain it was just for photos and Neen is married. Quite frankly, we’re surprised nobody thought the others were real. The Eiffel Tower is seen as a romantic place to propose, even though it’s a popular suicide spot. Over 400 people have plunged to their deaths from it and most of them were distraught lovers. A famous story is about a couple who met at the tower. At the top, he proposed. She said no so he pushed her off. Apparently, you can hear her laugh then scream. Not so romantic now.

Eiffel TowerWe decided to get the full Eiffel Tower experience and walked down to the next floor. Big mistake. There were so many steps that by the time we reached the first floor, our feet were in agony. So we queued to take the lift down but had to wait ages with our feet feeling as though we were standing in lava. It was gone midnight by the time we got down but there was a sorbet place open so us and Neen had sorbet as we ambled to the metro. We had strawberry and raspberry. It was the best sorbet we’ve ever had and was the perfect way to end our last night in Paris. Then on the Metro was a hot guy. He looked like Ed Skrein from Deadpool. The views in Paris were just getting better. And he kept looking at us. So we played it cool. By ‘played it cool’, we mean we avoided eye contact and turned around. Winning.Eiffel Tower

Empire of the Dead

Conciergerie

Conciergerie

Going to jail, hanging out with the dead and again exposing ourselves to Paris. Day three went well.

P1170459We got an “ooh la la” from a guy as we headed for the bike stop. An actual ooh la la. Neen told him to be more original. The guy was actually good looking but his cliched line put an immediate black mark against him. Be original or be gone with you, good sir! We hired bikes again and cycled our way down to the Conciergerie. We went the wrong way down one way streets, cycled on pavements, nearly mowed down pedestrians and got applause from a guy as we cycled past a cafe. Basically, we fitted in with other road users. When in Rome…Conciergerie

Conciergerie

inside the conciergerie

We figured this was the perfect time to use our action cam as it was intended. It was going well until Lynx went over a bump and the action cam sailed out of her bike’s basket. We have a chest strap for it but left it at home. We earned our second “ooh la la” from a Japanese tourist. Our plan to ride the bikes for free was foiled when there was police presence at the Notre Dame, so they sealed the roads and wouldn’t let us take our bikes to the stands. Then every other stand was full. We were following a French guy who had the same problem. Neen commented on the craziness of it. Man “It’s France.” We were 9 minutes over our time when we managed to park. Neen had a crepe then we went to the Conciergerie.

ConciergerieIt used to be palace for the Capetian dynasty but Charles V stopped using it as a palace in the 14th century and used it to house his law courts. At the end of the 18th century, it was the prison for the prisoners of the Revolution before they were tried and executed. Marie Antoinette was held there for two months. It was a lovely place and it was good to see somewhere historical that wasn’t on our list. Cells depicted how rich or poor prisoners were treated and there was loads of information. Marie Antoinette’s cell has a mannequin of her with guards as she tried to escape.

Conciergerie

Marie Antoinette’s cell

We cycled to the Place de la Bastille monument, where the fort was, then walked down to the ruins of the Bastille prison, where the Revolution started when they stormed it and freed the prisoners. Construction began in 1357 and it increased until the 1600s. It started as a battle fortress but then became a prison. Famous prisoners included the Man in the Iron Mask and the Marquis de Sade. The ruins are right beside a children’s playground. Both locations are rumoured to be haunted by strange smells and sightings. But we’re guessing this might be the kids.

Bastille

Place de la Bastille

As we passed a row of shops, there were huge air vents. Neen was disappointed Cat hadn’t been photographed with the vent from the Louvre so made her stand on them. Cat held most of her skirt down, managing to retain her dignity. The shop assistant applauded her. P1170461Then as she ran across the road to photograph a fountain, Neen said “you showed your arse again when you went down. And your boobs do jiggle when you run. You’ve made Paris very happy today.” It’s a good job we always wear our Ann Summers finest. Poor Paris. It needs therapy now.

Bastille

Bastille ruins

As we were close to Ile St Louis and hadn’t gone there the other day, we walked across and had sorbet before crossing back over the haunted Pont Marie. Two lovers used to meet there, but the man was a spy and one day, he never returned, so the woman wanders the bridge, still waiting for him. You never find male ghosts pining for their lost loves. We’d put off using the metro all holiday but it was time to be brave and we caught the metro to the catacombs. Except we got off at the wrong stop and had to hobble a mile to the catacombs. We suffer from callouses and heel spurs caused by plantar faciitis. Walking long distances is excruciating.

Paris Catacombs

Catacombs

It turned out that we’d paid for the audio tour. We weren’t given the option of not having it. The queue to get in was incredibly long. People can queue for about three hours. If you go, book in advance. We only had to wait fifteen minutes. The catacombs were fantastic. We could’ve spent hours in there. Hell, we could’ve lived there. We’ve wanted to visit the catacombs for years. It’s the whole reason we went to Paris. Unfortunately, once we were in the Empire of Bones, we didn’t get to listen to the audio tour because we didn’t have enough hands to hold it. Lynx was videoing and using one phone as a torch, the other as a camera while Cat was using the Panasonic camera and as flash photography and tripods were forbidden, the dim light made photography hard.

Paris CatacombsNeen said it was very interesting and well worth a listen. She said we could’ve taken photos then listened to it, but we were so conscious of keeping the others waiting, that we didn’t want to hang around too long. Though we did manage to have sections of the catacombs to ourselves for a lot of time, proving once again, our superpower is losing people on tours. Next time, we’re doing the audio tour, even if we have to stay there all night.

Paris CatacombsAnd this time Neen proposed to Cat in front of a heart from made skulls. Now we’re not romantic people but if guys should propose in that spot, we would likely say yes. There is nothing more romantic than a heart made from skulls. You can keep your love lock bridge and sunset meal proposals. Give us the dead any day.
Paris CatacombsAcross the road was a gift shop. In a repeat of the Alcatraz gift shop, we spent a lot of money in there. If we hadn’t been conscious of luggage weight limit, we would’ve bought the entire shop. Except it’s expensive and as we tell Neen – you don’t get rich by spending. Our feet hadn’t hurt the whole time we were in the catacombs, so either we were too distracted to notice, or the dead have healing powers.
Paris CatacombsWe wandered the streets for a while before getting back on the metro and heading to the main street near ours. We stopped in a bar for cocktails before deciding to find somewhere to eat. We walked all the way to one end of the street, but the places we stopped at weren’t gluten free, so we turned around and walked all the way back, only to go to the first place Neen spotted – right across the road from the bar we were in. The whole time it felt like walking on hot coals and knives. By this point, we’d decided that if the chips weren’t vegan, we were going to sit outside and eat shortbread. There was no way we were walking any further. We always feel sorry for the waiting staff when they say they can speak English, because not only do they have to contend with us trying to explain what makes chips vegan (cooked separately from the meat) but also with Jules being gluten free. Our poor waiter earned his tip. But we got to practise the French we’d learned. “L’addition si’l vous plait.” Bill please.
Paris CatacombsWe can only stay out drinking for so long before we get bored so we headed back to our apartment at 11 while the others stayed out. It was our first time of navigating Paris alone and our SatNav froze, only piping up when we reached the road by ours. Thanks, Helen, good to see you’re as helpful in France as you are in Britain. But at least we got to see streets we hadn’t seen before.

We were looking forward to the next day – it was going to be a day of the dead.sorbet