Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery
16 Rue du Repos, Paris
http://www.pere-lachaise.com/

Starting to look a bit morbid here, with another post about cemeteries, aren’t I?! I guess that’s at least partly true; I’ve always had a bit of a weird fascination with death. But that aside, I still maintain that cemeteries are very overlooked sites to visit when you’re travelling. They can give you a pretty good sense of a place and its history (are there Catholic crosses on the tombs? Coptic crosses? A Star of David?), what types of hardships its residents have been through (are there a lot of dates of deaths around the time of a war or pandemic?), and they’re more often than not in some of the city’s more beautiful park-like settings. Case in point: Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery.

It’s less than 10km from the Eiffel Tower, and you can get there easily enough on the no. 2 or no. 3 metro train lines. There’s no entry fee and you can walk around at your own pace, but it IS a big cemetery, so if you’d prefer to have someone show you around, there are plenty of companies that offer guided tours.

The grounds are open all year round, but visiting in autumn didn’t hurt as you can see by the perfect gold and red leaves throughout my photos. It’s become well-known as the final resting place of creative celebrities like Jim Morrison (photo below), Edith Piaff, Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust.

Another popular grave is that of Abélard and Héloïse, which I read about in Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad:

“Yet who really knows the story of Abélard and Héloïse? Precious few people. The names are familiar to everybody, and that is about all. With infinite pains I have acquired a knowledge of that history… to show the public that they have been wasting a good deal of marketable sentiment very unnecessarily.”

Turns out a lot of people know them as a love story, a Romeo and Juliet type love story. The real story as told by Mark Twain? He seduced her, they ran away, had a child. They got married, but were soon torn apart by his meddling uncle. She entered a convent and heard nothing from her lover for a decade until a letter arrived. They wrote to each other for a while, but would only meet again in death, when, as per Héloïse’s last wish, they were buried together…

If anyone is reading out there and playing along at home, would love to hear of any other cemeteries you’ve visited on your travels that you’d recommend a visit to!

8 Perfect Paris Streets

The only way you’re going to really see Paris is on foot. Because there are dozens of beautiful little walking streets in the city that you’re going to miss completely if you’re in a taxi or on the trains. If you Google “Paris walking streets,” you’ll get hundreds of lists; here are the ones I really liked. They’re all in quite central areas, easy enough to get to if you don’t know the city well, and will give you a really great overview of what you can find if you take the time to wander… once we’re out of this pandemic, of course!

 

1. Rue Montorgueil
Why walk it? Cafés, bakeries and restaurants for the most part, like Au Rocher de Cancale. There are also some beautiful little places where you can get a crepe and some wine while you do some people watching.

 

2. Galerie Vivienne
Why walk it? This little undercover walking street has been made Instagram-famous for is beautifully tiled passageway which is strung with fairy lights overhead. Galerie Vivienne is home to a few old bookstores mixed in with some more modern boutiques.

 

3. Rue Saint-Séverin
Why walk it? It’s one of those story-book cobbled streets up near the Latin Quarter. Start at Boulevard Saint-Michel where you’ll find lots of pretty cafes and restaurants. Turn left on Rue de Petit Pont and you’ll end at Shakespeare & Company for a book fix.

 

4. Rue Cler
Why walk it? With wide walking paths and lots of shops, it’s an easy place to soend a few hours. You’ll find everything from Mariage Frères tea to lots of colourful florists to some delicious smelling bakeries. At the end of street, just past Rue Saint-Dominique, you’ll find the Church of Saint-Pierre du Gros Caillou.

 

5. Rue Mouffetard
Why walk it? This cobbled street on a hill hosts a farmers market of sorts every day except Monday. It’s lined with food stores and stalls – butchers, fromageries, bakeries, patisseries, the works. The croissants from Maison Morange are exceptional.

 

6. Passage Verdeau
Why walk it? For the beautiful old bookstores like Librairie J.N. Santon and other antique shops. It’s a real step back in time.

leading into…

7. Passage Jouffroy
Why walk it? This is another classic walking street, really harking back to the past. It houses a wax museum, a former 19th century brasserie, and Le Valentin, a tea house with the most incredible cakes.

leading into…

8. Passage des Panoramas
This one’s considered to be the first covered walking street in the city. With it’s old tiled floors, a few cafes and some antique collector stores (stamps, coins, postcards), it’s a great way to end your walking day.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Vik, Iceland

A beautiful beach, only an hour drive from a volcano, with sand made of pebbled lava. Only in Iceland…

Last year, on the morning of my birthday, I woke up in Iceland. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us to get to the Buubble, where we’d be spending the night. But before that, I wanted to get back to this beach for one last visit. That photo above was taken around 10am, when the sun was finally coming up for the day.

Those huge rock formations in the water are known as the Reynisdrangar Columns. Legend says they’re all that remains of a two-troll battle that involved a ship; nature says they’re parts of the surrounding mountain that became eroded and separated from the main bulk. Either way, they’re an impressive sight.

They’ve got some killer basalt columns, too – having seen Giant’s Causeway before these, I have to say Iceland’s were a hell of a lot more impressive – less tourists, no entry fee, and more than safe enough to climb over. We heard that in summer, it’s not uncommon to see birds nesting up on top of the columns. We were there in winter, though, so we made do climbing the huge steps and hanging out in the cave when the wind got strong enough to almost knock me on my backside. Bonus tip: don’t visit without a wind- and water-proof jacket, and water-proof boots. I felt really sorry for one group of tourists who neglected all of that and spent a fair bit of time huddled in that cave.

The “sand” ranges from fist-sized, smooth black stones, to tiny little grains of lava. Walking from the carpark to the beach, you’ll go through a field of large, volcanic rocks – when they’re blanketed in snow like they were when we visited, it’s an alien landscape that absolutely takes your breath away. Iceland is one of the few places where all of the lame travel clichés like “the quaint little cottage” and “the landscape was an assault on the senses” and “it just took my breath away” are actually valid. There couldn’t have been a  better place to spend the morning of my birthday.

Asolo, Italy

I know I’m incredibly fortunate to have two parents hailing from opposite ends of the same country. The north and south of Italy couldn’t be more different, and I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to see both. Mum’s side of the family are from the north, up near Venice, so I really wanted to show some of the little towns and villages in the area that most people who visit Venice never get to. While the island is obviously incredible, I wonder how many people would kick themselves if they knew what they were missing on the mainland…

Asolo is one of those little towns up in the foothills of the Dolomites that you picture when you think to yourself “how gorgeous it must be to hire a car and just drive and explore little medieval cobblestoned villages.” Dating back to pre-Roman times, Asolo has been around for a very long time, and hopefully won’t be going anywhere soon. And getting there is as easy as leaving the Venice islands for the mainland and hiring a car.

With cobbled streets, creeping greenery, delicious food in windows, remainders of medieval buildings, and seriously stunning views, it’s easy to see why so many artists and writers find their way there. Dame Freya Stark, explorer, traveller and writer, was one of those – she visited Asolo for the first time in 1923, eventually retired there, and passed away a few months after her 100th birthday there. That’s her villa in the photo below…

Asolo is one of those towns that managed to retain all of its old-world charm while Venice was being slowly commercialised and destroyed by tourism. They don’t get a heap of visitors, comparatively, and it’s so much more beautiful for that (so if you visit it, please do so respectfully!) – it’s the sort of place you want to find a little table balanced on cobblestones to sit at while you drink wine, a place you’d want to visit with a sketch book and pencil, even if you can’t draw. The fact that there isn’t a heap of big tourist attractions to see and do there is what makes it such a great place to visit as a break from the chaos that can be Venice.

Photo Journal: Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

Graceland Cemetery
4001 N Clark St, Chicago
https://www.gracelandcemetery.org

I could tell you how Chicago’s Lincoln Park used to be the city’s premier burial ground until Chicago’s City Council banned burials there. Or that it was decided to move the city cemetery to what’s now Graceland. I could tell you that the cemetery spans 121 acres, and holds the remains of the city’s most eminent residents, including architects, sportsmen and politicians. I could harp on about how beautiful a garden cemetery it is, how it feels like you’re taking the most magnificent nature walk when you’re in the middle of it, which Chicagoans have been doing since it’s establishment in 1961.

Instead, I’m just going to show you how absolutely stunning Graceland is through some pictures I took when I visited late last year…

Cemeteries get a bad wrap for being creepy places. They generally don’t rank very highly on the traveler’s list of things to see and do. But Graceland felt much more like a museum crossed with a park than a burial ground. Visiting in autumn was magic, with all the leaves turning gold and red. The map you collect when you arrive is also particularly helpful, and adding to the museum vibe is the list of the important citizens buried there and a little biography of them all. And the only remotely creepy thing was the Eternal Silence statue below, and that’s only because Atlas Obscura told me that “looking into its eyes a person could see the nature of their own death…”