The beginning of my 16 months 50 000 KM (30k miles) overland trip from Paris to Cape Town started in, you guessed it, Paris! This was in 1993, so there was no modern tech like the internet, Google maps, or cell phones. I left Canada with my friend Casey in January 1993, however, we parted ways a few months later.
We spent an action-packed 3 days in Paris, France without even a guidebook let alone Trip Advisor! We saw the sights , Versailles, Musse D’orsay, the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysses, Arc de Triomphe, Victor Hugo’s house, Notre Dame & The Opera house. Finally we still had a couple of hours to kill before our night train to Nice. So we decided to go to Pere Lachaise.
It is a huge cemetery in the 20th arrondissement (district) of Paris. There are over a million people buried there, and even more people are cremated there. Many famous people are buried at Pere Lachaise, including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Chopin. But our main goal was to see Jim Morrison’s grave.
The Cemetery – Pere Lachaise in Paris
Casey was a massive Doors fan! It was in January, so it gets dark early, and by the time we got there, it was just before they closed at 6 pm. I managed to speak (my French is okay) to the man at the entrance to ask if we could take a peek and he said, “Okay, at your risk”. So we went in, but oh my God, there’s no way we’re going to find it. The cemetery was huge, it was dark and we didn’t have a flashlight. There were only 10 minutes until closing time.
I tried to ask the guy where Jim’s grave was, and he just pointed a finger over that way. Very helpful. I mean, there are a million people buried there. It’s massive. It’s actually the most visited graveside in the world! Something like 3.5 million people visit every year.
So we decided to head in the direction he pointed. Like I said, it’ was a huge cemetery, it’ was dark and we had no idea where Jim’s grave was. Also, you would see something in the corner of your eye and think someone’s there. But it’s a crypt, or a gargoyle, or an angel statue. On a cold, dark night it was kind of scary!
All of a sudden I could hear some faint music. I said, “Casey do you hear that?” He said, “Yes”. Then in the far distance, we could see this very faint light. ‘Sensibly’ we decided to head towards the light and music.
The closer we got the louder the music got. Guess what? It was the bloody Doors, it was Jim Morrison singing! We thought okay, let’s just follow Jim. We got closer and closer, the music got louder and the light got brighter. Finally we realized it was a bunch of lit candles. We thought this was so eerie!
We finally got to the grave. All the graves that surrounded Jim’s were covered in flowers and graffiti by Doors fans with peace and love messages. Well, there was this guy sitting on Jim’s grave. He was doing heroin, as one does, and he had brought a cassette recorder which was playing The Doors. Those were his candles. It wasn’t Jim’s ghost guiding our way after all. But I guess this was kind of a perfect setting to see Jim Morrison’s grave! Casey and I were just thinking WTF!? It was pretty funny, to be honest.
Time to go
We chatted to him briefly and it turned out he was a nice guy. Of course we took a couple of photos and then realized the time.
Our train was leaving in a few hours. The train ticket cost $75 and we were on a tight budget, so we couldn’t miss it. Now we had to find our way back to the entrance. This was a mission in itself, especially without Jim guiding us the way back! So we finally got back to the gates where we came in, but they were locked! We’re locked in Pere Lachaise for the night. Oh my god!
First, we got busted on the Metro. We were jumping the gates, like many of the Parisians did. And now we were locked in a cemetery with our train leaving in a couple of hours from the other side of Paris – awesome. We didn’t know what we were going to do.
I looked around the gates and noticed a tree with an branch hanging over the gate. I thought we could probably climb the tree and get over the gate since the fences/gates were about 8-10 feet high. Although the probability of breaking an ankle was rather high, too!
We were just about to do that, when I had one last look around a corner and found a little side gate that had also been locked. But there was some leeway to squeeze through if you pushed it. “Oh my God, Casey I found this gate! We can get out!” Which we did, thankfully. We even managed to catch our train to Nice. Crazy times in Paris!And this was just the beginning of my trip.
So there you go. The moral of the story – go to Pere Lachaise before 6 pm so you don’t get locked in and always follow the light!
Tamara Bee has been travelling the world as a solo woman for the last 30 years. She has been to 76 countries to date and travels overland via public transport (& hitching) on her epic road trips. She is a Canadian Brit who moved to the UK from Nairobi in 1994 and lived there for 20 years. This is where she obtained her Chinese Medicine degree. She now works on her travel podcast, vlog and blog full time.