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5 kinds redux: how to visit Père Lachaise the smart way

Père Lachaise cemetery is one of the most popular attractions in Paris. I’ve been there more than a hundred times, because there’s so much to see. However, I continue to see tourists there who are frustrated and confused. They’re not getting the most out of the experience. They’re not even getting the least, the basics, the minimum two or three tombs on their list; so they leave having seen nothing they had planned to. In an effort to help them find their way, I’m re-posting my best advice.

A caravan of lost souls.  I’m not talking about the permanent residents of Père Lachaise cemetery.  I’m referring to the tourists, the day-trippers who trip aimlessly throughout the park.  Is this the way they wanted to spend their precious vacation day?

Yet here they are, wide-eyed, dumbfounded and hopelessly far from their cherished celebrity.  You can categorize them by their level of distress, from greatest to least.  Here’s a look at the 5 kinds of tourists you meet at Père Lachaise:

The Wanderer

  “Hi, can you help me find Jim?”  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked this question.  It’s been asked of me in all four corners of the 44 hectare park.  It’s all I can do to hold back saying, “Buddy, you have no idea how far off you are.”  It doesn’t matter what country the person is from.  They just showed up at Père Lachaise and thought they could wander around the 70 000 sites and bump into Jim.  People are strange.
rating: zero tombstones

Dora the Explorer

  This person has only one thing more than the Wanderer: “I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the Map…” and it gets them nowhere.  You see, for a map to work, you also need markers in the physical world.  You know, like signs, landmarks, distinguishable objects.  Père Lachaise hardly has any of these things that people are used to.  Are you a fan of Geocaching?  Most adults don’t like to play hide-and-seek, but that’s exactly what Dora plays at Père Lachaise because she doesn’t have the right tools.
  First off, more than half the signs are missing.  Many of the ones which remain are pointed in the wrong direction, making you think path A is really path B.  To top it off, a lot of the paths change their name while still heading in the same way.
  A huge problem-creator is that Père Lachaise isn’t organized like a city, with storefronts on the avenues.  Instead, it’s carved into ‘divisions’ which are the plots of land in-between the avenues.  These divisions all have different shapes and sizes, and each one of the divisions contains thousands of graves.  A paper map will get Dora fustratingly close to the site she wants to see, but it will remain out of reach almost all of the time.  She’ll probably bump haphazardly into Wilde or Colette.  There’s no way she’s finding Piaf, Modigliani, Chopin, Morrison or hundreds more that will miss her gaze as she turns her paper uselessly before her nose.
rating: 1 tombstone

The Bookworm

  This person not only has a map, they have a book, containing pictures of the graves and information about the departed.  Well, I guess they could play the match game, where they look at the photo, then glance around them to see if anything looks like the picture.  In French the game is called “Qui Est-Ce?”  This isn’t child’s play.  It’s an exercise in futility.
  Heck, even I wrote a book about Père Lachaise, called “The Chairfather.”  I carry no illusions that the book will help anybody find the sites; it won’t.  It’s a comedic recollection for folks who are familiar with the place, and a tongue-in-cheek text for fans who already know the life stories of the stars.  The Chairfather photo book does have pictures of four dozen tombs, but the photo will only help you distinguish the right one if you’re practically on top of it.
  At least the Bookworm has the stories.  But they might as well read them in the Jardin de Luxembourg, for all the good the book does them in getting to the tombs.  They’ll remain forever far from the people in the tales.
rating: 3 tombstones

The Geek

  “There’s an App for that.”  Uh, no.  Google Maps?  Useless at Père Lachaise.  What about any of the four with ‘Lachaise’ in the title in the iOS App Store?  They all have the same flaw: total reliance on GPS.  Also, they’re not all in the same category, spreading across Entertainment, Reference, Travel and Navigation. This means they don’t all have the ambition of getting you to the sites.  You’re on your own.
  The best Père Lachaise navigation App I’ve found is called “Super Lachaise” and it was developed by a guy I used to work with in Paris.  I use it myself when I want to find a site that’s not among the 50 on my own tours.  It gets me near the right tomb about half the time.  Why only a 50% success rate, for somebody who’s been all over Père Lachaise at least a hundred times?  It’s that civil GPS systems are still woefully inaccurate for this purpose.
  An example.  Let’s be generous and say your phone’s GPS gets you within 10 meters (or 30 feet) of your target.  That puts you in a space of 314 square meters (A=pi*r2).  Do you know how many graves you can have within 314 square meters at Père Lachaise?  ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY.  1 – 5 – 0.  No App will get you close enough.  Only a trusted voice can take you the last several steps to your rendez-vous.
rating: 6 tombstones

The Pack Rat

  This person thought ahead, and reserved a guided tour.  They joined the pack and followed an expert.  They are guaranteed to see at least a dozen of the sites, and hear fascinating stories about the people underground.  They won’t get to choose which people they’ll visit, nor what day or time it starts.  They’ll pay a pretty penny for the privilege, about €20 per hour.  But it will be worth it.
rating: 12 tombstones

There is a better way…

What can you do if a guide isn’t available when you want them, or in the language you speak?  What if you have very limited time, less than an hour?  What if you have just a handful of specific sites you want to get to, right away, at 9:30 a.m. before you need to check out of your hotel and catch your flight?

There is a better way, and the folks @VoiceMap have found it.  It’s more than an App.  In addition to GPS, they record the voice of expert guides.  The expert’s voice takes you those last 10 meters, so you’re never lost.  The tour starts right when you want, no waiting for a guide, and you proceed at your own pace.

But that’s just the beginning of the journey.  While you’re at each site, a story unfolds in your ears.  A narrator speaks while the live-action movie passes before your eyes.  It’s an immersive experience unlike any other, personal and intimate. It will make your time at Père Lachaise unforgettable!

A VoiceMap tour costs a fraction of the price of a guide.  Don’t waste your precious vacation days like the 5 profiles above.  Get right to where you want to go, in carefree style.  Listen to The Chairfather.

rating: 50 tombstones

(this is the number of sites The Chairfather will guide you to in under 3 hours)


I’ll guide you to final resting places on my VoiceMap tours of the Père Lachaise cemetery, and recite stories from the lives of these notable personalities.

© Copyright Joe Start. All rights reserved. © 2018


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