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Report - Paris Catacombs 8/12/07-10/12/07

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by Known by None, Dec 11, 2007.

  1. Known by None


    All photos are by Cookie (cheers mate), I have blacked out all faces other than my own in keeping with tradition and also because some folk like to keep their mug shots off the web. MONSTER thanks OT, Root, Paulo and Rug and to the rest of the team too, we kept it together and we pulled it off.

    As underground experiences go, this has to be one of the most unique I have been on so far... to try and compare it to anything artificial that I've done previously wouldn't be doing it justice, after all.. how often is it that you get to explore beneath one of the most famous cities on Earth?
    Paris, home of cuisine, culture and grand architecture, a beautiful city that seems to embrace modernity with two feet still firmly planted in tradition and yet beneath the bustling streets and avante garde lifestyles there lies an entire underworld of tunnels and chambers that stretch and wind for miles in an almost labyrinthine fashion; great sprawling passages that taper off into the darkness as if to seem almost endless and yet along the way they are emblazoned with art and sculptures that would make perhaps even the most prominent galleries and museums look bland, it is old too and contains quarries and workings which can be dated right back to Roman times.
    With several hundred kilometres of known network the catacombs could almost stretch across the length and breadth of the city itself, and while such an enormous and vast underground complex might give the impression of isolation and foreboding, this is not the case at all.
    So although Paris may posses what is arguably some of the finest and most historical buildings in the world, it wasn't the Eiffel tower or even the Notre-Dame that caused me to catch the 14:05 London to Gare De Nord. it wasn't even the beer or the promise of all you can eat escargot. My experience was going to involve kneepads, a helmet complete with caving light and a sleeping bag, and while I would have liked to spend some time sightseeing, it was the sights that most people would never see that got me the most excited.
    So it was that myself, Cookie, Oxygen Thief (OT), Paulo, Root and Rubber Duck, disembarked from the Eurostar and met up with Soloman for what was to be an adventure that none of us could have expected or prepared for.

    First stop was to the supermarket to stock up on rocket fuel and then on to McDonald's where Root dispensed the all important Immodium tablets to the group like some dodgy chemist peddling narcotics.
    Once we were all ready we got organised and OT and Paulo made sure everyone knew how the trip was going to work and then set off, destination underground.

    Once we had gotten inside the catacombs proper there was a parting of ways as OT and Paulo were keen to check out a rumoured lead and we were left in the capable hands of Root who was keen to lead his first trip down here.So with an intrepid fire in our hearts and exploration fever in our eyes we set off into the darkness of the catacombs for what was going to be a grand old tour.

    .....Within thirty minutes we had been arrested.

    Might not be able to live this one down.

    ...Well I say arrested, what actually transpired was that we walked past some seemingly innocent fellow explorers only to discover that they were in fact the legendary Catapolice. These guys promptly surrounded us and made it very clear that we weren't going anywhere, Root being a fearless leader and all round good guy wasn't convinced that they were genuine and so demanded ID, it was about then that we spotted the guns. All thoughts of identification pretty quickly go out of the window when you are faced with six guys carrying 9mm handguns, and it was amazing, immediately we had gone from suspicious and distrusting to cooperative and understanding, in fact we now couldn't do enough to bloody help these guys out.
    We were given a full inquisition, every last detail was checked whilst we were searched and we were told in no uncertain terms that it was utterly forbidden to be here, they threw the terrorist card at us and all manner of other potential offences and then sentenced us to climb up the dodgiest ladder I have ever seen, two or three rickety lengths of it tied together with string. I wouldn't have minded freeclimbing it but they made us strap into a harness and then tied our bags to our chest which resulted in me trying to climb up bowlegged like some moronic looking cowboy, with some guy up top poorly lifelining me whilst kicking all manner of shit down the shaft and nearly braining his comrade by dropping a krab, it was a bit farcical.
    It was surreal and that wasn't the half of it, I emerged out of a manhole into absolute bedlam, it was night time now and the streets of Paris were lit up like some flashing blue rave - we were surrounded by a police scrum, the language card is an invaluable tool at times like this and I wielded my ignorance like a weapon. When they initially caught us we ran into a big fat police chief (christ knows how he got down there) who ranted at me in French.The minute he realised I was English "me no parlay voos frankies!!" he dismissively waved me on with a resigned look on his face that could easily have been translated to "sodding English, can't be arsed with that!"/

    So I am stood topside trying not to fold up in absolute laughter at our situation, I mean this is absolutely typical of the kind of thing that invariably always happens to me. Part of me is quite concerned however because this could be severe, so imagine my surprise to turn around and find Cookie and Root taking photos of us with the police. Some of the cops are even smiling and joking, it was quite a contrast to a few minutes ago and in fact after they had written our ID down they were pretty much done with us. I was expecting a night in the cells or a fine but neither occurred, in fact I'm fairly sure they wanted us to piss off out of their sight because it soon became obvious that they had caught tons of people down there, apparently there was a queue of at least thirty people waiting to come up and get lectured/fined/impounded. Just as we were departing we met two Australian guys who we spoke to briefly before they were carted off to the station.

    Passe Muraille (Before we got caught)

    Well that's it, we got away without a fine but now it's game over, I'd been looking forward to this trip for a long time but it was getting late, we'd been caught and our details had been taken, we'd lost OT and Paulo and so had no contacts and our morale was rock bottom. I mean you'd have to have some serious nerve/stupidity to get busted and then even consider going right back in, that option would almost be inconceivable right?.

    Well that's exactly what we did, within half an hour we had regrouped, got back in contact with OT and Paulo (they'd gotten caught too) formulated a new plan, reorientated ourselves and headed back in for a second attack. None of us were prepared to go home without getting a proper trip in, and so the game of cat and mouse truly began, the venue was Paris, we were the mice (plus one hamster) and all the cats had guns.
    We were far from alone though, I can't stress enough how fantastic the people of Paris were; the city even at midnight was alive with cataphiles and people greeting us, everyone knew what we were doing (we were hardly inconspicuous in helmets and waders) and more than once they came over to help us with advice and new ideas for insertion points. The cataphiles were in full force too, we were walking past dark alleys and guys were literally materialising from them with greetings and advice, one guy had just been caught and fined but he couldn't stop to talk because he was clutching a length of rope and in the process of popping a manhole and going back down. No-one was put off by the police, it was like a giant game and everyone was playing it, a car stopped and a french guy shouted "Catacombs eh? Police no? haha, well done!" the whole of Paris was at it, it seemed that everyone had been under at some point in their lifes, a middle aged woman with her kids in tow stopped and told us about her experiences there, a guy helped us with our map and revealed he was a French speleologist, it was a million miles from the big impersonal city that I thought it would be, for tonight at least it had all the feeling of a small town where everyone knew everyone and it was almost touching to feel so welcome, it felt to me that they were proud of their catacombs and pleased that we would want to see it.

    I'm not a fan of tag graffitti, but the arches were wonderful

    Fired up on these good vibes we made our second try at getting our trip back on track but unfortunately this wasn't to be. Upon approaching the entrance we could see lights in the distance and whilst the others waited out of sight, Rubber Duck and myself crept closer for a better look.. as we got nearer a lone cataphile crawled out of a bush and explained that just behind him the police had set a trap and were laying in wait, he urged us get out of there asap. We retreated and once we were clear we began to realise the scale of this operation, somehow even the fire brigade was involved in it... it was closing in on 2am and we were shattered from hours of walking and had started to accept that it might all be over.
    A quick call to OT and suddenly we had hope again, he was with Paulo and they had met up with their cataphile contact and intended to hit a completely different part of the catacombs and hole up for the night, all we had to do was meet them there.

    Part two below..

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  2. Known by None


    Re: Paris Catacombs 8/12/07-10/12/07. Trip report!


    We managed to get into the metro only to discover it was closed and so begged and pleaded two taxi drivers to grudgingly take us in their cabs, Jim and myself had to strip off first as we were caked in mud and so there I was sat in a taxi half naked riding through the streets of Paris wondering how the hell it had come to this.

    Amazing effort must have gone into making these tunnels

    We pulled up and once I got dressed again we met up with OT's contact 'Rug and were somewhat surprised to meet up again with the Australians that we had previously seen carted away in a police van.
    We arrived at our intended entry point only to discover that it had been welded shut, and so what came next will go down in my memory as one of the best entrances I have ever done. Rug led us into the center of one of the busiest spots in the city and literally popped open a manhole cover, we had already been briefed and dived our way inside and down the 70foot or so of ladder to wait at the bottom and regroup.
    Rug explained that we were his guests and so went in last and effectively shut the 'door' behind us, it really did feel like a portal between worlds and with the noise and light pollution from above now gone, it was just us and the underworld... finally.

    A shelter beneath district 15

    With his carbide lantern in one hand Rug led the way onwards and through the maze pf passages, It reminded me of a film I once saw about the French resistance in the war, and as he strode down the tunnel like some charismatic freedom fighter, I couldn't help but wonder what purpose these tunnels would have served in the past, some of it was ancient and Rug pointed out initials and survey dates that were etched there in the eighth year of the French Revolution and yet it was so well preserved as to seem freshly carved. Rug took us to a room where the miners would have once eaten and we sat around an old stone table drinking beer where for the first time in nearly ten hours we could finally unwind. Surrounded by the ambient glow of tea lights, we sat and listened to Rug tell us about the catacombs, the people who frequent it and the traditions they have within it. It was surreal and one of the best memories I have for that weekend.
    After a while we were moving on and took in several amazing rooms including an old bunker that had some impressive staircases within; and a room with faces carved into the walls, there was a lot of walking and by the time we reached the final room of the night many of us had been awake for almost 24 hours. It didn't matter though as Rug had saved the best for last; We were told to wait while himself Paulo and OT went to prepare the final room with tea lights and after five minutes we were ushered in.
    This last room was exquisite, as we entered we turned our lights off and found ourselves in a chamber that was covered with wall to wall carvings, faces and murals had been painstakingly chiselled out of the limestone with exceptional detail and the candlelight flickered throughout, bathing everything in a warm light which made the place seemingly come alive, I regarded it with silent reverance as I sat in a carved out alcove, drifting somewhere between sleep and consciousness, and feeling exceptionally lucky to be here.

    The Switzerland Room

    It was nearing 7am now and the Australians and Rug had to leave so we said goodbye and parted ways and OT led us further into the network and to a room we could sleep in.
    We all slept a few hours, ate some breakfast and prepared for what was to be one of the most incredible exits I have ever heard about.

    We knew we were going to have to come out the same way we came in and it was a dodgy entry even at 3am, it was now lunchtime at the weekend and promised to be absolutely insane, not only did we have the worry of getting out unhindered but also the very real concern of people falling in, and so in a scene that could have been straight out of the great escape OT and Paulo popped the manhole and made a human barrier around the hole as the rest of us emerged blinking into the Parrisiene equivalent of Leicester square at rush hour. Bikes, mopeds, cars, pedestrians.. they were all there, some of them aghast , some laughing while others desperately tried to ignore the seven mud and dust covered lunatics that had literally burst out of the ground, a woman had slammed on the brakes of her bike and stared at me in what I imagined to be a classic 'Sacre Bleu!' moment, I even tipped my helmet and said bonjour.
    The level of audacity we were displaying wasn't lost on any of us- even OT and Paulo were psyched and after they made sure the manhole was replaced and safe, we split into two smaller groups and began our rapid but calm commute to a prearranged meeting point.

    We looked absolutely filthy and caused quite a spectacle in the metro as people stared in wonder (or perhaps horror) at all the mud and dust we were wearing, it wasn't long though until we were back at our lockers and changed into clean clothes, fairly soon after it was time for beer, food and reflection.

    It was a trip of a lifetime, and a walk through a world that is absolutely steeped in history, character and beauty, the people were fantastic and the experience was pure adrenaline. I can't begin to think about how audacious the whole thing was, we nearly got arrested, fined, almost got caught again and yet we still got into the catacombs and ended up on a rare trip with an awesome guide that ended in the grand finale that was our crazy escape.
    If I had to do it over I wouldn't change a thing, we got to see the cataphiles, the catapolice and the catacombs it was the whole package and everything came together to make it a trip that I doubt any of us will ever forget.
    Many thanks to OT, Root, Rug and Paulo for making this what it was, it was a privilege and I cannot wait to come back for another trip.

    Tres Bien!


    Viva 28dayslater and Darkplaces
    #2 Known by None, Dec 11, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 11, 2007
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