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Report - Paris Catacombs, France - October 2014

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by Adders, Nov 12, 2014.

  1. Adders

    Adders living in a cold world
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    The Paris Catacombs shouldn't really need any introduction. A series of underground quarries dating back from the beginning of time, give or take. They've had many uses, from providing the stone to build Paris, underground "burial" (read as: throw le bones down le hole) chambers for 6 million dead, bunker networks for the French Resistance and German forces, and more recently illicit party tunnels.

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    It's been somewhere I've wanted to visit since discovering they existed, yet always had something in the way when others were visiting.

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    From walking around and navigating the Wiltshire quarries I knew it was going to be a challenge with the amount of gear we'd need for a 3 day stay, yet packing light wasn't working out too well for me.

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    All packed up and fueled on excitement I met up with OT, Speed, Ojay and Keitei and drove over to Paris, visiting a couple of other quarries on the way. Five people trying to sleep in a packed estate car is fucking uncomfortable. So by the time we'd even parked up in Paris we were all flagging a bit. We met up with The Franconian and headed in, descending down a long flight of stone steps into the GRS.

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    Being 6 foot 1, and carrying a 65 litre rucksack with about 15kg of kit in, through a network of tunnels that for the most part are around 5 foot high is a little tricky. The small crawls you encounter are welcomed, as it gives you a chance to stretch out a little.

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    Each and every room you encounter has a story behind it. Names like the Flag room, Got Sword? room, Le Plage, Zed, Valle de Place... The workmanship that's gone into digging these places out, furnishing them, and decorating them is unreal.

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    This is a Paris I haven't seen before, and I'm in love with it.

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    The only time I'd visited Paris previously was with an ex-girlfriend who fell ill, so I spent the 3 days walking around on my own, taking a few pictures and drinking a load of cans. I saw the tourist sites from the outside, but was massively underwhelmed. You hear so much about Paris and how beautiful it is, which I guess is true, but it's just another European capital. And after you've seen a few they all start to blur into one.

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    As I've stated before it's the experience that defines the location, and arguably not the other way around. So maybe if the countless variables of my last trip had been any different then I may have left with a different perspective of the city.

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    This time however, things were different. Everything had changed, and I was having the time of my life. Pulling my compass out sporadically to feel like I was involved in the navigation, inspecting every sedimentary layer that you can see in the rock, and blown away by the fossils that line the ceiling in places.

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    I was starstruck, immersed in this Narnia-like maze of corridor after corridor. You feel so removed from reality that when you come across a section of murals curated by the School of Mines, or a memorial plaque to a much loved local, you start to realise how this IS Paris.

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    Every single person we met down there had a story. Anecdotes of previous visits, details of a recently discovered room, new access points, parties that were happening, map swaps... everyone we met was friendly and welcoming, like a friend you'd not seen in time.

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    We met up with a few of the local cataphiles, exchanged whiskey and bread, played some music, chatted into the early hours, and all left as friends. The dedication of the community over there cannot be underestimated, and can't really be put into words. Watch this documentary http://www.lectrics.fr/blog/documentary-underhround-kontrol-paris-catacombs/ and see for yourself.

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    In my attempt to pack light I ended up taking my film camera, even though it weighs more than my digital it's built like a tank so I knew it would cope with being dragged and thrown around.

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    But I knew that the torches I'd be lighting my shots with wouldn't portray the colours realistically, so turned to black and white film. A lovely high ISO one with big fucking grain to add some texture.

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    Using a tripod soon became a chore of unpacking to set up, so it quickly got sacked off and replaced with handheld shots, another plus side of using 3200 speed film.

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    They're a random assortment of images, but I wasn't down there to document in the normal exploration way. We were there for the experience, and if anything just to document our trip. They serve no purpose whatsoever in providing a pictorial history of the catacombs. That's been done by other people in a way that I'd never be able to touch.

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    Spending 4 days (3 underground) with the same people is an interesting situation. Sure, I'd met them all before for various amounts of time over the years, but over 4 days in close quarters you're going to experience the best and worst of each other.

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    Tantrums, snoring, hangovers, sleep deprivation, dehydration, exhaustion and more all come into play, and there are times you just want to be quiet and on your own. Grabbing a 5 minute nap whenever you get the chance.

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    But the highs are untouchable. Preparing a meal with sweaty cheese, stale bread and warm beer has never felt so good, and the comical moments and conversations serve as a great morale boost when you start to flag. Hard boiled sweets are good too.

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    You provide the motivation for each other to press on and keep on going, despite wanting to take a little nap every few hours. Time doesn't exist in the Catacombs, and night/daytime means nothing. You walk, you crawl, you drink, you walk, you descend and you keep on going until it comes to a point where you think camping would be good. You look at your watch and it's 7am, and it blows your mind.

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    Bones. As I mentioned earlier the catacombs were used to "rehouse" the skeletons of around 6 millions people in the 18th century. Most of these are in the public areas, but there are large spaces full of bones dotted around the network.

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    Seeing these, and at points crawling over these feels odd. They may be inanimate objects, but these were people once. Long forgotten about, and memorial-less. There's no grave stones, carvings or inscriptions for who's laid to "rest" down here, and you'll notice there are no skulls really lying around. I imagine these to be split up between the public area and people's mantelpieces.

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    After 3 days the fresh air upon popping out was welcomed by all of us with open arms. Conversations of hot breakfasts, showers, clean clothes and a bed were flourishing, until the point we started driving away from Paris.

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    Then my thoughts turned to when I'd next be able to wing enough time off work to get back down there. Work-related dread starts entering your mind and almost makes you jump out of the moving car to run back to the mystical land you'd just left.

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    A big thanks goes out to those I travelled with, and every single person (apart from the guy who threw the smoke bomb) we met whilst in Paris. It completely changed my opinion and perspective on not just the city, but possibly life.

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    This wasn't meant to sound like a Yelp review, I promise.

    All photos taken on Ilford Delta 3200.​
     

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  2. Oxygen Thief

    Oxygen Thief Admin
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    Superb mate, great write up and pictures. Looking forward to going back then by any chance?
     
  3. ZerO81

    ZerO81 Team Weasel
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    This is very nice indeed! The B&W film is a really nice take on a classic place :thumb
     
  4. jazzywheelz

    jazzywheelz Boring Bearded Bastard
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    That's just beautiful, Adders. I need to experience this world at least once before I die.
     
  5. Wevsky

    Wevsky A Predisposed Tourist
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    You are another one who's reports i find i actually bother to read..nice one adders it is somewhere that every underground fan should see and experience ;)
     
  6. slayaaaa

    slayaaaa 28DL Regular User
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    Nice one man, awesome report as usual :)
     
  7. Keitei

    Keitei Tomb Raider
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    Awesome write up :D:thumb from a fantastic wkd!!
     
  8. fb

    fb big in japan
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    Nice that chief, good to see you writing again as well. Enjoying it a lot.
     
  9. Kaplan

    Kaplan Procrastinator
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  10. Seffy

    Seffy Bally up lads!
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    Really decent that, as per. This is something I hope to see rather soon!
     
  11. Cuuvin

    Cuuvin 28DL Colonial Member
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    Aces! Like the gritty B&W photos, along with the "Tales of Traveling" narrative. Different and refreshing! :thumb
     
  12. Maniac

    Maniac rebmeM LD82
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    What a great write up, sums up the experience of visiting the place superbly. When I had the privilege of visiting earlier in the year it really did blow my mind and I've been itching to go back ever since. In time, I'm sure I will. I made the mistake of not taking my camera, there just wasn't room for it and my little compact died the week before I went so I never captured any photos myself - your report makes me want to return myself even more!
     
  13. tweek

    tweek Huddersfield Tourist Information Board
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    :D

    Mmmmm, Catas. So nice to see some proper grain. Certainly not a place for tripods.

    Not sure 65kg is exactly 'traveling light' though is it!?!
     
  14. Oxygen Thief

    Oxygen Thief Admin
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    He said 65 litres mate, and 15KG (Although it was more than than)
     
  15. tweek

    tweek Huddersfield Tourist Information Board
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    Yeah that's what i meant. Think I took 25ltrs.
     
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