Urbex

Exploring the Urban Environment

Kinky Paris – Feb 2010

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Les Carrieres de Paris, the Catacombs, l’ossuaire municipal , the Catas, whatever you want to call them, they’ve been on the scene for years. Take the official tour along with the other quarter of a million others who do each year, see the bones, hear the story, emerge into the sunlight after an hour to shoot to le Louvre or la Tour Eiffel. Catas done, tick the box, au revoir.

Aside from the official tour, there are around 180km of catacombs that are not open to the public. Guarded by a group of ‘Cataflics’, the punishment for getting caught is a €60 fine and a slap on the wrist. Hence, the Cataphiles exist. A clandestine group of urban cavers, explorers, artists, graffers, partygoers and adventurers, the weekend sees the catas become a bustling hive of activity.

We’d discussed Paris on several occasions on our last trip. Having spent weekends and weeks pro-hoboing, urban camping and generally having a good time above the surface, our group of usual suspects had the desires to visit Paris. “The Highs and Lows of  Paris” was what we referred to the trip as during our planning, but we eventually spent minimal time above ground.

Brad had visited once before, as the sole member of our group that had experienced the Catas before he had warned us to wrap up warm and bring everything reccomended on OT’s excellent Paris Packing list, which provided the framework for our kitbags.

A small mountain of new kit was purchased, instilling the desire to get underground as often as possible. a headtorch, helmet, waders, mini tripod, 45 litre backpack, airbed, compact sleeping bag. My oldest and cheapest cameras came with me, accompanied by two disposables which recorded a fair amount of the trip. Out the pocket, wind it on, turn on the flash. Click. Photo taken, all done. No pissing around with lens changes, light painting, ISO or any of that malarky.

We just made check-in for the ferry, they wanted to search the car, ‘Who’s the American’ sang the passport checker and eventually the ferry departed. The traditional pre-trip pint ran alongside the need to charge batteries for our SLRs. Arrival at Calais was easy, within minutes we were on our way to Paris. A brief Carrefour stop to fetch Blue Chimay, strawberry laces and a bit of food for later came and went, and by 11 we were at Marc’s, bearing a bottle of Port for our Parisien ami.

Marc climbed into the car and directed us to somewhere he wouldn’t name or tell us anything about. We climbed into what looked like a demolition site, scouted round for access to the roof and eventually found it. Marc told us the site’s history as an art deco Administrative Centre which was no longer required, and it was told that the Art Deco shell of the building was staying to be converted to a cultural centre..  On top of the roof was a clocktower, on top of the clocktower you could see the centre of Paris, including the Tour Eiffel with its epileptic fit inducting lightshow. Good start.

Bouncing down to the Montrouge area, we entered The Catas at about 2am. Having wrapped up warm in thermals, t-shirt, polo and hoody, I felt prepared. After half a mile of walking on railway sleepers, gravel, sandstone blocks, walking while crouched and carrying a bag that can only be described as ‘fucking heavy’, I was sweating buckets. Having changed into a T-shirt and only adding to the weight of my ‘sac’, I comfortably ambled down to the castle room for a can of Desperados and an opportunity to take my first pics of the trip, as well as securing up my already rubbing waders with a plaster and some pink gaffer tape.

A small walk around later, which seemed to take an age and kill my feet, we stopped at a nice big room to sleep in. We set up tealights, the subject of Hot Wax came up in conversation and Marc had the concept of a kinky girl explained to him. Airbeds were inflated, Wasabi peanuts and baguettes filled with spaghetti hoops were eaten, stories were told and eventually we all slept.

At 1pm I work up and after an hour of dozing we had some action. ‘Let’s Do One!’ shouted Marc every time we needed to get going, and ‘Do One’ we did, seeing La Plage, La Cellier, The Mineralogy Office, Carrefour des morts (crossroad of the dead) loads and loads of tunnels and lots of smaller rooms to sit and drink or rest.

By about 11pm we had left and went straight to another destination, Cat and Olivier’s appartement near to our Catas entrance. Given that 5 dirty, dirty, stinky men had ambled into their flat, they were surprisingly hospitable and ordered us pizza, fed us water and showed us the prints for their exhibition which was going live in a few days. There seems to be an unspoken rule among explorers that whatever the time, whoever the persons, whatever their state, that hospitality will be presented. Despite the bitching and bullshit on the forums, The urbex community is genuinely friendly to genuine participants.

After Pizza, Coca-cola, stories of the Soviets and the various Parisien urbex spots we departed for the NATO quarry. 30 minute of driving was followed by the famous 5 silently trekking up the path past the neighbours. Marc entered. Brad entered. Danny entered. Fatboy Winch couldn’t fit, and so Chris decided that he wouldn’t fit either. We were directed to another nearby quarry, dubbed Carriere de la Patate. (potatoes quarry). Silently in like ninjas, the two gros garçons managed to fit through the cavernous entrance to see the slowly rotting piles of potatoes and beetroot. The NATO boys met us an hour later after they’d seen the armoured vehicles of the more desirable quarry up the road. Note to self: drink less beer.

We returned to Marcs and failed with the Prohobo, instead opting for the floor of his living room.

John Dodd was due to join us on Saturday lunchtime, failing to get the time off needed to align our visits. We drank coffee and had croissants, and by midday Mr Dodd had not joined us or made contact. Our Urbex feet were itching through the blisters so we departed for the eagarly anticipated ‘Hitler bunkers‘. These were about 120km away from Paris, and the hour and a half drive was tolerated by discussing where else we could go on the trip. The Sewers, the RER, Puiselet sand quarry, the list was long, our time in Paris was short. The Bunkers were sure to have some sort of German identity, we joked that Hitler would be sat on a throne deep underground. Needless to say, he wasn’t.

We arrived where we thought the place was. Marc knew the place was close to the railway; which side though? It wasn’t the side with the hunters, the depot or the trees, it was the other. These bunkers were assumedly built between the wars but during the German occupation were utilised by Hitler’s troops. At the end of the war, they were left. 65 years of decay leaves even a concrete shell in a state; despite the  lack of much in the buildings, the site was large enough to spend a few hours. Danny climbed, Brad went underground, we went separate ways and met later at the car.

The Intermarche beckoned and we stocked up on beer, vegan foods and enough meat to fill a footlong baguette for me and Chris, the token carnivores on this trip. John Dodd had been contacted and directed to a pub for the day, we drove back and met John at the station, excitable to see our friend, and eagerly anticipating the sewerfresh we had been promised. Witek joined us, as well as the aforementionned Olivier and Cat.

We soon arrived at the Les Arènes de Chaillot, or the “Mexicaine De Perforations Cinema”. This place ran as a cinema and bar until August 2004, when the police discovered it. It had a fully functioning electrical system rumoured to have run from a nearby streetlamp, and 3 phone lines.

This place is fucking insane, and the infrastructure around it suggested that the group who founded and operated it had intended it to last a fair while. It’s establishment date is unknown to me and I suspect it would only be revealed by one of the founders.

On 23rd August 2004 Police undertaking a training exercise inside the arteries of Paris came upon a tarpaulin marked “Building site, no access”. A desk was situated behind it with surveillance equipment including a motion sensor which triggered a recording of barking dogs. Further past this point, the cinema was located.

When the police came back with senior staff from the electricity board, everything had been removed and there was a note on the floor saying “Do not try to find us”. The bar remains.  So we had a few drinks and departed, having met another 3 people who ended up getting busted by the police on their exit.

(Shame fuckhead here couldn’t keep his thumb off that plastic lens)

We drove to the Catas via Marcs, and entered the same sections as before. John had his ubermap with him and established himself as nagivator. We stumbled upon a party in La Plage, Marc asked the girls how kinky they were, (I don’t like your french friend, he is RUDE!), and eventually we reluctantly stumbled on, in an already intoxicated state.

We revisited many of the sections, at a somewhat reduced pace. Being the weekend, we bumped into at least 10 other groups, including one without a map, who’d been looking for the exit for hours. Lost your torch? You’re dead. We slept for an hour in one place and the plans to visit the sewers and the RER evaporated as the sun crept up over Paris. We emerged at about 10 am, and as 7 into one car don’t go, Brad and I got public transport back while hallucinating in the freezing sunshine. Various people accosted us on the way back, bumbing French at us that we didn’t understand. An old man suggested there was another entrance in the metro tunnels by pointing and grunting while saying ‘catas!’, and within an hour we returned to a flat covered in sleeping people. Conking out on that sofa was amazing!

We left Paris early evening, the ferry was made, slept was had, plans were made for the next trip and eventually my front door in Reading opened at about 4am.

RER and Sewers? You’ll have to wait for next time…

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Written by Ali

February 22, 2010 at 4:52 pm

One Response

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  1. Brilliant write-up mate!

    John

    February 23, 2010 at 10:25 pm


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