Friday 27 March 2015

The Ultimate Mission: To Walk the Whole La Petite Ceinture Railway in Paris Pt. II

So this post is a continuation of the previous post which you can see here. I probably never walked more than four stations in one go. This was mostly because every now and then there are barriers that were just too difficult to get through. But here I am trying to make sense of it all and put it into a coherent "tour" of the tracks. So the last station we looked at was Gare de Bel-Air-Ceinture, following this is Gare de l'Avenue de Vincennes.

For the non-Frenchies reading this, "gare" means station. Though you will probably figure this out. It appears in the name of each station so go figure...


Gare de l'Avenue de Vincennes

This bit is very colourful (not surprising when you see the next few), and is the start/end depending on your perspective, of my favorite part. That is, now my old favorite part has been destroyed, ahem I mean renovated. 

ABOVE: Presumably the platform of this "station." As you can see this whole area has been attacked by colour and mildly nonsensical English. BELOW: "Rain is Pink" and "Free Smile." Well at least they are happy.

BELOW: I like this one. I seem to like chunky iron bridges. Is that weird? I hope not. And Here are some more photos of the area (and the next few stations).


Gare de la Rue d'Avron

This part of the track is VERY lively. We walked through coming from the other direction to this virtual "tour" I am writing for you now. We ran into architecture students, graffiti artists and all sorts. 

This man had a groovy hat, sadly I did not get a very good shot of him...

This station didn't just have the little buildings you see scattered here, but also this, which of course we could not get into (we had a peek nonetheless).

The next station was Gare de Charonne-Marchanidises but it was destroyed, so I am not sure exactly where it was. We deff walked through it but as there was no sign of it I was not aware of it.


Gare de Charonne

I first went to Gare de Charonne totally unaware that this is what it was, I was attending a concert in the now renovated La Fleche d'Or. Given the "ceinture" sign and railway clock, I worked out pretty fast that I was standing in a petite ceinture station. Given that the singer was pretty rubbish it deff was a highlight to the evening...!

 (NO I can't get away ^^)

Underneath the station however it is even more interesting. There were so many obscure structures hanging about. I found it fascinating. My friend however was quite content just watching me flit about- to be fair he had been down the catas the last few days and I had only been down there one night so probably had more energy than he!

Its like an industrial wonderland!


Gare de Melimontant

OK, so if you read my last post you saw my last warning. But I am warning you here again. Between this station and the next one is a really long tunnel, in the middle of this tunnel my friend and I had our cameras and phones and money stolen. So perhaps skip this bit. I have reason to believe that they hang out there often. It is NOT worth it and there is zero chance of getting away from them. So do yourselves a favor. Don't bother.

Furthermore the station no longer exists. So why would you bother?

But here are some photos anyway because the first two times I went through I was lucky.

The tunnel we were mugged in.. Yes that tiny speck is how far away the light is. So don't do it.

This is just before it.


Gare de Belleville-Villette

Here is another "station," there is little sign of it existing now. Nonetheless I have spent a surprising amount of time along here. Just before this, most probably around the site of the now also destroyed Gare de Paris-Bestiaux was this huge iron bridge I had been seeking out that now goes over the canal in Parc de Villette. 

 Aside from this bridge there is not much here now. But the bridge serves as a pretty easy way to get to the next station which is quite interesting.


Gare du Pont de Flandre

The first time I saw this it was through a hole in the fence by a metro exit, where I took the photo above. I promised myself then that I WOULD get inside it. And I did a few months later. Now there is a man living in there running some kind of dance club out of it. He is very friendly, but I am rather untrusting of people that are THAT friendly. He also some how had wired up electricity, TV, the lot. It was actually pretty luxurious in comparison to where I was living at the time.

Just some little details I liked.

 I will probably do a whole post on this station at some point because I took a lot of pics here.


I think this is probably the end of part II, I will have to write a part III for the rest. Wow this is becoming so long!

Thursday 26 March 2015

The Ultimate Mission: To Walk the Whole La Petite Ceinture Railway in Paris Pt. I

NOTE: I started writing this about a month ago, then something kinda awful happened and I distracted myself by spending almost four days underground. Having spent over a year hanging out on this beautiful, special place and meeting only interesting and lovely people, I wasn't really prepared for what happened. I lost two cameras (digital and film), two decent lens, my headphones and barely functional iphone. I am very sad about my cameras but the experience itself was so much worse. So PLEASE PLEASE be careful, especially in the tunnels around Belleville and Ménilmontant . Preferably skip it. It is not worth the people you could run into down there...! Like we did.

Enough of the misery! I felt I had to warn you and now I have. On with the epicly long post.


LEFT: My map that I gradually annotated as I went around, marking off all the bits I had done. For those who are interested my "tour" starts in the south in the browny pink bit.

About a year ago I moved to Paris and set out to walk the whole of the la petite ceinture railway that encircles Paris. I have somewhat completed my mission. I say somewhat because actually a third in the west of the city has been re-purposed for the RER line C and other parts have been ripped up and/or used for other things-- for example the park in the 15th Arr. Thankfully a lot of it I managed to beat them to it or some how manage it regardless and only encountered a few minor issues and one threat of arrest... And only a couple of angry homeless people. I think I did well! (See update above....!)

The obsession started a year earlier, I had come to Paris alone for a week to attend a conference on Nabokov (I am way cool right??!), and whilst I was walking to and from the metro each day I saw this over the wall. After two or three days I decided it obviously was not in use and wondered if it was possible to get down there. Then went back to Birmingham and forgot all about it.

A year later I moved to Paris and was pointed in the direction of this clip on the BBC.

I realized then it was the same thing and that I just HAD to walk the whole dam thing. Why? I am not sure. I also realized it was a race to beat them to it before they uprooted the tracks all over Paris. 


Gare: Abattoirs de Vaugirad

So I went back to where I started a year ago, armed with a camera and my over ear headphones, and spent a good while trying to find a way in.

Near Parc George Brassens is this section of the railway, in the 15th.

This was the first station I encountered, 'Abattoirs de Vaugirad', which was not used for passenger service. Rather it was used to serve the nearby abattoir and now just consists of the loading bay and remains of where the building would have been.

Remains of the building that served the slaughterhouse and would have had a ramp leading down to the platform.

Some more shots of the area.
I believe the writing above is a quote from "A Season in Hell" by Rimbaud that translates roughly as
One evening, I sat Beauty in my lap. — And I found her bitter. — And I cursed her.

(Or at least this is what the copy of Rimbaud I found in English said).


Gare de Montrouge-Ceinture

The next station I found was Gare de Montrouge-Ceinture, which sadly no longer exists. This spot became a truly special place for us, we had picnics on the platform in the tunnel, late night drinks on the steps, many a afternoon walk down the tracks and a few other special things... (You will know what I mean if you know!).

Having spent a great deal of my student days in Paris hanging out on this part of the track, it became a mission to get into the station above the tunnel... we eventually managed it when they started tearing it down and in the process met a very eccentric Spanish guy (who asked us if we thought he would survive if he jumped off the balcony). 

RIGHT: An example of the graffiti down at Montrouge-Ceinture.

BELOW: These little white rabbits cropped up all over the place, and down a rather mysterious hole... You may catch my drift. Crawling down the hole after Mr. Rabbit was an experience to remember.

"I'm late! I'm late! No time to say hello, goodbye...!"

The balcony

I should clarify that the reason why the Spanish dude wanted to jump off the balcony was not because he had had enough or anything, but because of this:

Taken from my instagram feed here

In the early stages of demolition they poured a load of sand in, which I presume the dude wanted to hurl himself into, we persuaded him that the gap between the balcony and the sand was too big. And from experience new the sand was full of giant rocks. (For the record climbing up and down that was rough, I somehow ended it up doing it at least five or six times and DID NOT get much better at it).


Gare de Parc du Montsouris

There isn't really a station here anymore, having said that, it is one of the prettiest parts in the greener months.

ABOVE: We finally got to the end of a long tunnel and the sun was gorgeous, look at it bleaching out my photo! BELOW: This is the same place, facing the other direction, Man the tunnel was long...!

I don't think this section will be readily accessible now. Since they started renovating the previous station it is harder to get through. People do, but usually at weird times of night as it is flooded with construction workers during the day. When we openly flouted them there was only one or two, I see so many now that I think it would be hard to be so brazen about it.


Gare d'Orléans-Ceinture

The astute map reader will notice I have skipped a bit, I will try and back track at some point but as these stations are all derelict there is not much to see.

This station was renamed after traffic stopped on the Petite Ceinture, it was then named Gare du Boulevard Masséna after the road it is on.

This whole episode was frankly hilarious. I had spent the last few weeks holed up at uni finishing papers and staring at the beautiful sun praying to be free. Except when I became free no one else was (they were still scribbling), so I decided to track down something I had seen on instagram that was apparently on the railway. It was a huge iron bridge. So I spent a while staring at Google Earth isolating places to check out. Scribbles on my map, and plotted routes then grabbed my bag and left.

So I was not kitted out for any kind of urban exploring, I had only my iPhone, and my kids red rucksack covered in fire engines. A huge "here look at me" if there ever was. Oh and I was wearing sandals.

I got to where it should have been and it wasn't. After some circling I saw this through the fence and decided it must be the old station (it is), but there were no tracks. There was a man on the other side of the fence taking photos so in my broken French I quizzed him how he got in. I didn't really understand so kept going. To cut a long story short I ended up running through a construction yard with men shouting after me. I figured if I got off their property fast enough then they would leave me alone. It worked.

They had been ripping up the tracks in the immediate vicinity but further down they were still there.

This one part had loads of railway bits lying around on it. 

BELOW: a bit of a blurry pic from my instagram.

Here you can see where the PC SHOULD be.

I have since walked past this part a number of times. I took these photos in May 2014, from what I can see now, all the tracks have gone around here. I am not sure what they are doing to the station but it is still there.


Gare de La Rapée-Bercy

The actual station here has been demolished but this is int he vicinity of it and, well I liked the look of it. Also the gate was unlocked so we went in. There was a reason for that. A rather angry homeless man lives here. And since it looks like a few more have moved in... So keep your wits about you here.

This, however, is what excited me the most. THERE IS STILL A TRAIN ON IT! I had no idea what it was being used for but it looked occupied so I did not try to get in. Just as well as since 2013 it has been a homeless shelter. Neat eh? I think it is a good use for it.


Gare de la rue Claude-Decaen and Gare de Bel-Air-Ceinture

Both of these stations have been destroyed now, but here are some photos I took around where they would have been.

Walking along here was a bit exposed as to one side there was just a chain fence and then the main road so everyone could see us. So I would be careful along here. AND there is a security guard. 

It was very easy to get to though, we just climbed the fence as there were fortunately placed holes. 

This is about as exciting as Bel Air got. There was some fairly decent stuff to clamber over in between, but it is POSSIBLE it was still in use. I am not sure how we got away with a few bits we did there. 


Part II is here. This is just too dam long...!

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Thursday 4 December 2014

Another Article on Atlas Obscura: Longbridge Tunnels

So I scribbled a little more for the wonderful people at Atlas Obscura. If you want to peek, look here.

See the other bits I have written for them here.

Friday 28 November 2014

Return to the UK: Brief Urbex around Kent Pt. 2

So first off, a confession to make, this isn't an urbex in the sense that we were exploring forgotten about and neglected tunnels. Though they were neglected until earlier this year, the locals of Ramsgate have opened them to the public as a kind of museum, despite this it was good fun. It did, however, mean I couldn't spend long taking pictures, had to contend with bright overhead lights in some places and avoid getting in the way of other people/lagging behind so much it bugged everyone else.

The old signs taken from the entrance, I kinda want them in my non-existent living room with fairy lights poking through the holes... 

For a split second (and at a distance) I thought the horse was real. I blame it on being gloriously over fed and flustered by the weather. We picked the perfect day to visit the British coast, practically December and constant rain. Beautiful. It did make hiding in the tunnels all the more glorious, even if I did try to convince myself that they had sedated two horses for our benefit.

Mmmm, I like textures. Decaying. Old. Brick. Words. 

At this point they sat us all down, gave us a short film about the history of the tunnels and handed us hard hats and (I have to say it) TERRIBLE torches. Though I do get that 12 powerful flashlights would be too much. I was rather gutted to only rediscover my head torch from the previous day hiding in my pocket as it would have been handy for taking pictures.

They also gave us hard hats. Second confession: I never wear a hard hat when I am exploring. YES its dumb, YES I get lectured by more experienced friends A LOT on this. But A. It was dam hard getting it on on top of my dreads (I know someone who shaves his head reportedly solely for this reason--- I ain't that dedicated), B. (and this is actually the main one), I never seem to have the spare money for it, I've been meaning to buy a tripod for months, but Paris is just lethal for living costs. 

So with my hard hat, my frankly useless flash light, and a lot of warnings about uneven floors and low ceilings, we set off, ridiculously excited to be back underground. I couldn't help but think of my night in the catas a bit and laugh, thinking of the floors (the water!!) and ceilings in there-- sans hard hat and at one point sans full self awareness (too much cheap rum). Though by the sounds of it, if we had been given full run of the network, it could still be possible to get lost- though maybe not quite so dangerously lost as you could get under Paris.

This REALLY reminded me of the catas (we found a velib down there- quite why someone would take a rental bike down the Paris catas I don't understand). This made a little more sense, at least it was flat down here.

There was also a lot of graffiti, mostly authentic, but there were some obviously newer scribbles.

Of course I took a picture of the toilet, a fairly un-artistic photo (not as good as this toilet photo in Longbridge). I did momentarily consider sitting on it. Decided against sitting on the WWII era poo can.

Some odds n ends.

Haha this was funny, the leading guide said something along the lines off "normally we invite you to have a look in here but due to the rain we won't as you will just get wet". I let out a loud "awwww!!" without realizing, the other guide took pity on me and my mate, who by this point knew we had a tunnel fetish, and let us look. I'm telling you it was hard work sticking to the rules...

On the subject of sticking to the rules, I REALLY wanted to go down there.

And down there.

There was another tunnel/hole I saw which I asked about, apparently it leads to someone's kitchen above ground. That would have been too funny.

At the end of the tunnel tour they showed us some example settlements that were built by those who set up semi-permanent residence down there. Due to the poor light I wasn't able to take pics worth sharing with you all.

This was pretty much the end of the mission, I gladly removed my hard hat (I had a severe hat hair n dreads situation going on due to the rain prior to the enforced hat wearing). It is possible that myself and my accomplices were among the most enthusiastic of the lot, I had been reunited with my buddy from Paris whom I initially "discovered" the catas with and he is just as bad as me with this kinda thing. But it seemed that everyone else enjoyed it!

I thoroughly recommend the Ramsgate Tunnels, it was good fun, and actually if you are stuck in the rain in this area then you should deff head over. There is a cute little cafe at the mouth of the tunnel which was a good place to warm up and dry off with a mug of tea (though rather hilariously we had to venture back out into the rain after too much tea as the tunnels don't  have functioning toilets- I hadn't yet encountered the WWII tin buckets). Their site is here. Make sure you book though, we have passed by before and it was fully booked, same for that day as well. 

They probably also cover the history I haven't, frankly they know it all much better than I, so you should go just to hear the stories! 

As always there are a few more photos hiding out on my instagram here that I can't for the life of me actually show you directly here.