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...!

1 comment:

  1. suzy says thanks for her beautiful card on her birthday. x