France 2014 - Naours

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Heading for Les Andelys we stopped at a big roadside gas station and tourist center where we picked up a "best of the Picardy region" kind of brochure - most of it sounded quite nice, but one stood out to us: the subterranean city at Naours. Off we went. There were a grand total of four cars in the parking lot, and the entire time we were underground (between an hour and an hour and a half) we saw no one. After we exited to their somewhat cheesy waxworks-like museum of life-in-the-past, we saw a real live repair man, but that was the first person since the woman we paid at the desk. Most of the "city" is 20-30 meters underground, in rooms and passages that used to be a chalk mine. For those who think, as I did, "that's a very soft stone!" - apparently it's run through with flint, and it's survived somewhere between 500 and 700 years, so I'm not too concerned about cave-ins. We went past many, many roped-off passages. But we also saw dozens of rooms, and long passages. Including a chapel. The rooms were quite reasonably sized too, and apparently used to have doors. There are something like six one meter diameter chimneys going to the surface for air circulation, but if they were sending smoke up it all went to one small building, to make it look less suspicious to the people they were hiding from. I made very good use of the flashlight I always carry for peering down closed-off tunnels.

It was quite surreal and fascinating. Oddly, it wasn't until after we left that the connection to the Cu Chi tunnels of the Viet Cong occurred to me, but the size is different: in Cu Chi, I had to bend over to get through the tunnels ... and that's after they'd been enlarged. "Rooms" there were essentially bed notches carved in the walls. Here I could stand up straight pretty much everywhere, and the rooms were real rooms. Apparently the peasants used to bring their sheep into this place with them: it's very large. After our audio guide explained the design of two different types of traps designed for intruders, I was dissuaded from exploring the closed off tunnels. It was also used by the French during the first World War, and then by the Germans during the Second World War.

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