EUROPEAN CAPTIOL SEWER TOUR
Steeped in a rich and ancient cultural history, Western Europe is the gold-standard travel destination for millions of Americans every year. The Ooze Travel Tour 2002 simply requires a round-trip airfare to Rome, Italy to engage in a life-long dream! A dark and stinky dream that boils beneath the great European capitols.
Most adventure travelers look upon Europe as old hat. Why bother paying thousands of bucks to see the same stuffy thousand year-old old cathedrals when you can hitchhike on a milk truck through the Laos jungle to see the ruins of a mysterious civilization few people back home even know existed? But how many of these so-called adventurers can say they've waded into the mouth of the world's oldest functioning sewer?
Not me. Not yet.
A city's storm drains, sewers and waterworks make up an immense shadow metropolis beneath the feet of the people above. One they rarely question. I will attempt to shed light on these filthy underground lairs known as sewers - and let the world come to know them as the beautiful disease battling constructions they are.
The first signs of plumbing date back as far as 8000 B.C. in Scotland, where indoor plumbing troughs that carried water and wastes out to a nearby creek have recently been discovered. But, the granddaddy of all city sewers is in Rome -the "Cloaca Maxima"- started in 735 B.C. and not finished until 225 years later. That same sewer, running under the Roman Forum to the Tiber, still is put to use today.
Although there is no "official" tour of the ancient sewers, for some Romans, the depths of ancient Rome is an obsession. Urban explorers describe unearthly scenes of fat albino worms, piglet -sized rats and poisonous jumping spiders, which dwell in the deepest, most humid recesses.
I will attempt to contact these people and dig up any information I can about the water/waste disposal system of the ancient city. I will also tour old cisterns and aqueducts in addition to the subterranean depths.
Overflowing with people, 19th century Paris had a problem. What could you do with the waste of its inhabitants? the Seine was too small to handle the burgeoning population, so landfills were dug for human waste and underground sewers were constructed. They created what was then the largest of all metropolitan sewer systems. Proud of their achievements, the French were the first to conduct weekend tours of the sewer for the citizenry. Ladies and gentlemen in their Sunday best went for a cruise down the sewer pipe on boats that cleaned the side walls as they went down the pipe on weekdays.
Today, right by the Eiffel Tower is the Holy Grail of sewer tours- the Les Egouts de Paris! You travel a few hundred yards down an underground water tunnel lined with interesting displays, well described in English, explaining the evolution of the world's longest sewer system. The Parisian sewers have been hailed as the vanguard of social order and progress -- and the French are glad to have you and your family visit them.
However- the rest of the system is closed to the public, and illegal to enter. I have already made contact with an intrepid adventurer who enjoys busting into these underground warrens and would go exploring with this brave soul.
By 1857, sewage diverted into the Thames made it a stinky dead river. The stench was so intolerable that summer that the English Parliament closed. Heavy curtains soaked in lime hung over windows had no effect on the odor. Brilliant engineers were called to the rescue to install new sewers along the river's banks and beneath the new underground railway- the Tube.
With a fluent command of English to back me up, I will attempt to contact those who explore these underground realms and discover old Tube stops, WWII bunkers, and cesspools of waste beneath the city.
Until 1869, the river Senne served as an open sewer for the Belgian capital. Now covered (and still a sewer), city sewage workers guide visitors into the bowels of the Brussels' sewer. Always environmentally friendly, the city still pours the untreated sewage into the North Sea.
In Vienna, a primitive flushing of the sanitary sewers was accomplished by the ebb and flow of the river tides. Wastes were literally flushed out with the tide until the late 19th century. The giant vaults of the Vienna sewer were opened to official tours a few years ago in an attempt to "cash in" on the 1948 Orson Welles film, "The Third Man," which ends with a firefight in the sewers. Ironically, the scene was shot on a sound stage in London and only film history buffs like myself could even tell you the plot. But who can turn down an official sewer tour?
HOW DOES THE INTERNET FIT INTO ALL THIS?
I will create a separate sub site with live updates describing the trip, and posting pictures from the front. I'll be interviewing workers, official and un-official tours guides, and even try to get people in these cities to talk with me about their relationship to the drains and sewers of their hometowns.
This will be buffeted by background information on the history of each of these projects and tied into the history of plumbing and citywide waterworks. All presented in a snarky, easy-to-digest format that will help fellow urban adventurers plan a trip they will never forgot, much less be able to wash off without a good scrubbing.
I would also like to set-up a wireless underground sewer relay so I can download mp3's while wading in 3 feet of toxic runoff.
I, Matt Patterson am immensely qualified to conduct this investigation. Not only have I once been in a storm drain, but also I am mildly claustrophobic and have no international travel experience whatsoever. I do speak English fluently, and occasionally can speak in tongues when the spirit compels me.
I've ran a website (ooze.com) since 1994 and wrote/edited numerous travel pieces. Also, I co-authored and designed a book, THE FINGER: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FLIPPING OFF that went to #75 on the Amazon Hot100- and then a week later our publisher declared bankruptcy. I also know how many euros are in a dollar.
Thanks for the lovely opportunity.