THE VISIT TO FRANCE
When we left Hull the morning did not look very promising from the point of view of the weather. The journey to London was without event, though the change at Selby made me wonder if we would ever arrive in London in one piece. We arrived in London at about 11-20 at Kings Cross Station, and from there we caught the Underground to Victoria Station. Ever since that journey I have kept my case beside me when travelling on the Underground. We had our dinner at a very good restaurant, which had a very appealing name - “The Bar-B-Q”. I thought that the meal there was very good indeed, though we did not have a Bar-B-Q.
From the Bar-B-Q we went across the road to Victoria Station, where we had previously left our luggage. The luggage people at first were a little dubious about taking our cases, “We can’t tale awl uv ‘um”, but they did in the end. The wait in Victoria Station for the “Folkestone Electric” was a little boring, but when we had taken our seats and were on our way our minds were only imagining the boat trip to Calais. “Was it going to be rough?” The boat journey was not at all rough, instead it rained and rained … until we arrived in Calais wet and slightly bedraggled. We had had no trouble with the Customs formalities on either side, se we were allowed to get on to the Paris train straight away. The train was extremely long. I know, because we had to walk a fair part of the length to find our reserved compartments. The S.N.C.F. must have thought we were V.I.P.’s; they had laid on a long, sleek all silver aluminium coach for us In the compartments one could see bedraggled tired boys though happy, taking “macs” off and settling down for what I thought was a hair raising journey. We had a steam engine hauling us along at about 75 m.p.h. until Amiens, where the locomotives changed, and an electric locomotive similar to that of the “Mistral” coupled on. Then the fun started! The train started off particularly slowly, and then picked up speed; it must have reached at least 100 m.p.h. and the noise in the corridor was awful. We wanted to look out of the window - we could not, everything was blurred.
When we came into the “Environs de Paris” we saw our first sight of the Sacre Couer, beautifully illuminated on the skyline. The Eiffel Tower, which I shall refer to as “La Tour Eiffel” from now on, was not in view at that time. We left the train and made our way to the barrier, where we met our French guide. He conducted us towards the bus, which was waiting for us. We were taken to the “Institution Segaux”, through the Paris streets, at about 11-30 p.m. We arrived at the Institution and were met by the staff, who were busily “running away with themselves in French”. We had a hot meal and then went to our dormitory and slept soundly.
On Saturday morning we woke up at about 6-30 and did not welcome the idea of getting up. Of course we did when we smelt the coffee, which was truly delicious. The breakfast was based on the traditional breakfast - rolls, butter and marmalade. The coffee was sipped out of yellow plastic bowls, which I thought was rather a crude way of saying “We don’t trust you with cups”
The tour that morning was to be around Paris. The bus arrived at the gates at about 9 a.m. Our first visit was to be at the “Cathedrale de Notre Dame”. We went inside this famous cathedral, which would need someone like Dickens to describe it, All I can say is that if you compare Beverley Minster with it, Beverley Minster would look very crude. There were beautiful roof paintings, and small chapels to various saints, which were richly carved in stone and wood. Of course the church is a Roman Catholic Sanctuary and therefore there were very expensive gold fittings, candelabra and candlesticks in the various sections of the church. From Notre Dame we toured round Paris, seeing La Place de la Concorde, the Latin Quarter, the Pantheon and La Madeline, which is very much like a Greek temple. We then stopped at the Palais des Invalides wee we saw the very ornate Sarcophagus in which Napoleon is buried. The rest of the Palais is devoted to those who gave their lives in the various French causes. We then toured around again and returned to the school for tea. We had had our dinner in the Gardens of the Luxembourg. My first impression of Paris after the day’s tour was that everything seemed white and clean, and life did not seem to be so hurly-burly as it is in our capital.
Sunday morning was free. Mr. Perry and his son, Spivey and I, went to church. The church was typical of small French churches, whitewashed outside and in, and beautifully painted, with decorated ceilings. The service was in French, of course, but it was simple French, so everyone could understand. After church we were allowed to walk around the market, which was held on Sunday morning. I thought everything looked so organised and clean, unlike many English markets. The shouting was much the same as in England except that it was in French. Wine and cigarettes are very cheap, in fact one can get a relatively good bottle of wine for about 4 to 5 N.F. which is about eight shillings English money. In the afternoon the guide called for us again at about 2 p.m. and we were taken to the nearest Metro station, Marie des Lilas, where we caught a Metro to Belleville, a station. From Belleville we caught another Metro to Porte Dauphine, which was the nearest station to Le Bois de Boulogne. We had a very interesting walk into the woods to a huge lake. At one end of the lake there was a small, but no less interesting, waterfall. The day was very hot so most of the afternoon was spent on the grass banks of the lake sunbathing. Some people will remember a certain incident on the bank of the lake, when a van filled with gendarmes with tommy-guns pulled up at the roadside next to the bank. I have never thought of being a spy, but I never thought I’d get caught. We returned to the institution by Metro for tea.
On Monday morning we went for a walk around the Latin Quarter. It was during this walk that we could grasp the true French life. Police cars everywhere, tommy - guns everywhere - this is only for minor things; for others they have armoured cars. Seriously, though, the Latin Quarter really has that Continental flavour: the little red blinds over the windows; the road side cafes; and the speedy French speech. There are many famous buildings which we saw of course; L’eglise de St. Severin, St. Julien le Pauvre, L’ecole de Medicine. We had a sandwich lunch. In the afternoon we caught the Metro to the Tour Eiffel., which we ascended. It was almost like the French Metro getting to the top. We had to make two changes of lifts. At the top we got the view many of us had been wanting The two most prominent buildings were the Sacre Coeur and l’Arc de Triomphe. There was a beautiful view of the Palais de Chaillot which we had visited on Saturday; and l’Ecole Militaire. At the top of the Tour (tower) there is a number of small shops where one can but souvenirs de la Tour Eiffel. The tour Eiffel is very nearly 1,000 feet high and the top of the tour is used as a television and radio aerial. If anyone commits suicide from the top, then his estate is then taxed for the pleasure of jumping. One member of the party did not trust his stomach, so he stayed with his feet firmly on “la Terre”
On Tuesday we went for a cruise on the River Seine, which we did in grandeur. The boat was made, or looked as if it was made, entirely of glass. We went from the point of the bank of the Seine round the Ile de la Cite and had another chance of photographing Notre Dame and the Louvre. The sun shone most of the time that we were in Paris, and so it was none the less sunny for the cruise, which was extremely exhilarating. We then went to the Louvre and had our picnic dinner and then went inside. Pictures! Pictures! Pictures everywhere, by every artist from every country. We saw the famed “Venus de Milo” and the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo de Vinci. The trip around the Louvre was a little boring after about an hour of picture gazing. We left and took a walk through the Jardin de tuileries, which was very beautiful and, like all French landscape gardening, keep to a strict geometrical pattern. There was a pond and fountain in the middle of the gardens; the pond was an angler’s paradise, being filled to capacity with fish. We then returned by Metro to the Institution.
On Wednesday we made our way with guide once more by Metro to the Gare Montparnasse, where we took a suburban train to Versailles. The temperature was about 95 deg. in the shade. The Palais de Versailles is without description, it was beautiful beyond words. The huge facades, the statues leading down to the huge lake behind, were truly a masterpiece of architecture and planning. The rooms were much the same as they were when Lois XVI lived there. Marie Antoinette’s room is complete just as it was when she used it. The gold ceilings in some cases is painted on because, to put it mildly, the revelutionaries thought they deserved it more than the Palace. The lake was visited after we had had our picnic in a cafe not very far from the Palace. Then, After dinner, we started to walk down the beautiful gardens behind the palace towards the huge cross shaped lake. Many of our company went on this lake in fairly large rowing boats. It would take at least two hours to cover the perimeter of the lake, such was its vastness. After we had had our fill of the lake, we walked back through the gardens, passing statues of various members of the old French aristocracy, back to the palace. From the Palais we walked to the Gare de Versailles and caught the train back to Paris and so by Metro to the Institution Segaux.
SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL