April in Paris

At the start of the Easter holiday I led a sixth-form trip to the fairground of Europe: ‘Monarchy, Republic and Empire’ was the billing, and all in three short days. We set off at 5am on a chilly April morning – or rather, we should have set off at 5am. Two members of our party slept through their alarms so we had an exciting dash around Oxford in the minibus to hammer on their front door, before bombing down the M40 at 63m.p.h… until hitting a completely static jam. Suffice to say we missed our Eurostar train and (after exciting exchanges with insurance companies, the school bursary and a steady trickle of Eurostar staff) ended up leaving London at noon.

Five hours out of a three day stay is not insignificant, but that afternoon we rose to the challenge in Napoleonic style and charged around Paris at double speed, starting at the Pantheon and ending at the Place de la Bastille. Some highlights: the church of St Etienne du mont, home to the last ‘jube’ in Paris (look it up); an easily missed Salvador Dali sundial on the rue St Jacques; glorious spring sunlight on the Ile de la Cite as we gazed up at Notre Dame (odd to think it was once painted startling reds, blues and yellows – as, indeed, was the Eiffel Tower); the smells on the rue des rosiers; the first glass of wine in a Montmartre bistro with boeuf bourgignon on its way…

Day two took us to Versailles, in all its austere (and frankly unattractive) glory. We traipsed round the royal apartments in a press of bodies and selfie-sticks (hideous things) which only let up in the salon des battailes, a magnificent, if selective, gallery of canvasses depicting French military victories from Tours to Wagram. Then out into the warmth to wander the pleasure gardens, gape at the swarming shoal of carp in Marie-Antoinette’s pond and play ‘back to base’ around the temple of love. We took a rowing boat on the lake, scaled a wall to take a short cut and entertained ourselves with a tennis ball as only a group of English schoolboys (and their teachers) can. Dinner was at the reliably excellent Bistro Victoires, where the duck is simply superb. A moonlit stroll through elegant boulevards rounded off another splendid day.

Our final morning was spent at les Invalides, resting place of Napoleon (in a typically under-stated tomb) and now home to the best army museum you’ll ever see. Their Napoleonic Wars collection includes the great man’s hat, coat and stuffed horse, plus a cuirassier’s breastplate punched through with a cannon ball. We finished our morning at the Place de la Concorde were Louis XVI and many others met their end; now an enormous Egyptian obelisk stands where the guillotine once did its work (until it was moved elsewhere when locals complained of the smell of blood). The obelisk was a gift from Mehmet Ali to Charles X, along with a dozen mummies, some of which were mistakenly buried with the martyrs of the Three Glorious Days under the July column, apparently.

Eurostar have thoughtfully provided a baby grand piano at the garde du nord, so we spent a happy hour singing through the entire score of ‘1917’ before catching (with some relief) our train back to London. A fittingly revolutionary end to our jaunt.

Rob, my head of department, kindly took some photos.



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