During the 1953 Easter holidays, a party of twenty boys and two masters, Mr Halls and Mr Mudd, visited Paris for eight days. We left Victoria at eight a.m. on Thursday, 7 April, via Newhaven - Dieppe, arriving in Paris about 6.30 p.m. We had a fine crossing on the S.S. Londres with no cases of seasickness.
Dieppe still bore gaunt signs of the German occupation and was very much a 'one-horse town'. From here we went via Rouen to Paris, St Lazare, and from there to our hotel, the 'Amerique', situated in a quiet street in the north of Paris, not far from the Opera and Rue Lafayette. We soon settled in our rooms, and then proceeded to a small restaurant in an adjoining street for our evening meal.
In the morning, those of us who are used to a huge breakfast of cereal, egg and bacon, and toast and marmalade in England, had rather a shock when we saw the French version of 'breakfast', which consists of black coffee and rolls called 'croissants'. Most of us enjoyed it, however, especially Mr Mudd who always looked forward to it very much.
During the trip we were allowed quite a decent amount of free time in which to get to know Paris by ourselves and exercise our knowledge of the French language. This proved very different from that really spoken by the French themselves.
I should think, from what we saw of the French traffic, that Paris must be a fine place for committing suicide; the French drivers always seem to be in a hurry and one needs to think twice before crossing a road. Perhaps the most familiar sight in Paris is the myriad cafes that are everywhere, such a contrast to the drab English coffee shop; with their brightly-coloured outdoor tables under a sunshade decorated usually with beer adverts. The attraction of these with their pintables lured most of the members of our party in the evenings.
Most of the Metro trains and the buses were very old-fashioned. I doubt if the Metro went at much more than 25 mph. The buses looked very ungainly with their huge engines sticking out at the front, and verandah-like platforms at the back, most of which was taken up by the gendarmes who travel free on the buses.
In the shops nearly everything except wines and spirits was very expensive; butter for instance was about 7/6 per lb, whereas a bottle of wine was dirt cheap.
It would be impossible to describe all the beautiful monuments in Paris, but in my personal opinion the Basilique du Sacre Coeur was the most impressive of them all. Many, like the Eglise de la Madeleine, were very dirty and unkempt. The Eiffel Tower gave us a beautiful view over Paris, though like many things it was expensive to visit.
One of the most confusing things was the way in which members of the public services all wore practically the same uniform, whether they were postmen, soldiers, policemen or customs officials or any other service. How the French can tell the difference, let alone a foreigner, was quite beyond my understanding.
During our stay we made several coach tours, including one to Chartres, a quaint old cathedral about fifty miles from Paris; and Versailles, which we found rather boring. The food was quite good though many of us did not savour the method with which the French cook a lot of their food in oil and add various other continental garnishes.
Altogether we had a first-rate time. Although the weather could have been a little kinder, it was an experience that we will remember for a long time.
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