Cultural tour to Paris
27 Feb 2012
On Saturday 11th February a group of 22 French, History and Art students from the Lower Sixth took the Eurostar to Gare du Nord to spend four days in a very wintery Paris. After a long day of travelling we made our way to BVJ Youth Hostel which was a short five minute walk from Saint Lazare station from which we could reach all the major parts of central Paris by metro. After settling in, we set off on a walk along the left bank which took us past the illuminated Notre Dame before dinner at a traditional crêperie a stone’s throw away from the Seine. Saturday evening really set the tone for the trip – walking around Paris, especially at night, is undoubtedly the best way to discover all of the city’s hidden gems. On this evening in particular we stumbled upon the Pantheon where many key figures in French and Parisian Culture are buried, and though we didn’t venture inside, we were able to gauge its cultural and historical importance – and the beauty of the building, which was remarkable in itself.
On the following Sunday we awoke to a quiet, almost deserted Paris and proceeded to split into two groups – one to visit the Musée d’Orsay and the other Conciergie and La Sainte Chapelle. As a history student I chose to go to Conciergie and La Sainte Chappelle, where we could see the contrast between Marie Antoinette’s cell during the revolution and the ethereal Sainte Chapelle – a contrast that really emphasised the diverse nature of French history. This was reiterated in the afternoon, when our visit to the tomb of Napoleon in 'Les Invalides' [recognisable in the Parisian skyline thanks to its ornate gold dome roof] underlined the grandeur of French Imperialism. We ended the day at the Pompidou Centre, which holds one of the most distinguished collections of Modern Art in the world, where we were able to view the Parisian rooftops in all their illuminated splendour.
We began our second full day in Paris with a trip to another museum of great artistic significance – The Louvre. As well as showcasing the Mona Lisa the museum also contains the apartments of Napoleon III – a lasting memorial to the museum’s prior use, as the principle palace of the French Monarchy. In the afternoon we split once again, to visit the Musée du Moyen Age, a museum recording French military history, or Montmartre, the famous bohemian quarter of Paris. I chose to visit Montmartre, where we walked around the hilly quarter that was the home of Van Gogh and to Sacre Coeur, the famous white chapel atop Montmartre. Not only was the area extremely beautiful, but it was also saturated with the essence of Parisian culture and it was great to appreciate an area that is ordinarily a tourist trap at a time of year when it was practically deserted. After this we reconvened at the Arc de Triomphe, where we chanced upon a military ceremony that was taking place just as dusk fell over Paris. We then took a river cruise along the Seine, which once again displayed the beauty of Paris at night – and the importance of the Seine to the history of the city.
On the final day of the tour we visited the Palace of Versailles – one of the grandest palaces in Western Europe, famed from its extravagant Hall of Mirrors and extensive gardens. Versailles seemed to the perfect way to end the trip as it combined all three subjects – whilst acting as a living monument to one of the most important revolutions in Modern History, the architecture of the various parts of the palace meant that it also stands as a piece of art in its own right. After a busy yet enjoyable Valentine’s Day in the 'City of Light' we made our way back to Cambridge, tired yet exhilarated after a glorious long weekend in the French capital.
By Aoife Cantrill, Lower Sixth