Paris Trip 2008
The Society’s First Excursion Abroad
P A R I S
1 – 6 September 2008
For the first time in its history, in September 2008 a group of members ventured further than county Kildare and its surrounding districts and embarked on a six-day excursion to Paris. The group totalled fifty-five and was led by Rory O’Farrell (member) assisted by Dermot Keogh. Rory is a former Chairman of Trustees of the Cambrian Society and had previously visited Paris with a group of Cambrians, including Dermot, on a similar excursion. Rory had planned the itinerary for the duration of the trip with great precision and produced an excellent, detailed booklet which contained itineraries, photographs, maps, directions and general information which was issued to all participants. Rory’s aim was that the ambiance of the trip should be leisurely and visual and he was anxious that everyone should enjoy the experience of Paris and its environs, basking in the magnificent richness and scale of the surrounding art and architecture. A number of World Heritage Sites were included in the itinerary.
Most of the group flew from Dublin to Paris on the Monday lunch-time flight and it was very much due to the skill of Michael Dempsey (Vice President) in persuading Aer Lingus to keep the flight open for an extra few minutes that enabled several members who had been held up on the motorway by a six-vehicle accident to check in just in time. Others joined the group in Paris from later flights and one member travelled from London on Eurostar. A coach transferred the group to our hotel, the Campanile-Berthier at Porte de Clichy. At check-in, the receptionist appeared perplexed and asked me why such a large group of archaeologists should wish to visit Paris because “Madame, do you not know that everything in Paris has been discovered already?”
Our journeys around Paris were mainly by public transport and great camaraderie developed as the group became au fait with the Metro, helping one another on and off and occasionally resorting to pushing fellow members onto already full trains during rush-hour periods. It was inevitable that such a large group would have to travel in several different carriages, and after disembarking, we became adept at waiting patiently for the platform to clear of other passengers before re-grouping with Rory at the head and Dermot at the rear. The fact that we never lost anyone on these outings was a tribute to the vigilance of our leaders and to the care of members in looking out for one another.
The first excursion, on Tuesday, was by Metro and train ninety kilometres to the south-west of Paris, to visit the gothic Cathedrale de Nôtre Dame de Chartres. This was followed by a trip on le Petit Train from the square down to the old, walled part of the town along by the streams of the river Eure, where we was the remains of a number of well-preserved features such as laundries, tanneries, abattoirs, mills, religious houses and dwellings which were all integral parts of mediaeval life which had once thrived there.
On Wednesday, we visited the Chateau de Versailles, and later boarded le Petit Train to view its extensive gardens, the Trianons and the Hameau. After spending a good part of the day at Versailles, including lunchtime, some members travelled with Rory and Dermot by RER and tram to La Defense, where they ascended La Grande Arche to obtain wonderful views of Paris. Others either returned to the hotel early, or went shopping.
On Thursday morning, the group had a beautiful walk along the River Seine to view the Eiffel Tower and then proceeded to the Embarcadère at Port de la Conference for a seventy-minute boat trip which gave us wonderful views of the monuments on the banks of the Seine. Afterwards, the party dispersed for lunch and visited sites such as L’Orangerie and Le Petit Palais. We regrouped at the statue of the Rhinoceros and entered the Musée d’Orsay to view its impressive collections of painting and sculpture. We visited Nôtre Dame de Paris on Friday, followed by Ste Chapelle and La Crypte Archaeologique to view the Roman and early mediaeval remains. The group broke for lunch, and during the afternoon visited the Musée National du Moyen Age, home of the famous Unicorn Tapestries.
Each evening we dined at a different restaurant which had been carefully selected by Rory and experienced many types of food, including seafood, Armenian, Alsatian and traditional French cuisines. Travel to and from these restaurants was generally by Metro which was quite pleasant late in the evening. Those who preferred went by taxi. On the last evening, we had a very special meal at Brasserie St Julien in St Denis, the interior of which is listed as an Art Nouveau national monument, and presentations were made to Rory and Dermot by the group in recognition of their wonderful contributions to the trip.
Rory had frequently stated his aim that we should enjoy Paris and have fun, and this was certainly the case. Either before or after dinner each evening, Rory arranged a walking tour to points of interest near to the restaurant. The first evening’s walk was around the beautifully floodlit Opera Garnier, and later on around the Palais Royal and Louvre area. Other walks took in the location where Daguerre invented an early form of photography, one of Guimard’s Art Nouveau Metro entrances, the Hôtel de Ville, the Pompidou Centre and the Porte St Denis. Evenings were usually rounded off with a nightcap and spontaneous sing-along wherever we happened to be, and these sometimes went on late into the night.
On the final morning, everyone was free to go shopping or visit sites on their own. We returned to Ireland on three separate Aer Lingus flights, having been transported from the hotel by private coach or car. Two members found it impossible to leave and stayed on in Paris for an additional five days!
The Society is extremely grateful to Rory for organising this wonderful excursion. He had undertaken a recce in Paris a few weeks prior to the visit, and along with Debbie Wheeler, checked out all of the locations, travel times, the hotel and other details in order to compile the booklet. We are also thankful to Dermot Keogh who was willing help was always on hand in Paris, especially to those who were falling behind the main group.
On a personal basis, I am particularly grateful to Vice President Michael Dempsey who liaised on a regular basis with the travel agents in Dublin, and to Honorary Secretary Mary Glennon who helped with the complex administration in relation to the trip. We all met as a sub-committee on a number of occasions. Joseph Dempsey was of great help and support whilst in Paris. The large quantity of calls and letters of thanks received after our return home confirmed that the undertaking was a major success and there is significant demand amongst the membership for further, similar trips to be organised in the future.
Finally, we are grateful to those members and their friends who participated in the trip for their good humour, patience, cooperation and great enthusiasm throughout, and are thankful that we were all able to take the opportunity to become more closely acquainted in a manner that is simply not possible during a short, Sunday afternoon excursion.