14th June 2012

A group of design students from Wigan College embarked on a memorable rip to London & Paris in March 2012. The following is an account from the group leader.

Monday 20 February: At 8.30am the coach set off to Manchester, arrived in plenty of time for the 10.35 to London Euston. Two hours later and the group walked down to the Royal National, registered, spent an hour getting something to eat and wandering past McCann Ericksons before heading (for some their first journey on the London Underground) to Notting Hill Gate. A fifteen minute walk, past Portobello Road and across Westbourne Grove has the group impatiently waiting outside the gates of Pentagram (a large multi-disciplinary design firm). The editor made two calls to the groups host, Leah Speakman, waiting for the 'ok' to meet the 'Star of the Show' Domenic Lippa. At 4.45pm Leah meets the group in reception. Eyes are everywhere, drinking in the wonderful, former dairy as Partners and staff go about their business. Domenic waves to the group and acknowledges the editor. Angus Hyland wanders past as does Harry Pearce and Daniel Weil. Time for a look upstairs at the working environment and then the seminar . . . Domenic and Leah welcome the group and the discussion on Pentagrams philosophy and the requirements for students to be successful in the industry.

 Tuesday 21 February: After breakfast, a brisk walk to St Pancras - a certain amount of WOW factor and it was through passport control and onto Eurostar. Woosh! Although some concern was raised about being under the Channel, when we emerged the other side it took some convincing of one or two that we were actually in France! Clocks forward an hour and at 2.47 Eurostar came to a halt in Gare du Nord. So there we were in Paris. Running now over an hour late on schedule first stop the BatoBus departure point opposite Notre Dame. The group sailed down the Seine, alighted at the Grand Palais, crossed the Champs Elysées and then headed for cafés and restaurants to eat. After meeting at the Champs Elysee, we had a choice . . . on the Metro back to St-Michel or down Avenue Kléber and the promise (fingers crossed) of crêpe's on the Esplanade du Trocadéro - no contest! Almost without exception every student asked for (and it was fun to hear their attempt at ordering in French) a crêpe with an assortment of fruity or chocolate topping. The group stood there ‘lovin’ the authentic French pancake looking across the Seine to the magnificent Eiffel Tower.

Wednesday 22 February: Early breakfast for the editor and sub-editor - one or two students made it down to the lovely French maid who served all the English students with a smile and greetings in French. A cool but sunny Parisien morning - the commuters scurrying to the buses and Metro, across the Seine, past the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, around the corner past the Madeleine. Back to the Louvre to meet up with the group, tickets sorted, worksheets out and the ‘voyage of discovery’ starts . . . WOW! The Mona Lisa, Venus di Milo, the Marriage at Cava and so many wonderful artifacts. Three hours of intense observation and jaw-dropping creative history and sitting in the sunshine next to the iconic glass pyramid - is there any better place to be? The afternoon was for sight-seeing and the group returned to the Arc du Triomphe. Another WOW moment. Time for French tea and a rendezvous at the Esplanade du Trocadéro to head across the Seine for our 7.30 appointment to ‘climb’ the Eiffel Tower. What an amazing sight and just as we arrived to a chorus of ‘gasps’ the Tower went into a fit of twinkling lights for a minute or two. But although the group had booked to go all the way to the summit, due to the weather it was closed. First stop the second level, brrrr, it was cold - but what a view. Everyone pointed at the sights, the Arc, Sacré Cœur, Notre Dame, L’hotel Invalides, wandered around the gift shop and took panoramic photographs.

Thursday 23 February: Breakfast and a wander down the Boulevard St-Michel over the Seine to Notre Dame on to the Île de la Cité - all the gargoyles peering down at the group and then it’s time for an hour of quite reflection within the hallowed walls. Amazing stained glass windows, the glow of dedicated candles, crypts and religious splendor. Next stop just as it started to rain . . . the eateries on Rue d’Arcole before crossing over the Seine again to the magnificent Pompidou Centre. Kandinsky, Picasso, Braque, Giacometti, Matisse, Bacon et al - some absolutely amazing exhibits. At 3pm the group exited the iconic building and headed for the Metro to Anvers.

Through some rather tacky tourist souvenir shops and crêpe stalls, awaiting the group at Montmartre was the Basilique du Sacré Cœur. A climb up dozens of steps, past locals trying to sell everything from miniature Eiffel Towers to cheap jewellery until reaching the doors of the Basilique and an amazing view across the.

Time to drink in the view and spot iconic Parisien landmarks. Exhausted by a packed and intense day the group wandered around the corner from the Basilique to Place du Tertre - a tree lined square populated by restaurants and artists - Dali had hung around the square in the past and Picasso had worked in a studio no more then five minutes walk away. For three days the group had tried to avoid a traditional French restaurant . . . but not this evening. The editor took it upon himself to ‘open’ dialogue with two proprietors. Within minutes the choice was made and the group, on-mass filed into the Au Clairon des Chasseurs - which roughly translated means the Bugle of the Hunters. Translation of the menu over and it was time to indulge in proper French cuisine. James and Dec tried the snails, the French Onion soup with it’s floating cheese was a shock to some, Rob’s steak came back still alive . . . enter the editor to ask for “bien cuit” and the Creme Caramel desert stumped many and gave the editor several portions - which were gracefully accepted. Euro’s paid - experienced never to be forgotten the next port of call was the Moulin Rouge.

Downhill off Montmartre - onto the Boulevard du Clichy and soon the red glow to the site of the iconic French burlesque theatre was upon us. The group stood just drinking in the atmosphere of an amazing part of the French capital. So, sadly, that was the trip all but over. The option put to the group was to wander back towards the Seine (and make those sore feet ache for one last time) or jump the Metro - the decision didn’t take much of a debate.

The final celebratory evening, with presents for the editor and sub-editor, a signed-by-all card and the realisation of everything the group had experienced, all the places they’d visited, all the sights they had seen, the struggle with the language, the trip down the Seine, the trip up the Eiffel Tower, the headaches, “une crêpe avec du citron et du sucre”.

Friday 24 February: A leisurely breakfast, bags packed, keys returned and as we stepped onto Rue Cujas we stepped into a film-set - didn’t we cause a stir! A fine, cool, sunny morning and a wander down to St-Michel Metro heading for Gare du Nord. Hands firmly clasping bags and straight to the EuroStar check-in. Final sight of Sacré Cœur as the train departed Paris, through the tunnel, back to a sunny England and soon in St. Pancras.

A fifteen minute stroll down to Euston, on the 2.30pm train back to Wigan and two hours later the group is home, all in one piece, all better for the experience and for the editor and sub-editor handshakes and good wishes from everyone of the group - magic!

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