13 April 2018

Fourth year pupils from Abingdon and St Helen's took part in the second leg of the French exchange and they all enjoyed the week spent in Aix-en-Provence. The group made a very early start on Friday 30 March at 3.00am. The Eurostar departed from St Pancras at 6.50am and after a change in Lille, the TGV arrived in Aix-en-Provence at 3.35pm. They were re-united with their exchange partners at the Lycée de la Nativité and left to spend the Easter weekend with their host families. The three-day weekend gave the pupils the opportunity to be fully immersed into the French culture, celebrating Easter and taking part in a wide range of activities ranging from skiing in the Alps, to visiting the beautiful seaside resorts of Saint Tropez, Cassis and Marseille. For the rest of the week, each day was dedicated to further exploring Provence. The visits started on the Tuesday with L’Occitane in Manosque; we were able to see the museum, the factory and walk around the aromatic “jardin provençal”. We then drove to Cadarache, the largest technological research and development centre for energy in Europe where the boys received first-hand information about Magnetic Fusion Research. Wednesday morning was spent in school, attending lessons and the afternoon was free! (French pupils don’t have lessons on Wednesday afternoons.) On Thursday, we headed for Les Baux-de-Provence, a listed heritage site in a spectacular position in the Alpilles that has won titles such as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”. It is crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south. We then saw a unique art exhibition in “les Carrière de Lumières”. The monumental old quarry hosts extraordinary multimedia shows; spectators are totally immersed in the images projected on all the surfaces of the rock. The ground is completely covered too and becomes a vast carpet of images. The show started with, “Flower Power”, a journey into the graphic universe of the sixties and then moved on to a beautiful and striking homage to Picasso and the Spanish painters. Our last visit was dedicated to the roman world. Provence is so called because it was the first Gallic province of the Roman empire, long before Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul. We visited the world-famous Pont du Gard, the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts and one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance. In Nîmes, all were impressed by the Roman amphitheatre built around AD 70. This ancient building encloses an elliptical central space 133 long by 101 m wide and with its 34 rows of seats, it has a capacity of 24000 spectators. The French and English partners spent their last evening at the school, enjoying a delicious barbecue. The group headed back to the UK on Saturday 7 April; very luckily escaping the TGV strikes which are currently taking place in France!

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