21 April 2017

The week in Aix was a great experience. Everything we did was enjoyable from visiting the Pont du Gard to skiing and I could not have had a better exchange partner.

Friday morning at 6.00 am we all met up in St Pancras Station, London, resulting in all of us having to wake up well before 3.00 am. A much too early start for a typical teenager! We got on the train to Marseille at 7.20 am, and then spent the next 7 hours on the train, arriving at about 3.15 pm. We were finally in France! We hopped on the coach and headed to La Nativité. When we arrived, we were given delicious pastries (bugnes and chouquettes) and a t-shirt. We then split into two groups and had a tour around the school. Afterwards, we got reunited with our exchange partners and spent the weekend in families.

My exchange partner lived in a beautiful house in the countryside, with a huge pool and garden. We took a quick dip in the pool and then had dinner. French cheese is great! The following day, we met up with other English and French exchange partners for a game of bowling. The next day, walking around town we saw many election posters. I liked the fact that in the French election system, a wide range of political parties are represented. I had a sensational weekend with my exchange partner despite the rainy weather. I found myself becoming increasingly at ease with French culture. I introduced a few of the French lads to some rugby and could not help but use my experience to mug them off here and there.

The highlight for me was going skiing for the weekend and playing a football game (English partners vs French partners), especially as we won.

On Monday, after an early start, the group travelled to Manosque, a pretty medieval city, where we walked though its narrow streets and open squares. We then visited L’Occitane en Provence, the international retailer of beauty products. We took a tour of the factory and learnt about its rich history. In the afternoon, we travelled to the Confiserie du Roy René, maker of the famous “Calissons”.

On Tuesday we visited a city entirely built on the top of a large mountain; “Les Baux de Provence”. Because of its strategic positioning, the castle had been subject to numerous attacks and sieges. I love history and so I found it really interesting to hear about the political infighting that went on there. It gave me an insight into how difficult life in medieval France must have been – so dangerous that people literally had to have walls as thick as mountains to stay safe. Afterwards, we took a short walk down the hill towards an old stone quarry called “Carrière de lumières”. Entering the site was disorientating but it immediately plunged us into a new world of music and imagery. The painters exhibited were Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo.

Wednesday morning was again sunny and it was a wise choice to wear shorts and trainers for our guided tour of Aix-en-Provence. The city was founded by the Romans because of its water springs and one can find up to 100 fountains in the city, including the famous “fontaine de la Rotonde”. After the tour, we met out French exchange partners and spent the rest of the day with them.

On Thursday, we visited the Pond du Gard, a Roman aqueduct bridge; a very scenic and enjoyable tour. In the afternoon, we spent time in the Nîmes arena. We were all given an audio guide and could enjoy the visit at our own pace. It was very high at the top and also very windy (as Mr Crisp discovered). If you ever go to Nîmes, don’t wear a lightweight hat…

Friday morning was spent at La Nativité and we attended a few lessons. We also watched a film that our exchange partners had done when they came to Abingdon. It was very funny! After lunch, we said goodbye to our exchange partners. We were all very sad to be leaving, but many of us have arranged to meet up again in the summer. After a short bus ride, we arrived at Marseille railway station and got on the Eurostar at 3.00pm. We all had a lovely week and we certainly have made good friends for the future. 

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