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Year 4 discover Paris: Classe Découverte 2018

The Year 4 children finished their bilingual Lower Years education in authentically French chic style with an amazing classe découverte to Paris. The three-day, action-packed trip encompassed highlights of French culture, architecture, history, language, cuisine and more; the children also met their French pen-friends from Paris with whom they have been sharing letters this year.

Day 1: Seeing the sights

It was a very early start on day 1, with everyone meeting at Hampton Court House at 5.30 am for the bus up to St Pancras. We arrived at St Pancras and checked in for our Eurostar to Paris, with time for a croissant before boarding the train. The train whisked us from city centre to city centre – we were met at Gare du Nord by our lovely French guide Stéphanie.

On arriving in Paris, there was barely pause for breath before the children divided into teams with their teachers to head across the city on the Metro. Adam’s group got in quickly with the name Team Croissant, so Clarisse claimed Team Tour Eiffel and Claire Team Sacré-Cœur. Josep, our fourth teacher, was filming and reporting. There was an audible gasp from the children as we emerged from the Metro station at the Champ de Mars: the Eiffel Tower dominated the skyline and the children could not wait to visit.

It is a little-known fact that the Eiffel Tower was never built to last: constructed between 1887-1889 for the World’s Fair in Paris, it was intended as a temporary symbol of cutting-edge French modernity. After climbing up hundreds and hundreds of iron steps (over 300 in fact), the we all arrived at the first level, with incredible 360 degree views across Paris. Stephanie presented the history of the Eiffel Tower (completely in French, naturellement) and the children took lots of photographs. From the observation deck we could see the River Seine stretched out below us.

Our second visit of the day, after ambling through the Trocadero, was a cruise along the river on one of Paris’ famous Bateaux Mouches. As Martins explained in assembly after the trip, these river boats don’t actually have anything to do with flies – it was the name of the company that built them. As we glided down the Seine, the children could breathe in the essence of the city: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Ile de la Cité, Pont Neuf. After a beautiful cruise, we all jumped back on the Metro to check in to our residence and relax over dinner, before settling down into dorm rooms for bed.

Day 2: Cultural discoveries

It was an early start on day 2 to make our rendez-vous with Stéphanie at the Musée d’Orsay. The children were extremely sensitive in their approach towards other visitors, while appreciating the work of the most famous French artists. We compared three specific paintings – by Alexandre Cabanel, Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet – looking at each artist’s style. Keen ballerinas in the class were also captivated by Edgar Degas’ paintings and statues of dancers. Before setting off for our next stop, the children visited the gallery of Van Gogh paintings: seeing the paintings in real life was truly magical; the children were especially captivated with Starry Night.

After lunch at an authentic French crêperie, where the children spoke with the owner in French, it was off to Île de la Cité for our second cultural visit: the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame.

Outside the front door, Stéphanie set the scene of medieval Paris; we all shivered a little at the terrifying statues of demons dragging off the souls of badly-behaved Parisians to hell. We entered the cathedral: the cool air and smell of incense created an intense atmosphere. The children craned their necks upwards to marvel at the stunning medieval stained glass and the forest of gothic pillars.

That evening, after dinner, the teachers built a pop-up classroom in the residence where the class could work on their Carnet de Voyage, writing and illustrating their own personalised journals of the trip. These wonderful books will be a lifelong memento of their mastery of French.

Day 3: Making new friends – two countries, one language

After another delicious croissant breakfast we emerged from the residence into bright sunshine for our visit to Montmartre, one of the artistic hubs of Paris. On the metro there was a growing sense of excitement because the children were due to meet their French pen-friends, with whom they had been sharing letters this year.

Our pen-friends and their teacher met us at Montmartre; all the children from HCH introduced themselves to their pen-friends and everyone went off around the beautiful gardens to talk about their lives. After a few minutes socialising, pupils from both schools split off into teams for a historical ramble around Montmartre, discovering more about the artists and bohemians who made this steep suburb the cultural centre of Paris. As we meandered through Place du Tertre, with its many street-artists and souvenir shops, there were lots of relaxed conversations in French between children from both schools. Several HCH pupils bought miniature paintings with their pocket money – a very personal memento of an incredible trip.

For our final experience of Paris, we walked through the atmospheric city streets, soaking up the atmosphere of Haussmann’s elegant apartment buildings, the wrought iron portals to the Metro, the posters and advertising hoardings. After a lunch of steak frites, it was time for HCH Year 4 to climb aboard the Eurostar for the journey home.