The A Level class’ visit to Lille was first and foremost for diving head-first into the language, history and culture of France’s fifth biggest city. We were also lucky enough to get a truly authentic meteorological experience of the north of France with rain almost every day.

We hit the ground running, starting the trip with a walking tour of Lille. Our tour guide told us how the city is a magical mismatch of different architectural styles, from neoclassical to more traditionally Flemish buildings. This is because it was once under Flemish control until it was taken by France in 1667 by Louis XIV. In 1792 Lille was laid siege to by the Austrians and after eight days of fierce resistance the Austrians left the city. To mark this, in 1842, a statue of a warrior goddess was erected to mark the strength of Lille.

During the First World War, because of its proximity to the front, Lille was occupied and suffering heavy shelling. The occupation began in 1914 and ended in October 1918, and left the city severely damaged. In the Second World War, Lille was under the control of the German commander in Brussels and was liberated after 1945. Our tour guide also told us that as well as all of Lille's vibrant war-time history, Charles de Gaulle was born in the city, thus why the main square is the ‘Charles de Gaulle’ square.To end the first day, we enjoyed a very hearty and enjoyable meal out. Sadly, we may never know what was in the pâté, but the food was lovely nonetheless.

The second day took us to the local town of Douai. A large part of our time there was spent visiting the town’s belfry and town hall. A highlight of this was being able to visit the room where the carillonneur plays. Some may recognise the instrument, the carillon, from Dany Boon’s 2008 film Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis. The carillonneur who plays in the film is in fact the Douai player, a veritable claim to fame.

After wandering around the area, we took the tram to Lewarde to visit the biggest mining museum in northern France. We were taken on a tour through the main tunnel and given demonstrations of the equipment, an extremely loud experience that we are unlikely to forget. We were told about the lives and working conditions of the miners and how, despite the incredibly harsh conditions, the sense of community was a true force to be reckoned with. After a long walk through, we were all asked how deep underground we thought we were. A few guesses were put forward and then our guide revealed that we were in fact on ground level and had all been tricked. Despite being lied to, the ‘mine’ was a genuinely thought-provoking and quite moving experience. The open fields around make it almost impossible to imagine it as a heavily industrial area.

That evening we enjoyed a meal out at 'Happy F’eat' and went on to the theatre. The play Dans la Peau de ma Femme (In the Skin of my Wife) was not as sinister as the name suggests, but rather, a comedic play where a husband and wife wake up in each other’s bodies. Though not perhaps the most sensitive of plays, it was a useful and rewarding experience to be able to hear so much French, especially with it being said at a pace much faster than we’re used to.

On our third day we ventured over to the Wazemmes market. The market has a central covered area with a variety of red meats, seafood, cheeses, wines, fruit and vegetables and a wider market that sells a huge variety of things. After a thorough browse, we headed in the direction of Arras. In Arras we travelled underground to the tunnels. These ones were in fact real so all our subterranean enthusiasts got their fix. The function of the tunnels changed through time, from being mined for their stone, to being used for food storage, to allowing allied soldiers to perform sneak attacks during the First World War. We emerged onto the surface to take the lift up to the top of the Arras Belfry to enjoy the view. After a visit to the art gallery to check out some Napoleonic portraits, we saw the evening lights and headed back to Lille.

We spent our final evening in Lille at the cinema, watching La Douleur (the pain). Based on memoirs of one woman’s experience of the Second World War as she waits for her husband to return, the themes of waiting and patience struck a chord with the audience. The film was interesting food for thought, as well as being useful for language.

Charlie, Laura and Lorna at the Marionette museum

Our final day in Lille was just as action-packed as the others, starting with a visit to the Vauban-designed Citadelle de Lille. This citadel is at the forefront of its kind from the era and to this day remains extremely well-maintained. After lunch we had a final wander around the wonderful city, before heading to the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse. The building was used as a hospital for 800 years, before changing use just before the Second World War because it was no longer fit for its duty. After visiting the main collection, we were treated to the marionette exhibition, which was truly magical.

Sad as we were to go, we waved Lille goodbye. The group had a really great experience thanks to the teachers and guides and I’m sure we’ll all be back again soon.