At first, some of us thought the idea was infantilizing. But we needed a way to make sure that we didn’t leave anyone behind in Paris—a sprawling city with lots of crooked streets with unpronounceable names. So we went along with the suggestion offered by Ellen Williams, our Paris expert and leader.
Anytime we gathered to leave the hotel, anytime we got on a bus or a metro, anytime we met up at a restaurant or a museum or a market, each of us called out a number that had been assigned alphabetically. (Except in one case where our alphabetizing skills failed us. Can you see the mess up?) 1 through 14. If a number wasn’t called, we knew who to look for, who to text, who to pull away from the Monoprix (our favorite store).
Soon the count off became endearing, sort of like the “all for one and one for all,” of Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. We each had our individual place, but we were part of a whole. Part of a tribe, of course—women who were exploring and bonding in the most fascinating city in the world.
We continued with the count off after we left Paris and moved north. The guide we hired to take us through Normandy was so taken with our enthusiastic shouts on the mini-bus that he started calling out “15” every time we ran through our roster.
The trip was a testament to the power of female friendship, and our ability to both nurture ourselves at this time of life and to support one another, making sure everyone in the group had the best experience possible.
I may have been a leader, in a strict sense because I organized the trip (the same way I plan all our NextTribe trips), but in the way we related to each other and helped each other, we were all hopeful, adventurous humans in search of inspiration, enlightenment, and connection.
I designed the trip to take advantage of the knowledge and generosity of two NextTribe women. I’ve always felt that at this age we have so much to offer and those who don’t recognize that are missing out on incredibly deep resources. I certainly intend to always tap into the vast expertise of our members.
Ellen Williams, who has traveled with NextTribe twice before, has written three guidebooks on Paris. A native New Yorker, she has been to the city more than 100 times and has made a study of neighborhoods and out of the way museums, parks, and sights. We set up the trip for people who had been to Paris before, because we wanted to offer an inside look at the City of Light. Ellen introduced us to a street market where almost all of us found clothes, purses, hats, jewelry, linens that we would never have discovered otherwise. We went to the fashion museum and the stunning Parc de Bagatelle. We ate in some of the most famous restaurants in the city; walked lovely streets in Montmartre and near the Luxembourg Gardens. At the best Paris flea market (I had no idea there was more than one), we found treasures galore.
We ate in some of the most famous restaurants in the city; walked lovely streets in Montmartre and near the Luxembourg Gardens.
After five days in the city, we took a train (which was an adventure in and of itself—see more below) to Le Val Richer, a chateau in Normandy that has been in the same family since the mid-1800s. A friend, Leslie Garcia, happens to be part of that family and she made room for us among French history, French art and gardens, and French cousins in a formidable structure that is never open to the public.
Using the chateau as a base, we explored small towns that looked like movie sets out of a Merchant Ivory drama. We sampled the local drink—calvados, a brandy made from apples—and made our way through perhaps the loveliest garden I’ve ever seen—Jardin de Pays d’Auge. In Bayeaux, we viewed a medieval tapestry that told the story of how a Norman noble led an invasion of England in 1066 and became known ever after as William the Conquerer. Then we went to Omaha Beach and the American cemetery to pay our respects to those who conducted an invasion in the reverse direction 88 years ago. We hung out along the beach in Deauville and Trouville, toured the scrumptious harbor village of Honfleur.
This is just a quick overview of what we did and saw, but only the words of the women on the trip can capture the impact and the sense of unity and camaraderie that developed. I’ve decided to let them tell about their own experience—in count off order, of course.
The Count Off
#1 Alina Denis Jarjour
I am particularly grateful for experiencing a true sisterhood in action on this trip: we listened, shared, and supported one another throughout. This was best exemplified when the late afternoon Paris train we had already boarded to Normandy was canceled because of a freak accident. As a plan B reroute was developed, we managed well as a group.
I loved so many outdoor moments on the trip, particularly the time I spent exploring the grounds of the chateau, which included a fab impromptu birthday celebration on the veranda.
#2 Bridget Morin
Of course Paris was awesome. Everyone needs to go at least once in their lives. But my best memory are the women we traveled with—connecting and listening to their life stories and how they overcame and survived the hard times. Another memory for me is watching the French women—young and old—wearing such elegant fashions. Also, I was so amazed at Ellen’s wealth of knowledge on everything Paris.
#3 Chris Edwards
No. 3 was just a number, but No. 24 is a memory. That was my room in a 17th century Normandy chateau, where mornings I could see Mr. Darcy crossing the grounds in the mist, days I could hear chats in the parlor, and nights I could imagine generations of women before me who fell asleep as I did looking out the window of room No. 24. Paris was magical, but the chateau was a fantasy, and that’s the memory I’ll keep forever.
#4 Christy Strobel
Editor’s Note: Christy had the most difficult entry into Paris. Not only did her luggage get lost on the flight over, but so did her phone. She soldiered on, making the best of her unplanned media black out.
Having no phone on the trip was liberating: I was able to give pure attention to the sights and sounds of Paris and Normandy. I loved the quaint towns around Normandy with colorful flowers, brick streets, cafes for chatting, and history galore.
#5 Ellen Williams
This year marks 40 years that I’ve been traveling to Paris. Being there is just about my most favorite thing to do. My love for the place and my desire to know more about it endlessly reinforce one another. I’ve long been a resource for friends and friends of friends planning trips there, and in those four decades, I’ve spent time there with lots of different people.
This was why I suspected that I was going to find a lot of satisfaction leading the Next Tribe group in the city when Jeannie and I first started seriously talking about organizing our trip.
Seeing the old beloved place through all these new eyes was tremendously gratifying.
Once there, it didn’t hurt that we had terrific weather, that the dollar was strong, and that the women—smart, funny, open to making new friends—were way past eager to start traveling again. The backdrop for our adventure was St-Germain-des-Prés, one of the loveliest and most historic parts of the city, with, it must be admitted, some pretty great opportunities to eat, drink, and shop.
Of all the things on my obsessively considered itinerary, I was most excited to take the group to the flea market at the Porte de Vanves, which is my favorite thing to do in my most favorite place. However, flea markets can be tricky—not much fun in the rain, sometimes the wares are a bit too flea-bitten, and they’re not for everybody. To my great relief, the outing was a big hit, with many of us scoring great finds.
By the end of our time in Paris, I had the sense that most of the women felt like they’d done the city in a way that was pretty special, that they’d seen things they might have missed if they’d either been on their own or in a large, cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all tour. For me, seeing the old beloved place through all these new eyes was tremendously gratifying. If the others had half as much fun as I did, the trip was a big success.
#6 Flora Marvin
Most of us had seen Paris before. We were a band of women in search of a fresh experience. I have a shopping bug inherited from my Grandmother, the one who loved to prepare meals from recipes in the well-worn Julia Child cookbook. It meant so much that Ellen led us to the blue door to the apartment where Julia lived in Paris. The “aha moments” are what I seek, new eye candy, from historic tapestries to the bright red geraniums on window sills as we whisked through Normandy villages in a van.
Here’s what I remember most:
Walking through a street market before heading to the Fashion Museum; there were lines of merchants selling everything from linens to lobsters.
The “aha moments” are what I seek, new eye candy.
The Paris flea market, which is a treasure hunt where you can find items small enough to put in your pocket and, in my case, striking African masks that require the purchase of new baggage for transport.
Seeing Val Richer, the chateau for the first time. Its subtle grandeur, hundreds of years of people driving up the tree-lined drive to spend an enchanting time here.
Walks along the forest paths on the chateau grounds, discovering the knee tree, an ancient cypress with roots protruding so high they look like knees. An enchanting tree house that could be a story on its own.
Tarot readings to guide us onward. Thanks to Michele Martell for her skill.
Ellen’s famous list! The best shopping in Paris, famous haunts of women that made history from writers, painters and chefs!
#7 Jeannie Ralston
Every tribe has its lingo and I love the terminology we developed or came across on this trip. For example:
“Don’t over cheese,” was a warning from our hostess at the chateau, Leslie Garcia. We modified that statement for the rest of the trip: “Don’t over wine.” “Don’t over shop,” etc.
“Don’t over cheese,” was a warning from our hostess at the chateau.
“Scarf town” was the nickname we came up with for a small village in Normandy (officially known as Beuvron-en-Auge) that had a shop that only sold scarves. I think we all bought at least one. From then on, we rhapsodized about the experience of walking into that shop and seeing the wildly extensive inventory.
“The French Cousins are coming.” The whole time we were are the chateau Leslie mentioned that her French cousins would soon be coming to fill the 20-something bedrooms we weren’t using. The statement seemed ominous, at least to me. I kept imagining what they’d be like—wild, Gitanes-smoking hedonists, maybe?—and when they actually arrived I was relieved (and maybe a little disappointed) that they were just regular people, most of them with their families. I keep thinking I should write a novel with the title, “The French Cousins are Coming.” What do you think?
#8 Jeannette Hatch
Editor’s Note: Jeannette, a P.E. teacher, was the one who could have walked across Paris and back without batting an eye. Sometimes as we waited (for others to catch up or a museum to open), she led us in impromptu yoga poses, which were much needed.
I enjoyed the variety of activities—historical sites, beautiful scenery, sidewalk cafes, leisurely dinners, flea markets, and different neighborhoods in Paris. The best was connecting with some badass women.
#9 Liz Buckley
In Paris, I was living my dream! Ellen led us to magnificent pastry shops, amazing grocery stores, and sights I had never seen or imagined. I especially loved dressing up in the evenings and sharing life with new friends over dinner. My epiphany is my dreams can come true with planning, persistence, and determination.
In Normandy, I felt like a queen being served awesome dinners in the grand dining room. I was transported to a new level of peace on the porch when we gathered for tea or wine. This reminded me of being at my grandmother’s house and her porch as a child.
#10 Lori Beveridge
The trip to Paris for me is a collage of small moments:
Walking through the market, spying a wall of peonies on display; drinking lovely wine and hearing stories of what folks had seen.
Pulling up to Chateau Val Richer and downloading the beauty and history of it all.
I loved knowing there are birds out there who believe and have faith in moving forward after a pandemic, loss, transition.
Standing under more than one tree older than America; in the house, gazing at a painting older than America; dining at a table that had hosted how many generations?
Visiting Omaha Beach and feeling the pain of illogical war.
Spying a dress and knowing who it belonged on.
Feeling that incredible a-fib thrill of traveling in a way that was adventurous with other adventurous spirits.
Walking forever knowing the exhaustion would be worth every bit of it.
Enjoying a meal with smart, funny folks.
Knowing there are birds out there who believe and have faith in moving forward after a pandemic, loss, transition, graduation, and finding the courage to take a trip across the water.
#11 Lucie Frost
Editor’s Note: Lucie lived in France many years ago and told us at the beginning of the trip that she was once fluent in French. We watched with awe as her command of the language returned, seemingly by the hour. She became proficient enough in a few days, to handle the maddening bureaucracy of the French train system to get us rerouted once our train—indeed almost all trains–to Normandy were canceled. For her savvy and calm under pressure, I’ve decided that Lucie will be one of the leaders of next year’s France trip!
I loved wandering around the flea market, picking through piles of baubles, eating the best French fries (ever!), laughing about the American guy trying to pick us up in the bathroom line, taking photos of our favorite oddities, trying to haggle in French.
I loved listening to Ellen, our knowledgeable guide, put everything we were seeing in context—historically, politically, culturally, geographically, beautifully.
#12 Michele Martell
I could talk a lot about the things seen and foods eaten and steps taken, but mostly what I prized is getting filled up, opening up to so much sensation and experience. It feels like the beginning of a thousand new things.
I’m telling my friends and family about how my roomie is now a friend for life, like we were college roommates, and how I’m planning a greenbelt hike with a few of the NTers that were my walking buddies around the chateau. It felt strange, at the end, to be in the airport and not be scanning the crowd for our little flock, for our boldly aging gang with straw hats, looking out for each other.
NextTribe did what it does best, which is to hold space for us to be ourselves, to be in community and to accept our connection, to laugh and shop and wonder and inspire each other.
NextTribe did what it does best, which is to hold space for us to be ourselves, to be in community and to accept our connection, to laugh and shop (and eat and drink) and wonder and inspire each other.
Paris was amazing. I loved how we explored it in such a nuanced way with Ellen’s guidance, getting a tiny taste of what it feels like to live in that magical city. The hotel was a delight—a perfectly located home base for our crew.
Normandy was a wildly unexpected thing—what a gift to be guests at that historic chateau, to meet the neighbors and the French cousins, to walk down to the village church, and to hear French songbirds aggressively chirping “Aujourd’hui Aujourd’hui” as the sun rose.
What a gift of perspective to view the Bayeux Tapestry and the embroidered carnage of William the Conqueror in the morning and then bear witness to the carnage of WWII at Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery a few hours later.
I can’t wait to organize all my photos and thoughts and share them! Calvados for everyone!
#13 Pattie Ivey
Editor’s Note: Pattie’s view of all that she experienced was especially refreshing because she regularly grounded herself by remembering where she came from. She wrote this to go with the above photo.
Pattie Gay Peebles from Rockdale, Texas, is with precious new friends at a real chateau in a new dress from Paris!
#14 Rosie Salcido
It took me some time to decide whether to sign up for the Paris trip with NextTribe. The usual doubts and fears crept in wondering how I would do in a group of 14 women when I only knew one of them. But I tend to be optimistic and figure there would be some wonderful moments come out of it, and there were.
Life is all about lessons and the one for me here is to take chances.
I tend to wander off on my own and I came across some beautiful Paris streets that seemed to come out of a movie set with cobblestones, flowers in the windows, doors that have seen centuries of history walk by, and shops that offer everything from pastries to chocolates to handmade shoes (with a cobbler tucked in a corner).
There was so much to take in and I did it all with a smile on my face. My original doubts and fears were quickly put to rest when I met the amazing women in our group. All were thoughtful, sincere, and genuine. They made this trip extra memorable. Life is all about lessons and the one for me here is to take chances, take advantage of the time and blessings I have, and receive everything with a smile.