France: Never the same place twice

Group travel friends share their Seine story

The Sigel group aboard the M/S Bizet—many of whom are rediscovering France on The Seine: Paris to Normandy.

Emilie Sigel and Becky Christian have many reasons for traveling with and organizing group travel with their rotating band of almost 20 travelers, but they both agree: A trip to France is never the same experience twice.

“I had been pushing for the Seine cruise, even though most of us have been to France, because it has so many interesting options: Giverny, which my husband Carl especially wanted to visit, and the Normandy beaches,” says Emilie, a 10-time traveler from Raleigh, North Carolina. “So though most of us had been to France before, one always discovers new things—which is one of the joys of travel!”

Touring the Normandy beaches was on the top of Carl’s list of places to visit.

Like Emilie, Becky and her husband Frank, 12-time travelers from Wake Forest, North Carolina, have been to France several times but revisited on The Seine: Paris to Normandy. “A good guide brings a different perspective and learning," says Becky. "We had been to Giverny on our own once in the fall; the idea of being able to see it in the spring when different things were blooming was very appealing. We saw many things, including the village itself. It was also a joy to see Rouen with guides … we had a much more thorough experience as a result,” she said, lauding Program Director Isabelle de Bisschop. “She was so good at pointing out small things that gave us insights into the French,” like local markets and their specialties.

Becky and Frank Christian share a smile on a bridge in Giverny, home to painter Claude Monet.

Sights like Giverny and Rouen weren’t the only reason the Sigels and Christians chose France—it was the joys of company, both with friends they were traveling with and with others aboard the M/S Bizet.

“We don’t just hang out with our group—part of the fun is meeting new friends,” says Emilie, and over the years that group has grown to include friends met aboard other cruises, relatives, neighbors, and college roommates. Becky’s words of advice for traveling together? “Our travel group is fun and we really enjoy them. The key to ongoing success is that everyone is a ‘good’ traveler—open to new experiences, cheerful, flexible … intellectually interesting, well-traveled and well-educated from a diverse variety of fields and careers.”

The ladies of the Sigel group trying to decide which Grand Circle Cruise Line trip to take next.

As to be expected, both women raved about the cuisine in France. “The food is always a treat. I am notorious for having two desserts—I just can’t help myself—and the waiters are so kind to oblige, not just enthusiastically, but without the faintest hint of disapproval,” says Emilie. Becky, who counts an independent visit to Jacques Genin chocolatier in Paris and cheese-tastings on the Seine among her trip highlights, also savored her introduction to French pear cider, chouquettes, macarons and a homemade pear and almond tart during her Home-Hosted Visit.

The homemade pear and almond tart was a group favorite.

The visit, with Mademoiselle Bertrand and her 102-year-old mother Antoinette, was a highlight for the entire group, says Emilie, who ended up translating for everyone. “This extraordinary experience eclipsed all others. … Her mother was sharp as a tack. As we shared stories, Antoinette told us that she had met and shook the hand of Charles Lindbergh when he landed in Paris after his historic transatlantic flight. We were all blown away. What an honor and a privilege it was to meet these two lovely, gracious women.”

Delightful hosts Mademoiselle Bertrand and her 102-year-old mother, Antoinette.

Certainly the experience left an indelible impression on both travelers, in addition to one of the most picturesque moments on the River Cruise: the night sail down the Seine. “Everyone in our group liked going out on the Seine at twilight to idle beneath the Mirabeau Bridge to see the lights on the Eiffel Tower go on and the views of Paris by night from the water, a beautiful perspective,” says Becky.

Night-sailing down the Seine boasted views of the Eiffel Tower lighting up the Parisian sky.

As for her group’s next trip? A journey to an entirely different landscape: the waterfalls and glaciers of Iceland, inspired by Program Director Isabelle, who’s half Icelandic and also serves as an O.A.T. Trip Leader on that adventure. Then another tour on Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece this fall. “I love, love, love cruises,” says Emilie.

Enjoy The Seine: Paris to Normandy like Emilie did. To view a video featuring travelers like her, click here.