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DanvilleSanRamon.com

Column - February 20, 2009

Diablo Views: Thriving on adventure

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

ElderHostel isn't just about seniors taking a trip, Ann White told a full house at the Danville Library last week. It's about people who love to learn, who thrive on adventure, and enjoy doing it with like-minded folks.

She discovered ElderHostel about 10 years ago when she was 54 and her husband was 55, the age that qualifies a person or couple for the group.

"We wanted to go on safari," she recalled, "and someone said, 'Why not try ElderHostel?'"

The trip to Kenya was a great introduction to the organization. Since accommodations in Kenya are either deluxe or basic, the ElderHostel group stayed in the best places, arriving at oases each night after a day viewing the wildlife with a knowledgeable guide.

"And what I liked best was, the people were fantastic," Ann recalled enthusiastically "They all loved to travel and they were all about our age." One of the lecturers was a man who had been in Kenya with the Peace Corps years ago and returned often.

Www.elderhostel.org describes its trips as "in-depth and behind-the-scenes learning." But you can opt out for an event if you'd rather do something else. On a trip to Glacier Point, Ann and her husband decided to skip a lecture on the flora and fauna and instead check out the flora and fauna on the golf course with another couple.

Her tales of hiking in Switzerland with a packed lunch and bicycling along the Danube were enough to make me pick up three thick ElderHostel catalogs for spring 2009 - United States and Canada; International; and Adventures Afloat.

They also have intergenerational trips, which Ann has done with her grandson. "You can go to Koos Bay and learn all about the ocean," she said. One offering was a Harry Potter adventure in England, where they stayed 10 days in Oxford. The kids had some activities on their own, but the two generations did a lot together, such as visit castles in the area and meet someone who had worked on the Harry Potter films.

ElderHostel began in 1975 in New Hampshire, Ann said, as a way to use college campuses that were vacated during the summer plus take advantage of the knowledgeable professors. It expanded across the country, and soon the organizers discovered that older folks would pay a little extra for more private accommodations.

For most U.S. trips you get to the starting point then everything is included: meals, tour buses, lectures, accommodations. The trips are a bargain for what is included but they are not cheap. For instance, a trip from May 17-23, Hiking and Kayaking: Active Exploration at Bodega Bay, costs $895; without accommodations, $620. A 14-day trip to France, Architecture & Gardens from Kings to Modern Times: Paris and the Loire Valley, including airfare, is $5,045.

"About 25 to 30 is the average size group," Ann said, explaining that's small enough to be efficient yet large enough to include a variety of interesting people.

"You share a passion for learning," she added. "You immediately have so much in common." She said many people sign up to go along. "They will find you a roommate - or a single supplement is just a little bit more."

She suggested starting with a local trip. One in the Monterey area is called, "Chopin, Steinbeck and Wine." Others take place in San Francisco and Napa. You don't have to stay overnight if you live nearby but it is part of the experience, she noted.

I sat next to a woman named Yvonne Cameron, who is retired from John Baldwin Elementary. She said she overheard two people talking about ElderHostel while waiting in a line recently so when she read about the talk at the library, she made it a point to come.

Adult Services Librarian Vickie Sciccia said they offer a presentation on ElderHostel every year and often there is standing room only. The next program will be Meg Honey, adjunct professor from St. Mary's College, speaking on "The Civil Rights Movement to the Election of Barack Obama," at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 24.

Ann ended her presentation with a quote: "Life is an adventure, not a guided tour." The audience seemed to agree and went out into the blustery day armed with pamphlets and ideas to continue their adventure.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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