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Planning Retirement Online

Travels With Alice

December 2015


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

We have enjoyed our contributing writer Jeanne Davis’ regular Beyond the Headlines for some time.

But now, in time for 2016, Jeanne has started a brand new column which gives a personalized viewpoint on her recent travels. Insights into human behavior are mixed, in inimitable Jeanne style, with great locations and underlying humour.

This is going to be a great addition to Laterlife that will become addictive…
so here is the very first column in this series to get us involved….

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

It All Started With A Phone Call!

“Jeanne. You know the best thing for widows? Travel.”

“Alice,” I reply. “I have already travelled a lot and it all costs money.”

“So have I,” she says. “But let’s see what we can do.”

Alice, my roommate at university many years ago, is telephoning from her home in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m in London, my home. Her husband Don died a year ago; my husband, David, six months ago.

“Look,” she says, “there is a Library of Congress tour of the chateaux and caves of Southwestern France. It really isn’t expensive and I think we’ll like it.”

And this is the beginning of our travels together that have taken us to every continent (except Antarctica. “ Too cold,” says Alice). We’ve been to China, to South Africa, to Patagonia, to Scotland, to Australia. I’ve explored the Grand Canyon with her in Arizona, and she has spent time with me in London and visiting friends and family in Somerset.

The latest annual journey, our seventeenth, was an expedition to explore the inlets and islands of Alaska’s Inland Passage (laterlife, November 2015).

Alice on left, Jeanne on right, in French village market

That trip to France was our first with a tour group. We were soon initiated into the dos and don’ts of travelling with 25 other people. You ate when they ate, you followed the leader’s instructions, you got up at unseemly hours to board the bus, and when I sat in the front seat for a better view of the scenery ahead I discovered the unwritten protocol that you couldn’t sit there every day. You were to move back seat by seat.

My friendship with Alice had been maintained largely through an exchange of Christmas cards and the infrequent visits to one another. But on the first day in France it was though we had never been apart, chattering away about this and that just like the early days in the university dorm. And looking out for each other.

Jeanne (left) with Alice (right)
and a friend on the French trip


My most vivid memory is now of the much heralded and anticipated visit to a newly discovered cave: the Chauvet Cave in the Ardeche department, located on a limestone cliff above the former bed of the Ardeche River, in the Gorges de l’Ardeche. It had just been opened to the public, to a limited number of visitors.

We had to crawl through a narrow opening in the limestone cliff and feel our way along a dark passage. Stumbling and sliding on slippery rocks underfoot, I was having a hard time. Alice, always more athletic and surefooted than I am, strode along in front of me. "Hang on to me,” she said. I clutched the back of her jacket and made it to the end of the passage that opened into a wondrous cavern. There on the walls and ceilings were exquisitely painted images of horses and bison and mammoths – the horses drawn in shades of white, black and brown. The bison was etched in red and ochre.

We were in for a treat. Amongst the usual horses and cattle found in prehistoric caves was a pride of lions, tawny heads stretched forward on the prowl. There were panthers, too, bears and cave hyenas, species of predatory animals rarely or never found in other ice age paintings.

The art is also exceptional for its time for including "scenes", animals interacting with each other, a pair of woolly rhinoceroses, for example, are seen butting horns in an apparent contest for territory or mating rights. There is even one human image, though partial, of a Venus figure.

Why had these hunter gatherers, some 32,000 years ago, painted these images? (The Chauvet Cave contains the second-oldest cave art; the oldest is in northern Spain, perhaps more than 40,000 years old). Our guide, reluctant to let us go away with fanciful ideas about magic or shaman rituals, said there were many theories but none had been proven.

From left: Chateau guide, Alice and Jeanne


 An archeologist, our guide was a young, knowledgeable English woman who had made France her home. However, she was dismissive of any person or culture outside of France. And she had a host of people on this tour to be snotty with.

Not surprisingly being a US Library of Congress tour it was largely an American group and well educated. The Library of Congress is the research library that officially serves the US Congress but also serves as a national library, just as the British Library is the national library of the UK.

Driving back to our inn, we passed a village church and a sign that said “eglise”. We had seen the same sign on the way to the cave. One of the men asked what does “eglise” mean. “Church” , the guide said, irritated. And then she turned to the driver and in French said something about these stupid Americans who knew no French.

I couldn’t resist. In my limited French I told her that this man, now retired, had been the Director of the US Geological Survey. Although she might think otherwise, learning French was not essential to a successful, distinguished career in science. She and I were often on the edge of disagreeing until I held myself in check.

On this first joint venture I had learnt that group journeys could be full of surprises. And, even better, that traveling with Alice would open up new ways of travel and adventure.

Jeanne and Alice climb a holy mountain in China in next month’s laterlife ‘Travels with Alice’                                                             

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