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When the Seat is Reversed… Traveling Solo

As a long-time Tour Director with Starr, I am a real advocate for traveling solo, especially on our wonderfully-planned bus tours.  So much so, that I wrote an article about it – “I Want To Be Alone…Really” –  to encourage more solo traveling.  As I mentioned in my previous blog post, too often people are held back from traveling because they don’t have a traveling companion due to lack of interest, time, and/or money.  Apprehensions include safety, being alone at meal times, having no one to converse with, or feeling like a “third wheel.”   I know these are traveling myths since facilitating multiple tours and observing our guests from the Tour Director’s seat. However, I decided to change my seat to test “solo-ness” by booking a Starr bus tour and traveling by myself.

I made my reservation for one on the Vermont Valentine at the Brandon Inn this past February.  What better way to test traveling solo, than to book what most people would construe as a “couples only tour!”

With reading material and crossword puzzles in hand, I boarded the motorcoach with excitement and anticipation.  First, to test my traveling solo theory and, secondly to visit our Green Mountain State in the throes of winter.  I quickly nestled in my seat at the back of the bus, arranged all of my traveling needs, and watched eagerly as one couple after another couple took their seats.  I was right.  This was the perfect tour to test traveling solo.

 

As we made our way, I was happy to pull out my reading material for a time, check my emails, and close my eyes—after all, this was a mini get-away for me too!  It felt good to be “alone.”  CHECK!

 

It was at our lunch stop that I noticed a group of traveling companions walking towards me.  Could it be?  There were three?  As it turned out, I was not the only solo onboard.  Another woman, who had recently lost her husband took the plunge at the insistence of her son and booked this “couples” tour.  A husband and wife embraced this party of one not only for that meal but for others as well.  CHECK!

 

The historic Brandon Inn provided every opportunity for guests to mingle from group meals in the dining room to entertainment and fireside chats in the spacious living room while watching nature at its finest—snowing.  There was much chatter and laughing and sharing!  CHECK!

 

The highlight for all of us was the ride through the woods on a horse-drawn sleigh!  It was a Hallmark moment!  Seating was not a problem as there were seats for two and three which worked out perfectly for myself, my fellow solo traveler and our Vermont guide. We huddled under the thick blanket as we sang, “Over the river and through the woods. . .”  CHECK!

 

Riding back home on the motor coach was, for me, a lot different than going.  I chose to put my reading material and crossword puzzles aside, and spent the entire time talking and laughing with my new found-friends and seatmates.  Yes, they were a couple, but we shared our grandchildren’s pictures, our shopping deals, and future Starr tour plans. We exchanged contact information and looked forward to staying in touch.  CHECK!

 

As far as feeling safe and secure—we were all cared for professionally by Lucille George, our Tour Director, and Bud Cartwright, our driver, on Starr’s state-of-the-art motor coaches.  CHECK!

 

As I get back to my Tour Director’s seat, I look forward to seeing you all during our 2019 travel season!  CHECK! CHECK!

 

 

Christine Durling
Tour Director

It’s Who You Meet Along the Way

It’s said that it’s not the journey but who you meet along the way that is important in life. Well, as Tour Directors, we are fortunate to be able to do both: travel and meet interesting people along the way!

Sometimes we meet people at our various stops and attractions, but most often it’s right on our tour bus.  After I introduce myself, and before I get into the details of the trip, I will ask if there are any veterans aboard the bus.  Sometimes I’ll get a few gentlemen to raise their hands and I thank them for their service… often the rest of the tour guests will applaud.  On occasion, a woman will raise her hand and she will not only get applause, but many times tour guests will take time during the trip to ask her about her service.  On a 4-day bus trip to Vermont last year, I had two women who were traveling together and still in active duty in the Air Force.  The gentleman sitting across the aisle from them suddenly perked up and said he just retired after 20 years in the Air Force… and the three of them then became a fun trio during the bus trip!

St. John’s, Newfoundland

On a bus trip I recently escorted to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, I had a family group from Philadelphia aboard, taking their Canadian cousins to the Big Apple.  Talking to Lisa, one of the Canadians, I found out that they were from St John’s, Newfoundland.  I had seen a program on the Food Network from Newfoundland and asked about it. She told me about the filming of that show and how everyone in town was involved in it. Then she said that they were going to see a Broadway show the next week: taking the train into NY. It would be her first ride on a train! And the show they would see was “Come From Away,” the hit show about all the flights that had to land in Newfoundland on 9/11.  Yes, she was involved in that too, although she didn’t take anyone into her home, they were cooking for and helping all the unplanned visitors to their town.

On the 9/11 Museum trips, I talk about the early history of New York and about the many first settlers who came in 1624 who were Walloons: French speaking Belgians who were fleeing persecution and went to Holland. They petitioned the government and were allowed to come on the first ship that sailed to the New Netherlands’ colony of New Amsterdam.  As they were getting off the bus in New York City, one tour guest said to me: “I was surprised and very moved, to hear you talk about the Walloons because I’m a Walloon… well, my ancestors were and I never really understood their place in American history!” She was quite happy the rest of the trip.

And last, but not least, on another trip into New York City, I talked about the early explorers and the dangers of exploration back then. Henry Hudson was put adrift by his crew in the Hudson Bay in the winter, and Giovani Verrazzano met a horrible end on a Caribbean Island. I mentioned that today’s explorers also experience danger, such as in the space program. On that trip I had an astronaut/payload specialist from the Space Shuttle Columbia, onboard. (A rather poignant example of the dangers of space travel – the Space Shuttle Columbia completed 27 missions from 1981-2003 before disintegrating upon re-entry on the completion of its 28th mission. All seven members of the crew were killed.) He concurred that space exploration was just as dangerous as exploring was in the 15th and 16th  centuries, but the dangers are different as there are no cannibals in space, as far as we know anyway.

 

I can’t wait to meet more interesting people on my bus trips this year!

Hope to see YOU soon!

Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director

 

P.S. Travel with me to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in May, August, October, and November, the Hudson Valley in June, Boston in July or September, an overnight in New York City in August, the Tall Ship Festival in Erie, PA in August, the Poconos in October, and more!

 

Get Ready For An Overnight in The City That Never Sleeps!

Get Ready For An Overnight in The City That Never Sleeps!

This summer, for the first time, Starr is offering a weekend bus trip to NYC!  I will be the tour director/tour guide for this 2-day getaway so let me tell you a few things about it and why it is a really cool trip… even if it is August in New York!

In addition to being a Tour Director for Starr, I am also a licensed NYC tour guide and I will be using my in-depth knowledge of NYC to give you an introductory riding tour of the city before you go off on your own.  As a native New Yorker, I love sharing “my” city with you.

Included in the cost of the bus trip is your transportation to and from Manhattan and an overnight at a wonderful hotel located at the northern end of Times Square, convenient to all the Broadway theaters and restaurants.  It’s also an easy walk to Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and Central Park (and their delightful zoo).

If you don’t want to visit those places, you’re also near the American Museum of Natural History/Hayden Planetarium on the west side, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim as well as all the other museums on New York’s Museum Mile, on the east side.

The 9/11 Museum and Memorial is just a subway ride away, but I would suggest that you take our Starr bus trip there, separately, since I do a great narration on that trip!

How will you get to those places that are not as close? Well, I will give you a comprehensive tutorial on using the subways on our bus ride into the city. I’ll also be available to give you directions to specific destinations.  The subways are the best way to get around and, unlike when I lived in Queens and worked in the city, they are AIR CONDITIONED AND ANNOUNCE THE NEXT STATION.  And, if you are over 65, you can get a senior discount (50%) on the subways. (You’ll need a photo ID)

Another great thing about this trip is that you can catch a Broadway show! Starr offers a chance to get discount tickets in advance, with great seats, or you can visit TKTS in Times Square, and sometimes, at the box office just before the show (but the seats might not be as good). When the show is over you can relax and have a late dinner and then see Times Square at its best, at night, as you casually walk back to the hotel.  No rushing to catch a bus home or bail out your car from an outrageously priced parking lot!  You could even see a matinee on Saturday afternoon and another show that night!

The next day you can sleep in a bit, if you wish,  and then do some more sightseeing.  You’ll have the better part of the day to see the things you didn’t see on Saturday and maybe do some shopping.  Although breakfast is not included, you can get the best breakfasts within a short walk of the hotel: there are dozens of places to choose from. Again, I’ll give you suggestions and I’ll tell you this: New York bagels are the best in the world… bar none! (Sorry, Philly.)

So, if you’d like a weekend getaway that’s not too far but a world of difference, come on a bus trip to New York with me August 2-3, 2019!  I’m looking forward to it and trying to decide where I want to go and what I want to see. There is just so much to do!

 

See you on the bus!
Bette Barr
Tour Director

A Few of My Favorite Things (Actually, Favorite Places!)

After more than 25 years as a Starr Tour Director, I have noticed that the most frequently-asked question by passengers is “What is your favorite destination?” With the wide variety of options offered by Starr, it is not an easy question to answer. However, in an effort to share my experiences with you, I have narrowed down the long list of choices to my personal top three picks (not in any specific order):

 

Niagara Falls – My husband was born and raised in Niagara Falls, New York, and we still have relatives residing in the area.  That means I have visited Niagara Falls often and have been able to experience its beauty in all four seasons.  While they have “real winter” in that part of the country, the ice forming on the falls is absolutely spectacular and worth donning my long-johns to see!  On the Canadian side (which I believe has the best view of the falls), the gardens in springtime are ablaze with color.  Parks Canada does a magnificent job in keeping the planting beds filled with a dazzling array of plants and flowers.  While summer in Niagara Falls can be hot and humid (honest!), it is also the busiest and most crowded season and a frequent family vacation destination.  There are so many attractions, restaurants, and natural wonders to explore!  The leaves in autumn start to turn earlier in the Niagara Region than in New Jersey, so even a bus trip in September can reveal fall foliage at its best.  In short, I think Niagara Falls is a destination that can be enjoyed year round – based on your personal preferences.  No matter how often I visit, the view from Table Rock (very close to the fall’s precipice) still takes my breath away!  And for folks who do not have a passport, Starr now offers bus trips that stay on the New York side of the border!

Visit Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls & Toronto, Niagara USA, or Niagara during the holidays with Starr!

 

Nova Scotia, Canada – This is quintessential Maritime Canada at its best!  Starr offers the option of a motorcoach tour or visiting the area by cruise shipPeggy’s Cove, a small fishing village located about an hour from the provincial capital of Halifax, provides magnificent views of the rocky coast.  It is said that the best scallops in the world come from Digby, Nova Scotia – and if you like seafood, the options are endless!  While the adventuresome can try the local favorites (poutine and beaver tails), there are familiar American restaurants as well – something for everyone. The scenery alone would rank a #1 reason for this bus tour, but the people of Nova Scotia are also responsible for my many visits.  I have found the folks in this area to be kind, welcoming, and helpful to travelers.  Several years ago on one of the bus trips I escorted, we had free time for lunch in one of the local towns and two of my passengers became confused and could not find the bus.  A local woman (on her lunch hour from work) saw their distress, offered to help, and took the time to walk them back to the bus parking area.  She could have ignored them or just given verbal directions, but she took the time to be of true assistance to these travelers.  Last, but not least, is the Titanic connection to Halifax; there is an excellent exhibit on the ship as well as the Halifax Explosion.  Don’t let different currency or the metric system scare you!  Your Starr Tour Director will have you well-versed in all the details you need to know before your bus arrives in Nova Scotia.

Travel to Nova Scotia with Starr, see the Nova Scotia International Tattoo Festival, or cruise there on Carnival Sunrise.

 

Civil War Trails (or almost any history tour!) – On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (2010), Starr began offering bus tours with an historical theme and we called the series “Civil War Trails.”  Over the years, these itineraries have included Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Washington, DC and much more.  I have had the pleasure to serve as Tour Director on these bus trips and it has been an exciting, enjoyable and educational experience for my passengers and me.  These tours have much more than battlefields and always include a component relative to the people who were not fighting, but trying to survive a tumultuous time in our country’s history.  In addition, I highlight something about the women of the period—often overlooked in folks’ zeal to learn about the politicians and Generals.  Join me this year as we explore the Civil War History of Fredericksburg, VA!

If the Civil War is not your favorite period in our history, you still have lots of options!  Starr regularly offers tours to Salem, Massachusetts, Williamsburg, Virginia and other historical areas.  There are even itineraries regarding specific historical figures (Franklin Roosevelt, Harriett Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc.).

Personally, I did not enjoy learning history while in school.  However, actually walking in the footsteps of the people who helped to shape our country has always been an exciting and illuminating experience for me – and I try to share that enthusiasm and curiosity with my passengers.

 

I hope that this information will be helpful as you look through the myriad of choices Starr is offering this year and select the destination of your next journey.  My favorite quote from Saint Augustine, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

 

So… Keep traveling!  And I hope to see you on a bus trip soon!

Jane Peters Estes, Tour Director

A Salute to Starr Family Veterans

Every Veteran’s Day I am reminded of my time in service in the US Army. Most of my friends don’t even know that I served, and some are even shocked when they see a picture of me in my BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform) in full camouflage makeup, holding an M-16 rifle! Going into the military was no surprise to my family though… my father started off his military career in the Marine Corps but only lasted a couple days, then he went into the Navy and was sent to Vietnam in 1968-69 working in radio communications (he met and married my mom over there – she was a translator and also the desk clerk at their quarters!).  After Vietnam he trained to become an engineer aboard aircraft carriers and would go out to sea for several months. In 1981 he used the GI Bill to go to school for nursing and branch-transferred into the Army Nurse Corps, then retired in 1992. Since I grew up as a “military brat”, we moved frequently throughout the United States due to my dad’s assignments and training courses – I lived in 10 different places by the time I was thirteen! My dad’s father was a retired Army Quartermaster Officer who served in WWII and the Korean War, my brother was in the Marine Corps Reserves, my husband (whom I met in Army ROTC at Penn State) was an Army Field Artillery Officer, and his father graduated from West Point in 1965 and was sent to fight in the Vietnam War along with many of his classmates.

As you can see, I had a fairly strong military presence in my life, which influenced my decision to serve. I was awarded an ROTC scholarship, so I took 4 years of Army ROTC classes at Penn State, where I learned about military history and tactics, how to march and how to be a soldier, and most importantly I gained leadership skills. At graduation I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps, and I had the honor of having my dad swear me in! I was then sent to the Army Medical Department’s Officer Basic Course in Ft Sam Houston, TX and then served 5 years on active duty, assigned to the hospitals at Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Lewis, WA. Even after my military career ended, I continued working at Madigan Army Medical Center as a civilian for a couple more years. Although it seems like a lifetime ago when I got out of the Army in 1997, I am always proud to say “I Served.”

AUDREY DONAGHY, US Army Nurse Corps, Captain 1992-1997
Starr Tour Coordinator 

 

Last year at Veteran’s Day, I casually mentioned to a fellow co-worker that I was in the Army. She thanked me for my service and we wondered if there were other Starr employees who were veterans. Thus the idea to write this blog recognizing Starr employees and their family members who are military veterans came about…

THANK YOU to all those who have served in the past and the present- we are all grateful for your service!

 

Please join me in saluting these other veterans of the Starr Family:

 

I was stationed at Ft Knox, KY and Ft Gordon, GA. I was a Stevedore, but never saw a ship! One of the jobs I had was to shovel coal to heat the barracks. In training I received the High Marksman award.

ALAN GLICKMAN, US Army, Reserves, 1965-1971
Owner of Starr

 


 

I joined to serve my country and to pay for my education.  I was very fortunate to have served 20 years without seeing combat.  My highlights were being able to travel and live in some amazing places.  I spent 6 years in Germany, and one year in Korea. I also served in Oklahoma, California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.  It was a very challenging and fulfilling career.

An Interesting Fact: Rick was Audrey’s husband’s Army ROTC instructor at the Penn State Ogontz/Abington branch campus from 1988-1990!

 

RICK WEISS, US Army Field Artillery, Major (Retired) 1972-1992
Tour Director at Starr

 


 

The tears streaming down my face as I humbly try to pay tribute to my hero are no match to the physical and emotional pain my dad, John W. Pazdan, suffered as a witness to the horrors of WWII.  Enlisted in the US Army when he was just 18 years old, he was assigned to the European Theater in 1943.  As a member of the 53/54 Replacement Battalion he served as a crew member of a Sherman M4-A1 medium tank and engaged in battle in Belgium at the Battle of the Bulge.  During this conflict, his tank was struck and completely destroyed.  He was ejected from the tank and lay unconscious for 24 hours in sub-freezing weather.  The entire tank crew was killed.  After his rescue, he finished out his term of service for ten months in a hospital bed at Rhoads General Hospital in Utica, New York.

Like so many of the servicemen and women of “The Greatest Generation,” he never shared any of these details with our family.  I can only surmise that his courage and bravery to protect his country when he was a young man extended to protect his four children from knowing the atrocities of war.

As part of my welcome introduction on our Starr tours, I always include a salute to the servicemen and women and by doing so, it’s my way of saying, “Thanks dad, my hero.”

 

CHRISTINE DURLING
Starr Tour Director

 


 

I joined the Reserves during the Vietnam era. Did not leave the US however; was in Louisiana and Texas. Most impacting memory was working as a Medic in the Valley Forge Hospital in PA where all the Amputee Soldiers returned for medical treatments.

JAMES AGASAR, US Army, Reserves, 1967-1973
Starr Driver 

 


 

I come from a family with a lot of military veterans. Several uncles and great uncles in the Navy and Army and one in the Air Force. Unfortunately, most of them have passed and I don’t know their stories, but I still have the letters that my grandfather and father sent back home to my grandmother while they served in the Army and Navy, respectively, mostly reassuring her not to worry about them. My grandmother worried about everyone, all the time, and never gave up on that intense love.

My father was stationed on a naval ship in Norfolk, Virginia at the time of the Vietnam War, but he was never sent anywhere else aside from a brief stint in Panama.  My mother grew up in Norfolk and had several friends in the Navy – she met my father through one of their mutual friends while he was stationed there. He was medically discharged because of a serious illness before he served his full 4 years and returned home to North Jersey. The illness almost killed him, but my grandmother nursed him back to health with beef blood juice and a few other concoctions. My mother drove up almost every weekend, from Virginia, by herself, to visit him. My grandmother thought she was crazy, that no woman should be driving that distance alone to see a man, but my mother quickly grew on her and became the daughter she always wanted.

His father served in the Army during World War II and was stationed in several places throughout Europe. Most of the letters he wrote back home to my grandmother, his fiancé at the time, were to tell her not to worry about him; alerting her when he was going to be on the move and unable to write and reassuring her of his love, and… sometimes gently scolding her for getting upset anyway after not hearing from him. I wish I had the letters she wrote. While he was stationed overseas, his mother and family kept a close watch on her – escorting her everywhere and making sure she wasn’t left alone too much. They cared about her, but she said mostly they were afraid that she would change her mind before my grandfather got back and find someone else. They were married over 60 years before my grandfather passed in 2008. In addition to those precious letters, I still have some of the items he brought back from WWII including a dress sword, some coins, and several medals he earned. He never talked about his experience.

I’m honored to have had so many brave men in my family.

SHANA D’ATTILIO
Marketing Associate at Starr


 

Did you know? Starr offers a 5% discount on all motorcoach trips, all year long to any and all US Veterans!

Starr values our veterans, and would like to formally salute anyone who has risked their lives for our country.