Trips Down Memory Lane Archives - Page 2 of 3 - Starr Tours & Charters
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Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

One of the first multi-day trips by bus I escorted as a Tour Director for Starr, about 12 years ago, was to Savannah and Charleston.  I had never been to either city before but had heard so much about both southern destinations. I was excited to go and, of course, so were my passengers.  Savannah was a place that I’d heard about way back when I first became a Brownie Girl Scout in 19__??  Well, you can guess that one. 

I wanted to see the Juliette Gordon Low house where the first Girl Scout meeting was held and where Forrest Gump sat with his box of chocolates. I also wanted to see the Mercer House where the story behind “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” happened and was filmed.  So much to see in such a small town.

We saw all that and more.  In Charleston, I discovered why the city was named “the friendliest city in America” – everyone smiled and said hello! I wanted to return, but I didn’t get that opportunity again until last year. I would finally get to see those two cities again, and it would be even better.

Marine Recruits training at Parris Island – the men and women train separately

The trip now includes a stop in Beaufort, SC, a lovely small, southern town with a big mission…it’s home to Parris Island, the Marine Corps Boot Camp. I was excited to see where my Marine friends and family spent 13 wonderful weeks of their young lives (well, it might not have been so wonderful at the time!). We enjoyed a complete tour of Parris Island including a stop at the museum and gift shop.  From there we went to Savannah, for two nights in a lovely hotel right in the historic downtown.

When I awoke on my first day in Savannah and turned on the weather channel (a habit all Tour Directors have), the weatherman was being pelted with rain and wind from Tropical Storm Julia, which he said had developed overnight and was now hitting Savannah.  Huh??  I immediately ran to the window, pulled back the curtains and looked outside.  It was cloudy, but there was no wind or rain.  I wondered if was he on some sound stage at the Weather Channel and someone was throwing buckets of water at him while a big fan blew stuff around? T’was a puzzlement. So we proceeded to our morning trolley tour, which would go on rain or shine. Sure enough, they picked us up, on time, at the front door of the hotel and we rode around Savannah, hearing wonderful stories about that lovely city. There was some rain, but nothing out of the ordinary.

We made a stop at the Massie Heritage Center, a pre-Civil War building that was originally a school for Savannah’s poor children.  It is now a museum and has an outstanding exhibition documenting the Greek, Gothic, and Roman influence on Savannah’s architectural history. In addition, an educational program called “The Nineteenth Century Classroom,” allows youngsters and adults to experience a 19th century school day. It was so much fun!

When our tour ended at noon on River Street, I found out what that weatherman was talking about! The rain suddenly came down, the wind came up, and I was instantly soaked (even with my rain poncho)! So were my passengers, but they smiled and we decided it was time to go inside for lunch. Good timing! With so many restaurants to choose from, everyone found what they wanted and sat out the worst of the bad weather. Afterwards, with all of the various and wonderful shops so close together, it was easy to get in and out of the rain and buy lots of good stuff from local merchants! 

A Trolley Tour driving past the Owens-Thomas House

Our tickets for the trolley allowed us to get on and off for the rest of the day, which was so convenient in the rain. So with umbrellas and raincoats and unlimited transportation, the passengers thoroughly enjoyed everything Savannah had to offer…even in the bad weather!

That evening we saw a delightful Broadway-style show at the Savannah Theatre. The next day we hopped aboard our bus and headed north to Charleston, where we met our local guide who showed us all around the city she loved, including the Citadel, which both her husband and son had attended.

With time on our own in the afternoon, we walked through the Charleston City Market filled with so many wonderful shops. Our biggest decisions were what to buy!  Again, so many friendly people and smiling faces and delightful weather as a bonus, in spite of the weatherman’s report that Tropical Storm Julia was going to Charleston with us.  Other than a brief sprinkle, I don’t know where Julia was, or that weatherman for that matter!

Spirit of Carolina Dinner Cruise

A dinner cruise along the Cooper River capped off a relaxing evening. The next morning we set off for our final stop at Magnolia Plantation, a 17th century estate.  It felt like we had stepped back in time. The nature train tour took us around the beautiful gardens,  ancient magnolia trees covered with Spanish moss and past a number of ponds where alligators were resting in the sun!! WHAT??? ALLIGATORS??? Only a few feet from where we passed?  Our guide assured us that they were not hungry… Well, he thought that they weren’t hungry so, we were safe… I think!

As we made our way home on our comfortable Starr bus, we talked about all the wonderful things we had seen and the friendly people along the way.  It was truly a delightful trip that I was so happy to have been able to take again and hope for more visits in the years to come. Now that I have shared one of my favorite memories, what are your favorite memories of the south?

Happy travels,
Bette Barr, Starr Tour Director



Photo Credits: Giant Oak by Nagel Photography, Marine Recruits by Bette Barr, Savannah Trolley Courtesy of Savannah Chamber of Commerce, Dinner Cruise Courtesy of Spiritline Cruises

From Sea to Shining Sea and Memories in Between

Christine Durling

Escorting passengers three times on Starr’s Cross Country tour has touched me with so many terrific memories. Of course, there were the famous landmarks beginning with the Gateway Arch in Missouri, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Old Faithful in Wyoming, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Not to forget the Grand Teton Mountains, the Great Plains, the Sonoran and Mohave Deserts, Lake Tahoe and streams and waterfalls, and the Pacific Ocean.  Even with all of this beauty and wonder, I will never forget the in-between memories that were reflective of the passengers on the tour as well as the people I had met along the way.

One day after being on the road for a week, one of our passengers asked me if he could talk on the microphone for a few minutes. Not knowing what he was up to but thankful for a talking break, I quickly agreed.  Little did any of us know, he was observing our daily activities and would spend his evenings writing lyrics about some missteps— like someone leaving house keys in a hotel room, meeting up with a snowfall in Nevada in July, or being awakened in the middle of the night by a hotel fire alarm because someone got stuck in the elevator.  Not only did he sing the song but he accompanied himself with a portable cassette player—remember them? We laughed so hard and so long that he never had to ask for the microphone again.  He had a standing gig on the bus each week thereafter. We could hardly wait to hear what and who he was going to sing about next.

Food was always on our minds when traveling cross country.  Starting with satisfying hotel breakfasts to surprise snacks shared by our passengers.  It was not unusual for a bag of grapes to suddenly appear being passed up and down the aisle followed by a big bag of chocolate candies.  Then there was the box lunch in the middle of the Painted Desert in Arizona – not another vehicle in sight as we savored the solitude and the indescribable landscape.  Dinners ranged from fine dining menus to pizza delivered to hotel rooms.  One of my favorite food memories was our stay in Los Angeles.  Our hotel was across the street from Ralph’s Supermarket.  One of the passengers asked me what my dinner plans were for the evening.  I mentioned I was going over to Ralph’s for a roasted chicken and something from the salad bar.  She thought that was a swell idea and joined me by the pool.  There we were surrounded by California palm trees and digging in to our dinner with plastic knives and forks.  Fine dining— at least in our minds!


Probably the number one question I get about the cross country tour is “What about laundry?”

My view while walking to the laundromat

Starr has that figured to a “tee”! —pun intended.  Many of the hotels en route have laundry facilities on-site.  The passengers were great about taking turns doing their laundry to everyone’s satisfaction.  After 14 days on the road, I decided to do my laundry in San Francisco.  Unfortunately, for me, there were no on-site facilities.  Desperate times called for desperate measures.  So after a few directions from the front desk, I packed up my dirty laundry in a small suitcase and rolled my way up a couple of hills in San Francisco to the neighborhood laundromat humming, “I washed my socks in San Francisco. . .”  Being in the heart of this famous town, game me a bird’s eye view of its diversity when I met a young man from New Jersey who moved there a year ago for a job.  He was cleaning his apartment and doing his wash before his mom’s visit that weekend.  Then there was the girl with multiple tattoos who ran in and out checking on her stash in the dryer.  While waiting for my wash to be completed, an elderly Chinese gentleman wearing a large straw hat, asked me if I was from Australia?  Somewhat amused, and somewhat flattered, I asked him why he would think that.  He said, “because everyone that comes in here is from Australia.”   I had to chuckle because when I first arrived at the laundromat— a mother and daughter who helped me maneuver the money changer told me that they were on a three-week tour of the States – from Australia!

On our 26th and final day on the road and after traveling over 7,000 miles—yes, on a bus—yes, with the same people—a couple of our male passengers asked if they could say something to the group.  It came as no surprise that their comments brought tears to everyone’s eyes.  They, too, spoke about their memories that no guidebook could explain nor postcard could picture—those in-between memories!


I hope you one day have a chance to collect your own treasure trove of in-between memories on our wonderful Cross Country tour!
Christine Durling, Starr Tour Director

Conquering The Arch

Conquering The Arch

As the Tour Director for the 26-day Cross Country By Bus tour, I have had the opportunity to experience the wonders of our great country along with our Starr guests and my partner, our Starr Driver.  At times, it was simply looking out the window of the coach and relishing in the sights of the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming, visiting the grandeur of the Hearst Castle in California, or standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. However, none of these wonders, gave me the immeasurable thrill and anxiety like facing my fear of traveling 630 feet in a tiny tram car inside of a steel leg of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri!  

I had planned to never go up there!

Construction on the Arch began on February 12, 1963 and it was dedicated in 1968 to “The pioneer spirit of the men and women who won the West and those of a latter day to strive on the frontier.” It is the tallest stainless steel monument in the Western Hemisphere and, at 630 feet, is taller than the Seattle Space needle (605′), the Washington Monument (555′), and the Great Pyramid of Giza (455′).  Visitors to the Arch can conquer that dizzying height by traveling up one steel leg and down the other in a tiny (5 feet in diameter) tram car or “pod” that is specially designed to rotate 155 degrees as it travels along the curve of the Arch.

So, here I was, the leader of our group, encouraging and coaxing our wonderful passengers to see the 30-mile views across the Mississippi River, the state of Illinois, and the city of St. Louis.  Yet, after showing them the History Channel’s video, “St. Louis Arch,” which documents the design and construction of the Arch by Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen, I was no closer to joining my group in their journey up to the observation area at the top, which is just 65 feet long and 7 feet wide at the apex.

My plan was simple – escort the group across the park, distribute the tickets, bid them bon voyage and wait for them in the gift shop, an area located safely on the ground beneath the arch.

My anxiety stayed in check until a National Park Service Ranger told me that one of our passengers couldn’t make the long walk to the Arch and decided to sit on a bench outside.  With the help of a guard who brought along a wheelchair, we located the passenger and started to wheel her back to the bus when she announced, “Hey, you are going the wrong way, I want to go up the Arch!”  So, off we went to Tram Car #1 where we waited for the door to open. The fiesty passenger stepped in to the empty, egg-shaped, capsule and just as I started to wish her well she said, “Well, aren’t you coming?”  Yikes, here I was facing the exact dilemma I was trying to avoid!  Sympathy for her riding the 4 minutes to the top by herself took a grip on me and tossed me into the car.  The door was shut and off we went swinging in the car with the “click click click” just like a ferris wheel, as described in the movie.  The view from inside the car was not a view at all but the inside of the stainless steel leg which we could see from window cutouts in the door, exposing brick and stairs.  Our small talk helped speed us to the top where the door automatically opened and we were instructed to walk up a few steps to the observation deck.

The incredible view!

Then, there was the view—16 tiny windows worth! – for as far as we could see, just like the movie and brochures explained. I was grateful to not feel the allowance for the 18” sway in case of winds up to 150 mph! What I did feel was the embrace of my capsule seat mate who gave me a hug and thanked me for bringing her back to the Arch and riding to the top with her.  I returned the gesture and the gratitude. 

On the 3 minute ride down, I couldn’t help but think we were both pioneers— maybe not like the Westward Expansion pioneers, but pioneers just the same who conquered their fears and were rewarded with an experience of a lifetime.



Christine Durling, Starr Tour Director






Main Photo Credit Josh Hallett

Hanukkah Memories by Allison Berger

menorah-pixabay-max600x600Nearly every Jewish holiday can be summed up with the statement “They tried to get rid of us, they didn’t, so let’s eat” and Hanukkah is no exception! Hanukkah in the Jewish tradition is not at all about gifts. In truth, it’s a very minor holiday! Hanukkah is the story of a tribe of warriors rebelling against an oppressive tyrant and succeeding. It was a miracle that such a small group of warriors could triumph over a force much larger than their own. After their victory, the warriors returned to the Temple in Jerusalem and found there was only enough oil left to keep a lamp lit for a single day. The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil continued to burn for eight whole days. Again, a story of how a small force was able to persevere for so long against the odds.

My favorite memories over the years are framed by how my family has celebrated. When I was little, my mom and dad would make latkes—which are freshly shredded potatoes made into pancakes and fried in oil (representing that same oil that lasted for eight days)—for dinner one of the nights. Nowadays, my sister has taken over latke duty using her special dreidel-shaped spatula, one of last year’s gifts. My grandmother and grandfather always send socks for the whole family, because who doesn’t love a pair of warm and fuzzy socks!

Shark Slippers!

Now, I did say that Hanukkah isn’t about exchanging gifts, but that doesn’t mean my family doesn’t partake in it! When you’re young, gift giving is all about surprise and excitement of trinkets and toys. My sister always does such a wonderful job of finding great gifts! For instance last year, after my Dad retired (for the first time) he had started to ride his bicycle more frequently, so she got him an electric tire pump. I think my sister’s cat, Diesel, took the award for best gift, though…he gave my sister a pair of oversized Shark slippers whose mouths open and close when she wiggles her toes.

And of course, every year while much of the world is celebrating Christmas, my family goes out for Chinese food or Sushi (along with most of my synagogue’s congregation) and then heads to the movie theater!

The Berger Family Ski Trip

You might even call Hanukkah a portable holiday. One year my whole family was skiing up in Vermont, and my parents packed a menorah, some gifts, and a stash of dreidels and chocolate coins and we celebrated in our hotel room after a long day of skiing. We’ve celebrated at relatives’ houses and with friends all across the country. The holidays are always sweeter when shared with others.


A tradition in my family is make donations to local charities on one of the nights of Hanukkah. Consider this holiday season making donations to your local soup kitchen, women’s shelter, Homefront, a National Park, or animal shelter. Your small contribution will make a big miracle in someone’s life!

No matter what you’re celebrating this time of the year, spend some time creating some cherished memories with the ones you love.

Happy Holidays from my family to yours!

Allison Berger,
Starr Receptionist

Christmas Memories from Margie Mangione

I have lots of fond memories of celebrating Christmas at our home. I am the oldest with 5 younger brothers. It certainly was very noisy!

My kids – Marla (20 months) and Jimmy (7 years)  – placing baby Jesus into the manger, 1977

We started making Christmas cookies weeks ahead – oatmeal raisin, and sugar cookies. My mom would let us decorate the sugar cookies with red and green sugar and we always made a total mess on the table! I let my kids do the same and now my grandkids. Our manger was put up on the first Sunday of Advent along with our Advent Wreath which was lit every night during dinner with the knowledge that Christmas would be here soon once all of the candles were lit. My mom would leave baby Jesus out of the manger until Christmas morning. I still have my mom’s Advent Wreath and manger and carried on these traditions with my kids. I also still light a candle each night at dinner during the Advent season. Because we are Sicilians we also celebrated the Feast of Santa Lucia or Saint Lucy on December 13th. We would not eat anything made with wheat, but would eat whole wheat berries that my mom cooked for hours with water, bay leaves, salt, and sometimes chickpeas. I still make the wheat berries using my mom’s recipe.
(See below!)

My father loved his family and the holidays. He would wait until Christmas Eve to get our tree – the tree lot was at the top of our street and trees were 75 cents on Christmas Eve – and we never saw our tree until Christmas morning. Santa put it up and decorated it and it was always beautiful! Christmas Eve, my brothers and I would sit on the couch and sing Christmas songs. We could not wait to see our tree and the gifts.

Christmas morning we would line up on the stairs and peek down at the tree! Then, we were marched out to mass at St. Anthony’s Church on Olden Avenue in Trenton through the back door of the house so we could not see any of the Christmas decorations until after mass. My mother always made us say “Happy Birthday!” to baby Jesus before opening gifts and I always made my kids put baby Jesus in our manger before they opened their presents. Thank goodness for my godmother, Aunt Mary, who did not have children of her own at the that time and helped Santa put gifts under the tree. My favorite gift was an inexpensive camera.

Christmas 1975

When we got older we would help decorate the tree and get in trouble if our tinsel wasn’t perfectly placed on each branch to look like an icicle. My brothers would tease my mom and not do it her way. I still have one “War Ball” left, made by my mom during WWII. Decorations were hard to come by back then and she made them with clear glass balls, glue, and glitter. I will always treasure it.

Josephine’s Wheat Berries

Clean one pound of wheat berries, removing any stones.

Put them in a large pot – 6-8 quarts – and rinse several times, pouring off water and being careful not to lose any wheat berries. Fill the pot with water to about 3 inches above the wheat. Add: 3 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or salt to taste), and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar. After the pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for three hours, stirring once in a while.




Happy holidays to all of you and many blessings for a Happy New Year,
Margie Mangione, Travel Advisor