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Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2019 – Eastbound – Part 2 of 2

Our Cross Country Adventure story continues with the Eastbound Tour Director write up from Gene Gray.
(Click here to read the first half!)

 

Day 15: Sunday, July 14, 2019

EASTBOUND

Upon turning on the news in the morning, I learned that Paul McCartney played a concert at Dodgers Stadium last night and brought out Ringo Starr to play two songs as his guest. The audience went wild. To think I was so close to the venue……..

In all my excitement about Paul and Ringo reuniting on stage, and since the Beatles played two of their most infamous concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in August of 1964 and 1965, I played four Beatles songs to get us going this morning: “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” We were leaving beautiful Los Angeles and beginning our trip East for the first time.

Everyone was looking forward to being in Las Vegas. Some had made definite plans while others were in the process. This morning I spoke about the history of Las Vegas and followed it up with the 50 minute documentary by the History Channel, “Las Vegas.”  After a twenty minute rest stop at a Loves Truck Stop in Barstow, California, I reviewed the Las Vegas Packet (another project I accomplished prior to his trip) in detail and encouraged everyone to create a plan for tonight and tomorrow. Many tour guests were intrigued by Downtown Fremont Street and the Fremont Experience so I decided right then to go to Fremont Street this afternoon and lead the way. Seven of us wound up taking the Deuce (Las Vegas’s Bus) to The Fremont Street Experience at 5:00 PM and four others went later at night.

We stopped for lunch at the Baker Travel Plaza with five fast food establishments under one air conditioned roof to choose from. I can only describe this place as an oasis in the desert since there was nothing but dry desert conditions for miles and miles until now. Everyone enjoyed their lunch and we were back on the road in less than an hour. I played the Elvis’s movie, “Viva Las Vegas,” a “B” rated movie at best but with great music and of course, Elvis and Ann Margaret. Everyone enjoyed it very much as we pulled into the New York New York Hotel & Casino at 2:20 PM, one hour ahead of schedule.

After handing out the room keys, I led the tour guests inside the New York New York and to the New Yorker Tower B elevators that led to their rooms. The eleven tour guests who chose to join me at 4:30 PM were provided with a mini tour of our hotel including a walk to the bridge that crosses over Las Vegas Boulevard to the MGM Grand side of the street. From there, we split up and went our own separate ways with seven of us taking the Deuce together to Downtown Las Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience.

From conversations I had with tour guests earlier in the day regarding their plans for tomorrow, some were staying in the New York New York for both days to enjoy this beautiful hotel to the fullest. Some were planning to buy show tickets (or already had tickets) to a Cirque Du Soleil, comedy show, or musical review. One was taking a helicopter ride over Lake Meade, the Hoover Dam, and the Grand Canyon. And a few guests were deciding to go to the Mob Museum and the Pawn Stars Pawn Shop in the Downtown Area.

From this point on, WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS STAYS IN VEGAS. I’ll just say that the Fremont Street Experience is weird, unpredictable, and loud. In my opinion, it’s a must-see experience. Tomorrow is our fun-filled full day in Las Vegas. Everyone is doing their own bucket list items. I wish everyone a great day.

 

Day 17: Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Two nights in Las Vegas simply whets one’s appetite for much more. However, we were all packed and ready to leave at 8:30 AM satisfied with our choices the past two days.

Traveling East towards Flagstaff, we had many beautiful views of Lake Meade surrounded by colorful canyons. We crossed into Arizona and stopped at the Flying J Travel Center in Kingman for a short rest stop.

Lunch reservations were made at the Roadkill Cafe in Seligman, Arizona on Route 66. The cafe’s motto is “You Kill It, We Grill It.” We enjoyed riding on Historic Route 66. Some parts were four lanes split in each direction and others were two lanes together in each direction. The road was nicely paved and sparsely traveled.

Upon arrival to the Roadkill Cafe, the bus pulled into a dirt parking area sending dust flying in every direction. We disembarked in front of the cafe as Walt found a spot to park at an abandoned gas station across the street. There were a few buildings around us including a General Store, a self standing jail, and a western saloon. We entered the Roadkill Cafe and were warmly greeted by Aaron, who had reserved three spacious tables for our group.

The Route 66 Gift Shop was located in the Cafe and many tour guests were able to peruse the gift shop before being served. The burgers (elk, bison, or hamburger) were thick and cooked to perfection. The salads (chicken or chef) were huge and delicious. The chicken fingers were plentiful and lightly fried. The food was enjoyed by everyone. I personally thanked Aaron and his staff for doing such a great job for us and his reply was, “Thank you for choosing us.” We were finished eating quickly and had plenty of time to shop in the Route 66 Store, the General Store adjacent to the Cafe, and take pictures in jail and with the other western facades. We had found another oasis in the desert.

We took I-40 into Flagstaff and I provided the tour guests with information on the magnificent Grand Canyon. I spoke about John Wesley Powell, the first person to raft through the rapids of the Colorado River through the Canyon. Jane Coulter was an architect and built the Bright Angel Lodge as well as the Desert View Tower to match the ruggedness of the Grand Canyon.  Fred Harvey started restaurants at each train stop out west and hired single women known as Harvey Girls to serve the customers. I then showed the fifty minute IMAX film titled “The Grand Canyon; The Hidden Secrets.” The movie is still shown outside the Grand Canyon in the IMAX Theater. Our guests enjoyed the documentary very much. We did arrive at our Holiday Inn in Flagstaff on schedule and had the remainder of the evening to relax, do laundry (which was where half of our tour guests were partying together), swim, or go out to eat at the adjacent Denny’s or Northern Pines.

Today was a more relaxed day of travel. We were all looking forward to seeing the Grand Canyon tomorrow.

 

Day 18: Wednesday, July 17, 2019

We awoke to crystal clear blue skies and temperatures in the upper 70s with no humidity; a sharp contrast to the hot, humid, and rainy conditions we were hearing about at home. Everyone was ready to leave the hotel a little early and we did. The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and my favorite place to visit on earth. I sensed great energy and enthusiasm from all our tour guests.

Walt drove us today thus becoming the first Starr Driver in quite some time to actually do the driving to the Grand Canyon. In the past, the Starr Driver’s scheduled day off was this day and we called in another bus company to transport us to the Canyon. However, that was not the case today. This was also Walt’s first time to the Grand Canyon. As always, he did a fabulous job and loved the Grand Canyon as well.

I played a lot of music during our 90 minute drive to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff. Tour guests were also requesting songs and we enjoyed the ride and scenic views as well. We arrived at the Grand Canyon and the Desert View overlook 45 minutes before we were to meet our Grand Canyon Tour Guide, Carrie, at 10:00 AM. That gave us plenty of time to walk to the Canyon Rim for our first awe inspiring glimpse of the Grand Canyon. One also gets a terrific view of the meandering Colorado River one mile below at the bottom of the Canyon. I love seeing and hearing people’s reactions when they see the Grand Canyon for the first time. It is awe inspiring for me.

Pictures of the Grand Canyon are beautiful but cannot capture the grandeur of this natural wonder. The top layer of rock, kaibob Limestone, is 270 million years old. The bottom layer of rock, the Vishnu Schist, is 2 billion years old. The seven layers in between create an array of color that is unimaginable. And, as the sun and clouds move over the Grand Canyon throughout the day, the colors change from minute to minute. Looking into the Grand Canyon is a sensory explosion for all who visit.

Carrie was a wonderful guide. We stopped at three overlooks before reaching the Village, 22 miles from Desert View. Carrie provided us with great information and was extremely passionate in her presentation.

The Grand Canyon Village area is the location of the Bright Angel Lodge, the El Tovar Hotel, the Artist Studio, and a magnificent rim walk above the Canyon. We had lunch at one of four establishments at the Bright Angel Lodge and shopped for Grand Canyon treasures in this area. Many walked the rim and all were able to experience the Grand Canyon on their own personal level.

Having planned the remainder of the day, Walt and I continued our tour by stopping at the General Store in the Market area for additional opportunities to shop Grand Canyon apparel and souvenirs. Our next stop was Yavapai Point and the Geology Museum for great views of Phantom Ranch and the suspension bridge over the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon. Pack Mules travel daily down the Canyon, cross the suspension bridge at Phantom Ranch, and carry food and supplies while carrying out garbage. Phantom Ranch is where hikers can get a permit to camp overnight. Our final stop was the Grand Canyon Visitors Center and Mather Point overlook. The Visitors Center provides a great introductory movie on the Canyon, is where Park Rangers answer all visitors’ questions, and where visitors can find the official stamp for their National Parks book, if they choose to collect the stamps. Mather Point offers another magnificent view of the Grand Canyon. For us, Mather Point was our final overlook of this grand day. Afterwards, we boarded the bus and headed back to our hotel in Flagstaff with the beauty of the Grand Canyon embedded in our brains forever.

I purchased the official Visitors Center video that is shown every 30 minutes to visitors at the Visitors Center. It provides a good introduction to the Grand Canyon. I showed this on the bus during our drive back to Flagstaff. It served as an excellent summary of this memorable day.

Once back at Flagstaff, Walt did a Walmart run for everyone to replenish supplies again. Walmart is located less than a mile from our hotel and everyone appreciated the opportunity.

We were tired and exhilarated after our visit to the Grand Canyon National Park. I encourage everyone to experience the Grand Canyon in person. It is the most wondrous place on earth!!!

 

Day 19: Thursday, July 18, 2019

Another beautiful day with sunny skies and mild temperatures. After a very good breakfast, we left Flagstaff and began our trek Northeast to Moab, Utah. Today our travels took us on two lane highways with a 65 mile per hour speed limit. We started on Arizona Highway 89, turned onto U.S. Highway 160, and stopped at a Sinclair Rest Stop/Convenience Store in Tonalea, Arizona in Navajo Territory for a short break. The scenery changed constantly, from flat desert land for as far as the eye can see to beautiful mountains with all the colors of the spectrum.

I showed the DVD, “The Harvey Girls,” a fifty minute documentary with authentic footage from the time period. At Keyenta, Arizona, we turned left at the only traffic light we’ve seen and turned onto U.S. Highway 163. The road is another two lane highway, but without shoulders on either side. The scenery is magnificent as we travel through Monument Valley. Huge monoliths rise from the ground, 600 foot long striated mesas composed of red and white rock are rise in the distance. Pointed Pinnacles seem to grow out of the land and reach towards the sky. And the rest of the land is flat, barren desert as far as the eye can see.

We stopped at two of several Scenic Turnouts along the road as several of us hopped off the bus to take pictures. The scenery changed dramatically at every curve. We had a beautiful ride through Monument Valley as we proceeded to Blanding, Utah and our lunch stop at Subway.

U.S. Highway 191 takes us directly into Moab, Utah, Arches National Park, and I-70. As we got closer to Canyonlands, the scenery became more magnanimous. This was one of the most beautiful highways I’ve ever driven on. Next time, I would plan more stops for our tour guests to try and capture more of the sheer beauty of this region with their cameras.

We arrived at the Aarchway Inn in Moab, Utah in time to relax a few hours prior to going out for dinner tonight. The Aarchway Inn is located 5,000 feet in elevation surrounded on two sides by massive colorful rock structures that extend another 1,000 feet into the air. The views are breathtaking. Tour guests took the time to rest, relax in the pool, and/or stroll around outside to take pictures of the scenery. It was soon time to board the bus for our three minute ride to the Canyonlands by Night Cruise for dinner and the Sound & Light Show.

Tour guests were able to shop in the gift shop prior to the doors opening to the restaurant at 7:00 PM. Walt was able to park the bus in the parking lot and join us. After receiving the tickets, which had seat numbers, four seats in a row, corresponding to seats on the open air boat, tour guests chose groups of four and stayed together. Dinner was buffet style and very good. There was a very nice salad bar that we served ourselves. Further down the buffet line, servers placed your choice of beef, chicken, brisket, potatoes, corn, and vegetables onto your plate. For dessert was puddings and pies, all with whipped cream on top. We were invited to return to the buffet and eat as much as we wanted. The food was delicious.

The sun began to set on Canyonlands as we boarded the open-air pontoon and sat in our assigned seats. The temperatures ranged in the mid 80’s with a slight breeze. Humidity levels were high for this region of the country tonight, a whopping 26%. They are usually around 5%, and the locals were feeling the effects. To us, it was the most pleasant evening to be cruising outside.

Our guide and boat Captain were fabulous as we motored upstream on the Colorado River being told wonderful stories of the region. Using our imaginations, the guide pointed out Yogi Bear’s face embedded in the rocks, ET’s eyes and nose, a crocodile, the Wicked Witch of the West, and many more. It was really fun and entertaining. He told about the history of the region and the geological factors that created the rock structures. Soon, it was too dark to see the rocks. Above us, the International Space Station was seen moving across the clear nighttime sky. Venus was also shining bright. Soon, the stars appeared brighter and clearer until they completely dotted the sky. The Big Dipper was recognizable directly overhead. It was so beautiful.

At this time, the Captain shut off the pontoon’s engine and the light show began. Beams of light were cast on the magnificent rock structures as a taped narrative complete with relaxing music was sent through the powerful pontoon’s speakers. At times, you heard only total silence. This magnificent two hour multi-sensory experience seemed to drift by very quickly. The strong current from the Colorado River silently drifted us all the way back to our starting point. The entire evening was magnificent in every way.

 

Day 20: Friday, July 19, 2019

We were eager for our tour of Arches National Park on this beautiful sunny and dry summer morning. I had planned five stops as recommended by the Park Ranger back in May via telephone. Arches National Park is composed of steep canyon walls that rise above you as well as spectacular natural features that are not seen anywhere else. Our first stop was the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint that features a 360° view that included petrified mounds on the ground and giant monoliths and rock formations in the distance. A short distance away was Courthouse Towers Viewport featuring a huge wall of rock that gives the impression of judges, or even Zeus, sitting on a giant throne.

Arches National Park is known for three specialty formations that comprised our next three stops. Balanced Rock stood proud and tall attached to its rock pedestal by a thin connection. In 1975, its companion balanced rock had crumbled violently to the ground into many pieces. Remains of it are still seen today. Everyone took wonderful close up pictures of Balanced Rock. When will erosion send this large pointy rock to its fate?

The next stop was the Windows Area. A Window is a hole in a rock that is framed 360° by a more durable rock. These Windows are huge and one is even a double window. Since there was a longer walk to this attraction, we took many fine pictures of this natural wonder from a distance.

Delicate Arch is the signature feature of Arches National Park. Its shape resembles the St. Louis Arch but is naturally created by erosion of weaker rock. It stands alone, with nothing around it, and is only accessible by a mile long rugged hike on rocks uphill that would take three hours for the fittest climber to achieve. There are two viewpoints in the Park that you can see Delicate Arch from a mile away. We drove to that viewpoint. The Lower Viewpoint was an easy walk from the parking lot offering the viewer a distant look at the Arch. The Upper Viewpoint was a half mile moderately rugged climb on rock steps to the top of an area that offered a beautiful unobstructed view of Delicate Arch, still a mile away. Four of us ventured this climb which took 30 minutes round trip including time to take a few pictures of Delicate Arch. For those able, this hike was a satisfying alternative to actually climbing to Delicate Arch itself.

We drove back to the Arches National Park Visitors Center that included an informative museum that explained the geology of creating an Arch or Window. It also housed a wonderful gift shop, offered answers to all questions by knowledgeable Park Rangers, and provided bathroom facilities. Many tour guests purchased the National Park’s stamp book and have enjoyed stamping their book with the date of each visit to a National Park. Some purchased the yearly stamp sheet that includes one stamp for each region of the United States per year. The Program began in 1986 and Arches National Park has been represented on one of the sheets, for sale at the gift shop.

We departed Arches National Park and began our drive East on I-70. I showed a short video on Arches National Park that Walt purchased for us. Following this, I put on the first of my trilogy of movies I brought telling a story about people inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The tour guests enjoyed “The Buddy Holly Story” today very much, despite its ultimate tragic ending on February 3, 1959.

We eventually arrived at our lunch stop, the Village Inn, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The Village Inn was all set up for us and we were greeted nicely upon entering. Nancy, one of our tour guests, met her brother here. Nancy hadn’t seen him in three years and was so excited he was able to drive from his home twenty miles away to meet her. The food was delicious and everyone enjoyed their lunch. The Village Inn is a chain of restaurants and have other locations nearer to Arches National Park.

Traffic was heavy as we entered I-70 at Glenwood Springs. We were bumper to bumper for about 30 minutes before traffic eased. I played John Denver music as we drove through the extremely scenic Rocky Mountains. The Colorado River was meandering to our left and right. People were seen rafting in the rapids of the River. Majestic mountains with a rainbow of color rose above us at every direction. The ground was a lush green compared to the yellow barren desert of an hour ago.

After a short rest stop, I decided to play a few songs. When “YMCA” was sent through the bus speakers, everyone started to sing and move their arms. This led to more “party songs.” I followed the “party songs” with music sung by artists inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The music continued until we reached the Drury Inn in Denver, our stop for the night.

With all the traffic and the extra time we took in Arches National Park, we arrived at the Drury Inn a little after 7:00 PM. The Drury Inn closes their Kickback at 7:00 PM, but the staff was kind enough to keep it open and the food hot until we arrived and had the opportunity to eat. When we arrived, I requested that everyone go directly to the Kickback which is where I handed the tour guests their room key for the night.

Moab, Arches National Park, and driving through the Rocky Mountains were beautiful highlights of yet another magnificent day.

 

Day 21: Saturday, July 20, 2019

Last night, Lil, one of our tour guests, met her two daughters, son, and granddaughter who all converged on Denver specifically for a family reunion. Lil and her family went out for an Italian dinner together before going to her daughter’s home in Denver for additional quality time. We have had many tour guests meet up with family and friends who have relocated to different parts of the United States. It adds to the mystique of traveling Cross Country by bus.

Our timing today was phenomenal. We left Denver earlier than expected and drove past our expected lunch stop since it was only 11:15 AM (Central Time) and we had recently eaten a big breakfast. I had not made definitive reservations for lunch with a restaurant today, but I did call the Travel Stop to inform them of our decision to have lunch elsewhere. So, I looked up restaurants an hour or so later and found many at Exit 53 off of I-70 in Colby, Kansas.

Traffic was light as Walt cruised down I-70 into Kansas. I began the morning trip with three songs by Bobby Vinton, two of which were polkas. The music got everyone’s blood flowing. I played the 2019 Academy Award winning movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the story of Freddy Mercury and Queen. The tour guests enjoyed the movie very much. This was the second in my trilogy of movies about Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famers.

Following a short rest stop at a Conover Gas and Store, I read off the list of restaurants at Exit 53 in Colby for the tour guests to choose from. To my surprise, the unanimous decision was Burger King. Burger King handled our 18 people in no time. That’s what they do. It’s called fast-food for a reason. We were all happy following lunch.

We continued our drive into Hays, Kansas and our Comfort Inn. I continued to play music and took many requests. We arrived at our hotel about two hours earlier than originally expected. Despite our early arrival, they made sure our rooms were ready for us and luggage handlers would be available.

We were now on our own to enjoy this area of Hays, Kansas. There were quite a few good restaurants nearby to choose from. Some shopped at Walmart across the street. Others took a nap in their room or took a swim in the pool or whirlpool. It turned out to be an extremely relaxing and enjoyable day for everyone.

 

Day 22: Sunday, July 21, 2019

Thick clouds covered the Great Plains of Kansas as we departed for Kansas City, Missouri. I began our ride with Paul McCartney singing, “Goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City Here I Come…” I then reviewed our itinerary for today. We’re shopping and eating lunch at the City Market in Kansas City followed by a tour of the Arabia Steamboat Museum. I played “La Bamba” and “Donna” by Ritchie Valens as an introduction to showing the DVD, “La Bamba,” the third of my trilogy of movies depicting Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famers. It’s a great movie showing the short and promising music career Ritchie Valens gave to the world before his life was cut short at age 17 in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly.

We stopped at a Loves Travel Center for a short rest stop before continuing into Kansas City. Light rain was falling. Thick elongated black clouds hovered to the left of our bus. However, as we approached Kansas City, the clouds lifted a bit and the rain stopped. It was 80° in Kansas City with 60% humidity; quite comfortable. Yesterday, the heat index was a miserable 115° in Kansas City. We continue to be blessed with perfect weather throughout this entire trip.

The City Market in Kansas City is a bustling place with shops and food places lining the perimeter of this large square. People selling their wares at tables in the flea market section sat in the center of the square. Fresh fruits and vegetables were sold on carts underneath canopies also on the perimeter of the square. Foods from all over the world were represented; Mediterranean, Vietnam, New Orleans, China, and India to name a few. I was told that the weather deterred many vendors and shoppers today. Nevertheless, many people were out eating, shopping, and just having a good time.

The entrance to the Arabia Steamboat Museum sat on one side of the City Market and our guided tour began 2:30. The Steamboat Arabia was a three year old Steamboat filled with an estimated 220 tons of cargo that was to be sold to frontier towns along the Missouri River. In 1856, it hit a snag (large piece of a tree trunk) in the river that lodged itself in the hull of Arabia. The boat began filling with water and going down. All 130 people onboard fortunately survived but the Steamboat sunk 45 feet through quicksand material with all its cargo. Being trapped in a dark, oxygen free environment for all the years, all the cargo was preserved immaculately.

The story of its discovery in 1988 is a great one and too lengthy to write about here. The Hawley Family and two others excavated everything within four months and have been tediously cleaning each piece to make it truly presentable for their Museum. They opened the Museum in 1991 and will continue to clean more pieces in their lab for several years to come until everything is displayed. Matt Hawley, whose dad was one of the excavators, spoke to us in person and welcomed us to the Museum. He was only four years old in 1988. Matt hinted that another Steamboat had been found and excavation might begin in two years. Over two hundred Steamboats have sunk in the mighty Missouri River.

The Museum houses the largest number of pre 1860 artifacts in the world. Examples of Museum pieces include fine china, nails, boots, tools, clothing, the snag that sunk the Arabia, and pickles. The preserved hull of the Arabia sits in the center of a circular room. A mule died when the Arabia sank and its bones are on display. They gave the mule a name when encasing the mule; Lawrence. The Arabia Steamboat Museum tells a fascinating story that was enjoyed by everyone.

We arrived at our next Drury Inn and everyone took advantage of the lighter Kickback for dinner since we had a larger lunch at the City Market. We are realizing that we only have only a few days remaining on this magnificent trip. Many are feeling the sadness but still look forward to the attractions that remain.

 

Day 23: Monday, July 22, 2019

Upon waking up this morning, turning on the local news, and drinking my one cup of coffee for the day, I learned that today was the last day the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library was going to be open. And furthermore, there was going to be no charge for admission. Beginning tomorrow, the Library would be closed for at least 14 months for renovations.

I studied our timing for the day, and if we could combine a rest stop with a quick food stop instead of stopping for lunch, we’d be able to spend an hour at the Truman Presidential Library. I posed this idea to Walt and the tour guests at breakfast and everyone overwhelmingly agreed to squeeze in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library into our itinerary.

Arriving at the Bingham Waggoner Estate early, the President of the Bingham Waggoner Society greeted us and opened their gift shop for us to peruse. Soon, the store employee and other guide arrived. So we were now able to pay for our purchases and begin our tour.

Constructed in 1852, the Lewis Family built this estate initially as a six room house. The property actually borders the Santa Fe Trail used in the 19th century and had a lot of wagon traffic at one time. Independence was the starting point for the great Wagon trains to California in the 1840’s. Artist and politician George Caleb Bingham bought the house for $5,000 in 1862 and used it as his art studio. He sold the house six years later, moved to Kansas City, and entered politics. The Waggoners’ arrived in Independence as millers, opened up a flour plant next door, and began producing the best breads in the country. As their profits increased, they bought the original Lewis Estate for $8,000. As a family of five children, they expanded the house to 26 rooms and owned it for 97 years before Harry Waggoner passed away in 1976. The house was sold to the Historical Society in 1978 and preserved for public viewing. It still contains 90% of the original furniture from George Caleb Bingham’s pre Civil War Days. On a side note, Harry Waggoner sold his flour and bread business in 1970 to the Pillsbury Company.

We were led into the dining room featuring a magnificent mahogany table with ten leaves extending the length of the room. The entertainment room had a beautiful Steinway Piano that our guide, the President, played so expertly. He also played the church organ next to the Piano. Also in this really cool room were two Victrola record players, one electric and one you had to crank, that played 78 rpm records.

Upstairs was the bedrooms and sitting room for Mrs. Waggoner. The children also had their bedrooms. The top floor was where the paid servant quarters were located along with the toys that the Waggoner children played with when they were young. A bathroom with running water fed by a water system on the top floor was located on each level of the Estate. The kitchen had an old pot belly stove and a sink. Everyone really enjoyed their tour of the Bingham Waggoner Estate.

We drove one mile to the Harry S. Truman Memorial Library. Truman made Independence his home and was friends with the Waggoner’s. He attended many activities at the Waggoner Estate where rumor has it was the partying place for the wealthy. The tour guests had 75 minutes to go through the Truman Library, which was brilliantly organized in chronological order as to his major accomplishments as President. The Visitor walked through a series of rooms each with facts and photos on a particular event. One room highlighted Truman ordering the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki thus ending WWII. Another room emphasized his mistrust for Russia and steps he needed to take to prevent the spread of communism. Still another tells about our involvement in the Korean War. I didn’t realize how influential Truman’s foreign policy had been in shaping our future with other countries.

Also seen at the Harry Truman Presidential Library was the newspaper Truman held up in 1948 claiming that Dewey had won the presidency (that Truman actually won without getting the popular vote). His 1941 Chrysler Royal Club Coupe was on display in the lower level of the museum. And outside, underneath the American Flagpole were the graves of Bess Truman, Harry Truman, and their daughter. This was a wonderful unanticipated stop that everyone was thrilled to have had the opportunity to experience.

Back on the road, and being that it was already after 12:30 PM, we stopped for a quick bite of lunch at a Pilot Travel Center that housed a Subway, McDonalds, and convenience store. After a second short rest stop about an hour out of St. Louis, we arrived at our Drury Plaza Hotel with plenty of time to freshen up before going out for dinner at Rigazzi’s restaurant.

Rigazzi’s is located in the Italian section of St. Louis known as “the Hill.” It is where baseball greats Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra grew up and played baseball. The area was not very modern. It was an old neighborhood with lots of construction across the street from the restaurant. Upon entering Rigazzi’s, we were seated in the banquet room. It was nice having the room to ourselves and relaxing with great conversation among good friends. After a salad, we tried their toasted raviolis which we learned were Rigazzi’s signature appetizer. Our main course of either fish, chicken, or steak came out next and was served with string beans, pasta, and risotto. The dinner was topped off with Spumoni.

After two wonderful attractions this morning and dinner this evening, we had a terrific day today. We are all looking forward to having lots of fun in St. Louis tomorrow.

 

Day 24: July 23, 2019

Today was another absolutely beautiful day with sunny skies, low humidity, and mild temperatures. I left the Drury Plaza at 7:45 AM to walk to the Gateway Arch which opened at 8:00 AM. I was able to pick up the tickets for the tram ride to the top of the Arch as well as our Riverfront Cruise later in the day. All but two tour guests met at 8:30 AM in front of the Lewis and Clark Exhibit and walked across the street for our tour of the Old Courthouse. The two chose to stay back at their room to rest for the longer walk this afternoon to the Riverfront Cruise.

We took pictures on the steps of the Old Courthouse before walking inside. While I spoke to the Park Ranger about our guided tour, the tour guests looked inside the gift shop. We first viewed the 18 minute film on the Old Courthouse and its role in the infamous Dred Scott Case of 1847. The St. Louis Judge at the Old Courthouse agreed to give Dred Scott his freedom, but his master appealed the verdict. The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was declared in 1857 that Dred Scott was property and did not have the right to sue for his freedom. The decision hastened the start of the Civil War. Dred Scott was then sold for $1.00 to an abolitionist who took Dred Scott to Court and asked the judge to award him his freedom. Dred Scott was now a free man. This ironically took place here in the Old Courthouse. Unfortunately, Dred Scott died a year later in 1858.

Our Tour Guide was wonderful. She expanded on the information from the video. We went up a very steep set of stairs to the replicated courtroom and sat in chairs reserved for public viewing. The Old Courthouse was also involved in the Women’s Right to Vote Movement when in 1872, Virginia Minor sued in the Old Courthouse for her right to vote. She lost. But the trial got the attention of the Suffragettes like Elizabeth Candy Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who were instrumental in securing the 19th Amendment in 1920.

The Old Courthouse was almost torn down in 1930 when it was replaced by a new Court building in St. Louis. Fortunately, the National Park Service eventually took over the Old Courthouse in 1935 along with riverfront property to build a monument to honor St. Louis’ role as the Gateway to the West. A contest was held to submit a design for the monument. However, the winner of the contest was not selected for another 25 years until 1960 due to two wars and a changing America. Everyone was enlightened by this wonderful information on the contributions the Old Courthouse played in the formation of our country.

We walked across the street to Gateway Arch National Park and went through strict security and metal detectors. We had an hour before we were scheduled to take the tram up to the top of the Arch. Many spent their time visiting the magnificent new Museum of the West that began with the settling of St. Louis in 1764. While others shopped in the Arch Gift Shop and some relaxed with a cup of coffee.

The hour flew by as we took our place in line. The tram cars are small with only a four foot height. Five people bent over to fit into each car. The doors closed and up we went. Four minutes later, we ducked out of the tram and walked to the top center of the Arch. Windows on the west side provided magnificent views of St. Louis while windows on the other side showed the Mississippi River and East. You could see for miles in both directions on this clear day. We took many pictures. The tram ride down was only 3 minutes in length and we were soon on the bottom again with over two hours free time ahead of us for lunch, shopping, walking, or relaxing back at our hotel.

We met at 2:15 PM at the Lewis and Clark Exhibit at the Drury Plaza to walk to the Riverfront Cruise on the Mississippi River. It was very difficult for some of our walking challenged tour guests to walk the long walkway around the Gateway Arch and then down a long ramp to the River. The Cruise was very informative and relaxing. The 80° temperature, low humidity, and pleasant breezes off the water provided the perfect conditions for ultimate comfort. We began by cruising north from the Arch (towards the Mississippi River’s source in Minneapolis, some 700 miles away). Then, we turned around and started heading south (towards the mouth of the Mississippi River in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico some 1,200 miles away). Finally, we turned north again to the dock in front of the Gateway Arch. The cruise lasted a wonderful 45 minutes in length and we passed the Gateway Arch three times. We all could have stayed on for much longer.

We slowly walked up the ramp from the Mississippi River level to the Gateway Arch level, assisting those in need. Eventually we all made it back without incident to the Drury Inn and began making dinner plans. Four tour guests chose to take a taxi to the famous Sweetie Pie’s that was featured on television. They had a marvelous dinner experience and a great time. Most grabbed a bite to eat in the free Kickback. Some walked to a local restaurant.

Today was a perfect day in St. Louis.

 

Day 25: Wednesday, July 24, 2019

We left St. Louis at 7:30 AM and continued our trek East on I-70. Our destination today was Indianapolis, Indiana and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I provided some history on the Motor Speedway that first opened in 1911, took six years off during the two World Wars, and ran its 103rd race this year. The Motor Speedway seats 250,000 people around the 2.5 mile track and on race day, and sells another 50,000 tickets for people to stand in the infield. That gives the Indy 500, that falls most years on Memorial Day weekend, the largest attendance of any sporting event in the world.

I played the song that is sung before every Indy 500 race, “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Then, I showed the DVD “Winning” starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Robert Wagner. It’s a 1969 movie based on a true story of an Indy 500 winner. It is filled with great auto racing scenes. The tour guests enjoyed the movie. In fact, a poster advertising the movie is on display in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

We crossed the border from Illinois into Indiana as our electronics jumped ahead one hour. We were back on Eastern Time for the first time since Day 3. We pulled into Downtown Indianapolis at 12:45 PM for lunch.

Downtown Indianapolis is a modern restaurant and mall center with many nice places to eat in a small area. The Circle Center Mall is built above the restaurants on the second level and extends at least two blocks. You walk on enclosed bridges above the city streets within the Mall. Your typical mall stores are located on the second and third levels with a food court on the second level. Restaurants such as Champps, Panera Bread, Steak and Shake, and many others sit on street level. Everyone found a good place to eat lunch and enjoyed walking in this unique shopping mall in Downtown Indianapolis.

The Starr Bus entered the Indianapolis Motor Speedway through Gate 2, the same gate the race cars enter. Walt let us off at the Museum entrance. After purchasing the tickets, we all were ushered into a shuttle bus that would drive us around the beautiful 2.5 mile asphalt track. The guide provided information on the Indy 500 along with taped sounds giving one the impression we were part of a race. We soon stopped at the finish line, made from three feet of original bricks that used to make up the Indy 500 track. It is customary for winners of the Indy 500 to “Kiss the Bricks” following their victory. They must also drink a bottle of milk. We did not get to drink milk, but we did have the opportunity to kiss the bricks. Many interesting pictures were taken when many of us ventured down on our hands and knees to kiss a brick. The funny part was watching everyone get back up. We all thoroughly enjoyed this tour.

Back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, we saw the original winning race car from 1911 along with winning race cars from recent races. This was my first experience seeing these magnificent vehicles up close. They are built to travel at speeds upward of 210 mph. The Museum allows the visitor to actually sit in a race car and have their picture taken. After maneuvering myself into this extremely tight seat and having a few fun pictures taken, I literally couldn’t maneuver myself out. It took me five tries to finally figure out how to get out of the car. Many tour guests took advantage of getting their picture taken while sitting in a race car.

The Museum also featured a nine minute video on the history of the Indy 500 as well as two large gift shops. Both racing fans and non-racing fans thoroughly enjoyed the tour and museum of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As our trip is winding down, the attractions each day continue to be fascinating. We look forward to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame tomorrow.

 

Day 26: Thursday, July 25, 2019

On the bus this morning, I played mostly music videos from artists inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The video is titled “The 25th Anniversary: Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame Concerts” and took place at Madison Square Garden on October 29th and 30th, 2009. Jerry Lee Lewis started it off singing “Great Balls of Fire.” Then we saw performances from Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, and many others. I also took time to interject facts about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and played songs from the newest 2019 inductees, the Zombies.

Since we are not formally stopping at a lunch establishment today, I suggested that tour guests plan their meal at rest stops. Our first rest stop was a Pilot Travel Plaza that featured a Subway. Tour guests could purchase lunch here if they wished. If not, they had two more opportunities to purchase lunch; either at our next Travel Plaza in two hours or upon arrival to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Of course, tonight was our Farewell Dinner so everyone was encouraged to eat lightly throughout the day. Our next Rest Stop was a Loves Travel Center featuring a Taco Johns, Subway, and a Wendy’s next door. We stopped for 45 minutes so everyone could eat a leisurely light lunch. The amount of food was perfect for today’s itinerary. We were back on the bus and arrived in Cleveland and the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame at 1:30 PM.

The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is a visual masterpiece of a structure. It is shaped like a pyramid, silvery in appearance, and is totally encased in glass. The glistening sun on the windows adds a reflective punch of beauty at first glance. We were greeted at the bus by a group sales agent of the Hall of Fame upon arrival and had a wrist band placed around our wrist for entrance. Our lovely greeter encouraged us to begin our self-guided tour in the lower level of the Museum and work our way upwards to the third floor.

There was so much to see on the lower level that it took the majority of our day, but everything we experienced was worth it. TV monitors placed in showcases provided auditory and visual highlights of the featured artists. For example, you were able to see Chuck Berry’s jacket and then watch him perform while wearing that same jacket. It was so well done. There was so much to imagine when you saw John Lennon’s shirt he wore for his last American concert. Elvis’s gold, glittering costume was encased near the giant screen that showed Elvis performing. The Rolling Stones were projected on a giant wall with Mick Jagger dancing all over the stage to “Brown Sugar.” It was like a visual and auditory explosion of the senses at every turn.

Dick Clark’s American Bandstand was featured in a thirty minute looped video that brought you all the way back to yesteryear. The impact Dick Clark has made to the music industry was apparent in this nostalgic film. He gave so many of our greatest musical performers their first exposure to the American public. The video, shown in a theater with soft, comfortable seating, is a marvelous tribute to a great man who pioneered the music scene in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

No one was able to see the whole museum in our 2.5 hour timeframe. However, we were satisfied with what we did see. The artifacts, the visuals, and the music brought us back to our own personal childhoods, jogging both happy and sad memories simultaneously. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame was the most perfect way to end this magnificent Cross Country Trip – this trip of a lifetime.

Walt had dropped off our luggage at the Drury Plaza in Cleveland and picked up our keys while we were in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Upon arrival to the Drury Plaza, eight volunteers from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce greeted us with signs, smiles, and friendly waves. One even boarded our bus and gave a short welcoming speech promoting the greatness of the city she was most proud of. They also handed each of us a plastic bag with momentous of Cleveland. It was a wonderful moment.

The manager of the Drury Plaza also stepped onto our bus and spoke about his most unusual hotel. The Drury Plaza is a converted 1931 historic building once used as the administration and Board of Education facility for the Cleveland Public Schools. It was sold to the Drury Hotel Chain in 2013 and opened as the Drury Plaza Cleveland in 2016. Breakfast is served every day in the Teachers Lounge. The hallways have marble flooring and 15 to 20 foot high arched ceilings. Echoes from footsteps and people talking reverberate everywhere. It definitely gives you that old school feeling. We knew immediately that we all had to behave or else.

The rooms were equally spacious, complete with all the usual Drury amenities. We had an hour and a half to freshen up and prepare ourselves for our Farewell Dinner at the Hofbrauhaus ten minutes away.

The Hofbrauhaus is decorated both outside and inside with German Architecture and furnishings. The wooden tables and chairs are arranged in long rows seating 8 people at each table comfortably. The two piece band, featuring an accordion and saxophone, played tunes with the German polka beat adding musical atmosphere to this fun experience. In my boldness, I asked the manager to provide a ten minute break to the band so I could give out my rewards. He was kind enough to grant my request, despite the three hundred other patrons who were dining in the restaurant and enjoying the music.

Both Walt and I gave a short speech of appreciation to all the tour guests. I handed out an individual Cross Country Award to each tour guest highlighting their beautiful contributions throughout our trip. I handed out my “Cross Country Trip at a Glance,” four typed pages reviewing our trip in many different ways. I was barely able to complete the ceremony with a farewell poem before the band began to play again.

We were served a wonderful salad topped with a soft Bavarian Pretzel, similar to the New York style soft pretzels we’re used to. This was followed by our main course. Each tour guest chose from five unique German style dinners. Each menu item was cooked to perfection and tasted delicious. Whereas in the past Cross Country Trips our Farewell Dinner was a more formal affair, this was very informal, allowing us to get up and intermingle with each other while moving our bodies to the rhythm of the music. One tour guest summed up our Cross Country dinners by saying, “This was the second best dinner on the trip, slightly behind our dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.”

Then dessert arrived. We chose from German Chocolate Cake, Black Forest Cake, Apple Strudel, ice cream, and others. The desserts were enormous and delicious, but we all couldn’t believe we ate the whole thing!!!  Our Farewell Dinner was definitely the icing on the cake, a great conclusion to a magnificent 27 day trip across our beautiful country.

 

Day 27: Friday, July 26, 2019

The final day of any trip is inevitable, but being together for 26 consecutive days and forming great friendships makes separation more difficult. We departed from Cleveland a little before 8:00 AM. Walt and I had sorted the luggage by tour guest drop off points. Breakfast, as usual for a Drury Inn, was nourishing and delicious. As we were pulling away, Simon and Garfunkel began to sing, “Homeward Bound.”

While traveling, we all discussed the Statistics at a Glance handout from last night. We wrote in the newest attraction we managed to squeeze into our itinerary on Day 23; the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Walt predicted the final total miles we traveled from Hamilton, NJ to Hamilton, NJ was 6,921 miles. Everyone wrote that into their Statistics. Many shared their opinions about the attractions we accomplished. We basically reviewed the entire trip through informal conversation.

We stopped at the first rest area on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a short break and before departing, I passed out the tour survey sheets to each traveler. The checklist is four pages long and has space for additional comments. Everyone took their time writing their opinions about different aspects of this wonderful trip.

Rather than stopping at a restaurant for lunch, we voted to stop at the Oakmont Rest Area at Exit 148 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike that includes a Sbarros, Steak & Shake, and Starbucks. Despite the lines being long for each establishment, we were all ready to depart in less than an hour.

We continued rolling down the highway. I then began my review of the trip through music, playing songs that I had played upon entering each state, city, and section of the country. Music is an extremely powerful medium that forces connections in people’s brains. Upon hearing a song, many will immediately think of a time gone by or a specific experience in their lives. I’m hoping the great songs played throughout this trip will conjure up only the finest memories for our Cross Country travelers.

After another brief rest stop, the ride home continued. Pennsylvania can be such a long state. Suddenly we hit traffic at the Northeast Extension and were in bumper to bumper traffic for 30 minutes. However, we eventually arrived in Bensalem and was warmly greeted with a big “Welcome Home” by Sandy Borowsky, the 3rd generation owner of Starr and leader of the Tour Division. Sandy then handed out a warm and tasty Philadelphia pretzel to each of us as a symbol of being home in the Philly area for the first time in 27 days.

The goodbye hugs and kisses began as ten tour guests departed at this hub. Everyone was very careful to take all of their belongings which they purposely placed in overhead compartments and empty seats throughout the bus. Once all the luggage was sorted in correct vehicles and all belongings were off the bus, we all said our final goodbyes and left Bensalem to drop off the remaining tour guests.

There really is no place like home. We all knew that leaving each other was eventually going to happen. But for these glorious 27 days, we became a family of people who had come together for one purpose: to live life to the fullest and enjoy the many treasures our beautiful country has to offer. I can honestly say, “Mission Accomplished!!!”

 

 

 

Other Comments

Walt Deminski is a magnificent Driver. Be it maneuvering down narrow, winding canyons to successfully making difficult turns in crowded parking lots of hotels, Walt does it all with caution and brilliance. He is extremely mindful of all the needs of the tour guests and his demeanor defines the term professional. He has taken care of the bus like it’s his own child. His work ethic is second to none. The bus is kept spotless both inside and out. He places small garbage bags at each seat for tour guests’ convenience. He fills the gas tank whenever he sees a Sam’s Club or Costco to save money. Walt is fabulous to work with and a true asset to the Starr family.

Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2019 – Westbound – Part 1 of 2

Our annual Cross Country trip returned last week! Starr Driver Walt Deminski and Tour Director Gene Gray led 16 travelers across our great country over the course of 27 days. On each of our trips, the Starr Tour Director is responsible for providing a write up of everything that goes wrong, and right, while on the road. Gene goes above and beyond to make sure his passengers are well informed, and entertained, and even manages to keep those of us stuck in the office entertained with his Tour Director report, which does not disappoint. Like last year, Gene’s report is a fun and vivid retelling of their adventures. For your reading pleasure, here are Days 1-14. Stay tuned for the second half of their amazing “Journey of a Lifetime” next Friday!

Overnight Tour Summary Report – Cross Country 2019

Date:  June 30 – July 26, 2019
Tour Director:  Gene Gray
Driver:  Walt Deminski
Coach #: 206

 

WESTBOUND

Day 1: Sunday, June 30, 2019

We had a wonderful send-off. Pete Borowsky, Starr’s President, met us in Bensalem with two boxes of donuts and a huge smile. Every tour guest was picked up without incident. We were able to check everyone in, count the luggage, and leave each pick up location ahead of schedule. A great start to our bus trip! It’s clear that we have a wonderful group of tour guests who are eager and energetic.

After Pete’s words of praise and appreciation, we began heading westbound. After reviewing the Starr Welcome Letter and showing the short video about Bus Safety, I officially got our Cross Country Trip underway in style by playing Ray Charles and Alicia Keys singing “America the Beautiful.” I followed up with the Armed Forces Medley as we especially honored Willie, our sole Army Veteran onboard.

After reviewing the first few pages in the Cross Country Packet that each tour guest received (I slaved over this for months preceding this trip – a labor of love!), we arrived at our first rest stop along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Upon returning to the bus, I asked the tour guests to fill out my “Celebration” sheet by providing a reason to celebrate, the date, and favorite songs they’d like to hear. I was thrilled to receive a vast array of ideas and music requests.

We were soon at Exit 146 along the Pennsylvania Turnpike which is where we stopped for lunch. Most guests ate at Hoss’s while four chose the adjacent Wendy’s. We were back on the road an hour later. We continued riding through Pennsylvania, into West Virginia, and soon after into Ohio. In order to pass the time, I played the movie “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson which was enjoyed by many, even those who had seen it before. The others rested, read or used their personal electronics. This Cross Country trip certainly touches on many “bucket list” items for each guest and, in my opinion, “The Bucket List” was the perfect movie to begin our bus trip.

After a brief rest stop at the West Virginia Welcome Center, we arrived at the Drury Inn in Grove City, Ohio fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Today was actually our longest planned day of riding. Our driver, Walt, did a fabulous job driving all day and getting us into central Ohio just south of Columbus. This is a beautiful Drury Inn (our first of many!) with a spacious lobby and a large eating room. The Kickback was well underway when we arrived. As the tour guests waited on the bus, I picked up the room keys which were ready for us at the front desk. The porter service began piling the luggage on carts while I quickly handed everyone their keys so they could proceed to their rooms. It was now time for everyone to grab a bite to eat and relax. This hotel is an easy walk to numerous eating establishments and a mall. Many tour guests ate at the Drury Inn’s Kickback while some walked to the mall and stopped for ice cream at Dairy Queen. This is a wonderful hotel situated in a very convenient location. We are so far West within the Eastern Time Zone, the sun was just setting at 9:30 PM. Today was a great first day!!!

Note: Drury Hotels offer a 5:30 Kickback® each day where hotel guests can relax and recharge with a variety of snacks — like salads, soups, nachos, wings and more — and cold beverages! Additionally, Free Soda and Popcorn is offered in the lobby every day.

 

Day 2: Monday, July 1, 2019

Breakfast was the typical delicious buffet that the Drury Inns always serve. The weather was sunny and 70° as we left Grove City and drove towards Louisville, Kentucky. I played two morning songs and reviewed today’s itinerary. Since we were heading South along I-71, I thought it would be perfect to show the 2019 Academy Award Winning movie, “Green Book.” And it was. The movie mesmerized the tour guests including me. The time passed quickly. En route, we stopped at a “Love’s Travel Stop” in Kentucky for a short break. We then completed the last hour of travel today as we pulled in front of a giant Louisville Slugger bat.

What a fabulous place! We took a wonderful group photo next to the huge Louisville Slugger Bat outside the entrance to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. After securing our tickets, we were directed upstairs (via elevator) to a room with tables. In the front of the room were large bags filled with our boxed lunches from Subway. Our lunch included a six inch sub, chips, water, and a cookie. It really hit the spot and was enjoyed by all.

Our guided tour began at 1:00 PM so we had ample time after lunch and before the tour to explore parts of the museum or shop in the large gift shop. A few tour guests ordered a personalized Louisville Slugger Bat, which took about an hour to create. (I had to have one personalized as well – of course with the Yankees logo!) The guided tour was very interesting. We saw a video explaining the types of trees that make the best bats. Maple, Ash, Birch, or Bamboo trees are the woods of choice. The company that cuts down the trees and saws the lumber to size is actually located in Pennsylvania, which was surprising. They ship the cut and shaved “billets” to Louisville where they are shaped into bats. We were lucky enough to see skilled employees hard at work in the different steps of bat making. The company makes professional bats for MLB players as well as bats for kids and for souvenirs. Of course, the professional bats are made to strict standards and are endorsed by the pros. Players that have endorsed the Louisville Slugger Bat include Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Derek Jeter.

Everyone enjoyed the tour and afterwards explored more of the Museum. The Museum featured bats from Derek Jeter, David Wright, Babe Ruth, and Jackie Robinson that were hands-on for the visitors to hold.  Bat carving demonstrations were provided by skilled craftsmen. Life-sized replicas of Ruth, Jeter, Robinson, and Ken Griffey Jr. stood so visitors could take photos up close and personal. Some tour guests finished exploring the museum earlier than others and based on when everyone was finished, I recommend departing about 15 minutes earlier in the future. This was a wonderful attraction enjoyed by everyone.

We hopped back on the bus and traveled five minutes to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. We had no expectations entering the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, and left having enjoyed every minute of our visit. We arrived a little early and had time to take a group photo in front of Evan Williams oversized bottle of Bourbon. Our guide was personable, humorous, and filled with knowledge about Bourbon, its history, and distilling process. We learned that Bourbon had to be at least 51% corn and the rest a mixture of rye and barley. We saw a short movie on the life of Evan Williams, saw Bourbon being distilled, and then sat at tables and began our taste test. Bourbon has to be a minimum of 86% proof (meaning 43% alcohol). Our guide taught us how to first smell the aroma of the Bourbon with your mouth open and then taste it slowly by swirling it around our tongue before swallowing. We tasted four distinct Bourbons – one costing as much as $130 a bottle! By the end of the taste testing, which lasted at least 30 minutes, the room was loud and people were laughing. Most agreed that the powerful taste of Bourbon must be acquired over time to enjoy it. Our tour ended through the gift shop where many Bourbons and Evan Williams souvenirs were available for sale. It was a really fun experience for all.

We arrived at our next Drury Inn a little after 5:00 PM. I reviewed our itinerary for tomorrow and handed out the room keys. We were soon relaxing in our rooms. Most chose to eat dinner at the complimentary Kickback while a few went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. It was a fun-filled day enjoyed by everyone.

 

Day 3: Tuesday, July 2, 2019

We awoke to a warm, humid, and sunny morning. Most tour guests ate sparingly during breakfast knowing that we’d be eating together at the Backstretch Breakfast Tour at Churchill Downs. Traveling to Churchill Downs, I told about its history, spoke about some of the greatest horses, and played the Kentucky Derby anthem, “My Old Kentucky Home,” as well as the beautiful song, “Run for the Roses” by Dan Fogelberg.

We were greeted upon arrival by Ronnie, the administrator of the Churchill Downs Museum and Backstretch Tour Guide extraordinaire. He is a young man with an absolute passion about everything related to Churchill Downs. We walked through the area where the trainers and workers reside. Many of their apartments were above the horse stables and had an air-conditioning unit sticking out of the window. There were 140 stables that could house up to 1,400 horses at one time. We saw many workers bathing the horses after the horses had completed their morning run on the track. We saw young two year olds being trained by jockeys galloping as fast as 40 miles per hour around the oval track. Some riders even stopped to chat with us and we were able to admire their magnificent horses up close. It was a fascinating experience that everyone enjoyed. We even took a group photo of all tour guests standing in the starting gate of Churchill Downs. By the way, we did eat a delicious breakfast upon arrival consisting of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, and a beverage.

After, we boarded our bus and rode around to the main entrance to the Churchill Downs Racetrack. We all took pictures of the famous entrance and then entered the Museum to begin our Racetrack Tour. The names of every Kentucky Derby winner since its inception in 1875 are nailed to the outside perimeter of the old wood buildings. We walked into the grandstand and up to the racetrack where the two famous steeples stood tall above the building. We saw where the winner’s circle is located for Kentucky Derby winners. After this, we were led indoors to a 360° movie theater and saw a wonderful movie in the round on the many exciting races that have taken place over the years. The movie even included the 2019 Kentucky Derby finish when Maximum Security was disqualified and Country House was awarded the victory. Country House paid a cool $132.40 to win.

The Museum featured all the greatest horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners in Kentucky Derby history. All 145 races dating back to 1875 were included. Some horses, though, did have their own special recognition cases such as Affirmed, Justify, American Pharaoh, and of course, the greatest horse of all time, Secretariat. Secretariat, in 1973, still holds the record for the fastest time winning the Derby at 1:59.4 Minutes. We were told that when Secretariat passed away at age 19, doctors did an autopsy to try to figure out why this horse was so special. An average heart of a thoroughbred weighs between 7 to 9 pounds. Secretariat’s heart weighed 25 pounds which provided superior respiratory and power!

We thoroughly enjoyed the thoroughbreds and had a fabulous morning. Next, we departed Churchill Downs and began our ride to Nashville. We passed into Central Time and watched our electric devices turn back one hour. We stopped for a small lunch at Bob Evans in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Afterwards, we continued our drive to Nashville, arriving at our third Drury Inn fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. The tour guests had a half hour to freshen up while their luggage was being delivered to their rooms. We soon began the second half of this fabulous day and rode into Nashville to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel for free time and dinner followed by a show at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Gaylord Opryland Hotel is a must see. Twelve restaurants, a plethora of shops, a boat ride in a canal that meanders throughout, and a magnificent conservatory covered with plants, trees, and flowers from around the world make up this massive structure all under one roof. The Gaylord recently opened up the largest indoor water park in Tennessee as well. Walkways take you up to all three levels. Upon entering at the Cascades Hotel Registration (one of three Hotel Registration Desks), we all walked in together. We found a desk that provided us with a detailed map of the pathways and three sections of the property. We got our bearings so we knew where our exit would be to meet the bus. Once everyone felt comfortable, we eagerly walked off to explore this manmade wonder.

Two of our tour guests were able to meet their daughter at the Gaylord. They were thrilled to spend a few quality hours together. Other tour guests also have plans to meet family or friends throughout our journey.

After walking, having dinner, exploring the shops, taking in the atmosphere, and two chose to take the boat ride, we all successfully met the bus and headed over to the Grand Ole Opry, which is actually on the same property as the Gaylord, but takes 10 minutes to drive around to get there. We learned the line up of acts for the evening and were thrilled to learn that headlining tonight’s show was Lee Greenwood, famous for his anthem “God Bless the U.S.A.” Also performing tonight were American Idol star Kellie Pickler, up and coming singer Eric Paslay, and the polished country band, Diamond Rio. Lucky us!

We entered the Grand Ole Opry after going through metal detectors and most tour guests took the advice to do souvenir or snack shopping immediately. We had very good seats on the lower level and a great vantage point to see the show. The seats at the Grand Ole Opry are like rows and rows of church benches with soft padding with every spot numbered. You sit elbow to elbow and make good friends with the people sitting on either side of you. Once the show begins, you forget about the tight seating arrangements and just enjoy the performances. And that we did!!! Each act was extremely entertaining. The Grand Ole Opry shows are all broadcast live on 650 WSM radio. The sound system is magnificent. The venue is historic. This is where so many country music performers got their start. It is like the Mecca for Country Music and is a bucket list experience for all.

The final act of the evening went to Lee Greenwood. He sang two songs from his albums before closing with his Anthem. On this Fourth of July week, he especially wanted to honor our great country and that he did. As soon as he began “God Bless the U.S.A.,” the audience stood and sang, “If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life…” As each verse was sung, the audience sang louder. It was truly amazing. The curtain then fell without fanfare and we slowly made our way back to the bus and to our hotel. I reviewed details for tomorrow and played “Hound Dog” as a sneak preview.

Upon disembarking from the bus, tour guests passed me and thanked me for making this an unforgettable day they will never forget. One said she can now cross off Churchill Downs and The Grand Ole Opry from her bucket list and that she only wished her loved ones would take the opportunity to travel to these places while they were still able. The day was truly remarkable. And to think today is only the end of Day 3……

 

Day 4: Wednesday, July 3, 2019

All the tour guests were ready to leave ten minutes ahead of schedule. The enthusiasm on the bus has transcended itself from last night. We hauled it into Memphis with only a ten minute bathroom break at the Patsy Cline and Chet Atkins Rest Area on I-40 West. We were determined to maximize every minute at Graceland.

My morning songs of the day included “The Wonder of You,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and many more. I then showed the movie “Elvis” that tells about his life from childhood to his 1969 breakout concert in Las Vegas. The tour guests were totally engrossed in the video and the four hour drive from Nashville to Memphis flew by.

Graceland was built in 1939 and given its name by original owners Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Moore. Graceland was named after original landowner Grace Toof – Mrs. Moore’s Aunt. Elvis bought Graceland from the Moore’s for $102,500 in 1957. He put down a $1,000.00 cash deposit. Being a strong family man, Elvis and his parents lived there. Gladys, Elvis’s Mom, passed away in 1958 just after Elvis joined the army. Elvis’s aunt, Minnie Mae, moved in about that time. Elvis and Priscilla were married in 1967. The furniture and rooms in Graceland are decorated to reflect Elvis’s life in 1957.

We pulled into the newly revamped parking lot at Graceland. I walked into the ticket building and was told to go to the Guest Services Window. The friendly employees provided me with a map, ticket, and $15 lunch voucher for each tour guest. Tour guests chose to either eat first or take the Graceland Shuttle across the street to tour Graceland. At this point, everyone went their own way.

Today was a very quiet day at Graceland. We were each provided with an iPad and headset for our walking tour. Despite the lack of crowds, we had to wait on a line for 45 minutes to take the shuttle across the street. I’m not sure what created this back log but I imagine it was because there were only two (of four) shuttles running. The wait usually isn’t as long. Once across the street, we entered Graceland and followed the information and instructions from the iPad. We saw Elvis’s greeting room, his parent’s bedroom, his dining room, kitchen, the famous Jungle Room in which his band and Elvis recorded his final albums, and two man cave rooms downstairs that included 3 television sets, a stereo system, and a pool table. Each room was uniquely decorated to suit its purpose. The Mansion tour finished up outside at the Tranquility Area that consisted of 5 graves including Elvis’s mom, Gladys, his father, Vernon, his twin brother, Jessie, who was still born, his aunt, Minnie Mae, and of course, Elvis himself. Also outside in a separate building is Elvis’s racquetball court. Sofas were conveniently set up so that guests could sit and watch the racquetball matches. Elvis had a piano in the room as well so he could play after his matches. On the day of August 17, 1977, Elvis completed his racquetball match, sat down at his piano and sang “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and went back to his room upstairs in the Mansion. He was found dead in his bathroom hours later, possibly from a heart attack.

We then returned to the Graceland Exhibition Center across the street via shuttle. This newly renovated area opened up in March 2017 and they really did a wonderful job. They moved all of Elvis’s show outfits along with his gold record display from a building across the street at the Mansion to a beautiful brand new spacious Museum on the Exhibition side. This shortened the time one needed to spend at the Graceland Mansion significantly and ended bottlenecks when people would stop to read all showcases in narrow spacing. Two hours visiting the Graceland Mansion and two hours spending on the Exhibition side for lunch, roaming each museum, and shopping is a good recommended itinerary for this day. Graceland was enjoyed by all our tour guests.

We drove away from Graceland and headed west on I-40 toward Little Rock, Arkansas. We arrived at our hotel in a little over two hours. The friendly and efficient manager met me outside and handed me the room keys. A team of luggage porters were already marking each suitcase with room numbers. By the time I explained to the tour guests about the breakfast coupons that needed to be handed in each morning and handed out their keys, the luggage was already delivered to the rooms.

I arranged a time to walk down to the River Market and invited all the tour guests to join me if they so desired. Ten of us met to walk. It was four blocks and zigzagged down to the Arkansas River. We arrived at the River Market and many of us ate together in a delicious southern fried chicken restaurant named Gus’s. We were looking forward to celebrating our nation’s birthday tomorrow in style.

 

Day 5: Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy 243rd Birthday, America! Our day began with a wonderful breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn featuring an omelet station. We were all dressed in our patriotic clothing as we prepared to celebrate our day exploring Little Rock. After arriving at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum, we watched a twelve minute movie on Clinton’s life from birth to President. After, we walked into a replica of the Presidential Cabinet Room where all major discussions took place in the White House. The chairs were all labeled with the many Cabinet positions; Secretary of State, Secretary of Education, President, etc. The Oval Office replica was on the 3rd floor. After a short talk by an official, we had the opportunity to purchase a picture taken from the Presidential Chair in the Oval Office. Some of us took advantage of this unique opportunity. I was one of them. The Clinton Presidential Library had wonderful displays of highlights from each of Clinton’s years as President along with a potpourri of pictures and artifacts telling about his life living in the White House. It was a wonderful experience and all the tour guests enjoyed this attraction.

We boarded our hired bus and traveled to Central High School. Walt Deminski, our Starr Driver, was off today (Starr drivers must have a day off every 7-8 days) and joined us on our half day tour of Little Rock. Little Rock Central High School is still a working school as well as a National Historic Site with a Ranger in charge of the Central High School Museum across the street. The Ranger spoke to us with such passion about the events of September, 1957 that twenty minutes later I had to interrupt him due to our time restraints. He was so vivacious and vivid with details that we were able to picture and experience the pain and agony those nine students had to endure for simply wanting to go to school. We could have listened to him for hours.

Anthony, our bus driver and guide, brought us around to the front of Central High School where we all took many wonderful pictures. I set up a picture of all of us linking arm in arm in front of Central High School in solidarity. I continue to teach the September, 1957 Central High School events to my middle school students. I couldn’t believe I was standing here where the violence once took place. It was quite emotional for me, the same feelings I had standing in Dealy Plaza in Dallas where President Kennedy was shot and in front of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Martin Luther King was assassinated. Being at Central High School in Little Rock was another moving highlight of this great trip for all of us.

We continued our Tour of Little Rock by riding past many old and beautiful homes; one was used for the show, “Designing Women.” We proceeded to the Governor’s Mansion and took pictures through the fence. There was a bust of Bill Clinton adjacent to the sidewalk to honor his three terms as governor of Arkansas. We completed this fabulous tour by stopping at the Old Mill, a very unique and antiquated park with bridges over a lake and stone buildings, one of which is a mill with a circulating water wheel. Although I can’t remember the exact scene, they say that this scenic area was the setting back in 1939 for the epic movie, “Gone With the Wind.”

Nine of our tour guests chose to be dropped off at the River Market for lunch and the rest were dropped off at the hotel. I had arranged to meet at 7:30 PM in the hotel lobby for anyone who wanted to walk to the fireworks and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra event at the River Market. Only one tour guest wanted to go, so Carol and I walked down to the Arkansas River together. Although there were many people, the crowd control was excellent. Not sure where to sit, Carol and I just followed the crowd, passed through a security check point, and found rows and rows of stadium seating in front of the amphitheater. We easily found two seats directly in the center. People were also seated on the lawn behind the seats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were each handed a miniature American Flag as the atmosphere was electric. As the sun was setting, nature entertained with a magnificent sunset of oranges, reds, and blues. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra took the stage and began warming up. Their first number was the Armed Forces Medley, paying tribute to Veterans of each branch of the Armed Forces, as people stood upon hearing their song. After performing two beautiful classical pieces, the Orchestra jumped into Sousa’s “Stars & Stripes Forever.” The skies were now dark as red, white, and blue lighting reflected off the bridge that spanned the Arkansas River to our left. This entire scene was a total multi-sensory experience and the fireworks hadn’t yet begun. The Orchestra then treated the audience to a magnificent medley from “The Sound of Music.” Afterwards, the fireworks began as the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra enthusiastically performed Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” The fireworks, accompanied by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, boomed for thirty minutes. The entire experience was beyond description and exhausted all our senses. It was a spectacle Carol and I have never experienced live and in person. What a perfect ending to an outstanding Fourth of July in Little Rock, Arkansas.

 

Day 6: Friday, July 5, 2019

Over another delicious omelet for breakfast, I learned that every tour guest enjoyed the Fourth of July fireworks last night. Many were on the roof of the hotel at the restaurant while others watched from their room window. We all boarded the bus and were eager to continue with our journey.

I played “Oh! What a Beautiful Morning” and “Oklahoma” to start the day. After about an hour of quiet, I played a potpourri of Country Music from Alabama and Alan Jackson to Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash. We crossed over the border from Arkansas into Oklahoma and I replayed songs from the show “Oklahoma.” We arrived at a Pilot Travel Center and took a short restroom break. Following the break, I showed the movie “Walk the Line” about the life of Johnny Cash. The movie was terrific and well appreciated by the tour guests.

We stopped for lunch at Mazzios, an Italian Restaurant in Shawnee, Oklahoma that featured an unlimited pizza and salad buffet with drinks for $8.00 per person. Tour guests could also order off the menu if they desired. All but one chose the buffet. The food was very good and we were able to eat and be back on the bus in 45 minutes.

We arrived at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum earlier than expected. We waited for Terri Talley, a bombing survivor, to tell us how she survived that horrendous day of April 19, 1995. We were led to a conference room, sat in comfortable swivel chairs, and listened intently as Terri shared her story. She was off from work for two days and returned on Wednesday morning, the morning of the bombing. She began the day by talking to her boss before sitting at her desk to begin work. She had her legs crossed around the bottom of her chair, a pose she often used. The next thing she knew, she was falling three floors to the basement. She never heard a noise. She thought she was having a dream. The first time she awoke, she saw nothing. Her breathing was shallow. This was a dream she told herself. The next time she awoke, she heard the sound of people. She tried to speak but couldn’t. She was covered in rubble, dust, and still seated in her chair with her legs crossed. Holding onto her chair with her legs crossed, Terri contends, might have kept her alive, created a buffer, and prevented her body from being tossed around.

It was still dark. Rescuers passed by her and didn’t see her. Then, one man noticed her elbow and ran to her. He screamed out, “We have a live one.” The men were able to pull Terri out of the rubble despite orders for all people to evacuate due to another bomb threat. The men did not listen. They eventually were able to take Terri out to an ambulance and off to a hospital. Her body was blue from lack of oxygen. She sustained a broken right ankle, major neck and shoulder injuries, and temporary blindness due to the dust in her eyes. She was forced to wear a neck brace for several months.

Terri was down there in the rubble for two hours before being rescued. She was a lucky one. 168 people died that morning including 19 children. Terri’s boss and best friend both perished that day. Terri further shared that in order to go on with her life, she had to undergo intensive therapy and forgive Timothy McVeigh for committing this horrific attack. Many bombing survivors are still living in anger which has destroyed their lives. Terri has come to be at peace with it and speaks not from emotion, but from what occurred. Her story was incredible and we were lucky to have met her.

After hearing Terri Talley’s account, we were all drained emotionally. Then we entered the Museum. The Museum shows scenes from 9:01 (before the bombing on April 19, 1995), 9:02 (you stand in a room and actually hear and sense the actual bomb going off that was actually recorded during a meeting in the building next door), and then move into 9:03 (the aftermath of the bombing and rescue). One feels the experience of being in a bombing attack. Showcases display numerous bent and charred artifacts that were found in the rubble such as computer monitors, telephones, and a file cabinet filled with files. The final section highlights Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, their psyche, capture, and trial.

The site of the ruined building has been replaced with a beautiful Memorial Park consisting of chairs; one chair for each of the deceased. The street (5th Avenue) from where the rental truck exploded is now blocked off and is a reflecting pool. Two monoliths border each end of the Reflecting Pool, one with 9:01 printed on it and the other with 9:03. The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is a brilliant tribute to those who perished and survived this horrific event. The many docents are extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and went out of their way to provide the best possible experience.

It was time to be on our way again. After driving to our next hotel, a Hampton Inn, Walt agreed to drive those who wanted to go to the Penn Square Mall, five minutes away. Ten of us chose to go. The Mall had a wonderful food court and provided us an opportunity to eat dinner, walk and shop.

 

Day 7: Saturday, July 6, 2019

With so many hotels on this trip, it wasn’t a total surprise that one wasn’t up to our standards. The Hampton Inn on NW Expressway in Oklahoma City had problems. Not only did they not realize we needed luggage service, upon arrival, our keys were not ready so there was a delay in getting to our rooms. The morning of our departure, even though I gave them many reminders, no one arrived to collect our luggage. Accordingly, Chick (one of our tour guests), and I grabbed the luggage carts and picked up the luggage while Walt put the bags on the bus. Even with all this drama, we managed to depart Oklahoma City on time.

After playing a few morning songs including “This Land is Your Land” and “Route 66” by Nat King Cole, I spoke a little bit about Amarillo, Route 66, The Big Texan Steak Ranch, and Cadillac Ranch. I then proceeded to show the 50 minute History Channel Documentary “Modern Marvels, Route 66.” The video is fascinating with terrific footage from the 1930’s and beyond explaining the history of the “Mother Road.” Our guests watched with great interest.

We stopped at a Travel Center of America for our rest stop and soon crossed the border into the state of Texas. Once again, as tradition has it, this New York Giants fan (me) led everyone in singing the “Fly Eagles Fly” song in hopes of defeating the Dallas Cowboys this year. I then began my music set with the upbeat tune, “Deep in the Heart of Texas” by Moe Bandy which delighted everyone. My playlist continued with Texas, Western, and train songs as they all related to the changing scenery outside. The skies were filled with beautiful cumulus clouds and blue sky (I played “Home on the Range”). The land was flat with parched traces of grass and weeds growing on it. The color of the land was a mixture of green, yellow, and brown (“Tumbling Tumbleweeds”). One could see for miles and miles in every direction. A diesel engine was pulling over a hundred freight cars towards Amarillo (“Folsom Prison Blues” and “Take the A Train”). One could easily picture cowboys and cowgirls riding and living off of this vast expanse of land 100 years ago (“Back in the Saddle Again”).

We left the Interstate and traveled fifteen miles on the desolate back roads of Texas until we reached the small town of Clarendon, Texas, our lunch stop. Clarendon sits on Texas Highway 287 and extends about two miles of shops, restaurants, and gas stations. They have a population of 2,016 according to the 2010 census. People travel from miles around to fulfill their needs here. This is rural Americana.

Our guests chose to eat at either Subway or The Outpost Deli. Prices were very reasonable. For example, I had two large pieces of fried chicken, a soft fresh roll, and a 20oz. drink for $3.99. The Outpost Deli also included a full pharmacy, religious store, and gift shop under one roof. The staff were extremely friendly and within an hour, we were back on the bus.

Texas Highway 287 is 60 miles south of Amarillo. Once we left the city limits of Clarendon, Highway 287 turns into a four lane highway with a speed limit of 75 mph with absolutely no traffic. We arrived at the Jack Sizemore Traveland RV Museum in Amarillo earlier than expected.

The Jack Sizemore Traveland RV Museum is over six acres of Recreational Vehicles for sale. However, since 1988, Jack and his partner Trent sought antique RV’s and opened this unique museum in 1996. Campers dating back to 1948 were restored inside and out and visitors are able to step inside each vehicle to experience all the amenities. I was surprised to realize that these earlier vehicles had the same conveniences as those of today. Also included were motorcycles, a gas station from 1963 (Jack’s original business), a Coca Cola machine from the Sixties, and a wooden phone booth with a pay phone inside. This museum brought back memories from our childhood and was nostalgia at its best. Everyone really enjoyed this attraction.

Many tour guests requested a need to replenish supplies so we stopped at Walmart, located down the street from the Jack Sizemore Traveland RV Museum. We then rode to our hotel, the Country Inn & Suites. The hotel was ready for us and within ten minutes, everyone’s luggage was in their room. We had more than an hour to freshen up before going to dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.

Upon arriving at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, we took our traditional picture at the large bull outside. Once inside, we were seated immediately despite a huge wait for other patrons. I learned that the Big Texan Steak Ranch has the capacity of seating and serving 800 people at one time. However, to my dismay, we were seated in a side room of the restaurant and not the big room where the Contest takes place. The manager apologized and offered everyone a free drink. As it turned out, this room was roomier and much quieter than the big room and no one attempted the Contest (to eat a 72 ounce steak and all the sides within 60 minutes or else pay $72) anyway while we were there. Everything turned out perfectly.

Service was swift and timely (not rushed) and we were each done eating in an hour. We were served two delicious 8 ounce filet mignons, salad, string beans, and a baked potato already skinned. Cheesecake was on the table for dessert. Two tour guests had a tender 16 ounce breast of chicken. Everyone enjoyed their dinner although most did not finish it.

After dinner, we took fun pictures of each other in a huge chair and behind bars in jail. We had an hour to shop in the gift shop and explore the Big Texan Steak Ranch. We were back at our hotel by 8:00 PM and most retired for a good night’s sleep. Today was a day filled with fun experiences, great food, and a lot of laughs.

 

Day 8: Sunday, July 7, 2019

Breakfast was very good as was the Country Inn & Suites. We departed to the sounds of Bruce Springsteen singing “Cadillac Ranch.” Ten minutes later, along Route 66 west of Amarillo, we were walking a semi muddy path to see Cadillac Ranch, invented and built by a group of art-hippies imported from San Francisco along with Amarillo billionaire, Stanley Marsh 3. Stanley wanted a piece of public art that would baffle the locals, and the hippies came up with a tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin. Ten Caddies were driven into one of Stanley Marsh 3’s fields, then half-buried, nose-down, in the dirt (supposedly at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza). They faced west in a line, from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville, their tail fins held high for all to see on the empty Texas panhandle. We stopped to view these ten Cadillacs – completely stripped and spray painted. After a few pictures, we strolled back to the bus where Walt met us with spray cleaner and paper towels so we could clean the mud from our shoes.

After reviewing details about today, I showed the Academy Award winning movie “Hidden Figures.” It took place at NASA in Houston, Texas and told how instrumental three brilliant women of color were in launching John Glenn into orbit and returning him safely back to earth in 1962. The movie was enjoyed by all.

We crossed into New Mexico and needed to pull into the Port of Entry for our paperwork to be verified by the New Mexico Motor Transportation Police (MTP). Walt was told to park the bus and go inside to present his paperwork for verification and to pay a fee. After we were approved in less than ten minutes, we were back on the road. Soon after, our electronic devices went back one hour designating Mountain Time.

After a brief rest stop, we continued into Albuquerque. The landscape had changed remarkably. The grass was yellow from lack of water. Plants survived only by the ability to store water in their leaves. We were climbing in elevation to 5000 feet. Mesas, (mounds of dirt and rock with flat tops) red in color from iron and feldspar, dotted the horizon. We were now in the desert.

Albuquerque is a sprawling city with a population of over 500,000 and growing rapidly. The summer climate can get into the 100s with 20% humidity. Winter nights can dip well below freezing. New construction of roads is evident from I-40. We arrived at Old Town Albuquerque. Old Town, as it is known, is made up of stores with quaint Spanish architecture from the 1880’s, narrow streets, and a shaded, grassy town square where people could bring lawn chairs and listen to music playing. A beautiful church was in the town center as well. We all enjoyed a two hour block of time strolling along the streets, eating lunch in one of the many restaurants, and shopping for unique gifts.

We left Old Town and rode to the Sandia Peak Tramway, 25 minutes on the other side of Albuquerque. The skies were beginning to cloud over when we arrived. The elevation was now 6,000 feet. We would soon be climbing to over 10,000 feet. A few tour guests chose not to go to the top since they felt discomfort at this level. Fourteen of us, including Walt and me, were soon ascending in the cable car to the top of Sandia Peak.

The higher you go in altitude, the air gets thinner and holds less oxygen. Some find it harder to breathe. Also, the air does not hold the heat as well and temperatures are colder. It was 20° cooler at the top with a wind chill of 15 mph. The temperature at the top felt like the mid 50’s. We walked around the manmade ramps to take pictures of this spectacular view from different angles. One could see 9% of all New Mexico from this vantage point. It was certainly a sight to behold.

After another new and exciting day, we all were glad to take comfort in our Drury Inn hotel for the night. Many tour guests stayed in and took advantage of the Kickback for a light dinner. Others enjoyed one of the many restaurants located in walking distance. Today was another wonderful day.

 

Day 9: Monday, July 8, 2019

We awoke to a beautiful morning and the skies remained a magnificent dark blue the entire day. After a delicious breakfast, I met Brent from The Savoy Cafe who delivered all of sandwiches for our lunch today. Beautifully boxed, each meal consisted of a thick sandwich, cup of fruit, bag of chips, brownie, and bottle of water. I put a boxes on each of our tour guests’ seats prior to them boarding (I suggested that they please look before they sit down to avoid squishing their lunch). Thankfully, we had no mishaps.

Our rest stop today was at Exit 16 in Gallup, New Mexico, the favorite Navajo and Loves Rest Stop on our trip. The Navajo Store has many unique items for sale at good prices. Examples are Navajo turquoise jewelry, Mexican blankets, Route 66 souvenirs, and Navajo books and pottery. We stopped for 40 minutes and everyone enjoyed their shopping experience. Many of us have started to expand upon the luggage that we initially brought. It was inevitable!

Upon entering Arizona, we pulled into the Arizona Port of Entry and we were waved through. Our electronics turned back one hour since Arizona is the only state not to follow daylight saving time due to its extreme heat. We continued on to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park.

The first sight of Canyon Country leaves an indelible impression on all people. The vastness of the desert and the brilliant colors of the formations provide an eye-opening experience. The cloudless deep blue sky and shining sun brought out the brilliance of the landscape even more. Many group and individual pictures were taken and shared.

Our traditional lunch stop was closed and under renovation so we ate our lunch at our previous stop since it also had bathrooms. Everyone enjoyed their boxed lunch from the Savoy Cafe. We continued driving through the Painted Desert and stopped at two additional magnificent overlooks before crossing Route 66 and entering into the Petrified Forest National Park.

The Petrified Forest National Park holds the largest amount of petrified logs in the world. Petrified wood is simply trees that have fallen 225 million years ago and was buried with layers of silica and quartz among other minerals. As time passed, the wood rotted away and the spaces were filled with this mixture of minerals. These petrified logs are strong, glossy, and filled with brilliant color. At one of our stops in the Petrified Forest, many tour guests took a .75 mile circular hike into the badlands. Petrified logs were everywhere and many pictures were taken. The hike was also great exercise. To experience the weight of a small piece of petrified wood, I lifted one small piece that fitted in my hand. It was heavier than a bowling ball. The park is very strict about visitors “stealing” pieces of petrified wood and makes that announcement often.

After stopping at the Visitors Center, we exited the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park completing an eye catching and invigorating day. We then drove the harrowing steep, long, and winding road (Arizona Highway 89) through Oak Creek Canyon and to the Hampton Inn in Sedona. Walt did an amazing job maneuvering the bus through these narrow twists and turns and received rousing applause when the road eventually straightened out on the bottom. We soon arrived at the Hampton Inn, got our keys, and 15 of us crossed the street to the Italian Restaurant, Pizarro’s, for dinner. After dinner, upon walking back to the Hotel, we marveled at the beautiful sunset as the last rays of sunlight shone on the red rock formations that make up this magnificent town of Sedona.

 

Day 10: Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Hampton in in Sedona, Arizona, was a wonderful hotel. Jenna, the friendly and knowledgeable person in charge of the front desk, provided us with the best scenic directions to drive to Chandler. She assisted our tour guests to settle a problem or two that came up. She went above and beyond to make us feel at home, even giving us a list of good restaurants to go to within the area of the hotel. Breakfast was delicious and by 8:20 AM, we were on our way to ride the Pink Jeeps into the Sedona back country.

Every tour guest chose to ride a Pink Jeep and I was thrilled. We had three Jeeps at our disposal and were divided up into two groups of six and one group of five. Before long, we were on our way. The extremely skilled and knowledgeable drivers provided much information on the city of Sedona, taught us about the many varieties of cactus we saw, and carefully drove over huge boulders of rock to keep our rocking back and forth to a tolerable level. One driver commented that last week, he gave a group of teenagers the ride of their lives by going over the rocks so fast, the wheels hardly touched the ground.

We stopped at two vistas that displayed the sheer beauty of the Sedona mesas in their spectacular morning colors. Many of us got out of the Jeeps and took pictures. The drivers volunteered to take our handsome group picture with the Sedona mesas in the background. We were all having so much fun, hanging on with every bump in the road. Upon returning to the starting point 1.5 hours later, everyone crossed the street together and headed directly to the bathrooms. We were all proud to have had such a successful experience on the Pink Jeep Tour and left feeling invigorated. We soon boarded our bus and said goodbye to Sedona as we traveled on Arizona Highway 179 to I-17, the scenic route to Scottsdale, Arizona.

For the first time in years, Starr Cross Country Tour guests were treated to the sight of a Saguaro Cactus. Saguaros are those tall cactuses that grow many arms and grow sharp needles all over to protect themselves. Saguaros grow in elevations under 3,500 feet and need the unique warm and dry climate Southern Arizona has to offer to thrive. We first saw the Saguaros on our decent into the suburbs of Phoenix and Walt remarked “Don’t try to hug ’em.” Both Scottsdale and Chandler are considered suburb cities of Phoenix and sit at elevations of 2,000 feet.

Lunch today was in Old Town Scottsdale (also called downtown Scottsdale). I had researched Old Town Scottsdale several months ago and printed out a map and a list of restaurants for the tour guests to refer to as they walked the few blocks looking for a place to eat. The area had fine stores such as an Apple Store, Sophia, and H&M. The section known as The Quad had tables, chairs, shade, and mists of water falling down from buildings to keep us cool. It was a lovely place to have lunch and everyone enjoyed it. But we were all baffled. We were supposed to eat in a more historic section of Old Town Scottsdale; but this area was extremely modern. Hmmmmm….

Walt picked us up at the Bus Stop that came equipped with a modern shaded structure we all could sit under to wait for the bus. I asked Walt what he accomplished while we were eating and he said, “I was riding around trying to find Old Town Scottsdale and succeeded.” HISTORIC Old Town Scottsdale was 30 minutes away on the opposite end of Scottsdale Road. I couldn’t believe it! How could I have gone wrong? Was my research wrong? Was Google wrong? It was certainly confusing!

Next up was the Western Spirit Museum, also called Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Two docents divided our group in half while I went up to the register to pay. I was totally confused about this “Old Town Scottsdale” thing and politely asked the kind people at the counter to help me understand the difference between the two “Old Towns.” They handed me a helpful map of Old Town Scottsdale along with a great list of restaurants in a short three block radius. I told them about my research a few months ago and they enlightened me by saying, “By Googling ‘Old Town Scottsdale’, you were taken to that more modern section of Scottsdale for some unexplained reason. You needed to go to www.experiencescottsdale.com to find information on Old Time Scottsdale.”  WHO KNEW?  Later on the bus, I explained what I just learned and apologized to the tour guests. They were very kind in responding that they enjoyed that area and had a good lunch anyway. As I thought about it more, it might have been too uncomfortable in this 104° heat to walk around unshaded Old Town. Perhaps this was a case when things just happened for the best.

The Western Spirit Museum was magnificent. This is only its fourth year in operation. The Museum had some extremely valuable and unique artifacts from 1803 to the 1940’s, the time period experts define as “The Wild West.” The “Wild West” began when Thomas Jefferson purchased land that doubled the size of the United States from Napoleon in 1803 known as the Louisiana Purchase. Encased in the Museum is one of two artifacts that still exist from the Lewis and Clark expedition that explored these new lands we purchased from France. It is a tomahawk owned by Meriwether Lewis donated by a recent heir of his.

In addition, the Western Spirit Museum displays valued pottery from Native American Tribes, authentic clothing and accessories worn by cowboys and ranchers, and original artwork and sculptures depicting life, customs, and ruthlessness that existed in the “Wild West.” Our fascinating docents were instrumental in bringing the Museum into reality for us and everyone thoroughly enjoyed this award-winning attraction.

We drove through rush hour traffic south into Chandler and to another Drury Inn & Suites. I handed out the keys and the luggage was brought up to the rooms. Six tour guests chose to travel the one mile distance from the hotel to the Fashion Center Mall, a huge complex with a food court and twelve restaurants for dinner. Others chose the free hotel Kickback. Today was another wonderful day filled with new experiences and unexpected surprises.

 

Day 11: Wednesday, July 10, 2019

“Oh what a beautiful morning” to quote the famous song from “Oklahoma.” We all enjoyed our breakfast and were ready to roll out of Chandler by 7:45 AM. Walt avoided I-10 due to an accident on the highway and instead, made a left out of the hotel to Arizona Route 347 to Route 238 which eventually merged onto I-8 West. He made terrific time. The temperatures were going up to 114° in Phoenix today so I played a few summer morning songs such as “Summer in the City” and “Heat Wave.” I showed the movie, “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc. It tells the story of McDonalds that began with one restaurant in San Bernardino, California and was eventually bought by Ray Kroc who turned this into a multi billion dollar empire worldwide.

After a quick rest stop, we continued onward until we crossed the border into California. A plethora of California songs entertained the tour guests such as “California Here I Come,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” and “California Girls” by The Beach Boys. We soon reached the Golden Corral, our lunch stop. This all-you-can-eat buffet was enjoyed by all and we were back on the road in exactly one hour.

We climbed to over 3,000 feet through the scenic Sierra Mountains and descended back down to sea level as we drove into San Diego. We arrived at the Doubletree Hilton at 3:00 PM. We were all given rooms on either the 17th, 19th, or 22nd floor of the hotel providing magnificent views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. The friendly people at the hotel greeted us with cookies and walking maps of the area as well as a map of Old Town San Diego.

Since breakfast was on our own the next few days, many of us walked two blocks to the 7-11 and bought breakfast foods. At 4:45 PM, all but one of the tour guests chose to travel the two miles to Old Town San Diego to explore, shop, and eat in this festive part of town. Walt nicely agreed to drive us. Old Town San Diego depicts San Diego when it was part of Mexico prior to 1850 as well as the Western influences on the city in the 1890’s. Colorful pottery, clothing, and trinkets with the Mexican flare can be seen in shops and restaurants.  Leather goods and western apparel can be found in other shops. We enjoyed our two and a half hours in Old Town. It was enough time to stroll the entire area, check out the colorful shops, and eat a relaxing dinner.

The weather in this beautiful city was 80° with a light breeze and crystal clear blue skies. We all are looking forward to another adventurous day tomorrow as we further explore San Diego.

 

Day 12: Thursday, July 11, 2019

We were all scattered for breakfast this morning. Some ate in their room, some went out to a convenience store to buy breakfast foods, and others ate in the Doubletree Hotel Restaurant named Arianas. At 8:25 AM, we stepped onto the Sun Diego Bus Company’s shuttle bus driven by a very friendly driver, Robert Clark. We were at the San Diego Zoo at Balboa Park in ten minutes.

We had a group picture taken at the entrance to the San Diego Zoo. We waited for the Zoo to open at 9:00 AM and walked directly to the guided bus tour to help orient ourselves as to where the different animals were located. This 45 minute tour was terrific and I recommend it for all newcomers to the San Diego Zoo. We were able to follow our maps along with the Bus route so when the tour concluded, we knew exactly where we wanted to go.

Despite the walking and moderate hilly terrain, the Zoo was easy to navigate. The giraffes recently had two births in the herd. They were adorable to watch. The baby’s at birth were 6 feet tall and weighed 140 pounds. Adult giraffes can be as tall as 20 feet and weigh 1800 pounds. The koalas we’re slowly moving their heads and seemed to be yawning and napping while cuddled on the branch of their eucalyptus tree. The elephant viewing area was being cleaned by elephant handlers who were feeding the elephants while locked in their huge cages to keep them satisfied. Once completed, the elephants were led out of their caged inside area and were free to roam around. The Zoo has a huge elephant area and I counted at least six elephants. Many tour guests took the Skyride that crossed the Zoo on a diagonal from the remote Polar Bear area back to the front entrance. It was a great morning. The San Diego Zoo is considered the greatest Zoo in the country and we saw why.

We departed the San Diego Zoo at 2:15 PM and went back to our hotel for an hour to freshen up. At 3:30 PM, we all took our jackets and headed towards the San Diego Bay waterfront for an informative two hour cruise of the famous San Diego Harbor aboard the Spirit of San Diego. The first hour of the cruise took us South for glimpses of the United States Navy Seals Training Base off of Coronado Island located across the bay from San Diego. We cruised under the 200 foot high Coronado Bridge that spans 2.1 miles. We then journeyed close to the guarded fleet of United States aircraft carriers that were currently docked in port awaiting further instructions. The Navy Base housed a Navy Medical Ship as well as smaller aircraft carriers where helicopters and planes with the ability to jump off without need of a runway were housed. The larger aircraft carriers, with runways of 998 feet in length, were too large to go under the Coronado Bridge and were docked further north.

After a brief return to the dock of the Spirit of San Diego, we cruised to the North passing a sea lion refuge and experimental area, saw the end of San Diego Bay providing glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, and viewed helicopters landing at the Naval buildings where aircraft go for repairs. We also passed the San Diego Airport. The San Diego Airport has only one runway. Planes land or take off every 90 seconds. Buildings in San Diego are limited to a maximum of 500 feet in height due to airplane safety. It is the busiest one runway airport in the world.

Afterwards, we were driven back to our hotel for dinner and rest. Many of our group were tired and content with all we accomplished today and stayed in. Others walked three short blocks to Little Italy. Six blocks of India Street house fabulous Italian restaurants, burger places, and unique ice cream parlors. It is a nightly festival and very well attended by the locals.

We all had a magnificent experience in fabulous San Diego. It’s now time to head north into Los Angeles.

 

Day 13: Friday, July 12, 2019

We said our “Good-byes” to San Diego and had a very nice ride on I-5 to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano. I played Beach Boys songs and reviewed today’s itinerary. We drove through La Jolla while listening to “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and hearing The Beach Boys sing, “All over La Jolla….”   La Jolla is a northern suburb city of San Diego.

We arrived at the Mission of San Juan Capistrano early and was welcomed by the person checking us in. Our first look into the Mission revealed beautiful flowers, fountains, and much area surrounded by thick walls all around forming a large square. Our Mission Guide was Jerry and he was extremely passionate and knowledgeable about this historic Mission, completed in 1776, and spanning over 200 acres. San Juan Capistrano was the second of nine Missions established by Father Juniper Serra for the purposes of colonizing the West coast for the Spanish and converting the Aejachemen (pronounced “Ah-a-she-men) Native American tribe to Christianity. As we strolled from room to room, Jerry explained the life and customs of the Aejachemen and the philosophy of the missionaries towards the Native Americans. The Mission was once a self-sustaining village raising cattle, pigs, and growing crops and had as many as a thousand inhabitants working together.

The earthquake of 1812 destroyed the Great Stone Church. Its remnants can be seen inside the Mission. Father O’Sullivan arrived to San Juan Capistrano in 1910 and was instrumental in restoring the smaller church inside the Mission. He also played an important role in restoring the rest of San Juan Capistrano to the way it looks today.

Following our 90 minute tour, all the tour guests were on their own to eat lunch, visit the main church of the Mission (which was rebuilt outside the Mission and around the block), walk around Historic San Juan, or return to the Mission to revisit some of the rooms. We had 2 1/2 hours to leisurely enjoy San Juan Capistrano. At 2:00 PM, we were all back on the bus and on our way to Los Angeles.

Traffic was flowing smoothly until we entered the city limits of Los Angeles on The 101. The six lane highway in each direction couldn’t prevent bumper to bumper traffic at 3:30 in the afternoon. It took us 40 minutes to travel seven miles. We arrived at the Sportsmen’s Lodge at 4:15 PM. The luggage handlers were ready for us. The tour guests agreed to meet back on the bus at 5:00 PM to ride to the Universal CityWalk for dinner, shopping, and a fun experience.

The Universal CityWalk is a “happening” place. It is a festive open shopping area filled with restaurants to satisfy every taste. Many tour guests ate at Johnny Rockets. A few ate at the Hardrock Cafe. Some enjoyed dinner at Bubba Gumps. And everyone had a good time perusing the many shops including the Universal Studios Store, the Los Angeles Dodgers Store, and other unique establishments you don’t see anyway else in the United States. Everyone enjoyed the two hours spent here.

Before returning to their rooms, many tour guests walked across the street to Ralph’s Supermarket for breakfast foods. Today was another jam-packed day filled with lots of learning and exciting experiences. We are all looking forward to exploring Los Angeles tomorrow.

 

Day 14: Saturday, July 13, 2019

Today was the day I had been looking forward to ever since I learned I was providing our tour guests with a tour of Los Angeles. I reviewed my notes and was prepared to deliver the interesting information.

We left the hotel at 7:45 AM not knowing what traffic would be like as we headed to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. We actually arrived in fifteen minutes, at 8:00 AM for our 9:00 AM scheduled tour. The good news was that since we were the first bus, Walt got the first parking spot next to the entrance. We waited outside for fifteen minutes, went through security, and waited inside until we were called for our tour.

With an expected crowd of over 3,000 people today, Warner Brothers has mastered crowd control and timing. We were ushered into a small theater of 70 seats. The short film, narrated by Ellen, showed scenes from popular movies and told about the history of Warner Brothers. We met our guide after the film and were whisked away outside to the cart we’d be riding in. Each cart holds 14 tour guests. Five groups of 14 then drove away within minutes of each other to begin the Studio Tour. Great organization by Warner Brothers.

 

We rode passed many facades of houses used in TV and film. We were shown full streets; one representing New York and another Chicago. The Chicago Street even had a replica of the EL that was used in ER starring George Clooney. A very small “Central Park” in New York inclusive of a jogging path and trees and bushes was used in a famous running scene in “Friends.” Every episode of “Friends” was taped here despite its New York setting. A courthouse, fire station, and working gas pumps were also available as props. The Warner Brothers creative team has everything at its disposal to create each magical scene that is needed for a production. Movies and television are created almost magically, fooling the viewer into thinking a much more grander scale exists.

Our guide made three stops along the tour for us to walk into three of 30 sound stages on the premises. J.K. Rawlings, the author of the Harry Potter Series insisted that all the movies for the Harry Potter Series be made in England. The first sound stage we walked into was set up like a museum with costumed mannequins representing many of the characte

 

rs in the Harry Potter movies. These costumes were the extend of anything “Harry Potter” here in Los Angeles. Although really great to see, I thought more extensive sets from “Harry Potter” were located here in Los Angeles. They are all in England. Amazing outfits from “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman” also adorned the museum.

Our second stop was to sit in the sound stage overlooking the set for “Fuller House.” These sets appear so small in real life compared to how one imagines them when watching the program. The final stop was the Batmobile Museum sound stage. This museum of cars housed the real Batmobiles used in the Batman movies. The “cars” are built to only travel 30 miles per hour and appear much faster in the movies due to the magic of special effects.

Our final stop was our indoor walking tour on our own. This part of the tour focused on more of a hands-on experience for the visitor. We were able to take our picture while sitting on the set of “Friends,” make a movie using a green screen background, and hold a real Academy Award (it weighs 8 pounds). There were many costume displays for our viewing pleasure such as from “Casablanca” and “My Fair Lady.” Of course, we exited into a large Warner Brothers gift shop for our shopping pleasure.

Another shuttle took us back to the entrance where we met our bus. It was now 12:00 noon and Saturday traffic was much more congested. It took us about an hour to navigate the streets to the Farmers Market for lunch and shopping. Many tour guests bought their lunch from MaGees, the first business to open in 1934. It features delicious corned beef, turkey, and ham sandwiches. Bakeries, pizza places, and ice cream stands, to name a few, dot this ever popular and historic venue of Los Angeles. Everyone enjoyed this bustling Farmers Market with over 100 vendors to choose from.

It only took us only twenty minutes to drive to the TCL Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, arriving at 2:35 PM. I had learned from speaking to bus drivers at the Farmers Market that there was a huge movie premiere taking place at the Dolby Theater at 5:00 PM today and that the roads were already blocked off in preparation of the event. The premier was the showing of the new movie, “Hobbs and Shaw” from the “Fast and Furious” Series, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Stratham. Miraculously, Walt, our magical bus driver, was able to find a parking space on Hollywood Boulevard, two short blocks from the TCL Chinese Theater. We all disembarked and began our tour of the most famous three blocks in Los Angeles.

The crowds along Hollywood Boulevard reminded me of the crowds at Rockefeller Center in New York at Christmas, but much warmer. We were weaving around people with every step. However, we did manage to find our way to the spot where you can see the “Hollywood” Sign. Although the sign sits on a hill about 5 miles away, the 45 foot letters could be seen by everyone. It actually was the clearest I’ve seen the sign as smog levels were way down on this beautiful day.

I then led the tour guests down the escalator to the front of the Dolby Theater, the home of the Academy Awards and for the Premier of “Hobbs and Shaw” tonight. We noticed a worker bringing in a case of popcorn into the Dolby Theater. And as I turned to walk down the Red Carpet Stairway from the Dolby Theater to Hollywood Boulevard, I noticed a gray Carpet with a red stripe down the middle covering the long walkway at the bottom of the stairs. There were barricades on both sides of the walkway with throngs of movie fans lining the barricades for a glimpse of the stars. We were able to walk down the staircase, take a fast group picture, and battle the crowds to finally arrive back onto Hollywood Boulevard. We made our way back to the TCL Chinese Theater and, despite the crowds, took a few pictures of the hand and foot prints of the stars in cement. The tour guests were then on their own until 4:00 PM to take pictures of the stars on the Walk of Fame and shop in La La Land, the major souvenir shop in the area.

Looking back on the day and given the many obstacles we had to overcome, I think the day was quite successful. We did complete our entire itinerary. The crowds and blocked roadways and walkways at the Dolby Theater were a bit stressful but we made the best of everything. I also give Walt much credit for doing an outstanding job finding parking spaces and maneuvering our big bus through the streets of Los Angeles. One thing I did learn for myself, stay away from the Dolby Theater during Oscar night!!!

Quebec City & Montreal – Two of My Favorite Cities

A short drive across our northern border are two wonderful and undoubtedly French cities. My heart skips a beat just thinking about them. With their history, culture and architecture dating back to the 1600s you will surely feel as if you are in a French European city.

Montreal is a world class city, 2nd most populated in Canada, boasting two million people. Located on an island in the St. Laurence and Ottawa Rivers, it is known for its museum, arts, fine dining, shopping and an underground that started in the ’60s. The quiet, clean and safe metro system is an engineering marvel taking you to over 65 stops throughout the area each one adorned with works of art. The city bustles with activities and festivals but holds on to its charm in the historical and quaint neighborhoods with their winding staircases.

Quebec City, a short distance to the northeast, is located on a bluff on the north coast of the St. Lawrence River. It is a World Heritage Site protected by UNESCO and is the only walled city in North America. Once you enter the old city through the massive stone gates and step onto the meandering cobblestone streets, you’ll fall in love. The beautiful historic city is lined with cafes, boutiques, fine dining, uniquely relaxing squares and gorgeous vistas. A funicular takes you down the eastern wall to the oldest part of the city. This part of the lower city is not to be missed any time of the year. There is plenty of time for you to explore on your own in the French town.

Join Starr on a bus tour to one or both of these charmingly French towns. There are several options for you to choose from:

Montreal International Jazz Festival, the largest of it’s kind, at the end of June each year. There are hundreds of performances in 3 square blocks that are closed to traffic. You’ll have ample time to enjoy the festival and experience Montreal.

 

Quebec City & Montreal – The best of both in July, August, September and October. After visiting, you’ll want to return for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quebec Winter Carnival held every February. This French ‘Mardi Gras’ is winter splendor at its finest with plenty of activities to keep you busy. You’ll tour the Hotel de Glace or Ice Hotel, the only one in North America. Words cannot describe the special beauty this place has, all 40+ rooms and suites.

 

Hope to see you on a bus tour to my favorite cities. You’ll understand why I say,
“Oh la la… C’est Magnifique!”

 

Penny Rudolph
Starr Tour Director

How Not to “Pack It On” When Getting Away For a Week or a Day

You’ve been doing your 10,000 steps each day, eating healthy, and just moved your belt buckle in two notches.  You are feeling good and looking even better!  Then your calendar reminds you that you are booked on one of Starr Tours fabulous day or overnight bus trips.  No need to panic!

 

You can still maintain your weight and exercise regimen with a tiny bit of planning:

  1. Weigh yourself before the tour date. This will be the guide to help you stay on track, especially when you get back home and see that you are the same weight or even less.

 

  1. Carry some snacks with you. Those, of course, that will give you energy and fill you up between meals – protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Dried unsweetened fruits, nuts, packaged cheese/crackers don’t take up a lot of packing space.  Be sure to make smart choices when choosing snacks at rest areas, too. Many rest areas will have packaged fresh fruits and vegetables for those mid-day munchies.

 

  1. Drink plenty of water. While it will definitely hydrate you, it will also put the brakes on hunger.  Remember, you may be moving a lot more while on tour which means your body will need more of boost.

 

  1. Eat foods that you know aren’t too caloric. It’s probably not a good idea to experiment with large volumes of high fat foods. These foods may also slow you down on tour. Eat light and feel better!

 

  1. Pace yourself. Most hotels offer a buffet breakfast.  A trick is to walk around the buffet table first.  See what looks appealing and then go back in line to make your choices.  You are bound to eat less.  If you’ve had a substantial breakfast, you may want to eat a salad and/or soup for lunch.  When dinner is plated with large portions, it is a good idea to divide the food in half and ask for a “to go” box or share with your dining partner. Even though you are on the road, some hotels have microwaves and/or mini fridges that can safely hold your food perhaps for the next day’s lunch.

 

  1. Move it – of course at your own pace!  The team at Starr do an excellent job of planning multi-level attractions.  Some have opportunities for a lot of walking while others have a minimum amount of walking.  When stairs are available and you feel comfortable, take them.  Most hotels have small gyms with treadmills, bicycles, and weights.  Some hotels offer indoor/outdoor pools and hot tubs.  Even if you are not a swimmer just walking in the pool will work wonders for your joints and muscles while burning calories.

 

As the 2019 bus touring season revs up, I’m lining up my healthy snacks. . . see you on the road!

Christine Durling
Starr Tour Director

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