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!”
After more than 25 years as a Starr Tour Director, I have noticed that the most frequently-asked question by passengers is “What is your favorite destination?” With the wide variety of options offered by Starr, it is not an easy question to answer. However, in an effort to share my experiences with you, I have narrowed down the long list of choices to my personal top three picks (not in any specific order):
Niagara Falls – My husband was born and raised in Niagara Falls, New York, and we still have relatives residing in the area. That means I have visited Niagara Falls often and have been able to experience its beauty in all four seasons. While they have “real winter” in that part of the country, the ice forming on the falls is absolutely spectacular and worth donning my long-johns to see! On the Canadian side (which I believe has the best view of the falls), the gardens in springtime are ablaze with color. Parks Canada does a magnificent job in keeping the planting beds filled with a dazzling array of plants and flowers. While summer in Niagara Falls can be hot and humid (honest!), it is also the busiest and most crowded season and a frequent family vacation destination. There are so many attractions, restaurants, and natural wonders to explore! The leaves in autumn start to turn earlier in the Niagara Region than in New Jersey, so even a bus trip in September can reveal fall foliage at its best. In short, I think Niagara Falls is a destination that can be enjoyed year round – based on your personal preferences. No matter how often I visit, the view from Table Rock (very close to the fall’s precipice) still takes my breath away! And for folks who do not have a passport, Starr now offers bus trips that stay on the New York side of the border!
Nova Scotia, Canada – This is quintessential Maritime Canada at its best! Starr offers the option of a motorcoach tour or visiting the area by cruise ship. Peggy’s Cove, a small fishing village located about an hour from the provincial capital of Halifax, provides magnificent views of the rocky coast. It is said that the best scallops in the world come from Digby, Nova Scotia – and if you like seafood, the options are endless! While the adventuresome can try the local favorites (poutine and beaver tails), there are familiar American restaurants as well – something for everyone. The scenery alone would rank a #1 reason for this bus tour, but the people of Nova Scotia are also responsible for my many visits. I have found the folks in this area to be kind, welcoming, and helpful to travelers. Several years ago on one of the bus trips I escorted, we had free time for lunch in one of the local towns and two of my passengers became confused and could not find the bus. A local woman (on her lunch hour from work) saw their distress, offered to help, and took the time to walk them back to the bus parking area. She could have ignored them or just given verbal directions, but she took the time to be of true assistance to these travelers. Last, but not least, is the Titanic connection to Halifax; there is an excellent exhibit on the ship as well as the Halifax Explosion. Don’t let different currency or the metric system scare you! Your Starr Tour Director will have you well-versed in all the details you need to know before your bus arrives in Nova Scotia.
Civil War Trails (or almost any history tour!) – On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (2010), Starr began offering bus tours with an historical theme and we called the series “Civil War Trails.” Over the years, these itineraries have included Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Washington, DC and much more. I have had the pleasure to serve as Tour Director on these bus trips and it has been an exciting, enjoyable and educational experience for my passengers and me. These tours have much more than battlefields and always include a component relative to the people who were not fighting, but trying to survive a tumultuous time in our country’s history. In addition, I highlight something about the women of the period—often overlooked in folks’ zeal to learn about the politicians and Generals. Join me this year as we explore the Civil War History of Fredericksburg, VA!
If the Civil War is not your favorite period in our history, you still have lots of options! Starr regularly offers tours to Salem, Massachusetts, Williamsburg, Virginia and other historical areas. There are even itineraries regarding specific historical figures (Franklin Roosevelt, Harriett Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc.).
Personally, I did not enjoy learning history while in school. However, actually walking in the footsteps of the people who helped to shape our country has always been an exciting and illuminating experience for me – and I try to share that enthusiasm and curiosity with my passengers.
I hope that this information will be helpful as you look through the myriad of choices Starr is offering this year and select the destination of your next journey. My favorite quote from Saint Augustine, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
So… Keep traveling! And I hope to see you on a bus trip soon!
As a Tour Director for Starr, there are many days and nights throughout our busy travel season that I, like my fellow Tour Directors and like our passengers, are away from our own homes. I have to admit, passengers aren’t homesick for too long, especially when the tour includes visiting some pretty unique, historic, and even haunted houses. All guests have to do is “wipe their feet” and they are welcomed into the private homes of rock stars, corporate executives, historical figures and sometimes homes of those who have left this world… or have they? Below is a short list highlighting some of these intriguing homes that open their doors to Starr customers.
Home to Rock n’ Roll Legend, Elvis Presley, this colonial mansion has been frozen in time complete with original furnishings and shag carpeting. You’ll be treated to a glimpse of the famous “jungle room,” and billiards room where a large tear can be seen on the pool table. Culprit unknown. You can pay respects to Elvis and his family members in the Meditation Garden which is adjacent to the house.
Sitting high on California’s Central Coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is William Randolph Hearst’s Casa del Mar. The media genius built his dream house in 1947. It boasts 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens. Actors, politicians, business executives, and newspaper moguls were often guests to his “Enchanted Hill.” It was here that they would meet for cocktails, conversation and just plain fun surrounded by Renaissance and Baroque tapestries as well as masterpieces of paintings and sculptures. The Neptune and Roman Pools are only two reasons to see for yourself what money and power looked like back then.
It’s easy to fall into the Southern expressions of “yes ma’m” and “bless your heart” after visiting these 70 acres dating back to the 1670s. The primary crop was rice which eventually took a backseat to the beautiful gardens which were constantly being expanded deserving the title of “America’s Oldest Romantic Gardens.” The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001. The plantation bore witness to both the American Revolution and Civil Wars. So its no wonder that stepping onto their grand porch gives you the feeling of being greeted like long lost relatives—much like in “Gone With the Wind.”
Now a Bed and Breakfast Inn as well as a museum, this house is especially popular during the Halloween season. Registered with the Fall River Historical Society as a tourist attraction, this three-story Victorian house is where the 1892 infamous axe murder of Abby and Andrew Jackson Borden occurred. Their daughter, Lizzie Borden, was tried and acquitted. Visitors can see most rooms in the house and then make their way over to the gift shop for some unique purchases. In case you have a family gathering, wedding or need to schedule a seance, the entire house or individual floors are available to rent!
Visiting the home of our third US President, Thomas Jefferson, gives you the opportunity to share in the interests of this Renaissance man. The estate shows off his 43-room house that he designed in 1769 and finished in 1809. His plantation was a source of food as well as a laboratory for plants from all over the world. Jefferson’s parlor is one of the rooms where he would entertain his political peers. On your visit, be sure to check out one of three house privies or as Jefferson called them his “air closets.”
If you are fond of the Victorian Era, then you will absolutely love the home of Frederick and Mary Steigmaier, founder of the Stegmaier Beer Company. Said to be the aristocrats of Wilkes Barre, the Stegmaiers weren’t only highly regarded because of their world-renown “Gold Medal” beer, but for their philanthropy as well. Restored by its present owner as a Bed & Breakfast and venue for special events, you are in for a real treat as each room is over the top Victorian—wallpaper, furniture, household furnishings. Doesn’t matter if you have lunch in the Ladies or Gentlemen’s Parlors, you are transported back in Victorian time!
Confederate President Jefferson Davis had a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico from his large estate. Willed to him by, Sarah Ellis Dorsey, Davis lived out his final years at Beauvoir. With his passing, his second wife, Varina Howell Davis sold it to the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the stipulation that it be used as a Confederate veterans home. It is on the National Historic Landmark Registry. Besides touring Davis’ home, visitors are treated to museum and library Civil War artifacts. Be sure to ask about the Camel Corp—it is fascinating!
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t seen it all! Although Edsel, the son of Henry Ford, had multiple houses, this one on Lake St. Clair was where he and his wife Eleanor raised their four children. Built on 87 acres and designed by the premier landscape designer, Jens Jensen, this house tour is as much about the outside as the inside. Jens managed to combine woodlands, meadows and wetlands in such a natural way that guests are mesmerized. Each building on the estate is fashioned after English cottages including their daughter’s playhouse complete with plumbing and electricity! The wood paneling, doors, fireplaces, and chimney piece come from various areas of England. The kitchen counters made of sterling silver and a secret photography darkroom are more reasons not to miss this tour.
So, when you feel like “running away” from your own home for a at least a little while, consider taking a Starr bus tour and visiting one of these wonderful homes! You won’t be disappointed!
Happy travels, Christine Durling, Starr Tour Director
This week, we offer you a chance to experience an idyllic island like no other. Step out of the hustle and bustle of your life and into the spellbinding tranquility that is Nova Scotia. “Nova Scotia is a place where you can feel your pace fall in sync with the rhythm of the sea, as the clean salt air breathes life into an afternoon. Immerse yourself in culture that ranges from traditional to avant-garde, from bagpipes to world-class golf.”¹ On this tour you will enjoy a vacation filled with rich heritage, scenic wonders, and historic landmarks set in a landscape of breathtaking beauty.
Your journey through the Appalachian region of Canada begins in St. John, New Brunswick. “Step into a vibrant past with an intriguing modern edge. Here, hundreds of years of history are alive. Feel it in the architecture, parks, and galleries that have survived to delight today’s visitor. As the oldest incorporated city in Canada, no other place in the country offers the experiences of Saint John,”² like Reversing Falls rapids where the extreme tides of this region create a unique tidal phenomenon.
Enjoy the wind in your face as you look for whales and other sea life aboard the ferry from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia (indoor seating also available) followed by time exploring and experiencing a few of the best areas of Nova Scotia. Take part in a ceremony that began in 1605 and be officially inducted into “The Order of Good Cheer,” visit Grand Pré – a powerful monument that unites the Acadian people – located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, step back in time in the quaint village of Peggy’s Cove, and witness the marvel of the the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy.
Experience a true taste of Nova Scotia at the world’s largest annual indoor show, The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo Festival, featuring the unique and varied talent of hundreds of Canadian and international military and civilian performers. You will see bagpipes, highland dancers, military traditions, innovative acrobatic acts, comedy, modern music, contemporary dancing, trampoline routines, cutting-edge videos, and more! The Festival takes place in Halifax, the capital city of Nova Scotia and an urban city center bordered by seacoast and brimming with history.
Travel home through Prince Edward Island where “the beauty of the land, the living Celtic, Acadian and Mi’kmaq heritage, and the smiling faces and warm hospitality of Islanders create a special and unforgettable place to visit.”³
Nova Scotia is a land of lush beauty and simple life. Her people are warm and friendly, her land is like that of Ireland in its richness, and her atmosphere is that of a simpler time. Gorgeous natural landscapes are dotted with picturesque sleepy villages. You can lose yourself here in a peaceful paradise away from big box chains and rural life, without giving up great amenities. Experience it for yourself this summer!