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Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Trolley Tour driving past the Owens-Thomas House

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

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

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

Spirit of Carolina Dinner Cruise

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

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

Happy travels,
Bette Barr, Starr Tour Director

 

 

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

Wipe Your Feet

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.

 

GRACELAND, Memphis, Tennessee—Available on the Memphis/Nashville Tour.

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.

 

HEARST CASTLE, San Simeon, California—Available on the Cross Country by Bus Tour.

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.

 

Photo by anoldent on Flickr

MAGNOLIA PLANTATION, Charleston, South Carolina—Available on the Savannah/Charleston Tour.

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.”

 

Photo by David B. King on Flickr

LIZZIE BORDEN HOUSE, Falls River, MA—Available on Ghosts of Providence, Rhode Island Tour.

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!

 

Photo by Christopher Hollis

MONTICELLO, Charlottesville, VA—Available on Presidential Homes of Virginia Tour.

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.”

 

STEGMAIER MANSION, Wilkes Barre, PA—Available on Pocono Fall Foliage Tour.

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!

 

Photo by Jay Peterson

BEAUVOIR, Biloxi, MS—Available on Mississippi Gulf Coast Tour.

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!

 

EDSEL AND ELEANOR FORD HOUSE, Grosse Pt. Shores, MI—Available on Agawa Canyon, Ontario Canada Tour.

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