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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

A True Magical Mystery Tour

May 1, 2024

LIVERPOOL— I am midway through a 10-day tour of England and Scotland with a group of 26 Americans. All have travelled with me before. For a few of them it’s their seventh trip as my guests. They are a stellar crew and I have become friends with all of them before this current journey started.

Our bond grew stronger on our visit to Liverpool.

Part One:

I am writing this on the jump seat of a bus somewhere in the pastoral English countryside between The Cotswolds and Liverpool. The 26 Americans sitting behind me have entrusted 10 days of their lives in my hands. This tour started in London several days ago and will end in Edinburgh, Scotland several days from now.

I have hosted approximately 47 of these tours with somewhere over 1,100 guests— most over the past six years— with two years off during Covid. All have been great adventures with wonderful people. None have been like this group and this trip.

My travel company— RSJ Yonderlust Tours— formed organically several years ago and now keeps me busy for six weeks in the fall and six weeks in the spring. Even though we are travelling with a couple of dozen people, these trips have never felt like group travel. I always feel as if I have made friends at the end of every trip. This group and I became friends a long time ago and we have shared some amazing experiences throughout Europe.

The very first tour I co-hosted started in London before heading south under the Channel into Belgium, Normandy, and Paris. This time I’m headed north. More importantly I am headed through a sort of personal mecca for me— Liverpool. There are many items on my bucket list, one that is near the top is to visit Liverpool and trace the steps of the greatest band that ever existed, one that fostered my love of music, and one that has kept me passionate about music for over six decades, The Beatles.

My grandmother traveled the world mostly as a member of groups and clubs to which she belonged. My grandfather wasn’t interested in traveling abroad. He took the train to Chicago once a year to see the White Sox play, but worked seven days a week, otherwise, and was content to send her all over the world. As a kid I remember hearing stories of her European travels at the dinner table. I don’t remember ever dreaming of taking a Grand Tour, but I can remember, as a 10-year-old thinking of how great it would be to visit Liverpool one day.

To be honest, for most of my life I never thought that day would come.

We had an early departure from Lower Slaughters in the Cotswolds and the inn opened the dining room 30 minutes early for our group. My love for these guests grew even deeper when I walked into the dining room and all the ladies— and some of the men—were dressed in 1960s Beatles-era costumes! They know my love of The Beatles. I was moved, deeply.

Though I worried that a one-day stop in Liverpool was a too self-indulgent and selfish as it was a bucket list item for me, and probably not many of my guests. I design these tours to cover what is best for my guests. I had never taken such personal preferences before. To my delight, they were all elated.

Part Two:

I write this on a bus just north of Liverpool as we head to the Scottish Highlands. Yesterday will go down as one of the more memorable days of my life. It was an all-Beatles tour, all day long. We visited all the historic spots known for the band: The Casbah Club where they played their very first gigs as teenagers, Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, their childhood homes, dined in the Cavern Pub and went into the Cavern Club where the honed their skills after a long stretch of marathon nights in Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles played The Cavern 291 times between February 9, 1961 (seven months before I was born) and August 3, 1963. After that, Beatlemania happened and their lives— and the music world— were never the same.

It was an emotional day for me, and my emotions overcame me several times, mainly when I thought of the friends who I wished were with me enjoying all we were experiencing.

My emotions overcame me for the final time at the end of the day, standing in the middle of The Cavern Club listening to a cover band play, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (the first record I owned).

I thought back to my childhood bedroom on 22nd Avenue in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi when I first heard that song on my toy record player. I thought of my grandmother and was grateful she instilled a love of travel in me at an early age. I thought of my friends who also love The Beatles but weren’t there. I felt gratitude for the friends who were with me in that moment, and then the song was over. And the day was over.

The Beatles loaded up on a bus and toured the English countryside for the movie “Magical Mystery Tour.” It struck me that we are doing the same thing. I am honored that people trust me to travel with them. I am appreciative for the leadership team back home who hold down the fort at New South Restaurant Group. I am thankful for the team that works with me to put these trips together. I am especially grateful for my friend Jesse Marinus who helped me organize this trip and made it possible to have one of the most memorable days of my life.

Onward.

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