Blog Posts by Melissa Burdick Harmon

  • Charming villages around the world

    They appear, like magic, in every corner of the globe: picture-perfect villages that blend natural beauty with interesting architecture — and that exude a warm welcome to visitors.

    Some of the villages are tiny, just a few blocks long. Others are recognizable because of their presence on the glossy calendars that often show up as Christmas gifts. Use these photos to plan a special vacation in a charming village or just enjoy the chance to daydream.

    Click the image above for a photo gallery of charming small towns.

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  • The small-town fight to save Amtrak's Southwest Chief

    The Southwest Chief going through Missouri. (Photo: Sneebly / Flickr)

    Note: The writer of this story is a lover of train travel who first rode the Southwest Chief in 1974, when it was called the Southwest Limited.

    It is a magical journey. It is a way to experience the panoramic scenery of the Midwest and West without ever turning a key in an ignition. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, whose origins date back to 1937, is cited as one of the loveliest rail trips in the world. And its future is in jeopardy. 

    The Southwest Chief, which runs between Los Angeles and Chicago, glides through some of the world’s most magnificent landscapes on a route that carries some 355,000 passengers every year. There is magic all along the route – the train offers easy access to the Grand Canyon at its Flagstaff, Ariz., stop and to arty Santa Fe, N.M., by disembarking at the village of Lamy. Passengers can tour and pick up a later train to continue their journey if they choose.

    Amtrak says the track must be improved to handle the speed of modern trains, and it is asking for $200

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  • Destinations cater to Thanksgiving travelers with recreation, family fun, gourmet food

    The Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park (Photo: DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite)

    Some of us still go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, but plenty of others choose to grab that precious four-day weekend for a mini-vacation. That often means ordering off a menu instead of sharpening the carving knife to enjoy Tom turkey (or lobster tail or prime rib or whatever suits your fancy).

    The travel industry is aware of this trend, and fabulous Thanksgiving weekend offerings abound. Here are a few suggestions for celebrating the holiday weekend in very special settings. Some are traditional. Others are just about having a great time. But all deliver the goods—including turkey and stuffing—on that special day.

    Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park, California
    For: grand dining, great outdoor activities and a heaping serving of tradition

    You can’t get more all-American than the classic Ahwahnee Hotel, one of the prettiest of the national park lodges, in a setting that combines vast natural wonders—towering sequoias, graceful waterfalls,

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  • Daily Destination: Jerusalem

    (Photo: Israel Ministry of Tourism)A swirling, vibrant chaos, Jerusalem’s Old City is home to major sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A suggested itinerary, based on chronology: First, visit the Western Wall (in Hebrew Ha Kotel), where devout Jews pray and visitors place slips of paper — notes to God — between the stones.

    Second, pay a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to stand on the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial. This handsome domed church is always packed with tourists from widely varying Christian denominations. It is crowded but well worth a visit. Tombs that date from the time of Christ are still intact in the church. A second possible burial site for Jesus is in the pretty Garden Tomb discovered in the late 1800s in East Jerusalem.

    Don’t miss the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, which marks where devout Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven. Jews believe that this is the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac before a divine reprieve.

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  • Daily Destination: Take a hike in King Arthur’s back yard in Wales

    Snowdon Summit (Photo: Visit Wales)

    Ask almost anyone in Wales where to go for a great walk, in a country known for great walks, and odds are good that you will find yourselves in Snowdonia National Park in northwest Wales.

    There, you can explore 823 square miles of nature in the raw—from more than 100 icy cold lakes to seriously snow-capped mountains to sweet little villages that have remained unchanged for more than a century. How far off the beaten path will you be? You will be far enough that you will hear plenty of people speaking the very musical-sounding Welsh language, totally unlike any other language in the world. The park itself is timeless, with a background rich in the myths and legends that are such a part of Welsh culture. Locals claim, with perfectly straight faces, that dragons once roamed Snowdonia, and if that isn’t enough of a wow factor, they will tell you that King Arthur (of Camelot fame) once lived in the area. And who is to say that that isn’t true?

    Walking the many trails in this 823-square-mile

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  • Daily Destination: Grape festival in Montmartre, Paris

    Montmartre. (Photo: Son of Groucho / Flickr)

    Think Paris and it’s likely you will plan to visit the Louvre, zoom up to the top of the Eiffel Tower and head to Galeries Lafayette for some chic shopping. You’ll stroll along the Champs-Elysées and dine in a local bistro. You’ll perhaps glide down the Seine on a Bateau Mouche. But you’d also like to interact with the Parisians a bit. And it goes without saying that you will want to enjoy some exquisite French wine.

    Say no more. Mid-October is a wonderful time to be in the City of Light, not least because you will have a chance to participate in Montmartre’s annual “Fête des Vendages” (“Feast of the Late Harvest”). This year the dates are October 9-13, and the dates for next year will be close to those. You can make the journey up to Paris’ pretty, arty, Montmartre, with its charming village-like feel, and its drop-dead gorgeous views over Paris. And once there, you can take part in the quirky neighborhood’s annual five-day grape harvest festival.

    As the story goes, many years ago there

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  • America’s best fall-foliage trips, in pictures

    There’s something so exhilarating about those glorious first days of autumn, when the air becomes delightfully crisp, the skies are too blue to be true, and the autumn leaves start their quick-change act, shifting from green to scarlet or vivid gold or Halloween orange, in what seems like a matter of minutes.

    It’s a time when folks long to be outside, to enjoy the colors, to do a little raking and call it exercise, or just to get the buzz that comes from the change of season. Here are 10 of the best places in America to get your fix. Click here for the photos.

  • Daily Destination: Atlantic City, N.J.

    (Photo: Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority)Atlantic City, the legendary New Jersey beach resort, still offers teeth-achingly good saltwater taffy, as it has since 1889. Folks still stroll along the now 5.5-mile-long Boardwalk, stopping to buy a sweatshirt here, a candy apple there. Some opt to be pushed along in wicker chairs, enjoying the breeze, as folks have done for almost a century.

    But change has arrived. The classic Steel Pier is embarking on a $102 million renovation project that will feature state-of-the-art rides, a massive Ferris wheel, a museum, night clubs and a 2,000-seat ballroom (the fabled diving horse has thankfully gone on to greener pastures). Perhaps most important, The Miss America Pageant returned to Atlantic City this fall, where Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri (the first of Indian descent) won the coveted rhinestone-studded crown. The event, and the city, were packed over that weekend. Some traditions don’t die.

    While so much is deliciously unchanged in Atlantic City, much is also thrillingly new.

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  • Daily Destination: Belfast, Northern Ireland

    (Photo: Tourism Ireland)Belfast—the new sleek, modern, tourist-pleasing Belfast—has a great deal to be proud of. It survived the Troubles, when the whole world knew that Protestants and Catholics were clearly on less than friendly terms. It made the shift from gritty industrial city to a major tourist destination, boasting some truly world-class visitor sites (think Titanic and more), great hotels and top-notch restaurants.

    And it now displays its powerful commitments to being a united city, to the city’s lively arts scene, and to the good old-fashioned Northern Ireland love of partying. That all comes together in Culture Night Belfast on Friday, September 20, with events throughout the city.

    More than 30,000 party-loving folks gather in Cathedral Square to choose among an amazing 200 free events, ranging from country music to traditional Irish harp to art shows. Some come dressed in serious costumes, others just sport street clothes. Nobody cares. It’s all in fun. Venues extend into Folktown and into West and

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  • Daily Destination: Kyoto, Japan

    (Photo: RachelF2SEA / Flickr)

    Autumn comes early and in a blaze of color in Kyoto, Japan, with the city’s many deciduous trees turning to strikingly vivid shades of gold and deep orange. It is a serene and glorious setting, backed by soft hills. It is also just outside a city packed with temples—some of the most noteworthy in all of Japan. One temple, however, stands out among the many—Kinkaku-ji (or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion), just outside the main city area. It was originally constructed in the 1390s for the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Its gold-leaf façade shimmers in the autumn sunlight (and a softer shade of gold mirrors the temple in the glistening lake that fronts it).

    What visitors see today, however, is a charming, glittering-with-gold-leaf replica of its Medieval predecessor, which was tragically burned to the ground in 1950 by an emotionally disturbed Buddhist monk. The temple was rebuilt in 1955, and its golden façade was reborn, thicker, brighter, and perhaps a bit sturdier than the original.

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