7 Incredible Christmas Window Displays To Visit Around The World


When department stores unveil their holiday windows, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. In the last 2 years, these windows have become signs of hope, goodwill, and optimism — more than ever before. 

Christmas wasn’t canceled last year, but in Melbourne, where I live, Myer, our 1911 department store, canceled its 65-year-old tradition of Christmas windows due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Melburnians were horrified as these windows equate to nostalgia and childhood memories. Each year over one million people normally file past the Bourke Street store. many with their pajama-clad children hoisted on their shoulders — their eyes agog at the window tableaus depicting treasured childhood classics such as The Nutcracker, Aladdin, and The 12 Days Of Christmas.

It felt like COVID had stolen Christmas — never mind the Grinch. 

Myer relented and created in 6 weeks windows that would normally have taken its design team six months to finalize. It based Its 2020 windows on an original story it commissioned by writer Corinne Fenton called Christmas is Uncancelled

Fenton says: “I felt strongly that the words for these windows had to be sincere, as right now the people of Melbourne need honesty. The words, ‘It’s Christmas After All’ came through loud and strong to me. After all, it infers that after all we’ve been through, in spite of the hard times, the struggles, the sickness, and the suffering, Christmas is still being celebrated by our city, by the Melbourne people, and by Myer.” 

In one tableau, Santa’s workshop was in lockdown; elves wore masks and complained how stuck and bored they felt. But how they will find a way to save Christmas. And they did.

Attendance was sparser than usual, but the show went on.

Myer rising to the occasion made me think about what Christmas means. And how it’s more than spending money on gifts and a chance for department stores to showcase their wares. So many of our famous department stores see themselves as integral to the Christmas tradition using their windows to mirror the way the world is or could be. 

So here’s what to expect from some of our best-loved department stores in our much brighter Christmas of 2021. A Christmas when people are out and about and even traveling overseas — placing them in the vicinity of some of the world’s great department stores. 

Macy's in New York City
Photo Credit: Macy’s

1. Macy’s, New York City

Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street has decorated its windows every Christmas since 1874. The store’s first Christmas window was scenes from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, using porcelain dolls. In 1883, the store introduced a panoply window (a circular track) showing Santa pulled by a reindeer. Word spread of Macy’s “miracle.” 

Holiday window displays have since become a fixture in New York City, such as those at  Lord & Taylor, Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks Fifth Avenue. But when it comes to Christmas, people still think of Macy’s. Perhaps because scenes from the movie Miracle on 34th Street were shot in Macy’s. And many of Macy’s windows have been based on this famous film. 

Last year was different. Macy’s dedicated its 2020 holiday windows to essential workers as “a form of a thank you letter to first responders, essential workers, marchers for equality, and New Yorkers who showed their grit, good humor, and hopeful spirit” during a particularly trying year. 

This season, you can expect to meet Tiptoe, a gorgeous little blue reindeer who is too scared to fly until her friends help her out with a balloon flying machine. The balloons burst and Tiptoe discovers she can fly on her own even though she takes Santa on a bumpy ride. To fly, she only needed to believe. 

In the accompanying commercial bound to reach you in the lead-up to Christmas, Tiptoe’s story ends with a little girl at the airport reluctant to fly to grandma’s and her father alleviating her fears by telling her Tiptoe’s story. She starts to feel confident, believing that she can board that plane — a timely message as we head out into the holiday season and the world. 

Window display at Selfridges, London
Photo Credit: Selfridges

2. Selfridges, London

Many of us know of Selfridges from the British television series about the founder Harry Gordon Selfridge. In 1909, Selfridge brought his department store concept from Chicago to London, including the American way of celebrating Christmas. He had every inch of his store decorated for the festive season. But the windows were, and remain, the real crowd pleaser. Selfridges window displays are sometimes controversial but always artistic and often feature the work of hip new artists.

This year’s theme is Christmas of Dreams. The windows draw inspiration from Busby Berkeley’s 1930s Hollywood visions and technicolor film musicals from the 1950s. There’s a focus on British actress and singer Jane Horrocks and drag artist and sculptor Juno Birch. It’s like Christmas on steroids. 

In describing the dream theme, Andrew Keith, Selfridges Managing Director, said, “We know our customers have been dreaming of being together… And after a year of so many families being separated, this Christmas is for many a dream come true.” 

Photo Credit: Daniel Thierry / Paris Tourist Office

3. Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, Paris

Galeries Lafayette on Haussmann Boulevard is one of the world’s most beautiful department stores. Opened in 912, the architecture was inspired by Opéra (the Parisian opera house), and the interior features striking Art Nouveau balconies and jaw-dropping stained-glass dome. Each year, the store hangs a gigantic Christmas tree from the dazzling dome trimmed in accordance with the theme set by the window display. For example, in 2015, the window’s theme was A Christmas From Another Planet with robots, Jedi, R2D2, and Stormtroopers, so the store decorated the Christmas tree with stars and meteorites.

Last year, the windows displayed 11 scenes showing Céleste, a little girl who traveled the world to meet fantastic characters (inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince). Ironically people couldn’t travel then, but the gaily colored display lifted people’s spirits — as Christmas should. Galeries Lafayette reveals this year’s theme on November 17, 2021

Pro Tip: Galeries Lafayette is one of many incredible Christmas window displays in Paris. For a walk past the best displays, see The Best Things to Do In Paris During Christmas

"Those Who Shine" display at Brown Thomas in Dublin
Roman_Overko / Shutterstock.com

4. Brown Thomas, Dublin

The unveiling of the Brown Thomas Christmas window in Grafton Street marks the start of the festive season in Dublin. This year, Christmas came 127 days early. To make up for the Christmas that wasn’t, Brown Thomas launched the windows digitally last year. The 2021 Christmas windows are luminescent, shimmering theater sets, each representing a moment of festive celebration with a hint of glittering disco. The theme — Those Who Shine — showcases scenes around the Christmas table of people coming together with loved ones for gift giving and getting all glammed up for sparkling celebrations. A very different Christmas than last year. 

Window display at Smith & Caughey's in Auckland
Photo Credit: Smith & Caughey’s

5. Smith & Caughey’s, Auckland

All major cities seem to have a department store that has stood the test of time. In Auckland, Smith & Caughey’s has been in its present Queen Street location since 1884. The store is just reopening as Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, has been closed for almost 3 months during a lockdown. The much-loved tradition of Smith & Caughey’s Christmas window depicts the children’s book The Fairies’ Night Before Christmas by New Zealand writer Sarina Dickson, illustrated by Sarah Greig. The story is a Kiwi take on The Night Before Christmas. The windows depict a forest fairy community working together under the shade of Pōhutukawa trees, a tree known as  New Zealand’s Christmas tree because of the blazing red flowers around Christmastime. The scenes show the fairies pulling together in a crisis and how resourceful, clever and adventurous they are. Onlookers will identify with the rousing scenes after what has been a challenging year. No doubt these windows will long be remembered. You can see the windows here

Window display at the McCord Museum in Montreal
Photo Credit: Musée McCord

6. Ogilvy At The McCord Museum, Montréal

Many Montrealers will recall the Christmas tradition of visiting Ogilvy’s windows. The custom-made scenes by the German toy manufacturer Steiff featured mechanical toy animals, such as dancing ducks, cheeky monkeys, adorable hedge-hogs, and jumping frogs. These window displays were among the last of their kind in North America, and visiting them had been an annual tradition since 1947. 

Part of that tradition was standing in the snow and warming one hand curled around a cup of hot chocolate.

Ogilvy donated the beloved installations to the McCord Museum in 2018. The Mill in The Forest scene is outdoors, so the snow boot viewing tradition continues. The second display, The Enchanted Forest, is inside. The outside attraction is free.  The McCord Museum is also offering free entry to its interior from October 13, 2021, to January 19, 2022.

Last year, Melbourne Museum held a similar display called Make Believe the Story of the Myer Christmas Windows, showcasing 65 years of Myer’s Melbourne windows. Museums recognize how these windows are an important part of our social history — of how they offer a window into a community’s soul.

Window display at Myer in Melbourne, Australia
Photo Credit: Myer

7. Myer, Melbourne 

Myer Melbourne was started by Sidney Baevski Myer, a penniless Russian who spoke little English who emigrated to Australia in 1899 and sold goods door-to-door. His store became the biggest department store in the southern hemisphere. While no longer the largest, the store is ingrained in our culture. My parents took me to see the Myer Christmas windows when I was a child, and  I, in turn, took my children.

Myer Melbourne will launch its windows on November 14, 2021. Like many department stores, the theme is under wraps to increase the mounting excitement. But no doubt, it will be a tearjerker. I’m almost sorry I won’t be in the country to see the unveiling. But Australians can travel again, so I will visit my family in the U.S. I imagine the tears will definitely flow as Melburnians file past those famous windows, and I file past customs into the arms of family.  

In Melbourne, we spent more time under stay-at-home orders (we call them lockdowns) than any other city in the world — 262 days or nearly 9 months, since March 2020. Like many Melburnians, I stopped counting days. The Christmas windows signal our freedom. And whether it’s Fortnum & Mason, London; Bergdorf Goodman, New York City; Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh; or KaDeWe, Berlin, each city has its famous Christmas windows. What will your city’s holiday windows mean to you this year?

Here are some other Christmas events to consider:



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Holiday Travel Returns as New COVID-19 Variant Emerges – NBC 7 San Diego


According to TSA 2 million people passed through U.S. airport security in the seven days leading up to Thanksgiving, taking a dip on Thanksgiving and the day after, before seeing an uptick again in travelers on Saturday.

Many people said they are happy to once again be visiting friends and family and that they feel safe doing so during an ongoing pandemic.

“Everyone’s masked up, so it feels safe,” Traveler Anjali Naik said.

The holiday travel season comes as a new COVID-19 variant named omicron emerged.

The new variant was first detected in South Africa and has now spread to many European nations and Canada.

Some people interviewed at San Diego International Airport felt that it was too soon to decide if this will change their travel plans in the future.

“I think there is lack of information right now for me to really feel one way or the other,” Naik said.

Some travelers would like to carry on traveling despite the news of a new variant emerging.

“As long as it doesn’t interfere with our travel, I don’t think it matters will let it play out,” Traveler Marty Douglas said.

The World Health Organization and the Biden Administration consider the omicron variant a “variant of concern.”

The U.S. will suspend travel to many Southern African countries beginning on Nov. 29.

“People will have to do research on how infectious it is and how well it can evade immune responses but what we can see is that the virus has mutated a whole bunch. I think there’s 30 some odd mutations and what we know is that some of those mutations cause the virus to become more infectious,” Chief of Infectious Diseases at UC San Diego Dr. Davey Smith said.



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7 Small French Towns That Could Star In A Hallmark Movie


In North America, Hallmark movies have become part of the Christmas tradition, a celebratory viewing of feel-good movies together with the whole family while snuggled on the couch, with Christmas decorations surrounding you. But what about those of us who want to travel over the holiday season, but would still like that warm feel-good feeling that small, Christmassy towns give you in the films?

If you find yourself in France, fret not, there are plenty of small, friendly towns and villages that give you that Christmas cheer and charm. I have selected some of my favorite places that give you a warm fuzzy feeling, with a quaintness that makes your heart soar, and doubly so around Christmas time.

Here are some not to be missed.

Amazing house near the small picturesque waterfall in Moret-sur-Loing.
Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com

1. Moret-sur-Loing

Picture yourself walking through medieval city gates, across an ancient bridge, looking down to an old watermill sitting in the middle of the river. Nearby are restaurants looking out over the river, and a main street decorated with pretty lights. Moret-sur-Loing lies on the perimeter of the Fontainebleau Forest and is picture perfect. If you ever wanted to send a Hallmark postcard from France, the view from the bridge at Moret-sur-Loing would certainly be on the front. Not surprising that the painter Sisley was inspired by the town, and you can follow in his footsteps on a private walking tour hitting all the scenic spots. 

Pro Tip: While walking along the Loing River will occupy you for a while, this is a small, if hugely quaint town, so why not combine it with nearby, and also rather pretty, but a bit more lively Fontainebleau?

Exterior of La Petite France, Strasbourg.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

2. La Petite France, Strasbourg

Strasbourg is well known for its Christmas cheer, but when it comes to Hallmark movie-perfect settings, head straight to the old quarter by the river. La Petite France was, in the Middle Ages, the home of the tanners, because of its proximity to the river Ill. In those days, I am sure it was not a desirable place to be, with the tightly huddled houses, narrow lanes, tiny squares, and those smells. Today, Petite France is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but at Christmastime, it is still the same as centuries ago, but much improved. Tightly packed half-timbered buildings, all a little crooked, tiny squares filled with huts and stalls and twinkling trees, and the smells lingering in the air are that of mulled wine, hot chocolate, sausages with sauerkraut, and plenty of sweet things. The river is now clean and gurgling through locks and a double-decker 17th-century dam. Add covered bridges, and the cutest houses on little peninsulas right in the river, and you have probably found the most Hallmark movie spot in France. I would never suggest that you don’t look at the whole of Strasbourg, it is so lovely, but La Petite France is where you could easily imagine a film crew capturing the utter prettiness and charm of this quarter. And, you have a good chance of it snowing at Christmas.

Pro Tip: To really soak up the romance of Petite France, stay at the Hotel & Spa Regent Petite France located in a 17th-century former watermill, and you will be right in the movie.

Produce and fruit stand in St-Germain-en-Laye.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

3. Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a community just across the Seine from Paris. Perched high on a hill, with Paris stretching out below, not only are the views movie-appropriate but so is the small town. The marketplace of St-Germain-en-Laye is filled with a gorgeous selection of fresh food and produce stalls every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, and together with the narrow, cobbled streets that lead out to a grand castle and those views across Paris, are reason enough to love this community. But add the Christmas sparkle and the Christmas Village which has the backdrop of the chateau, and it gets very picturesque indeed. This is the place many choose to live in preference to central Paris, mostly because of the community, charm, and quaintness, all within a 20-minute RER A train ride of Paris.

Pro Tip: Sit with coffee and a croissant on the terrace of Café de l’Industrie, at the back of the market square, and watch the hustle and bustle, and you will see why this community is included. Everybody knows everybody else, stopping to chat, and then go about their daily business, and you can just imagine a Hallmark plot taking place here.

4. The Saint-Louis Quarter, Versailles

Versailles is beautiful at Christmas, but for that extra touch of charm, away from the rather grandiose palace, head to the Saint-Louis Quarter. Here you find no imposing grandeur, nor rugged medieval history, but the superbly quaint and charming “Carrés Saint-Louis.” A village within the small town of Versailles, so very different from the rest of the town. There are squares hemmed by tiny buildings, the ground floor usually housing an individual boutique, an art gallery, an artisan workshop, or a small café, and on the floor above, former living accommodations. All painted in beautiful colors, and too cute for words, these little buildings cover a few blocks. They surround picturesque squares where children play and old people sit and chat and were constructed under Louis XV as accommodation for a new market, still perfectly retaining their unique charm that would be a perfect setting for a Hallmark movie.

Pro Tip: Stay within Saint-Louis so as to not lose that Christmassy feeling and sleep in the small and utterly romantic Hotel Berry.

exterior of Dijon.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

5. Dijon

Dijon has so many cutesy corners, crooked half-timbered houses, and small historic spots, that it is always a delight. But at Christmastime, all these special little corners are lit up, filled with market stalls, and turn into a Christmas wonderland. Especially the corner of Place Francois Rude, nearly too charming for words.

Place Darcy and Rue de la Liberté contain around 60 chalets selling beautiful arts and crafts and offering the best of Dijon’s famous cuisine, which is even better when sampled in winter. Who can beat a warming beef bourguignon? For that little bit of an extra special treat at Christmas, head to the truffle market held in the market hall.

The pretty market hall, designed by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel of tower fame, is one of the most iconic would-be Hallmark movie locations, with families doing their seasonal shopping, people meeting friends at the various stands over a glass of wine, and everything twinkling with pretty lights.

Pro Tip: For that old-world charm, stay at the Maison Philippe le Bon, which is a lovely hotel in the center, which has kept the old features of the house and enhanced them with modern touches. The restaurant is superb, too.

Reims Christmas decorations.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

6. Reims

The capital of France’s Champagne region comes into its best at Christmas, with a Christmas market huddled around the ancient cathedral where France’s kings were crowned. Ignoring the rest of the city, however lovely and historic, and just strolling through the market, with its miniature train, Christmas trees everywhere, chalets full of mulled wine and warming food, and stalls of pretty Christmas decorations hand-crafted in the region, gets that warm fuzzy feeling going pretty quickly. Families are walking hand-in-hand, enjoying the miniature fairground and the large snow globe where Santa resides, and Christmas cheer is everywhere. What makes Reims stand out when it comes to potentially starring in a Hallmark movie, are the small champagne outlets that pop up throughout the market. Cozy little corners where you are provided with a warm blanket and a flute of champagne, and you can just visualize someone meeting up with the (future) love of their life.

Pro Tip: For a lovely, cozy meal after walking around the city, pop into the romantic L’Alambic for dinner.

The Place du Tertre with tables of cafe and the Sacre-Coeur in the morning, quarter Montmartre in Paris.
France kavalenkava / Shutterstock.com

7. Montmartre, Paris

Ask anybody, and most people will say that Montmartre is their favorite neighborhood in Paris. And the reason? Because it is a perfectly preserved village within a large city. Perched on the hill Butte Montmartre, it not only offers great views but is distinctly different and separate from the rest of Paris. At Christmas time, this village is prettier than ever. Even the carousel, which always stands at the bottom of the steep steps up to Sacre Coeur, looks prettier at Christmas if that is possible. But twinkling lights, stalls, and decorations enhance every feature of this neighborhood and if you cannot imagine a romantic girl-find-boy movie set right on Place du Tertre, the one with all the artists exhibiting their wares, then you don’t have a romantic bone in your body. On Place des Abbesses, the one with the gorgeous metro stop, a Christmas market takes over the square, and you can wander from there past the small shops and cafes and find yourself in movieland — quite literally, because this is where Amelie was filmed.Pro Tip: To soak up the atmosphere and run your own film edits in your head while watching life go on at Place du Tertre, sit in La Mer Catherine, one of the oldest restaurants in Montmartre, dating to 1793.

Visiting France at Christmas offers opportunities for other activities:



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Holiday travel at Dayton International Airport shining light on airport’s pandemic rebound – WHIO TV 7 and WHIO Radio


DAYTON — One of the busiest travel days of the year is putting a spotlight on air travel and its impact on the economy.

While the Dayton International Airport is seeing an uptick in travel the day before Thanksgiving, city leaders said the airport has been seeing a nice recovery from the worst part of the pandemic.

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News Center 7′s Mike Campbell was at Dayton International Airport on Wednesday when plenty of people were prepared to travel to catch up with loved ones. Darryl Monfels, of Dayton, did fly a little during the COVID-19 pandemic, but feels safer to do so now.

“Each time we feel like the restrictions and requirements, and attention to detail, has gotten much better, especially in the last three to four months,” Monfels said.

The more travelers feel safer has impacted the amount of flying they do. The passenger numbers, and revenue, at Dayton International Airport recovered much quicker than expected, according to city officials.

“They are expected to be about 12 percent off of 2019 revenues, so that’s good news,” Shelley Dickstein, Dayton City Manager, said.

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Dickstein said the rebound is amazing when compared to the original projections.

“We were 80 percent off,” Dickstein said. “This was an industry that almost completely shut down for a good chunk of time.”

Dickstein said a lot of Dayton travel returning to 100 percent will depend on business travelers returning to airports for travel.

While the number of travelers is up, it has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. City leaders told News Center 7 that they will wait and assess the numbers throughout 2022 to determine whether they will reach that level again.





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7 Fantastic Restaurants To Try In Birmingham, Alabama


Birmingham, Alabama, is a city in a state of perpetual transformation. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of its dark past, the city has come a long way and is steadily moving farther into the bright light of vibrancy, diversity, and inclusion. This forward motion can be seen in every aspect of Birmingham life, but perhaps the most surprising is in its food scene. The city has evolved into a haven for innovative American and international cuisines waiting to be discovered.

What follows is a small sampling of the best dining options Birmingham has to offer. They represent creativity, hard work, and above all, the kind of food you’ll savor while enjoying your time in Birmingham. These are the places — in no particular order — my husband and I recommend and long to revisit.

Our Birmingham experience was hosted by the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. However, all opinions are entirely my own.

Lemon meringue tart (Photo Credit: Simon Lock / MyEclecticImages)

1. Helen Restaurant

For Southern fare with a twist, served in a relaxed atmosphere, Helen Restaurant is an excellent choice for lunch or dinner. Open since August 2020, Chef Rob McDaniel and his wife, Emily, have turned this century-old building into a modern eatery.

The food at Helen is locally sourced and served in a contemporary Southern style, with a focus on sustainability. A smoker and special grill do the heavy lifting, and the results are outstanding.

Start with an order of Angel Biscuits, topped with whipped cane syrup butter and sea salt. For your entrée, try the thin cut pork chop, or the Catfish a la Plancha, served with house-made tartar sauce. The Okra a la Plancha is garlicky, with sesame seeds to give the texture some crunch. And if you still have room, indulge in the refreshing lemon meringue tart.

Pro Tip: Choosing between Helen’s offerings can be a challenge. Try ordering several items to share.

Heirloom tomato stack at Hot & Hot Fish Club
Heirloom tomato stack (Photo Credit: Simon Lock / MyEclecticImages)

2. Hot & Hot Fish Club

A blend of French, Southern, and California cuisines may sound tricky to pull off well, but at Hot & Hot Fish Club, it all comes together as if it was meant to be. That’s because owner, Chef Chris Hastings, has a remarkable way with food, and has received national recognition for his culinary talents. The James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef: South in 2012, Chris then went on to beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay in an episode of Food Network’s Iron Chef America.

A chef’s counter, an open kitchen, exposed brickwork, and Italian marble tabletops give the bright interior a touch of class without feeling cluttered. But when weather permits, the patio is the place to be.

Hot & Hot has a variety of skillfully prepared entrées, such as wood oven-roasted: dayboat scallops, chicken roulade, Asian noodle bowl, with frog legs, and braised short ribs with wild mushrooms on its regular menu, but be sure to check out the specials. My Tile Fish with basmati rice was perfection on a plate. Meanwhile, the Rabbit Roll with charred tomato, lima beans, and charred okra that won Chris the Iron Chef America title was a definite winner for my husband.

If you visit Hot & Hot when tomatoes are in season, the heirloom tomato salad is a must-have. Thick slices of sweet, juicy locally grown tomatoes are layered with fresh corn, field peas, and rounds of crunchy fried okra. Garlicky fresh basil, aioli, and a drizzle of sweet balsamic vinaigrette give the dish a distinctive final touch. The salad comes in two sizes. A single stack and a triple stack. The latter is topped with large succulent shrimp and easily feeds two.

Pro Tip: Hot & Hot is so hot, you’ll want to make a reservation to ensure you get a table.

Eggplant parmesan sandwich at The Essential
Eggplant parmesan sandwich (Photo Credit: Simon Lock / MyEclecticImages)

3. The Essential

Located on Morris Avenue, Birmingham’s oldest street, The Essential is a charming neighborhood all-day café offering familiar favorites skillfully elevated to a new level of modern sophistication. The café is the brainchild of owners Kristen Hall, a professional pastry chef, and Chef Victor King. In 2018, the pair transformed Birmingham’s first bank drive-through into a European-style café where patrons can drop in anytime.

Essential’s interior is chic without being pretentious. But when the weather is fine, a table on the patio will give you a perfect view of the comings and goings along the cobbled street in front of the cafe.

My husband and I shared the eggplant parmesan sandwich on outstanding sourdough and the Caesar salad, and both were excellent. Everything, including the pasta, is made onsite, or at the bakery next door that Kristen and Victor also own.

The Texas Special at The Bright Star Restaurant
The Texas Special (Photo Credit: Simon Lock / MyEclecticImages)

4. The Bright Star Restaurant

Local history and outstanding food meet at The Bright Star Restaurant in Bessemer, 20 minutes from downtown Birmingham. The oldest restaurant in Alabama, The Bright Star began in 1907 as a tiny café serving 25. Today, the restaurant is bright, spacious, and seats 265. What has remained consistent for more than a century has been the dedication to quality and freshness of the Greek families who have owned it, as well as the outstanding selection of Greek-influenced seafood, steak, and other offerings.

CNN Recognized The Bright Star as one of America’s Best Historic Restaurants, and in 2010, the restaurant was named one of the James Beard Foundation Awards’ America’s Classics honorees.

Mirrors, marble tiles, and hand-painted murals harken back to another time. And the Greek music playing in the background transports you to another place.

I recommend starting with the seafood gumbo. Then choose from a variety of fresh seafood transported daily from the Gulf coast: The Greek style broiled seafood platter, consisting of fillet of snapper, scallops, shrimp, oysters, and lobster and crabmeat au gratin more than fills a seafood lover’s wildest fantasy. Carnivores have several steak options from which to choose, but if you want to have a foot in both camps, try the Texas Special: a generous platter of beef tenderloin, Greek-style snapper, and Lobster & crabmeat au gratin

Pro Tip: The Bright Star has a dual personality. At lunchtime, it’s traditional Southern meat and three comfort foods. After 3 p.m., it transforms into a steak and seafood restaurant.

The menu board at Johnny's Restaurant Homewood
Photo Credit: Simon Lock / MyEclecticImages

5. Johnny’s Restaurant Homewood

For Southern food and hospitality Greek style, Johnny’s Restaurant Homewood will feed you body and soul. Located in Birmingham’s Homewood neighborhood, this welcoming diner has been offering its patrons flavorful, freshly made food since 2012. Owner Tim Hontzas, whose family has been in the food business for generations, named the restaurant in honor of his beloved grandfather. And grandpa Johnny would be proud. Not only has Tim created a successful business in a highly competitive market, he was also a James Beard Foundation 2020 Semi-Finalist, Best Chef South.

At Johnny’s, traditional meat and three comfort foods congenially coexist alongside Greek favorites, such as Spanakopita and Souvlaki cheesecake. Make your selections from two chalkboard menus based on seasonal availability, find a table, and wait to be impressed.

The Greek chicken is tender, juicy, and full of flavor. The Greek meatballs are a favorite, for good reason. The crisp grits cakes make a fine accompaniment, and the salads are enticingly fresh. For dessert, try the brownie truffles, balls of rich almost-baked brownie rolled in espresso ganache and served with crème anglaise and strawberry coulis if this decadent creation is on the menu. The banana pudding, which is usually available, is made with mashed bananas and banana moon pies.

Pro Tip: If you have the opportunity to chat with Tim during your meal, encourage him to tell you about his Greek heritage. You’ll find the story inspiring, and Tim tells it so well.

The 1907 roaster at the Alabama Peanut Company
The 1907 roaster at the Alabama Peanut Company (Photo Credit: Simon Lock / MyEclecticImages)

6. Alabama Peanut Company

Although not exactly a restaurant in the true sense of the word, Alabama Peanut Company is an ideal spot to pick up a bag of freshly roasted or boiled peanuts on which to snack. And while you’re there, take a trip into peanut history.

Alabama Peanut Company is one of the last surviving independent peanut sellers in the United States. You can watch peanuts roasting in a 1907 roaster, and learn the difference between boiled and roasted peanuts.

You’ll find approximately 100 different flavors from which to choose. Try the buffalo ranch, Cajun, or pickle. All the flavors are created in house.

Pro Tip: Don’t leave without taking a look at the picture on the wall of Morris Avenue in 1909 when it was a farmers market

Ice cream sandwiches from Big Spoon Creamery
Photo Credit: Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau

7. Big Spoon Creamery

Another snack option is Big Spoon Creamery, an artisan ice cream company specializing in handcrafted frozen treats. From ice cream trike to truck to two Birmingham storefronts, Big Spoon owners Geri-Martha and Ryan O’Hara, have grown their dream into a successful people-pleaser.

The O’Hara’s strive to produce seasonal flavors using locally sourced ingredients, and to offer their customers innovative takes on ice cream classics. Try the Valrhona 66 percent dark chocolate, goat cheese caramel apple crisp, or brown butter ice cream. Big Spoon also serves sammies (ice cream and cookie sandwiches), sundaes, banana splits, milkshakes, malts, and floats.

Pro Tip: Big Spoon has vegan options, and allergens are listed after each flavor.

Birmingham’s tourism attractions are as unique as its food scene:



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Europe travel restrictions: 7 countries that have tightened rules on Americans


“We have to accept that we are still living through the reality of this ongoing pandemic and will not return to ‘normal’ straight away with some setbacks on our way to recovery,” Luís Araújo, president of the European Travel Commission, said in an email. “However, we believe that with current vaccination rates and safety protocols in place, safe international travel is possible. And this summer has proven it well.”



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7 New England Towns That Put On The Best Christmas Celebrations


Twinkling lights reflect softly falling snow, setting the stage for a New England-style white Christmas. You will find small-town squares with pine trees festively draped in thousands of lights, fragrant boughs, wreaths adorned with velvety ribbons and trinkets, and the aroma of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg waft through the air. New England towns’ Christmas celebrations are steeped in tradition from decades of coming together to say goodbye to the past year and prepare for the arrival of the promising New Year. These charming towns put on the best Christmas celebrations that are sure to enhance your Christmas spirit.

Whether you desire an old-fashioned celebration; a ride through a riotous collection of colorful lights; elaborately decorated historic mansions; or a scenic, family-friendly locomotive ride, you will love visiting these New England towns. These holiday season standouts are listed in no particular order.

1. Kennebunkport, Maine

The Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport is scheduled for December 2–12. This 40th anniversary holiday celebration offers guests 10 days of fun, entertaining activities. The celebratory kickoff begins with the annual Dock Square Tree Lighting on December 3.

Other holiday happenings during the celebration include Cape Porpoise lobster trap tree lighting, a hat parade, Christmas caroling at the Franciscan monastery, Santa’s arrival by lobster boat, and Pooch Parade. The event is always a fun and festive time.

Pro Tip: A charming seafaring town, you can explore more about where to stay and what to see while you are visiting in our Best Things To Do in Kennebunkport guide.

Candle Light Stroll Under the Stars, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Photo Credit: David J. Murray / ClearEyePhoto.com

2. Portsmouth, New Hampshire

The Strawbery Banke Museum presents the Candlelight Stroll Under The Stars, a stunning outdoor lighting experience. Enjoy the illuminated exteriors of the museum’s historic buildings where designers have crafted a magical display in a gorgeous, twinkling wonderland. Stop by Strawbery Banke Museum on one of the first three Saturdays (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) and Sundays (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) in December for a delightful holiday stroll.

On Saturday, December 4, the Illuminated Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting transforms coastal Portsmouth into a twinkling winter fairyland. The tree lighting ceremony in Market Square begins at 5:25 p.m. The parade begins at 6 p.m. and runs along sections of Islington Street.

From December 1 through December 19, The Historic Theater presents The Ogunquit Playhouse’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Enjoying a theater production of this time-honored musical is a wonderful way to savor the Christmas season.

Pro Tip: Coastal New England road trips take on a frosty appeal in the winter. When you visit Portsmouth, consider a short drive up to Bangor or down to Boston for a different perspective of the Atlantic Ocean beaches.

Billings Farm Christmas Parlor.
Photo Credit: Billings Farm & Museum

3. Woodstock, Vermont

Experience Christmas at the Billings Farm where you can explore traditional Victorian decorations and traditions with friends and family. Demonstrations at the farm include candle dipping and gingerbread ornament making served up with traditional holiday stories. 

Christmas at the Farm is Saturday, December 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is fun for the whole family.

Wassail Weekend at Billings Farm in Woodstock runs from December 10 through the 12th. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and run throughout the day until 4 p.m. On Sunday, December 12, horse-drawn wagon or sleigh rides are available (conditions permitting). Visit the Dairy Bar for a delicious cider donut and a mug of wassail, a hot mulled cider with spices. Wassailing is a charming English Yuletide tradition where neighbors gather with neighbors toasting a good cider apple harvest in the year to come.

Pro Tip: Visit our Best Things to do and see in Woodstock guide for great tips on where to stay and play in this lovely small town.

4. Sturbridge, Massachusetts

Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village will transport you to Christmas in colonial times. Stroll through the village and enjoy a crisp December evening as you ooh and ahh at the traditional holiday decorations adorning the village homes. Wander through the Christmas Tree Trail where you are surrounded by fragrant pines and twinkling lights. Immerse yourself in the spirit of days gone by with stories passed down from generation to generation, then hop aboard the horse-drawn carryall for a scenic winter ride around the village. Christmas by Candlelight is open beginning Friday, December 3, and running select nights through Thursday, December 30. Be sure to check the Old Sturbridge Village Calendar for specific days and times.

Pro Tip: Old Sturbridge Village is a unique living museum where you can dive deep into the early colonial life.

Patriots mascot in the tunnel of lights.
Photo Credit: Eric Adler / Kraft Sports + Entertainment

5. Foxborough, Massachusetts

Gillette Stadium in Foxborough is home to the New England Patriots. It is also home to the Magic of Lights, a drive-through lighting extravaganza. Running from November 13 through January 19, from 5 p.m. to 9:25 p.m., it is guaranteed to amp up your holiday spirit. Traverse the 200-foot-long light tunnel as it envelops you in a twinkling, wonderland environment. As you drive the 1-plus-mile course, you will encounter over 40 different scenes and tableaus of inspirational lighting displays. You will be dreaming of recreating these beauties in your own front yard … maybe next year.

Magic of Lights operates at many venues across New England.

Pro Tip: The cost for this event is per carload, so pack up all your friends and family in the SUV and head over to Foxborough for an inspirational lighting adventure.

Sparkiling lights at the Breakers.
Photo Credit: The Preservation Society of Newport

6. Newport, Rhode Island

The Gilded Age mansions in Newport are show-stopping at any time of year, but when they are decked out for Christmas, it is a holiday extravaganza. The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are adorned with garlands, wreaths, trees, baubles, lights, and copious amounts of silver and gold. The luxurious, jaw-dropping decorations are on display beginning November 20; please check their events calendar for specific days and times.

The Sparkling Lights at the Breakers is a spectacular outdoor walking adventure that traverses The Breakers gardens. The easily navigable pathways provide beautiful lighting displays and tableaus at every turn. With nearly half of the mansion’s 13 acres twinkling brightly, you will be surprised and delighted at the ornate displays.

The Newport area mansions are spectacularly dressed in their Christmas trappings. Check our story on the Newport Mansions At Christmas for more information and stunning photos.

Pro Tip: Newport is a lovely spot for a weekend getaway, and we have some great ideas about where to stay, dine, and play that will make your planning easier.

Christmas Ornament.
Photo Credit: Billings Farm & Museum

7. Bethlehem, Connecticut

When you are craving a charming, old-fashioned New England Christmas, the Christmas Town Festival will transport you back to a simpler, family-focused Christmas celebration. For 2 days, December 3 and 4, the town is transformed into a celebration of seasonal joy and good cheer.

The mostly free events include a tree lighting, Christmas concerts, fire truck parade, crafters, scavenger hunt, Bell Concert, and Santa arriving on a fire truck.

Each year, a specially designed, unique town ornament is crafted in pewter and is available for sale. The style of these collectible ornaments has changed over the years, but the sentiment remains the same: Christmas is a time to celebrate friends and family. You can purchase ornaments from as far back as 1982, they will give your tree an old-fashioned colonial feel.

Pro Tip: Spending a quiet weekend in this charming small town will impart a sense of the American Dream where simply enjoying life is the key to happiness.

The Breakers Morning Room
The Breakers Morning Room (Photo Credit: The Preservation Society of Newport)

New England Christmas Train Rides

Christmas train rides are a wonderful way to experience a special adventure with the youngsters in your life. Across New England, train depots are gearing up for a North Pole-inspired ride. Copious amounts of hot cocoa are steaming, cookies are baking, stationery for letters to Santa is printed, and elf casting is nearly complete.

We have compiled a list of small towns that celebrate big time when it comes to visiting the North Pole by rail. A train ride through the local scenery is a wonderful way to celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season.

The Essex Steam Train and River Boat in Essex, Connecticut, is a 90-minute train ride filled with sugar cookies, sing-a-longs, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Enjoy breakfast, pizza, or a sunset train ride with Santa on the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad in Unity, Maine.

The Polar Express Train Ride out of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, brings the movie to life. Each car has entertaining, costumed conductors and wait staff creating an immersive experience. Wear your jammies and pack your camera for this exciting ride.

The Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad offers the Santa Express Trains in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Enjoy the beautiful Winnipesaukee scenic views while meeting with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Another Polar Express Train Ride at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum in Portland, Maine, whisks guests off to the North Pole where they can see Santa prepping his sleigh for his Christmas deliveries.

Whether you love a down-home, small-town Christmas; a scenic train ride through the winter landscape; a bustling festival full of high energy; or a ride through a tunnel of lights, you will find many New England towns that put on wonderful Christmas celebrations. Set a date with your friends and family, get away from all the crazy preparation, and simply enjoy each other in the spirit of the season.



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7 Items Our Expert Flight Attendant Packs In His Carry On For International Trips


Our carry-on bag for domestic travel is packed and ready for take off. Now it’s time to take on international trips. As a retired flight attendant with over 20 years of experience, I suggest you have these seven items in your carry-on bag for traveling internationally. (This is in addition to the electronics, entertainment, and more that go in our carry-on for domestic travel.)

Why do I pack more in my carry-on for international travel? The U.S. has rules that flights can be delayed on the tarmac for no more than a few hours before taking off or after landing. These rules do not apply internationally. If the aircraft has to make an impromptu stop — like for a medical emergency — passengers are not always allowed to get off the plane or may be restricted to certain areas of the airport.

All this is to say that domestically, you have the opportunity to deplane and hopefully purchase any items you may need. Internationally, you may not get that chance. Therefore, my bags are packed a little differently for international flights. Here’s what’s in my carry-on bag when traveling abroad, followed by a few pro tips that make the trip easier.

1. Pencil Pouch

I used to carry a bag of pens and pencils to complete customs forms. Although these forms are now electronic, I still have a pencil case just in case. I suggest you have a black ink pen and a pencil with an eraser. Lots of people take notes on their phones nowadays, but you never know when you’ll need a pencil or pen!

Pro Tip: Write down the address of your hotel. Sometimes customs forms ask for this information.

2. Change Of Clothes

I always have a change of clothes on hand. I love my KÜHL travel pants and shirts. They are lightweight, easy to wear, stretchable, and affordable. These come in handy if your checked baggage doesn’t arrive when you do. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to pack a change of undergarments, too.

3. Soap Sheets And Other Tolietries

Bringing along some toiletries in your carry-on bag will help keep you feeling fresh even if your flight is delayed or your bags get lost. I pack soap sheets, which dissolve in water and lather like regular soap and a washcloth, but wet wipes will do the trick. And please, don’t forget your deodorant!

I always put my toothbrush and travel-size toothpaste in my carry-on. They also come in handy if you eat something particularly offensive in the airport. Your seatmates will thank you.

4. Jacket 

Lightweight, durable, and multi-functional, Patagonia is my jacket of choice. It keeps me warm, covers me in the rain, and has detachable sleeves. It’s not the cheapest, but I believe it gives me what I need when I travel.

5. Medication

When traveling internationally, I keep two to three days’ worth of medication in my carry-on bag. This way, should my luggage be delayed, I still have my meds on hand.

6. RFID-blocking Passport Holder

Keep your passport and all documents you’ll need together. You’ll also need to have your proof of vaccination records. I have an inexpensive RFID-blocking passport holder for safety and peace of mind. The holder isn’t just for your passport. Use it to store credit cards, boarding passes, and other important documents. This keeps your personal information safe from being stolen.

7. Snacks

I included snacks on my carry-on list for domestic travel, but so many of us have food allergies or restrictive diets that I’m including it here, too. Remember to pack any food you may need on your travels.

Pro Tips For Travelling Internationally

Check The State Department Website

If you have questions about international travel, Travel.State.Gov is a good resource. It suggests registering with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and help locate you in an emergency. The State Department website also has helpful tips for everything from preparing for your trip to returning to the U.S. on an expired passport.

Sign Up For Global Entry

If you hate long lines and are somewhat tech-savvy, check out Global Entry. It’s a trusted traveler program that will help to speed up your entry back into the U.S. Some major credit card companies will reimburse your application fee.

Sign Up For Clear

CLEAR is an easy way to bypass those long security lines at TSA and, right now, you can get a 2-month free trial with code: 2FREE. Again, some major credit card companies will reimburse your application fee.

Happy travels!

Related Reading:

  1. The Best Passport Covers (Review 2021)
  2. TSA PreCheck Vs. Clear Vs. Global Entry: What’s The Difference?
  3. 21 Expert Tips For Traveling Internationally Right Now



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