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Meet Berlin, MD, America's Coolest Small Town!

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 12, 2022
horse and buggy
Courtesy Worcester County Tourism

How does it feel to live in the Coolest Small Town in America? Ask the folks in Berlin, MD, the winner of Budget Travel's 9th annual America's Coolest Small Town contest!

Berlin's citizens—and fans from around the U.S. and beyond—helped get the town nominated last fall when Budget Travel solicited suggestions from tens of thousands of online readers. The editors tallied up the nominations, added a dash of editorial discretion for regional and cultural diversity, and came up with a list of 15 finalists—cool burghs from Upstate New York to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, from northern Colorado to the Everglades, and, of course, the Maryland shore.

Now, after more than a month of online voting, Berlin, MD (population 4,563), has earned the title of "Coolest."

Berlin not only has a dedicated citizenry and fan following (it grabbed more than 28 percent of the votes among the 15 finalists), but it's also a truly spectacular place to visit or put down roots. Like the beautiful backdrops in the films Tuck Everlasting and The Runaway Bride? Thank Berlin, where both movies were shot. Ready for a getaway that includes Maryland's awesome Ocean City beach and boardwalk and gorgeous Assateague Island? They're just a few miles from Berlin's downtown (a National Register Historic District), which plays host to fun events all year long, from the regular farmers market to one-of-a-kind bashes like the Berlin Fiddlers Convention, New Year's fireworks, Victorian Christmas (complete with horse-drawn carriages), and even bathtub races! Whether you're a beach lover, hiker, kayaker, bird watcher, or history aficionado, put Berlin on your list of small-town must-sees (in fact, put it at the top of your list—we just did!).  

So, congrats to the people of Berlin, MD, and its mayor, William "Gee" WIlliams III (who just earned a growler of craft beer from second-place finisher Cazenovia's mayor, Kurt Wheeler). And let's join them in a rousing chorus of "Cool Berlin," by local songwriter Steve Frene, written especially to promote the town's campaign for the top spot.

Here are the top 10 towns in Budget Travel's 2014 America's Coolest Small Town contest. (Online voting among 15 finalists began in mid-January and ended at 12 a.m. Tuesday February 25. Total votes cast were 137,819, with the winner receiving 39,285 votes.) Each of these 10 towns will be honored in an upcoming feature on BudgetTravel.com and an upcoming story in Budget Travel's tablet edition:

1. Berlin, MD

2. Cazenovia, NY

3. Buckhannon, WV

4. Travelers Rest, SC

5. Mathews, VA

6. Nevada City, CA

7. Rockport, TX

8. Estes Park, CO

9. Galena, IL

10. Elkin, NC

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Inspiration

A Stroll through Lima’s Historic Pueblo Libre

This article was written by Mike Gasparovic, a freelance writer, editor, and translator who devotes his free time to studying the history, art, and literature of the Spanish-speaking world and learning about its people. He currently lives in Lima and wrote this article on behalf of South American Vacations, providers of tours to South America. A strange kind of time warp awaits you when you visit Lima, Peru. One minute you'll be walking along a 21st-century street, bustling with 21st-century noise and congestion, and the next you'll turn a corner and be confronted with colonial houses dating from the early 1700s. Two blocks further, a KFC will abut ruins that date back a millennium. Such temporal telescoping is apparent all over the Peruvian capital, but nowhere so abundantly as in Pueblo Libre, a sleepy district some 20 minutes from both Miraflores and downtown Lima. Quietly residential and overlooked by most travelers, the district is nonetheless surpassingly rich in history, boasting 19th-century taverns, pre-Colombian ruins, a house shared by the heroes of Latin American independence, and the two of the best museums in Lima—all packed together within a single square mile. So if you're in Lima for a few days and longing to escape the tourist herds, check out the following walking tour—its 16 blocks will allow you to survey over 1,600 years of Peru's vast history. Bring your imagination. Stellae and Sandwiches Tours of Pueblo Libre inevitably begin at the Plaza Bolívar, the district's main square. Here you'll find two of Lima's prime attractions, the Museo Arqueológico and the Quinta de los Libertadores (Calle Antonio Polo cuadra 8, 463-5070). The Archaeological Museum is the most comprehensive of its kind in Peru. Founded in 1924 by the great Peruvian anthropologist Julio Tello, it leads visitors through 3,000 years of the country's history, with special emphasis on the pre-Colombian civilizations that flourished along Peru's coast before the arrival of the Incas. Housed among its winding galleries are two world-renowned treasures from the prehistoric Chavín culture: the Raimondi Stella, a sacred stone carved with jaguar and serpent deities whose design changes depending on the direction from which it's read, and the Tello Obelisk, an engraved monolith that once served as a sundial in the great temple at Huantar. In the same building you'll also find the Liberators' Museum, a series of rooms once belonging to Joaquín de la Pezuela, Peru's last Viceroy before being occupied consecutively by Jose de San Martín and Simon Bolívar, the two great revolutionary leaders of South America. Swords, letters, and furniture belonging to the two generals afford a glimpse of their (highly intermittent) domestic lives. After a morning spent imbibing Peru's history, you'll probably be hungry, so you'll want to head to the Taverna Quierolo (San Martín 1079, 460-0041), a Lima hallmark that's been in continuous operation since the late-1800s. Founded by an Italian immigrant who got rich selling locally made wines and piscos, it serves some of the best sandwiches in Lima. On the other hand, if you're up for heartier fare, the Restaurante Bolivariano (Santa Rosa 291, 261-9565) is right around the corner and dishes up superb versions of all of Peru's criollo classics. Especially recommended: seco de cabrito (stewed goat) or pescado a lo macho (fish in a spicy seafood sauce). Haciendas and Sexy Pots After lunch, should you need spiritual support before yet another round of Peruvian history, you can head down Sucre two blocks to see the Traveler's Cross (Av. Sucre cuadra 6). First erected some seven blocks away in 1579 and reconsecrated by Franciscan monks in 1672, this monument was a waystation where Spanish travelers setting out from Lima to the port at Callao would pray for divine protection against attackers. The ladder and hammer affixed to the structure represent the implements used to nail Christ to the cross. From there, it's two blocks east to the Casa Orbea (Jr. Juan Acevedo cuadra 1), one of the few 18th-century haciendas remaining in Lima. The house has been amazingly well preserved, and sports enchanting balconies and a lovely baroque chapel. The original family still lives upstairs. The final two destinations mark a return to Peru's deep past. For sheer dazzlement, not to mention the beauty of the grounds, the Museo Larco (Av. Bolívar 1515, 461-1835) is hard to beat. Lodged in a former hacienda bought by the archaeologist Rafael Larco Herrera to house his staggering collection of pre-Colombian artifacts, the museum sports impressive gold- and silverwork, textiles, and other artifacts from the Moche, Chimu, and Huari cultures. Check out the Moche tools used in ritual human sacrifices, and then slip outside to peek at the annex filled with pre-Colombian erotic pottery. If men and women have done it, it's depicted here on these pots. Finally, from the museum, take Av. Bolivar west till you hit Calle Rio Huaura. Turn right, and in two blocks you'll find yourself in front of the Huaca Julio Tello, one of the many pre-Inca huacas (sacred sites) that dot the Lima cityscape. Surrounded by middle-class houses, this 1,000-year-old complex belonged to the Maranga tribe and serves as a reminder of the persistence of the past in Peru's great capital.

Inspiration

Spring Getaways to America's Coolest Small Towns!

I had a blast appearing on The Weather Channel's "Wake Up With Al" on Friday March 7. We talked about some of Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns 2014 as ideal spring getaways! (I didn't expect to sing Berlin, MD's signature bluegrass tune, "Cool Berlin," for an audience of 2 million!)

Inspiration

Great Getaways: Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine

There's more to Florida than theme parks, beaches, and cities where you can party til dawn (although those are pretty great, too!) Whether you're looking for a quick golf getaway or your next great family vacation, here are six of our favorite family-friendly activities and affordable adventures in Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine—all within an hour's drive of Jacksonville on Florida's northeast coast. Many area hotel options start at well under $100 a night, making a trip to this area super-affordable.  Tour the World Golf Hall of FameGolf enthusiasts will love tracing the roots of the game from its early days in Scotland, testing out old versions of golf clubs, and learning where certain traditions like sand traps and caddies hail from (both stories will surprise you, I promise). The World Golf Hall of Fame also features a replica of the Swilcan Burn Bridge from the Old Course at St. Andrews, displays of the Hall of Fame Members Locker Room with more than 2,000 personal items from all your favorite players, and a large collection of memorabilia dedicated to golf lover Bob Hope. The World Golf Hall of Fame is part of the World Golf Village, home to the PGA Tour Golf Academy, two major golf courses, and a number of shops and restaurants including Murray Bros. Caddyshack, owned by actor Bill Murray and his five brothers. Want to stay close to all the action? The Renaissance World Golf Village Resort offers rooms from under $200 a night—check the website for specials for Florida Villages residents, military members, firefighters, and law enforcement officers where rates start at $109 a night, as well as Stay & Play packages for from $259 a night for two golfers. Visit TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players ChampionshipIf watching The Players Championship each May has you itching to hit the greens, you can still visit the course in Ponte Vedra and its massive clubhouse year-round, or start planning for this year's visit to this surprisingly affordable tournament held in May 6-11 in 2014. For the price of a TPC Sawgrass adult Grounds ticket (options from $66 per person per day), you'll be able to see your favorite players—like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, or Matt Kuchar—up close as they take on the 17th hole island green, one of the most famous holes in golf. Families can save money with free admission for ages 18 and under (with a paying adult), while active-duty, reserve, retired military members, and their dependents get free admission with a valid military ID. You're also allowed to bring your own food to the tournament as long as it's packed in a one gallon clear plastic bag (food items must also be wrapped in clear wrap), and bring your water bottle along to refill during the day. A variety of food trucks ranging from Corner Taco to The Swedish Bistro will also be on site, and those who plan to carpool with four or more people in the car will be rewarded with free parking this year. Looking to indulge in a little VIP experience? You can score access to The Blue Room VIP Lounge for under $150 per person per day including entry to the tournament, exclusive access to music and entertainment, unlimited food from the local restaurants, and all-inclusive beer, wine, water, and soda while you watch. Zip line over alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological ParkAs if an entire zoological park full of alligators, crocodiles, caimans, pythons, lemurs, and exotic birds wasn't cool enough, just wait til you try zip lining over them. Crocodile Crossing at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park gives you two options—the 45-minute short course or the 90-minute long course—with each offering an extensive aerial obstacle course and several opportunities to zip line over the wildlife enclosures. At 20 to 60 feet up, you're out of reach of the many reptiles you're zooming over but still able to get a good look at the impressive creatures as you take on the ropes course. Make sure you're wearing closed toe shoes (with laces) and weigh less than 250 pounds, and you're good to go! Definitely give this one a try if you're in the neighborhood—the bragging rights alone are worth the cost of admission. Step back in time at Castillo de San Marcos and the Colonial QuarterGet to know Old St. Augustine with a trip to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a 20.5-acre fortress built in 1672 that has protected the city's people during various battles against the Spanish, French, British, and even attacks by pirates throughout history. Nowadays visitors can explore the fort and view colonial era weapon and cannon firing demonstrations on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. The best part: adults pay $7 while children under age 15 get in free, and your ticket is valid for up to seven consecutive days. For an in-depth look at what everyday life was like in 16th to 18th century St. Augustine, check out the Colonial Quarter, a living history museum featuring traditional musket demonstrations, a working blacksmith shop, and the chance to climb a 17th century watchtower for panoramic views of the city.  Indulge your inner pirateFormerly The Pirate Soul Museum in Key West, the entire collection was moved to St. Augustine and reopened in December of 2010 as Pat Croce's St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. Home to one of the largest collections of authentic pirate artifacts in the world, the museum features one of only two original Jolly Roger flags in existence, Captain Thomas Tew's treasure chest, an official journal of Captain Kidd's final voyage, and one of the world's oldest wanted posters from the 1696 search for Captain Henry Every. Pick a ghost tour, any ghost tourThere seem to be an abundance of ghost tours available in the nation's oldest city. I went on the Ghosts & Gravestones St. Augustine Frightseeing Tour, a late night trolley ride around town with stops at the St. Augustine Lighthouse Grounds—you'll hear the heartbreaking story of what happened to the three little girls who can still be seen and heard playing on the playground swings more than one hundred years later—and get to explore the Old Jail at night on a tour led by an actor in traditional prison garb who tells stories of the jail's former inhabitants. While it is a fun chance to hear some creepy legends and ghost stories, the tour may not be appropriate for children under age 13.

Inspiration

Tips For Visiting Angkor Wat

Evoking dreams of an exotic past, the temple of Angkor Wat is the number one attraction in Cambodia. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world's largest religious monument. Cambodia has taken Angkor Wat as its national symbol; a depiction of it even appears in the flag. Originally built as a Hindu temple, Angkor Wat remains crammed with stone reliefs and statues of Vishnu, Ganesh, Shiva, Hanuman, and the mystic dancing girls, the Apsaras. After the disintegration of the Khmer Empire it was eventually repurposed as a Buddhist temple. Throughout the centuries, the temples have remained in use and they are still the stage for ceremonies and observations for both Buddhists and Hindus. In the 12th century, King Suryavarman ordered the construction of Angkor Wat as his official temple and royal capital city. In the Khmer language, Angkor Wat means temple city. The location was central, strategic, and fertile, and it fit into celestial alignments. The arrangement of the structures relates to the positions of the earth, the sun, moon and the stars, and to the seasonal equinoxes. The central temple symbolizes Mount Meru, the Hindu home of the gods. The surrounding moat represents the sea. The four sides face the cardinal compass points. Angkor Wat is one of many temple complexes near the modern city of Siem Reap. These include: Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Bayon Temples, Phimeanakas, and the Terrace of Elephants. Ta Prohm Temple is instantly recognizable. It was a key setting in the hit movie, Tomb Raider, chosen for its exotic, overgrown state. Tourists love to pose for photos before the gnarled jungle roots and branches that have grown into the carved rock over the centuries, disassembling the work of ancient artists and masons. The temples are a circuit of several miles that could take years to fully explore. Seam Reap (the city nearest the temples) in the Khmer language means "defeat Siam," the enemy of the Khmer for a millennium. They overran Angkor Wat in 1431, and the site was forgotten by the outside world. During French colonial times, explorer Hermi Mouhot publicized the ruins. Restoration of the site has continued ever since, interrupted by War and reign of the Khmer Rouge. Today Angkor Wat draws half a million visitors a year. The Angkor Archeological Park (A World Heritage site) has one day admission fees of just $20. The site is open from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. When I arrived in Cambodia, fellow travelers were eager to offer me advice and to share their temple experiences. The guidebooks I had read suggested walking through the temples in the morning to avoid afternoon heat. This would take a minimum of five days. Temple veterans were quick to dismiss this strategy and advised me to rent a bicycle in Seam Reap. I could see all the temples in a couple of days and the cost would be minimal. Another advisor believed a bike would be too strenuous in the heat of the Cambodian plains. A tuk-tuk could be hired for the entire day for $20. Another option was a bus tour, offered at most area hotels for a similar price. The easiest way, if you are with a two or three other visitors, is to hire a car and driver. In Phnom Penh I found a driver to take my two friends and me the five-hour ride to Siem Reap, and then all the next day drive us around the temples; all for $130. Split three ways, it was an unbeatable deal and a great convenience. By one o'clock the temperature was hot and humid. Properly seeing the main temple, Angkor Wat, involved walking three or four kilometers across the moat, around the sculpted galleries, and climbing the steep stairway to the top of the artificial mountain. I couldn't imagine walking or riding a bicycle another five kilometers to the next temple complex. Instead, at the appointed hour, our driver was waiting near the gate. Waiting in the air conditioned sedan were iced towels and bottles of water. As we refreshed ourselves on the way to The Terrace of Elephants, our driver explained it was a viewing stand from which the royal Khmers watched parades and processions. The life-sized stone carved elephants were complete with their Mahouts (drivers) and ceremonial garb. Later at Bakhent Temple, the stone elephants came to life for us. A circuit of the temple aboard an elephant was offered for $10. It was a break from walking in the afternoon heat and a unique, high vantage view of the ruins, a perfect way to end the day's tour. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, providers of tours to Costa Rica and throughout Latin America. Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season, traveling the world looking for a story.