Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Stunning Nature Within the City: Beautiful Banff

Banff, AlbertaThere are very few places I’ve visited where I could step out of a shop or restaurant in the middle of a town and almost immediately enter a forest. The Irish city of Killarney is one of them, with Killarney National Park at its doorstep. Banff is another. This astoundingly attractive town within the boundaries of Banff National Park in Alberta boasts a spectacular setting in the Canadian Rockies that you can easily explore without ever getting into your car. Read more >

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Skeletons and Skulls That Will Keep You Up All Night

St. Peter in Chains, Rome, ItalyAs Halloween approaches, children — and more than a few adults — are deciding on their costume for this spooky holiday of ghosts, goblins, candy, and horror flicks. Skeletons have always been a staple costume, whether it’s a glow-in-the-dark bodysuit variety or a mask or makeup job largely hidden by an oversized hood on a Grim Reaper outfit. As for the other 364 days of the year, real ones have long been put on display for the devout to revere, and fake ones for Mexican communities to celebrate on the Day of the Dead. Skeletons and skulls have been depicted in art or gravestones for centuries as a symbol of our finite time on earth, fighting a guaranteed losing battle against the sand hourglass. They could be positively frightening (say, in the promotional poster for the movie Evil Dead 2) or rather amusing (as in a Scooby-Doo episode). However you react to them, they invariably promise the same denouement: The end is always near. Read more about the top five skeletons and skulls in the world >


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Miami’s Nod to Great Tuscan Food

I had already enjoyed an excellent Cuban meal at Havana 1957 and a wonderful Argentinean dinner at PM Buenos Aires just a few blocks away from my hotel in the Brickell area of Miami, Florida. As I scoured the same neighborhood for another restaurant the next night, I found myself in Mary Brickell Village, a little collection of shops and dining options a couple of blocks south of the Miami River. Every restaurant seemed to be playing music, loudly, but pumping house beats were not exactly conducive to the pleasant meal that I was searching for. So I found the quietest of the group, upscale Toscana Divino, and serendipitously stumbled upon the city’s outstanding contribution to Italian cuisine. Read more >


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Turku Castle Reigns Supreme

Turku Castle, Turku, FinlandFinland’s oldest city and its former capital, Turku is located about two hours by train from where I was staying in Helsinki, the superior Hotel Kämp. The country’s sixth-largest city has plenty to see for a full day trip, from its 700-year-old cathedral to a fantastic museum built over a 14th-century archaeological site, but Turku’s most famous landmark is the one I wanted to visit most — the largest castle in Finland. Read more >


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San Chez Bistro: Stellar Spanish Tapas in Grand Rapids, Michigan

After the terrifically bizarre blatherskite stumbled out of Divani, the pleasant bar where I was enjoying a glass of Bowen’s Harbor semi-dry Riesling, produced in Michigan, I shared a good laugh over her antics with the bartender and the woman whose ear she had been chewing for a while. During the conversation that ensued, I broached the topic of restaurant recommendations here in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. They offered several suggestions, but the one that kept popping up was San Chez Bistro, only a couple of blocks away. Heeding their advice, I popped into San Chez the following night for dinner. And I’ve been recalling it fondly ever since. Read more >


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Big Buildings in Little Rock, Arkansas

Villa Marre, Little Rock, ArkansasMy day trip from Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Little Rock centered around a visit to the state capitol, a stroll through a couple of the half dozen historic districts, and the duck march at what was then the Peabody Hotel. This sleepy capital city (indeed, the downtown felt rather abandoned, and within walking distance of it you’ll feel like you’re in the suburbs, with spacious homes along tree-lined streets) is ideal for strolling, whether it’s along the banks of the Arkansas River, through the Market Hall for some international snacks, or around the historic districts that boast some beguiling edifices, many of which rank among the city’s best. Read more about the top five buildings in Little Rock >


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Custer’s First Choice: Sage Creek Grille

The small city of Custer, South Dakota, served as my base for exploring the region’s Black Hills National Forest and the treasures within its boundaries: Mount Rushmore National Memorial, one of the world’s 10 most beautiful drives, and two of the world’s top 10 caves and caverns. Once I returned to the town at night, dinner was never more than a little walk from my hotel, and one of the best I had was at Sage Creek Grille, an unpretentious little place where you can contemplate which pieces of artwork you’d like to take home as you enjoy your evening meal. Read more >