Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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The War That Didn’t End All Wars

National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MissouriOn July 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife were assassinated by a Bosnian Serb nationalist. Exactly one month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and within a month, almost all of Europe was embroiled in a vicious “war to end all wars.” That, obviously, did not pan out. Combined, combatant and civilian deaths totaled 22 million, making the First World War one of the deadliest modern wars. Overshadowed by the Second World War, it often doesn’t receive its rightful respect. But the National World War I Museum and Monument in Kansas City, Missouri — one of the best history museums in the United States — gives it the honor and recognition it deserves. Read about it >


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Five Fantastic Buildings in Albany, New York

First Trust Company Building, Albany, New YorkIn 1614, Dutch traders built Fort Nassau, a fur-trading post and the first documented European structure in present-day Albany, New York. Things have changed over the four centuries since then, and a wood fort would hardly blend in at all in the capital of New York. I would have liked to have seen what that short-lived structure looked like (abandoned after only a few years due to the river’s flooding), but I found just as much pleasure in checking out some of its successors. Read about the top five buildings in Albany, New York >


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Organized Nature in a New Zealand Botanic Garden

Christchurch Botanic Gardens, New ZealandJust a couple of blocks from my hotel, I wandered into Christchurch Botanic Gardens to find out what ordered beauty looks like in New Zealand. I had already bounced around the country for three weeks, completely enthralled by its untamed and spectacular nature, from azure lakes and national parks to snow-capped mountains, unspoiled beaches, geothermal wonders, and caves both chunky and delicate. Now it was time to see what could be done with nature when Kiwis get their hands on it. Read more about it >


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The Eternally Beautiful Churches of Rome

Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles, RomeRome and religion are intrinsically intertwined. Completely surrounding the Catholic mini-state of the Vatican City, the Italian capital has been influenced by the church, and vice versa, for centuries. Italians still go pazzo for Il Papa, and a papal Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter is an unforgettable experience (at least, from what I’ve heard). Of course, getting into one takes a lot of doing, so most of us will have to be satisfied with just popping into a regular run-of-the-mill church that a pope may or may not have visited at some point. But in Rome, that means you inevitably step into a dazzling place that could stand on its own against most museums. Filled with long histories, incredible architecture, and art by some of Italy’s heavyweights, the churches of Rome — and there are many of them — rank among the most beautiful in the world. The first one I entered was so sublime that I needed no further motivation to visit every other one I came across. Read about the top five churches in Rome >


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Royal Yet Modest at Oslo’s Oscarshall

Oscarshall, Oslo, NorwayOn the western side of Oslo, Norway, the enclave of Bygdøy occupies a scenic peninsula that has become home to some of the country’s wealthiest citizens, residing in one of the most fashionable areas of Norway, complete with its most expensive properties. So it’s no surprise that when the royals wanted to build a summer palace, they chose this area. Today, that palace, named Oscarshall after its founding king, is open to the public, and I headed there on a gorgeous April day to see how the royals lived, royally yet not overtly sumptuously. Read about Oscarshall >


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Animals That Come to Life in Art

All pet owners know that their four- and sometimes two-legged friends have distinctive personalities. But that doesn’t apply solely to our domesticated companions. Go into the wild and watch how different penguins or baboons behave, and you’ll start to notice the uniqueness of each individual. Animals are just as complicated as humans (with a lot less baggage), capable of learning, surviving against the odds, and feeling, everything from fear and compassion to sadness and joy. We’ve all seen the videos of elephants crying, a husky going absolutely bonkers when his master returns home after an extended tour of duty overseas, the Labrador gently interacting with a curious but cautious three-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and the giraffe kissing his caretaker goodbye, sensing the man’s impending death from cancer. When animals are portrayed in art and an artist can brilliantly capture their entire being and personality — their characteristics, beauty, and emotions — in static media like marble or paint, you’ll find yourself looking at something that comes this close to being the real thing. Read about the top five animals in art >


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Topeka’s Engaging Gage Park

Doran Rock Garden, Gage Park, Topeka, KansasI had spent enough time indoors in Topeka, Kansas, with visits to the wonderful Kansas Museum of History and to the neo-classic Great Overland Station, and an acrophobic climb up the spiral staircase to the outdoor observation platform at the state capitol, one of the top five capitols in the United States. Now it was time to head outdoors, and I hopped in my rental car to the city’s fantastic Gage Park, where Topekans and visitors of every age can enjoy an entire day outside. Read more about Gage Park >


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Viewing and Creating Art at the World’s Best Glass Museum, in Corning, New York

VasesUpstate New York is often shunted aside by visitors who tend to descend on downstate, on New York City, and unjustifiably so. In this vast expanse I explored the magnificent State Capitol in Albany, had a blast in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, hiked in the gorges in Ithaca, marveled at outstanding architecture in Buffalo, and soaked in Niagara Falls, one of the world’s top five waterfalls. On my way home from this romp around my home state, I made a stop in Corning, a small, charming city of about 12,000 people that means one thing for most of us: glass. Here, glass is far more than just a mirror or your orange juice pitcher. And nobody explains, demonstrates, and shows it better than the Corning Museum of Glass. Read more about it >


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The Best of Baltimore

Giraffe, Maryland ZooClosing in on 300 years since its founding, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, was named after Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore or the Irish House of Lords. Baltimore Manor was the name of the family’s estate in Ireland, and Baltimore became an anglicization of the more lyrical Baile an Tí Mhóir (Irish for “town of the big house”). This terrifically historic city has given the United States its first paper mill, Catholic diocese, sugar refinery, Sunday newspaper, investment bank, electric refrigerator, public museum, gas streetlights, dental college, commercial ice cream factory, animal welfare association, university press, and city magazine, among dozens of other achievements. An equally long catalog of attractions makes it appealing to visitors of all ages with myriad interests. Read about the top five things to see and do in Baltimore >


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Divinity in Providence

First Uniterian Church of ProvidenceI was attending a conference for editors in downtown Providence, and in between sessions I had ample opportunity to explore this historic American city. Settled in 1636 by Roger Williams, who named it in honor of “God’s merciful Providence,” the capital of Rhode Island has not always been under this divine protection. Through nearly four centuries of history, it has seen catastrophic floods, alarming crime rates, slavery, and cholera outbreaks. But it has also been an industrial powerhouse, one of the richest cities in the United States, the jewelry manufacturing capital of the world, an educational leader with such institutions as Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and the Rhode Island School of Design, and a beacon for religious tolerance, still acknowledged in street names like Benefit, Benevolent, and Hope. That religious tradition can also be seen in its dozens and dozens of churches. Read about the top five churches in Providence >