Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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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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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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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 >


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Victorian Grandeur in Old Louisville, Kentucky

Old Louisville, KentuckyKentucky was rapidly becoming a state with boundless surprises for me. I fully anticipated the caliber of the bourbon, the excitement of the horse races at Keeneland Race Course (but was shocked by the lack of litter after 8,000 people left following the ninth race), and the beauty of the landscape — flat valleys dotted with horse farms, and cresting and falling hills covered in thick trees. The fantastic quality of the food, however, was eye-opening, and the friendliness of the locals astounded me on a daily basis. One of the biggest surprises was the state’s architectural treasures, especially in Louisville, where I explored the third-largest historic district in the United States, crammed with fantastic homes from the Victorian Era one after the other on peaceful, tree-lined streets. Old Louisville offers a step back in time to a century ago and provides one of the best city walks you’re likely to find in the country. Read more >


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A Good Deed Portrayed in Art Around the World

St. Veronica, National Gallery of Art, Washington DCJuly 12 is the feast day of St. Veronica, one of the most identifiable saints in the Christian canon. Whereas so many saints can be hard to recognize by sight according to their symbols (for example, a lily is associated with at least 10 saints; a book accompanies more than 20), the veil with Jesus’ face is assigned only to Veronica. She was especially revered in the 14th and 15th centuries, but her simple act of kindness — offering to wipe Christ’s face — is just as relevant, and as necessary, today. Throughout the world, she has been portrayed in myriad ways and materials. Read about the top five depictions of St. Veronica >


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Detroit’s Gem of an Office Building

Guardian Building, Detroit, MichiganRich in architecture, teeming with milestones in industry and music, but vexed by crime, corrupt politicians, and a collapsed population and tax base, Detroit, Michigan, is a perplexing place. On the one hand, prospective visitors are put off by its remarkably bad reputation. On the other hand, it’s one of the most intriguing cities in the United States that I’ve ever been to — and without a problem. From my base at the fantastic Inn on Ferry Street, I explored everything this city has to offer — delicious ethnic foods that range from Arabic to Polish, the outstanding Detroit Institute of Arts, the ruins of Brush Park and the decimated automotive industry, and its famed architecture, including one of my favorite skyscrapers in the world, the Guardian Building. Read more about it >


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Kraków’s Divine Churches

Church of the Transfiguration, Krakow, PolandKraków, like most other major cities in Poland, has lived through a tumultuous history. From glory days as the nation’s capital to a widespread conflagration that burned it to the ground, from being shunted aside under the Austrian Empire to resurgent pride when its most famous resident, Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, from intense air pollution from Soviet-built steelworks to its role as the country’s leading tourist destination, Kraków is a survivor. And, for centuries, its sturdy citizens have steadily found courage and hope in the city’s gorgeous houses of worship. Read about the top five churches in Kraków, Poland >