Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Michigan’s Memorable Museums

Michigan winters can often be brutal. For those who prefer not to have frozen appendages while strolling around the excellent Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park or the grounds of one of the most beautiful capitols in the United States, the state offers plenty of indoor diversions, including its assemblage of hundreds of museums. They run the gamut, from traditional art and history museums to the bizarre Pickle Barrel House Museum and the astoundingly specific Nun Doll Museum. Scattered around the state, from its southernmost border to the northern tip of the Upper Peninsula, these repositories will reward you with new knowledge. Read about the top five museums in Michigan >


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Beautiful Buildings in Vermont’s Top City

College Street Congregational Church, Burlington, VermontPart university town, part commercial center, part New England perfection, Burlington, Vermont, the largest city in the state, feels like a close-knit community, a palpable vibe I detected in the congenial farmers market, where I purchased butternut donuts, and along the Church Street Marketplace. Its pedestrian mall, championed by an architecture student who was inspired by the people-only Strøget in Copenhagen, Denmark, is part of the city’s handsome built environment that includes fine structures on two college campuses, a restored Art Deco theater, plenty of churches, and a hotel that used to be a newspaper office. Read about the top five buildings in Burlington >


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Buildings of Distinction in Tampa, Florida

Kress Building, Tampa, FloridaWith a booming population and a port that ranks at number seven in the United States (and number two in Florida for cruise ships), Tampa has been experiencing significant development, and redevelopment, for years now. Amid all that newness, I was glad to see the survival of some of the older things, particularly some stand-out buildings that defined the city for so long. Read about the top five buildings in Tampa >


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Tallinn’s Top Churches

Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, Tallinn, EstoniaWithin, and just outside, the walls of the Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia, you’ll find an abundance of fascinating sights, from resistance and architecture museums, to archery demonstrations, to medieval towers, to fantastic restaurants serving traditional Estonian meals. There’s also an extraordinary concentration of churches that stretch over a long range of centuries. You could see a good dozen of them all within a day, thanks to their close proximity to one another. But, of course, that would mean rushing through these outstanding structures. Instead, choose two or three per day, and you’ll get the full experience of Estonian spirituality. Read about the top five churches in Tallinn>


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Going Directly to Jail

Prisoner's Gate, The Hague, NetherlandsGoing to prison while on vacation is not exactly on anyone’s itinerary, especially if you’ve seen Midnight Express. But sometimes a look at life behind bars is a worthy way to pass an hour or two, especially when the jails themselves provide some fascinating history and some pretty impressive buildings. Read about the top five jails >


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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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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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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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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 >