Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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How Great Thou Arch

Queenstown War Memorial, New ZealandThey seem simple: vertical curved structures that span an open space and may, or may not, support weight above it. Of course, arches are much more complicated than that, a complex balance of compression, stress, thrust, bracings, and transference. The Mesopotamians got the jump on them four thousand years ago, but it was the Romans who used them systematically in a wide range of structures, leading eventually to a worldwide adaptation of this most beautiful form. Read about the top five arches >


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Superb Structures in the “City of Soul”

Standard Life Building, Jackson, MississippiThe capital of Mississippi was within easy striking distance from my accommodations in Vicksburg, the wonderful Baer House Inn. In less than an hour, I had pulled into Jackson and was wandering its peaceful streets. In this city that is celebrating its 200th birthday this year, I found very little of its pre–Civil War built environment, thanks to its nearly wholesale destruction during that bloody conflict. However, a handful of survivors and some newer additions, all concentrated in a small walking distance, keep the city architecturally interesting. Read about the top five buildings in Jackson >


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Finland’s 10,000-Year-Old Time Capsule

National Museum of Finland, HelsinkiThe National Museum of Finland encapsulates the history and culture of this Nordic country in a nutshell — an extremely large nutshell. The shell itself is striking, an Art Nouveau architectural treasure that reflects the strong period of National Romanticism and beckons you to explore. Once I cracked that shell, I found a bounty of fascinating, interesting, and informative exhibits, including some arresting frescoes as soon as I stepped inside to purchase my admission ticket. Read more about it >


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The Curious Castle of Manitou Springs

Miramont Castle, Manitou Springs, ColoradoI couldn’t decide if it was beautiful or an eyesore, the creation of an imaginative designer or a lunatic. Either way, it most definitely was unusual. In Manitou Springs, Colorado, Miramont Castle stands as its oddest yet most irresistible attraction — a fantastic mansion, or the setting for a movie director’s spine-tingling chiller. With a convoluted history and a schizophrenic architectural style, I found it impossible to categorize what Miramont was. But I was most definitely glad that I saw it. Read about Miramont Castle >


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French Flair in North America

Maillou House, Quebec CityA French enclave on an English-speaking continent, Québec is a wonderful anomaly. Although Montreal is the Canadian province’s economic powerhouse, Québec City is its solid, more obvious connection to its French past, and its present — French is still the native language of more than 90 percent of its half-million citizens. Roaming its streets and alleys of low-rise stone houses, magnificent churches, and tempting cafés, I couldn’t help but feel transported to 18th- and 19th-century France. Among its beautiful edifices, there’s one building that’s so iconic to the city that it’s impossible to think of one without the other, and that you’re anywhere but in the capital of Québec. Read about the top five buildings in Québec City >


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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 >