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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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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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 >


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Philadelphia’s Old Churches Always Offer Something New

Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaWith so many historic sites to see in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ranging from Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite to the massive food mecca inside Reading Terminal Market (one of the world’s best indoor markets) to the oldest residential street in the United States, it’s hard to pick which ones to head to when you have only three days in the city. My recommendation is to sprinkle visits to some beautiful churches into your itinerary; you’ll be rewarded with artistic beauty and some fascinating tales. Read about the top five churches in Philadelphia >


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Denver’s Most Noteworthy Buildings

Malo Mansion, Denver, ColoradoWhile attending a meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in downtown Denver, Colorado, I had ample opportunity to duck out before, between, and after sessions to explore — what else? — the architecture of Denver. While the mountains and fantastic natural surroundings come to mind first when thinking about the Mile High City, its built environment is pretty noteworthy, too. Read more about the top five buildings in Denver >


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To See or Not to See: Denmark’s Kronborg Castle

Kronborg Castle Chapel, Helsingør, DenmarkThe decision is easy: yes, see it. But why the modified Shakespearean reference? Kronborg Castle, in the city of Helsingør, Denmark, is the setting for Hamlet. Although both the castle and the city capitalize on that distinction, it’s not true: Fictional Hamlet and his friends and enemies didn’t act out their tragic storylines here. Nevertheless, you can get your fill of their tale here as well as an abundance of history and architecture that has nothing to do with the prince of Denmark. Read more >


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In a City of Skyscrapers, Churches Still Grace Manhattan

Church of the Incarnation, New York, New YorkMore than 100 churches of most denominations pop up all over the island of Manhattan in New York City. Over the course of my life, I had been to only about five of them. That just seemed wrong, especially because some have been permanently closed, and it’s probably only a matter of time before these remarkable structures with their architectural marvels are razed. The time seemed ripe to become a traveler in my hometown, so I made it a mission to see as many as possible before they disappear. My quest proved to be an incredibly rewarding journey. Read about the top five churches in Manhattan >