Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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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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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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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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Museum Mania in Stockholm, Sweden

Army Museum, Stockholm, SwedenStockholm, Sweden, invites you to be outdoors, with its perfect blend of parks, water, open spaces, and built environment. But when it’s time to head inside, the city makes that just as welcoming, with well over 50 museums to occupy your time. But which ones to choose? The traditional art and history museums? The ABBA Museum? The Museum of Spirits (of the alcoholic kind, not the supernatural)? The Royal Coin Cabinet? I’ll make it easy for you. Read about the top five museums in Stockholm >


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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 >


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Overwhelmed With Light and Color in Seattle

Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, WashingtonI first came to experience the work of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly from a distance. From 520 feet above it, actually. Atop the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, after enjoying the expansive views of the city and its watery surroundings and mountainous background, I noticed a splash of vibrant colors in a concentrated patch of ground far below me. Intrigued by this alluring blast of a glowing spectrum, I knew I had to discover the source. And that’s when I was introduced to this artist’s creations at Chihuly Garden and Glass. Read more >


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Revel in the Culinary and Cultural Traditions of Jama Michalika in Krakow, Poland

Jama Michalika, Krakow, PolandFine autumnal weather and abundant outdoor seating perfect for people-watching at nearly every restaurant in Krakow, Poland, kept me dining al fresco for several days. But one restaurant in particular demanded that I grab a table inside. The very popular Jama Michalika serves up a fantastic interior with an engaging history, and you’ll end up coming here for the décor as much as the food. Read about it >


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Big or Small, Amsterdam’s Museums Are Among the World’s Finest

Tulip Museum, Amsterdam, the NetherlandsWhen I found myself finally able to turn away from Amsterdam’s irresistible canals and canal houses, gorgeous churches, inviting parks, and romantic bridges, or when I was simply faced with a rainy Dutch day, I turned my attention to the city’s museums. About 75 museums scattered around the capital of the Netherlands appeal to a very broad audience, no matter what your interest. From major art and history museums to those with a very specialized focus (say, for instance, diamonds, Heineken, or hash, marijuana, and hemp), these cultural institutions should play a major role in your visit here, but with so many choices, you’ll have to select carefully. Read about the top five museums in Amsterdam >


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Nature and Art Blend Perfectly at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MichiganI had spent a fair amount of time walking around Heritage Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the most beautiful historic districts in the United States, before heading downtown for a phenomenal dinner at San Chez Bistro. Over drinks with some locals, I was encouraged to visit Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, only five miles away. The following day, I took their advice. I was extremely glad that I did. Read more >


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A Baroque Masterpiece in the Center of Ljubljana, Slovenia

St. Nicholas Cathedral, Ljubljana, SloveniaThe city of Ljubljana seems to have been created for its residents and visitors to spend a lot of time outside. Whether you’re kayaking down the lazy Ljubljanica River, exploring lovely Prešeren Square and one of the top five bridges in the world, climbing the hill up to the castle, or romping around some fantastic parks, Ljubljana inevitably draws you outdoors for long stretches at a time. But the capital of Slovenia is also one of the wettest cities in Europe, which means you’ll be spending some time indoors as well. And one of the best places to do that is the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, a truly spectacular Baroque house of worship in the heart of the city. Read more about it >