Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Missoula Minus the Mountains: The Best Buildings to See When Smoke Erases the Views

The Babs, Missoula, MontanaWhile spending a couple of weeks in some of the most beautiful parks in the U.S. Rocky Mountains, I took a city break with a couple of days in Missoula, Montana. The smoke from forest fires hung in the air, giving the city an ashy-gray tint that obliterated the views of the mountains. Up close, however, Missoula’s most attractive buildings stand out, and when the smoke clears, you really get to see why this city and its architecture — whether in the historic districts, downtown, or on the campus of the University of Montana — are so attractive. Read more about the top five buildings in Missoula, Montana >

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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 >


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Five Fun Things to See and Do in Europe’s Emptiest Country

Skógasafn, IcelandHigh in the North Atlantic, Iceland floats just below the Arctic Circle, the perfect resting spot for travelers shuttling between North America and Europe. Here in the Land of Fire and Ice, the most sparsely populated country in Europe, you can easily see both, sometimes in spectacular and awesome displays of erupting volcanoes or calving icebergs. Not everything here is so dramatic, of course, and you can appreciate this island nation of fewer than half a million people with much more sedate activities, like soaking in a geothermal pool and spying the most adorable birds on earth. Read more about the top five things to see and do in Iceland >


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The Best Artistic Depictions of Palm Sunday

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New YorkThis coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, a key date in the Christian calendar when millions of Christians around the world commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem — a fateful day that launches Holy Week. Depicted in art for centuries, Palm Sunday is an unmistakable scene, whether it’s been rendered on a canvas or, as in most of the ones that really impressed me, stained glass. Read more about the top five Palm Sundays >


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The Best Depictions of the Real Meaning of Christmas

The Adoration of the MagiDecember 25 is rapidly approaching, and for 2.2 billion Christians around the world, the Christmas season is in full swing. Although the secular aspects of this important holiday increasingly garner all the attention and overshadow the real meaning of Christmas — the birth of Jesus Christ — all you have to do is look at a Nativity scene (or listen to Linus’ beautiful soliloquy in A Charlie Brown Christmas) to be reminded of what it’s all about. For centuries, artists have been depicting that day that changed the world in Nativities in every type of media imaginable. Some of these painters, sculptors, glaziers, woodworkers, and other talented experts broke the traditional mold of just showing the Holy Family in a stable with some hay, farm animals, a couple of shepherds, and the Three Wise Men. I found these works in particular to be the most imaginative, and most memorable. Read more about my top five Nativities in the world >


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Top 5 Yellows

Ceramics and pottery, Orvieto, ItalyIt may elicit groans and sighs of dismay from children when a yellow school bus pulls up on the first day back to class in September, but it will also make millions of parents secretly smile. In fact, at least to me, yellow remains the most joyful color. Whether it’s the daffodil fields of Oregon, the Yellow Mounds in Badlands National Park in South Dakota, or the predominant color in the ceramics and pottery made in Orvieto, Italy, yellow is bound to add a little cheer to your day. These are my top five occurrences of yellow from around the world. Read more >


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Miracles in Québec

Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, QuebecCancer. Malignant tumors. Nonfunctioning limbs. Chronic cardiac conditions. The human body can trap us within ourselves for years, even decades, whenever it decides to malfunction or sustains an attack. When the situation appears hopeless, and medicines and treatments fail, we often start to look for a little extra help outside hospital wards. For half a million people every year, that assistance comes in the form of a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Québec. And when the impossible happens, and they’re cured of the incurable, they come back to say thanks. Read more >