Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Unique Churches in Unique Venice

Church of St. Zachary, Venice, ItalyWhenever you cross one of Venice’s more than 400 bridges over its placid canals, you’ll catch sight of one of the city’s nearly 140 churches. They come in all shapes and sizes, from massive cathedrals to smaller parish churches. Most are Roman Catholic, but you can find a few for other denominations, such as the Greek Orthodox church with its leaning tower. And, while Saint Mark’s Basilica is the biggest draw, it’s often the less-visited churches that brandish the best surprises. Read about the top five churches in Venice, Italy >


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Living Under a Foreign Occupier

Phone Booth, Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, EstoniaIn light of Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, I’ve been thinking about my visit to the Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom in Tallinn, Estonia. Note the plural. This fascinating museum tells the story of how little Estonia was forcibly occupied three times in the 1900s—once by the Nazis and twice by the Soviets—and how it emerged as sovereign nation in 1991. It’s a timely lesson in heartless brutality and inspiring resistance, and a good reminder of how one insane madman can change world history—and what must be done to stop him. Read about the museum >


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Pre-War Perfection in Düsseldorf, Germany

St. John's Church, Dusseldorf, GermanyWhile walking between the Christmas markets in Düsseldorf, Germany, including one of the largest in the entire country, and snacking on ginger Lebkuchen and sipping glühwein, I stopped to admire some wonderful buildings. Although much of the city (about 64 percent) was destroyed during the Second World War, these survivors escaped total destruction and remain some of the city’s most spectacular structures. Read about the top five buildings in Düsseldorf >


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On the Wall

One of the world’s great fortified cities, Dubrovnik, Croatia, is unforgettable, from your arrival there to every moment you spend sheltered within the impressive defensive walls of the Old Town, drinking fine Croatian red wine, exploring ancient churches, admiring unique doorways, and popping into one of its museums. To get a different perspective of this unmistakable city, I went upstairs and took a 1.2-mile walk atop the walls that kept Dubrovnik safe for centuries. Read about it >


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The World’s Best Urban Parks

Watching a group of Asian senior citizens practicing the slow movements of a choreographed dance. Making friends with a red squirrel. Hearing someone rail against the evils of plutocracy. Standing under a 165’ Douglas fir. You never know what you’ll find in a city park, and that’s one of their many attractions. And the best parks that make all that possible smack in the middle of a city do it in unforgettable style. Read about the top five urban parks >


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Malbork Castle Will Hit You Like 10,125 Tons of Bricks

Malbork Castle, Malbork, PolandAs soon as I learned about the major attraction in Malbork, Poland, I knew I had to take a side trip from my base in Gdansk, an hour to the northwest by train. I couldn’t resist seeing the largest brick structure ever built—Malbork Castle. At the size of about 40 U.S. football fields and with its oldest parts going back to the 1200s, this massive complex had the sudden and significant impact on me that its statistics assured me it would. Read more about Malbork Castle >


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The Best Buildings in Bergen, Norway

Bratten Building, Bergen, NorwayBergen throws the best Norwegian Independence Day festivities, or so I was told when I arrived in this coastal city two days before the holiday on May 17. I was glad I had timed my vacation so well, but parades, music, and fireworks weren’t the only things that attracted me here. The gorgeous natural setting on a fjord harbor with a mountainous backdrop, one of the world’s top five aquariums, and a welcoming, self-deprecating populace make this a fantastic destination. In between it all, Norway’s second city is a delight to stroll around and take in its attractions as well as some impressive architecture. Read about the top five buildings in Bergen, Norway >


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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 Superior Structures of Salzburg, Austria

High Salzburg FortressJulie Andrews’ romp through Salzburg, Austria, in The Sound of Music while singing “I Have Confidence” and toting her luggage and guitar case is unarguably one of the city’s best unintentional promotion pieces ever produced. How could it not be? Fountains, a gorgeous Alpine backdrop, and the mountaintop fortress are all on full display, tempting you to immerse yourself in this most Austrian of cities. You’ll certainly come here for the music, whether it’s the campy Sound of Music singalongs or the higher-echelon concerts of Salzburg native Mozart. But you’ll also come here for the architecture, much of which miraculously survived the bombings during World War II. Read about the top five buildings in Salzburg >


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European Nature at Its Finest

Plitvice Lakes National Park, CroatiaAfter spending more than a week in urban Croatia, in Dubrovnik, Split, and Zagreb, and enjoying their myriad attractions (not to mention lots of fine red Croatian wine), it was time to see one of the most beautiful national parks not only in this Balkan nation, but in all of Europe. So I hopped on a bus for a two-hour ride from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park and then spent a glorious day exploring this outstanding attraction. Read about it >