Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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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 >


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Tiny Valletta’s Big Churches

Parish Church of St. Augustine, Valletta, MaltaOne of Europe’s smallest countries in terms of both size and population, the island nation of Malta has a disproportionately large abundance of everything from striking architecture to a complex and outstanding cuisine. Its deep history has seen a seemingly endless parade of foreign powers attacking, invading, and controlling it over the centuries. At its heart, the capital of Valletta houses only about 6,000 people. This fantastic walled peninsula city, surrounded on three sides by blue bays and harbors of the Mediterranean Sea, is crammed with a hefty number of gorgeous churches, maybe for all those who were trying to pray away the latest conquerors. Read about the top five churches in Valletta >


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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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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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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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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 >