Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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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 >


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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 >