Stephen Travels

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A Taste of Russia in Finland at Helsinki’s Šašlik Restaurant

Šašlik, Helsinki, FinlandAll around Helsinki, I kept coming across big and small reminders of Russia’s influence in the city and throughout Finland, which was part of its massive neighbor from 1809 until its independence in 1917. You may still hear some Russian conversations, although, even though it’s the third most spoken native language in Finland, Russian now represents only 1 percent of native languages spoken. You’re more likely to see evidence of Russia’s sway in, for instance, the statue of Emperor Alexander II standing before the striking Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square, and the gorgeous Uspenski Cathedral, the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. You’ll also find it in the cuisine, and one of the top Russian restaurants in the Finnish capital, Šašlik, immediately transported me back to the era of the Romanovs. Read more >

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A Royal Park for Commoners in Tallinn, Estonia

Kadriorg Park, Tallinn, EstoniaThe built environment of Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia, is a treasure trove of architectural grandeur and styles, an enchanting conglomeration of beautiful churches, defensive walls and gates, towers, museums, palaces, and houses with eye-catching weather vanes. There are parks, too, particularly along the eastern fringe, but I wanted to spend a full day experiencing the city’s best park — without the tourist crowds that fill the streets of Old Town — so I hopped on a convenient tram and headed to Kadriorg Park, built by a Russian czar and open to the public ever since it was established exactly 300 years ago. Read more >


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Buda or Pest? The Hungarian City’s Best Buildings Stand on Both Sides of the Danube

Matthias Church, Budapest, HungaryCrossed by Chain Bridge, one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, in the heart of Budapest, the Danube River divides the Hungarian capital into older, hilly Buda and flatter, larger Pest. Each side has its own special appeal — Buda boasts fantastic views; Pest offers multiple cultural attractions — but to see this city’s most beautiful buildings, you’ll have to visit both, an enjoyable proposition that leads you through one of Central Europe’s most alluring capitals. Read about the top five buildings in Budapest >


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Lingering Over Lunch in Tivoli, Italy

L'Angolino di Mirko, Tivoli, ItalyA short day trip out of Rome took me to Tivoli, a smaller city of around 55,000 people about 25 miles northeast of the Italian capital. I traveled here specifically to see Villa d’Este, a 16th-century palace famed for the gardens and 51 fountains that spill down the hillside behind it. A full morning spent admiring the villa’s frescoes and climbing up and down some steep paths and staircases to appreciate the property had stirred my appetite. On my way back to the train station, I hunted for a spot for lunch where I could soak in the aura of this place. I found it perfectly captured at Ristorante L’Angolino di Mirko. Read more >


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Valletta’s Ambrosia Lives Up to Expectations of Its Name’s Connotations

I had spent a full week in Malta, that small Mediterranean island nation with a fascinating history, alluring beaches and architecture, and, very importantly, an outstanding, complex cuisine, served with aplomb at such stellar restaurants as Legligin Wine Bar, Palazzo Preca, and Capistrano. For my last night here, I headed to Ambrosia in the capital, Valletta. I figured that a restaurant named for the food of the Greek gods, with the promise of conferring longevity or immortality upon whoever partook of it, had to be good. And, to no surprise, it did not disappoint. Read more >


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The Best of Tenerife’s Best

Basilica of the Royal Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Candelaria, TenerifeDriving a rental car with progressively fewer and fewer mirrors around Tenerife, the largest and most populous of the Canary Islands about 62 miles off the coast of Morocco, presented increasing automotive challenges. But it also gave me the chance to develop a comprehensive picture of this Spanish island, from its surreal landscapes to its characteristic architecture to its nearly perfect climate and all that that permits. Read more about the top five things to do in Tenerife >


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The Deceptive Beauty of Oslo’s City Hall

City Hall, Oslo, NorwayEvery now and then, you will find a reason to visit a city hall other than to, say, pick up a marriage license or attend a meeting about your local school system. On such occasions, you may very well be delightfully surprised by what’s in store. The City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for instance, is a gorgeous building where I had the good fortune to meet the city’s mayor during my visit; Stockholm’s City Hall boasts gorgeous golden mosaics and an unbeatable view of the city from atop its tower. And while the austere exterior of the city hall in Oslo, Norway, may not attract you at first, this city hall is particularly chock full of history, stories, art, and superlatives, which became increasingly apparent to me the closer I got to it. Read more >