Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Affordable Luxury in the Heart of Tallinn, Estonia

I wanted to stay within the walls of Tallinn, Estonia’s Old Town, a top UNESCO Heritage Site, but a bit removed from the tourist bull’s-eye of Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square). Upon my first glance at the Savoy Boutique Hotel, I knew I had found what I was searching for: a surprisingly affordable luxury hotel in a perfect location with an enviable list of amenities and services. Read more >


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Peeping Into Kitchens and Hiding From the Soviets in Tallinn’s Kiek in de Kök

Kiek in de Kok, Tallinn, EstoniaDeclared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia, survives as one of Europe’s best preserved medieval fortifications. I was completely enchanted by its beautiful churches, cobblestone streets, old merchant houses, and medieval gates around its perimeter. The city’s most distinctive feature — the defensive wall around it — incorporates a couple of dozen towers. One particular tower, Kiek in de Kök, boasts an unusually wild history. In the 16th century, soldiers joked that they could look through the windows on the top level into the kitchens of the homes beneath them, and, in the 20th century, criminals and punk rockers could flee from police during the Soviets’ crushing 50-year-hold on Estonia in the tunnels underneath the tower. Read more >


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The Best Clocks in the World Tell More Than Time

Holy Spirit Church clock, Tallinn, EstoniaWhen you fall back this weekend, take a good look at the clock or wristwatch you’re adjusting. Is it a strictly functional device that displays the inexorable march of time? Or is it a work of art? Clocks have come a long way since sundials and do more than merely inform you that you have arrived early at an airport or overslept again. The best ones also tell great stories — or have great stories told about them. Read more about the top five clocks in the world >


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Five Doors to Admire Before You Open Them

House of the Blackhead, Tallinn, EstoniaWe pass through doors countless times every day — in our home, our workplace, the subway, elevators, barns, garages. Most are fairly unremarkable, utilitarian means of egress. But every now and then, a masterfully crafted door stands out in the crowd, arresting our attention, hinting at something remarkable behind it and enticing us to go inside and discover the treasures or surprises awaiting us on the other side. These are my top five doors in the world. Read more >


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Authentic Estonian Food Among the Tourist Traps

I had spent a full day in Estonia outside of Tallinn’s Old Town — something few tourists to this fairy tale city do — with a knowledgeable private guide who took me to Lahemaa National Park, a few of its outstanding manor houses, and a rustic beach town where we had lunch at a bare-bones cafeteria-style eatery filled with Estonians enjoying a lovely summer day along the coast of one of the bays at the edges of the Gulf of Finland. When I returned to the Old Town, I was still in a local frame of mind and began my search for some authentic Estonian food, perhaps not served by a wait staff dressed in medieval garb and setting my place with silver “weapons” to attack my meal. That meant avoiding Tallinn’s beautiful Town Hall Square, but it didn’t take very long at all before I found what I was looking for at Kuldse Notsu Kõrts, or the “Golden Piglet Inn.” Read more >


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My Own Private Estonia

Sagadi ManorAfter three days in the captivating capital of Estonia, it was time to escape from the almost inescapable clusters of day-tripping tourists from massive cruise ships who have inadvertently edged Tallinn toward becoming a Disney-esque caricature of itself. So I hit the road with Martin, a local university student majoring in social sciences, for a private look at the Estonia that wasn’t overflowing with medieval-themed restaurants and countless amber shops. Read more >