Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Five Fantastic Buildings in Albany, New York

First Trust Company Building, Albany, New YorkIn 1614, Dutch traders built Fort Nassau, a fur-trading post and the first documented European structure in present-day Albany, New York. Things have changed over the four centuries since then, and a wood fort would hardly blend in at all in the capital of New York. I would have liked to have seen what that short-lived structure looked like (abandoned after only a few years due to the river’s flooding), but I found just as much pleasure in checking out some of its successors. Read about the top five buildings in Albany, New York >


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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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Animals That Come to Life in Art

All pet owners know that their four- and sometimes two-legged friends have distinctive personalities. But that doesn’t apply solely to our domesticated companions. Go into the wild and watch how different penguins or baboons behave, and you’ll start to notice the uniqueness of each individual. Animals are just as complicated as humans (with a lot less baggage), capable of learning, surviving against the odds, and feeling, everything from fear and compassion to sadness and joy. We’ve all seen the videos of elephants crying, a husky going absolutely bonkers when his master returns home after an extended tour of duty overseas, the Labrador gently interacting with a curious but cautious three-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and the giraffe kissing his caretaker goodbye, sensing the man’s impending death from cancer. When animals are portrayed in art and an artist can brilliantly capture their entire being and personality — their characteristics, beauty, and emotions — in static media like marble or paint, you’ll find yourself looking at something that comes this close to being the real thing. Read about the top five animals in art >


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The Best of Baltimore

Giraffe, Maryland ZooClosing in on 300 years since its founding, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, was named after Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore or the Irish House of Lords. Baltimore Manor was the name of the family’s estate in Ireland, and Baltimore became an anglicization of the more lyrical Baile an Tí Mhóir (Irish for “town of the big house”). This terrifically historic city has given the United States its first paper mill, Catholic diocese, sugar refinery, Sunday newspaper, investment bank, electric refrigerator, public museum, gas streetlights, dental college, commercial ice cream factory, animal welfare association, university press, and city magazine, among dozens of other achievements. An equally long catalog of attractions makes it appealing to visitors of all ages with myriad interests. Read about the top five things to see and do in Baltimore >


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Divinity in Providence

First Uniterian Church of ProvidenceI was attending a conference for editors in downtown Providence, and in between sessions I had ample opportunity to explore this historic American city. Settled in 1636 by Roger Williams, who named it in honor of “God’s merciful Providence,” the capital of Rhode Island has not always been under this divine protection. Through nearly four centuries of history, it has seen catastrophic floods, alarming crime rates, slavery, and cholera outbreaks. But it has also been an industrial powerhouse, one of the richest cities in the United States, the jewelry manufacturing capital of the world, an educational leader with such institutions as Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and the Rhode Island School of Design, and a beacon for religious tolerance, still acknowledged in street names like Benefit, Benevolent, and Hope. That religious tradition can also be seen in its dozens and dozens of churches. Read about the top five churches in Providence >


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A Good Deed Portrayed in Art Around the World

St. Veronica, National Gallery of Art, Washington DCJuly 12 is the feast day of St. Veronica, one of the most identifiable saints in the Christian canon. Whereas so many saints can be hard to recognize by sight according to their symbols (for example, a lily is associated with at least 10 saints; a book accompanies more than 20), the veil with Jesus’ face is assigned only to Veronica. She was especially revered in the 14th and 15th centuries, but her simple act of kindness — offering to wipe Christ’s face — is just as relevant, and as necessary, today. Throughout the world, she has been portrayed in myriad ways and materials. Read about the top five depictions of St. Veronica >


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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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Philadelphia’s Old Churches Always Offer Something New

Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaWith so many historic sites to see in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ranging from Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite to the massive food mecca inside Reading Terminal Market (one of the world’s best indoor markets) to the oldest residential street in the United States, it’s hard to pick which ones to head to when you have only three days in the city. My recommendation is to sprinkle visits to some beautiful churches into your itinerary; you’ll be rewarded with artistic beauty and some fascinating tales. Read about the top five churches in Philadelphia >


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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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The Power of Pink

Rose quartz, Rapid City, South DakotaYou may first conjure up an image of a baby blanket for your infant daughter or niece. Perhaps an Easter bunny comes to mind. Or maybe you recall the unmistakable aroma of bubble gum. No matter what your association, the color pink will make you think of something relevant, and it’s usually a positive and cheery thought. Although pink comes to the fore with the arrival of spring, in myriad blossoms and flowers, you don’t have to look very hard to find it in delightful places around the world throughout the year. Read about the top five pinks >