Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Amsterdam’s Most Beautiful Churches

Vondel Church, Amsterdam, NetherlandsThe canal houses tend to get all the attention in Amsterdam, and with good reason. It’s impossible to resist the charms of these slender homes that line, sometimes a little drunkenly, the calm canals lacing through the city. But the capital of the Netherlands boasts some pretty impressive buildings of a much larger scale, such as its Royal Palace, one of the world’s most beautiful train stations, and one of the world’s top five post office buildings (which now operates as a shopping mall). Many of the city’s gorgeous houses of worship are of substantial size, too, and their spires and domes can be spotted rising above the canal houses all over town. Read about the top five churches in Amsterdam >

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The Firehouses That Burn the Brightest

Jasper Fire Hall, Jasper, AlbertaThe word “hero” is employed far too often to describe someone who simply does his or her job, or someone you might have a shred of admiration for. In fact, the word is quite in danger of verbicide. The shortstop who makes a great catch is not a hero; your favorite reality star is certainly not a hero. In a world that is seriously lacking in true heroes, it’s heartening to know that there is one group that deservedly earns the accolade every day: firefighters. And societies have acknowledged their selfless bravery and critical role by constructing some highly impressive buildings for them from which they perform their duties. Read about the world’s top five firehouses >


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The Eeriest Places on Earth

Nevada City, MontanaIf you’re planning to visit a fabricated haunted house for Halloween, or to attend a party in a costume that’s anything but frightening, I have an alternative: Go to an authentic ghost town. These abandoned places teem with vacated, decaying buildings and with the spirits of a long-vanished population. You’re unlikely to run into a vampire or a sexy French maid; a rolling tumbleweed is more probable, or the hint of an odd susurration carried on the wind that blows through the silence of these eerie, deserted places. You can find them all over the globe, from Chile to Italy to Japan, and they will give you a thrill, and a chill, like no other locations in the world. Read about the top five ghost towns >


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Scotland’s Bank Buildings Generate More Pop for the Pound

Glasgow Savings Bank, Glasgow, ScotlandFor centuries throughout Europe, the Church was the main beneficiary of financial dedication and patronage, giving rise to some of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals, basilicas, churches, and chapels. But as decrescent religion’s ambit started to fade with the burgeoning of trade and commercialism in the 1800s, banks and commercial institutions began to syphon off much of that funding, which they used to erect structures that honored not a higher being, but capitalism and economic power. This watershed resulted in increasingly grandiose bank headquarters and branches, and few people did it better than the Scots. Read more about the top five bank buildings in Scotland >


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The Big Easy’s Enduring Allure

New OrleansSometimes relegated to merely America’s party city for dipsomaniacs and forever linked to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Louisiana, manages to transcend both through its history, culture, and a palpable vibe that can’t be replicated. One of the most distinctive cities in the United States, NOLA is many things to many people: rambunctious, mysterious, unsettling, tempestuous, unfettered, joyful, unforgettable. No matter what your disposition, this 300-year-old city boasts an undeniably magnetic drawing power that will keep you enthralled throughout the year, not just during its legendary Mardi Gras celebrations when all discretion is jettisoned. Read more about the top five things to see and do in New Orleans >


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Alabama’s Arrestive Attractions

Fort Conde, Mobile, AlabamaAdmitted to the United States as the 22nd state in 1819, Alabama has been producing two centuries of noteworthy events, from key civil rights movements to thrilling Crimson Tide football games to launching a highly successful eponymous country band. It has also been a place of firsts: Alabama was the first state to declare Christmas a legal U.S. holiday (1836), the first place in the world to introduce an electric street trolley system (1886), and the first place in the Western Hemisphere where an open heart surgery was performed (1902). And, of course, it keeps track of all that in the nation’s first state archival agency, created in 1901. From the hilly highland rim in the north to its white Gulf Shore beaches, Alabama is filled with more than enough sites, attractions, and points of interest to make your vacation here complete. Read about the top five things to see and do in Alabama >


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Beyond the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, San Antonio, TexasOne of the largest cities in the United States — seventh, by population, and 13th by land area — San Antonio is known for quite a few attractions, particularly the revitalized and reimagined River Walk, and, of course, the Alamo, both of which snare the majority of visitors to this Texas city. Given its vast geographical size (461 square miles), you’ll need a car to take in some of the other highlights, such as the McNay Art Museum, the San Antonio Botanic Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the King William Historic District, one of the top 10 U.S. historic districts. But a fairly compact core easily offers up most of the city’s best — and most memorable — achievements in its built environment, and wise travelers will happily stray from its top two attractions to find them. Read more about the top five buildings in San Antonio, Texas >