Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Buildings of Distinction in Tampa, Florida

Kress Building, Tampa, FloridaWith a booming population and a port that ranks at number seven in the United States (and number two in Florida for cruise ships), Tampa has been experiencing significant development, and redevelopment, for years now. Amid all that newness, I was glad to see the survival of some of the older things, particularly some stand-out buildings that defined the city for so long. Read about the top five buildings in Tampa >


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Tallinn’s Top Churches

Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, Tallinn, EstoniaWithin, and just outside, the walls of the Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia, you’ll find an abundance of fascinating sights, from resistance and architecture museums, to archery demonstrations, to medieval towers, to fantastic restaurants serving traditional Estonian meals. There’s also an extraordinary concentration of churches that stretch over a long range of centuries. You could see a good dozen of them all within a day, thanks to their close proximity to one another. But, of course, that would mean rushing through these outstanding structures. Instead, choose two or three per day, and you’ll get the full experience of Estonian spirituality. Read about the top five churches in Tallinn>


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Going Directly to Jail

Prisoner's Gate, The Hague, NetherlandsGoing to prison while on vacation is not exactly on anyone’s itinerary, especially if you’ve seen Midnight Express. But sometimes a look at life behind bars is a worthy way to pass an hour or two, especially when the jails themselves provide some fascinating history and some pretty impressive buildings. Read about the top five jails >


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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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Architecture in Alberta That Rivals Its Scenery

Old City Hall, Calgary, AlbertaBanff, Alberta, was one of the first places I remember ever wanting to see. It took a few decades, but I finally put together a two-week loop around Alberta that started in Edmonton and ended in Calgary, with gorgeous Banff nicely sandwiched between. During that time, I reveled in Alberta’s unmatched scenery — ice fields, waterfalls, dramatic mountains, deep lakes, and deeper forests. But I also was treated to some striking architecture that adds even more interest to this western Canadian province. Read about the top five buildings in Alberta >


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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 >