Saturday, October 30, 2010



Family Travel: Take a tour around 8 fantastic factories

Posted: 30 Oct 2010 06:57 AM PDT

We all know how short kids' attention spans can be; and the advent of complex video games and TV shows with intricate storylines have made it quite hard to impress children these days. For parents who've racked their brains out thinking of places where they can take their kids to have fun and even possibly learn something new, a trip to a factory may be just the remedy you're looking for.

Some factories in the US are now drawing their curtains a bit and letting the public see the inns and outs of their operations so people like you and me will know what it's like to be behind the scenes in the manufacturing process of some of the most common products we see in stores. Here are a couple of places you might like to check out for an interesting day out, plus some freebies as well.


Ice cream is a staple in a household with kids. If you and you tiny tots are interested in how each scoop makes its way to your cup, we suggest a trip to the Ben & Jerry's headquarters located in Waterbury, Vermont. This is one experience that not children but also parents will definitely enjoy. Visitors to the headquarters can sign up for a tour of the factory which usually lasts about 30 miutes, and watch from an elevated platform the transformation occurring on the factory floor. Guides will keep visitors company at all times and be on hand to explain the manufacturing process from the time that milk and sugar are combined all the way to the end when each pint contains the frozen treat that we all call ice cream. A history of this famous brand is also shown on the documentary aired during the tour.

Here, you will learn all about the founders of Ben & Jerry's namely Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield and how they became close buddies during the 7th grade. At the end of the tour get ready to treat your tastebuds to some samples fresh off the line. If you're ever wondering you can't find that one flavor you used to have all the time several years ago, check out the Flavor Graveyard and see if it's among the unfortunate flavors that were discontinued.


After snacking on jelly beans during movies, on the bus, while waiting in line, and while doing homework, don't you think it's time your kids found out how these sweet little treats are made? Parents can treat their candy fanatic kids to the Jelly Belly factory located at Fairfield, California and for the first time ever, join them as they get yet another sugar high. A tour of the factory usually lasts about 45 minutes.

Visitors are treated to an amazing bird's eye view of the manufacturing process, including the workers down at the floor, and jelly beans in almost color you can imagine. You can watch as each bean makes its way down the line, with sugar added at every stop. If you're wondering how these tasty beans leave such a strong flavor in your mouth, a thorough explanation of the company's added flavors is given. It might even surprise you to know that some of these flavors are actually real. At the end of the tour, visitors are handed a 2 ounce bag of beans absolutely free; that is, before you make a stop at the store located inside the factory where it's almost impossible not to reach out for a bag of assorted jelly beans that you can snack on during the ride back home.

A quick reminder to parents and kids alike, visit the factory during the weekdays because the compound is closed on weekends.


For dads who are having a hard time convincing their sons to learn baseball, perhaps a trip to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory located at Louisville Kentucky might help change their minds. A tour around the factory usually lasts about 25 minutes and presents visitors with an inside look on how baseball bats come to be before they're in the hands of a professional player.

Even dads who aren't too familiar with the manufacturing process can learn how a hunk of maple can is transformed into a bat that may eventually be responsible for a fantastic home run. If you want to learn about the evolution of baseball bats all the way from the 1800s up until these modern times, the museum is the perfect place to visit. You even get your own personal miniature bat after the tour as your souvenir.

For those who are interested in visiting the factory, plot your trip sometime during Monday through Saturday, as the factory is closed during Sundays and holidays. However, the factory is also closed on Saturdays during the months of December all the way through April.


A metal whistle is such a common thing in America that people don't usually take the time to wonder how on earth it's made or how the ball is placed inside a tiny compartment that in turn makes one heck of a sound. If you're ever in Columbus, Ohio, a trip to the American Whistle Corporation factory will teach you all about the production process of a metal whistle, and the background story of the sole metal whistle manufacturer in the entire United States.

A tour around the factory will take about 45 minutes. During that time, visitors will be able to see the unique machine that was built especially to fir the needs of AWC to be able to produce these whistles. For those who aren't in the know, the history of whistles actually stretches a while back (make that more than a hundred years); more noteworthy fun facts are shared during the tour. Before you go home, you are given a shiny new whistle that you get to keep for yourself.


Kids all over the world who are longing to reenact Charlie and the Chocolate factory can ask their moms and dads to take them to the Hershey's Chocolate World located in Hershey, Pasadena and find out how the different types of Hershey's chocolates are made. Visitors to the factory will be treated to a virtual tour as opposed to having access to the factory floor, but the experience is refined to be very realistic to the point that the aroma of chocolate even fills the room during a part of the tour. Here, you will also be able to learn how a cocoa bean undergoes numerous processes to be turned into a chocolate bar that you'll eventually snack on or give to your date as a present.


For children who's main food groups include the all-American PB & J, now is the chance to find out the origins of this creamy, crunchy spread that can also serve as a snack in itself (although your doctor might not agree with us on that). Parents and kids can have a fun time touring the compound of the Krema Nut Company which can be found in Columbus, Ohio. The secret to the distinct taste of Krema peanut butter is that the peanuts are all roasted by hand; of course, this is done in small batches.

Despite adapting to changing times and modern technology, Krema Nut Company has remained loyal to their hand roasting tradition since the company was established in 1898. What's great about this tour is that it's free and that visitors are given the chance to sample different flavors of peanut butter. You can also visit the gourmet nut store to buy some nuts for yourself.


If you enjoy playing Guitar Hero with your kids, then you'll definitely enjoy a trip to the Gibson Guitar Factory not only to see real live guitars but also to watch how one of the most popular musical instruments today are made. The factory is located in Memphis, Tennessee; and the tour around the compound lasts around 25 minutes or so.

After learning how a block of wood is shaped, painted and polished to become a beautiful guitar, we won't be surprised if you'll be yearning to hold a real one the next time you play your little game. You can also learn about how the technology has changed over the years in the industry of guitar-making. Unfortunately unlike other factories, you don't get a free guitar on your way out.


Another yummy treat that's a favorite by both kids and adults is the classic pizza pie. Nowadays, they come in different forms: microwaved pizza, burrito pizza, deep dish pizza, thin crust pizza, filled crust pizza; rumor has it there's even a chocolate pizza somewhere out there. But a tour at the Palermo's Pizza factory at the Villa Palermo facility located in Milwaukee, Wisonsin will have you craving for a slice of classic pan pizza.

The tour lasts about an hour wherein guests are treated to a history lesson of Palermo's Pizza, the step by step process to making pizza, and some fun facts that you didn't know about this famous snack. At the end of the tour, a fresh slice of pizza will be waiting for each and every one of the guests.

5 best places to have a cup of tea

Posted: 30 Oct 2010 05:20 AM PDT

For those whose introduction to tea drinking began and ended with a Lipton tea bag, perhaps it's time to expand your horizon and acquaint yourself with the different brews that can do well as an alternative to coffee. Unknown to some, tea can come in different flavors and mixed with milk, sugar, honey, mint (and even butter!) depending on your taste or mood; it can also be served hot or cold to suit the weather.

In recent years, modern tea houses serving tea in an assortment of flavors have sprouted in different cities, giving the age old beverage a twist and making it palatable to a younger audience. Aside from that, the benefits of drinking tea such as helping prevent the risk of cancer and having flawless skin have been hailed by medical experts resulting in a more popular demand for this previously overlooked beverage.

Different cultures all over the world have their own ways of preparing and drinking tea. If you want to know more about these flavors, we suggest visiting the five places below that are known for their tea culture.


Far from the dark brown liquid you're used to sipping from a paper cup, the mint tea found at the souk tables of Marrakech in Morocco are hot, sweet, and as the name denotes—minty. The difference doesn't end there, either. In Marrakech, tea is found everywhere and drank by anybody and everybody. That's because the majority of the people in Morocco are Muslim and traditionally, alcohol is either prohibited or taboo. Mint tea became the beverage of choice among the locals because it doesn't fall under the taboo list and is also available throughout the day.

For first time travelers to Marrakech, even the process of drinking tea can be a bit of a spectacle. Servers pour the steaming hot liquid from big copper kettles into tiny glasses that can fit in your palm. All around you, the smell of local Moroccan cuisine fills the air, and lamb heads simmering in cauldrons can be found nearby. You can get a glass of tea for the ridiculously low price of US 10 cents if you venture to Djemaa El Fena and sit yourself down at one of the food stalls found in the city.


Drinking tea in England is almost like a national pastime that everyone in the country—including the Queen—takes part in. The English are known the world over for their tea time breaks that also involved sweet cakes and pastries. We think the most ideal location to appreciate England's tea legacy is the English Cotswolds where you will find quaint old villages with stone structures and green pastures all around.

Armed with a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea, you can visit William Shakespeare's birthplace over at Stratford-upon-Avon, sit under a drooping willow, or watch as the water makes its way down a stream. It's like traveling back in time and experiencing England raw and pure through the simple act of sipping a hot beverage.


Travelers coming from the modern cities in China and making their way to Tibet will no doubt be drinking lots of tea. But travelers should get ready to encounter a type of tea that is worlds apart from what they had in Shanghai after the cross the mountain leading them to the Tibetan Plateau. The traditional green tea served by the Chinese is altered to fit the local climate which is to say, very cold indeed.

Tibetans add globs of butter and also salt to their tea. This not only gives the drink a rather unpleasant taste that takes time to get used to, but also helps protect one's lips from getting sunburned associated with the high altitude. The oil from the butter helps moisturize and protect the lips which are always exposed to the sun. There is a direct correlation between the altitude and the amount of butter put in the tea; which means the higher up you go, more butter will be put into your tea.

Interestingly enough, Ganzi is located outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, over at the western side of Sichuan province. It has been the center of protests related to the Tibetan uprisings since the year 2008, but a visit to this town will give you a better picture of Tibetan life than most other towns in Tibet itself. Because of the implied danger of these protests, not many tourists have been visiting Ganzi in recent years, but the local guesthouses are always welcome to foreigners who are looking for a place to stay especially since they'll most likely be the few new faces that they'll encounter for weeks.

As long as you're here, take the opportunity to wander around town and make your way to the monastery at the top of the hill which is home to more than 500 Buddhist monks.


Here's an interesting fun fact: Andean tea has for centuries been spiced up with a special component, the coca leaf, which in turn is the main ingredient used to make cocaine. Even today, this antique brew is very much still consumed by some of the locals such as the Quechua in Peru who trace their lineage from the Incas. The reason behind the addition of the coca leaf is to ease the effects of living at a very high altitude.

To experience it for yourself, journey up the mountains and make your way to Cuzco. Local accommodations here sometimes offer their guests a complimentary cup of tea upon their arrival. It's a bit hard to explain if you're not feeling it first hand, but for a person who was previously standing at the coastal city of Lima and is now 11,000 feet above the sea level in Cuzco, your body will definitely thank you.


Of course, we couldn't have made this list without mentioning China. In the eastern part of the globe, China is the one place you should be when you want to learn more about tea. If you're lost in the vastness of this gigantic country, we think the best place for an immersion in the local Chinese teahouse tradition would be Chengdu.

In Chengdu, teahouses are establishments not only for eating and drinking but also a place where one can hang out as well, as possibly even get their ears cleaned or their shoulder muscles untied by a relaxing massage. Over the years, the teahouses here have evolved into a sanctuary for the stressed soul, or a trendy hotspot for others who want to dine out. We've had the opportunity of ordering a pot of bottomless tea at Dujiang Weir for only 20 Yuan or US 3 dollars and we must say, it was one of the most relaxing afternoons we've spent outdoors.

Sacred spaces: 7 caves for the spiritual traveler

Posted: 30 Oct 2010 04:15 AM PDT

There are a number of reasons why we travel. Some people might say they travel in order to see first-hand parts of the world they've never been before. Others might say they like visiting other countries to learn about different places and cultures. There are some who travel because they long to taste different foods, and others who simply want to shop.

But then there are certain travelers who often pack their bags and leave their homes to embark on a spiritual journey to a special destination. This urge to travel to a sacred or holy destination may be fueled by a number of things from everyday stress to finding one's purpose in the grand scheme of things, to an attempt in overhauling one's chaotic lifestyle. But whatever the reason may be, it can be said that there are a lot of travelers year in and year out who don't mind crossing great distances just to reach these holy places.

If you're wondering what it must feel like to step inside a sacred cave, here are a couple of places you might want to consider visiting.


We're starting off our journey in China, a country with a history that stretches back 5,000 years. Even during these modern times and China's continuing effort to surpass other leading global economies, the country has also strived to keep their incredibly rich history alive and not forgotten. Historical and sacred places are preserved and kept open for devotees and tourists who wish to learn about the place.

The Longmen Caves are an example of the magnificent sculpture and architecture that was present in China hundreds of years before other civilizations even came to be. It is actually a series of grottoes housed in a single complex found at the hillsides of Xiangshan and Longmen Shan. Another name for this place is "Dragon's Gate". In total, there are 2,345 caves and niches here plus 43 beautifully constructed pagodas. Mind you, some of these structures were built around 493 A.D., or during the time of the Northern Wei dynasty. The architecture features some exquisite Buddhist carvings that are somewhat of a local treasure. If you're wondering how many inscriptions there are, an estimate count puts them at 2,800.


A reason why sacred places around the globe attract thousands if not millions of travelers each year is their association with a sacred person. In Malta, the St. Paul's Grotto is relatively famous for having served as the temporary home of St. Paul. According to stories which are set sometime around 60 A.D., St. Paul, who was during the time a Roman prisoner, washed up on the shores of Malta after surviving a shipwreck. It is this very cave that some people say St. Paul used as his shelter. Those who read the bible may find this story familiar if they recall Acts 28 which talks about how Paul cured local people by performing miracles during his stay in Malta, even surviving the deadly bite of a viper which eventually led to some of the locals to revere him and consider him a god.


When it comes to gods and sacred caves, Greece is a country that has lots of both. In Crete alone, there are over 3,000 different caves present, some of which are open for visitors. Many of these places are associated with the gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. A particularly interesting group of caves that is worth seeing with your own eyes are the Minoan Caves.

During the Bronze Age, the Minoans were known for worshipping goddesses; their civilization flourished sometime around 2600 until 1100 B.C. Those who are familiar with Greek mythology beyond watching blockbuster movies such as Troy and Hercules will no doubt enjoy visiting the Dikteon Cave which according to stories is the place where the mighty Zeus was born by Rhea. If you want to see the place where Rhea concealed her son from Cronus, his father, you can also check out the Idaian Cave.


Because sacred places are considered to possess an air of holiness and divinity, it is no wonder that people go to great lengths preserving it and making sure it will survive through generations to come. In Sri Lanka, the Dambulla Cave has been the destination of hundreds of tourists and devotees who make a pilgrimage to the sport for over 22 centuries now.

There are five Buddhist shrines in the whole complex; to be more accurate, these shrines are in fact caves. This place was constructed after King Valagambahu commissioned the shrines to be built around 1 B.C. As visitors might notice upon their arrival, King Valagambahu apparently wanted the shrines to be no less than exquisitely beautiful. Inside, gold was used for the murals that decorate the caves; even sculptures that you will find here are covered with gold, causing them to give off a nice shimmer. If you look up, you will find that even the ceiling has been decorated with murals.


Belize may be a popular destination among beach bums, but if you're in dire need of a spiritual journey, this isn't a bad place to be. The Actun Tunichil Muknal or Cave of the Stone Sepulchre is a cave used by the Mayans years ago for the sacrifices that the conducted in order to please their gods.

In order to get to the cave, travelers will have to undergo a sort of obstacle course set in nature involving hiking, getting a bit wet by wading through shallow water, and eventually getting completely wet by swimming underwater. The reason behind this is that the cave is actually located almost one mile beneath the ground; perhaps the subterranean location of the cave was made on purpose by the Mayans to literally show the rough path that one takes to reach the underworld. Inside the cave, visitors can behold the full skeleton of a female human referred to as the "crystal maiden".


The Sof Omar Caves are not only a sacred destination in Ethiopia, these limestone caves with their magnificent columns and beautiful domes are a wonder of nature as well. Legend has it that the entrance to the massive cave system was revealed to Sheikh Sof Omar by Allah sometime during the 12th century. After being shown the entrance to the cave, the sheik began to use them as mosques along with his followers.


Ask around in France for sacred destinations and you will most likely be directed to one of the many churches present in almost if not all of their cities. However, the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume is not a church but a sacred cave that can be found in Dordogne.

Historians believe that the cave was made around 15,000 years ago. What makes this particular cave unique are the animals painted along its limestone walls. Colorful horses, herds of bison, and massive mammoths adorn the cave interior which until now has managed to retain their vibrant colors. It is not quite clear what the purpose was behind these paintings, but others say they had something to do with hunting or the attempt to come up with a calendar.

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