Cadbury World, the Disneyland of Chocolate

The little cars took us on a ride through the home of the Cadbury chocolate drops.

The little cars took us on a ride through the home of the Cadbury chocolate drops.

We were ready to break away from the big city, Birmingham being England’s second largest city with a population of over one million people. I went online to make reservations for Cadbury World and also to pre-purchase tickets for the train to Bournville, which is the long time home of Cadbury only fifteen minutes from Birmingham by train.

The walk to Cadbury World went past the colorful row houses that belong to senior Cadbury employees.

The walk to Cadbury World went past the colorful row houses that belong to senior Cadbury employees.

All the ad posters on the train were the Cadbury corporate purple. Florence asked me how we were going to find the place once we got to the Bournville stop. I replied, “Don’t worry. It will be no different than going to Anaheim and trying to find Disneyland.” And of course the signs to the factory were right before our eyes as we stepped off the train.

The first thing our greeter did as we stepped through the turnstile was give each of us two full-size Cadbury candy bars. As the smell of milk chocolate wafted through the factory and permeated our senses, the urge to taste some chocolate became overwhelming. We went through the compulsory learning stations, which were done in a fun and effective way of moving masses of people through the tour.

Does anyone think they can eat a kilogram of chocolate?

Does anyone think they can eat a kilogram of chocolate?

When we finally got to the actual factory viewing area, we were almost out of our minds for a taste of chocolate. We need not have worried. There were more sample Dairy Milk chocolate bars handed out to each guest, and we tore into one right on the spot. As we backtracked to some more exhibits I informed a couple of people heading to where we had just been, “There are chocolate samples being handed out just ahead.” They all smiled with the same look of relief we experienced when we reached the sample station.

You might think that would have been enough chocolate for the tour. Oh no! There was the Cadbury Shoppe as we came through the last set of doors, and everything was priced to sell. Not since I had visited the Liberty Orchards Aplets and Cotlets plant in Cashmere, Washington, had I gone on such a candy binge! And this time Florence was there as my partner in crime. This was the classic ‘kids turned loose in a candy store’ scenario.

It is a good thing Cadbury had a play area for children so they could run off their sugar rushes.

It is a good thing Cadbury had a play area for children so they could run off their sugar rushes.

And that would have been the end of our tour, except…there was the Chocolate Essence exhibit. We had paid our admission so onward we went through another historical presentation, a back through time visit to the 19th century chocolate laboratory of the Cadbury brothers laboring to perfect their formula. As we exited the presentation, what do you suppose awaited us? Yes, more chocolate! The warm, creamy milk chocolate was poured over our choice of candies: rice crispies, gummy candies, white chocolate bits, raisins, yogurt coated crunchies, etc.

We went a little crazy at the Cadbury Shoppe.  This should last us for awhile.

We went a little crazy at the Cadbury Shoppe. This should last us for awhile.

By the time we were ready to return to the train station our blood sugar level had peaked and then crashed. It was a simple case of chocolate overload. Plus, we were packing more candy with us than the last time I went Trick or Treating. It remains a bit of a blur. However, the massive stash of candy bars we are now packing with us is a reminder of a delightful visit to Cadbury World. I did not envy the parents who were there with young children. Those kids were on a chocolate buzz they will likely forget sooner than will their parents.

Another Sunny Day in Glasgow

We found a health food store with a great selection of vegetarian fare.

We found a health food store with a great selection of vegetarian fare.

With some time on our hands, we purchased all-day bus passes and headed downtown. I know Florence wanted me to have me model a kilt, and we did go into a clothier to look at kilts. These custom made all-wool garments start at about $450 US, and that does not include the jacket, tartan sash, shirt and tie, socks or matching socks. These formal Scottish outfits can be rented for around $100 just like renting a tuxedo. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to dress up in full Scottish regalia.

Scottish with an Italian flair

Scottish with an Italian flair

The fun part of the shopping experience was meeting Jessica, an energetic young lady working at Slanj, a men’s clothing store. We talked about her experience living in Colorado for a number of years and the contrast between the United States and Scotland. We hit it off with her, and like many people we have met, she provided us with her email and told us to contact her if we had any questions during our time in Glasgow.

Spicy chicken tikka and vegetarian rolls at Café India

Spicy chicken tikka and vegetarian rolls at Café India

We went in search of an Indian restaurant in the nearby district known as Merchant City. We strolled through a few blocks of restaurants and businesses and discovered Café India. I was able to satisfy my desire for spicy food and Florence found the vegetarian fare quite delicious. It was the cook who served us. He came out to check on how we liked our meal as a special courtesy. Our high praise for the food delighted him, especially when I told him how much I enjoyed the hot spices. He showed me an item on the menu and said, “If you come back I would love to cook this for you. It is the hottest dish we make.” Whether or not we return is not important. The important thing is how appreciated we felt.

Inside the Kelvingrove Museum is even more impression than the outside.

Inside the Kelvingrove Museum is even more impression than the outside.

We rounded out the day with a walk through the Kelvingrove Museum, a legacy of the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition. The art galleries are impressive. I was able to view works by Rembrandt, Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh. The highlight for me was Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross. Unlike Dali’s surreal paintings, this image of the crucifixion is quite vivid. It lacks the crown of thorns, nails through flesh or any depiction of blood. The body of Christ forms a triangle suspended in the sky that points like an arrow to a fishing boat on the Earth below.

Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali Photo credit: www.europefortourism.com

Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali
Photo credit: europefortourism.com

The exhibits covered much and in no discernible order. The Old West was displayed next to antiquities from Egypt. Medieval armor was roomed next to Scottish wildlife. A World War II RAF Spitfire fighter plane was suspended over an evolution of life on earth exhibit. Perhaps that was what a guide meant when she announced the museum had something for everyone. And generally, that is our impression of Glasgow. It is an unpretentious city with something for everyone. Perhaps we will make a return trip during our stay in Scotland.

Good News Bad News in the Apartment Hunt

Looking up High Street in Perth, Scotland near our humble abode.

Looking up High Street in Perth, Scotland near our humble abode.
Photo credit: Wikipedia commons

In our quest to find an apartment for the next six months, we received both good news and bad news. The good news is that we found a perfect flat right on High Street, the main street in Perth, with a window in every room except the bathroom. It is on the top floor, three floors up a spiral staircase. The apartment is an incredible find – it is airy and comfortable with every convenience located within blocks.

The bad news is that the apartment will not be available for us to move in prior to July 27. This is why we have set off for three straight weeks of touring. We just left Edinburgh and rode the motorcoach for the ninety minute ride into Glasgow for a week. Our to-do list in Glasgow is much less than it was in Edinburgh. We will be content to pick a few must-see items and take the pace a bit easier.

The Mitchell Library features classic Greek columns. Photo credit: catswhiskerstours.com

The Mitchell Library features classic Greek columns.
Photo credit: catswhiskerstours.com

There is a beautiful city library just around the corner from our hostel decked out with modern conveniences inside a classic Greek-style building. It is a comfortable setting and there is even a café near the entrance. It is a break from the noise and scarcity of electrical outlets at the hostel which I need to keep my laptop charged.

When I inquired at the library desk about accessing their free Wi-Fi network, they went even further and granted me a temporary library card even though I am a guest in the city for only a week. Amazing! By gosh, I love Scotland!

Inside the Mitchell Library Photo credit: skyscrapers.com

Inside the Mitchell Library
Photo credit: skyscrapers.com

Before we left Edinburgh, I made a quick stop at the local dollar store (The Pound Stretcher) to grab some mints (and gummy bears), and the manager asked if I was enjoying Edinburgh.

I said, “I love Edinburgh! And now we are on our way to Glasgow.”
He replied, “Watch your wallet.”
I laughed and asked, “Isn’t that good advice for any city?” He agreed that was true. I added, “I will say the Scottish people have been incredibly kind and gracious everywhere we have been.”
He replied with a wink, “We are always good to visitors. We just do not treat our own people so well.”

I cannot say whether or not that is true. I only know we have felt welcome wherever we have traveled.  And we are looking forward to calling Perth home for the next six months.

A Walk in the Park

The Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh has magnificent trees and plants for the public to enjoy.

The Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh has magnificent plants and lawns for the public to enjoy.

We took a day of leisure in Edinburgh to see some of the local scene. With a day pass for the incredibly convenient local buses, we headed to the waterfront community of Leith. The shopping mall was strategically located on the pier where the HMS Britannica is moored.

The HMS Britannia is open for the public to tour.

The HMS Britannia is open for the public to tour.

We did not pay admission to go aboard because we just are not into paying admission to see really expensive furniture. It certainly looks comfy, and I am sure the Royal Family made do with the finest luxuries when they wished to go for a cruise. The Britannica is a fine ship, and she served her purpose in her time. However, after having seen some of the opulent yachts of the super-wealthy, I believe that now the Britannia is not in that class.

The Palm House maintains exotic tropical plants. In front lies the largest tree fossil in the UK.

The Palm House maintains exotic tropical plants. In front lies the largest tree fossil in the UK.

A short bus ride through town brought us to the Royal Botanical Garden. This has to be the most tranquil setting in the city. While we did not see many flowers in bloom, it reminded me of the Arboretum in Seattle or the Huntington Garden in Pasadena with its spacious grounds and great variety of plants and trees. Here people can take a book or sit on a park bench amid a thousand shades of green.

The gardens include glasshouses for the tropical palms collection. There are additional greenhouses for maintaining plants year round as well as botanical studies. For example, the Chinese Hillside garden symbolizes the mountain habitats where plants with medicinal properties are harvested in China. These ancient remedies are now being harvested 20% faster than they can regenerate. Due to increasing global demand, many of these medically beneficial plants will inevitably disappear without some effort to replenish them.

Sweet Potato Burger with mango salsa gets rave review.

Sweet Potato Burger with mango salsa gets rave review.

For our vegetarian/vegan readers, I will say that Florence has been diligent in following a plant-based diet ever since we left the states. While we were at the Ocean Terminal Shopping Center, we had lunch at a restaurant called Handmade Burger Company where Florence enjoyed a delicious vegetarian option. I have not been as good. My handmade burger was the UK version of a classic American cheeseburger, which was quite good. And I have enjoyed fish ‘n’ chips a couple of times because I just cannot imagine being in the UK and not eating fish ‘n’ chips.

Botanical research is ongoing thanks to additional greenhouse space.

Botanical research is ongoing thanks to additional greenhouse space.

We were lucky once again to have experienced perfect weather. That is not a given in Scotland. Frequently, when we have responded to local inquiries about where we are from, locals have responded with, “Thank you for bringing the nice weather with you.” It is not like we had anything to do with the weather. I think this is just one more example of the Scottish people demonstrating how friendly they are. And for that we are grateful.

Lovely Perth or The Scones of Scotland

Perth Bridge and buildings along the Tay River Walkway

Perth Bridge, built in 1771, and buildings along the Tay River Walkway

I have local, regional and national maps of Scotland lying out across the bed, and I wish to share some of the cool-sounding names of nearby towns. There is Inverkeithing and Lochgelly, Kirkcaldy and Ladybank, Dunblane and Dunkeld, to name but a few. And there are more familiar names like Dundee and Inverness, Berwick and Aberdeen. These names evoke a sense of charm, and it is even more heartening to hear them pronounced by locals who think there is nothing special in speaking them.

Vaulted ceiling of St. John's Kirk from the altar

Vaulted ceiling and the altar of St. John’s Kirk

Our first excursion beyond our base in Kinross is a thirty minute bus trip to Perth, population 45,000, located central to all of Scotland. We are apartment hunting, and after checking out half a dozen property agencies, we have strolled through much of the quaint town. Our stroll took us along the River Tay and afforded us a great view of the iconic Perth Bridge which opens out to the North Sea. Thus, we learned that although Perth sits well into Scotland’s interior, it is also a seaport.

We were warmly greeted as we peeked into the 800 year old St. John’s Kirk (Church of Scotland) where the Presbyterian Church got its start during the Reformation in the 1500’s. We were offered a guided tour, but we opted for their self-guided walkthrough. Congregation members eagerly answer all questions. They want people to know the Kirk is not only a historic monument, but also a working church.

Outside St. John's Kirk

Outside St. John’s Kirk

Just beyond St. John’s Kirk is High Street, a pedestrian promenade chock full of shops and restaurants. We are drawn to a tea shop with a cheery lavender-colored storefront called Curiositeaz. Their vegetable soup-of-the-day was a fortunate choice because we had left room for scones for dessert. I opted for the cherry-almond. Florence ordered the raspberry-white chocolate. Other dessert options will have to wait for a return trip, and if we end up in Perth that will likely happen.

The Cashmere Woolen Mill is just a 15 minute walk down the road from our hotel. Although the mill is not open for tours, they have a retail store where Florence got a pair of sumptuously soft Cashmere gloves and I picked up a merino wool pullover. The mill, which used to employ 2,500 workers, now operates with only 250 workers. We are told automation has accounted for much of the downsizing. Nonetheless, they keep manufacturing wool. Perhaps they need the wool to keep making kilts.

Preparing my next blog post at Curiositeaz

Preparing my next blog with scones at Curiositeaz

Florence insists she needs a photograph of me in a kilt, which I am not excited about. I guess we will have to see who prevails in the matter. Our Scotland adventures continue as we have booked a week’s stay in Edinburgh. We look forward to experiencing the big city and all it has to offer.

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans!

Top 10 Things I Love About Mexico

Art and culture are on display everywhere in Mexico.

Art and culture are on display everywhere in Mexico.

Our stay in Mexico is approaching the end, and it is appropriate to reflect on our experiences. We still have another month and a half before our final departure. However, I will be on assignment in the U.S. for four weeks. So before our stay draws to a close I want to share my Top 10 list for Mexico:

Ancient civilizations left their mark.

Ancient civilizations left their mark.

1. Restaurant Food – There are fabulous restaurants in Mexico. Our host, Jim Horn, has introduced us to the finest eateries in Cuernavaca.
2. Fresh Fruit – The variety and abundance of fresh fruit is the best in the Western Hemisphere. Everything grows here.
3. Hospitality – The people are friendly and helpful. They want visitors to feel welcome, and we do!
4. Health Care – On the few occasions when we needed care, we found world class health care at reasonable prices on our “pay-as-you-go” plan.
5. Climate – While it was snowing in places in the U.S., I was getting a tan. Enough said.
6. Cheese – Before arriving in Mexico, I was craving good cheese. We found great cheeses in Mexico!
7. History – The remains of civilization in Mexico rivals the relics of the Old World dating back thousands of years.
8. Butterflies and Hummingbirds – We have never seen so many of these beautiful creatures in one place.
9. Diversity of Culture – Movies, art, theater, music, indigenous culture, it is all here.
10. Infrastructure for Tourism – There is an excellent transportation system and the roads are well maintained.

Honorable Mention

Artisans and food vendors abound.

Artisans and food vendors abound.

Safety – The bad rap Mexico gets in the American media is simply unfair. We have felt as secure in Mexico as anyplace we have been in the U.S. or any other country we have visited.
Tranquility – Our recent visit to the town square on a Sunday was typical. Families were out with their children. Young people strolled while holding hands. Elderly folks sat with friends in sidewalk cafes sipping coffee.
Shopping – We frequently stroll among shops and stalls to see what is for sale. Most recently we bought a brightly painted ceramic crucifix for 40 pesos ($3.40) and a nicely crafted carry-on backpack for 180 pesos ($16.50).

Did we miss anything?

Birds and butterflies visit me often in my "office."

Birds and butterflies visit me often in my “office.”

Mexico is a big country, and we missed seeing a lot of it. Neither of us are what you would call “beach people,” so we did not visit the coast. Nor did we make it to Puebla, Yucatan or the lush southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. There is simply too much of Mexico to take in over a short span of time. Some might say, “But you had six months! That is plenty of time to see so much of Mexico.” That may seem true. However, we are not on vacation. Vacation living is often expensive and exhausting.

Mexico is a big and scenic country.

Mexico is a big and scenic country.

We adopted our Six Monther lifestyle to take life at a normal pace. We attended some expat meetings. We saw a couple of first-run movies. We found local shops for food and services. We adopted exercise routines. We even published a book. In order to take in more of the things worth seeing, we will need to return someday and perhaps we will. However, there is much of the world yet to see.

Our home for the second half of 2013 will be Scotland. Have you visited Scotland? What do you think is a must-see destination?

living in Mexico

A Day in Tepoztlán

Mt. Tepozteco overlooks the main street in Tepoztlán.

Mt. Tepozteco overlooks the main street in Tepoztlán.

The quaint town of Tepoztlán (place of abundant copper in the indigenous Nahuatl language) has grown rapidly to over 40,000 inhabitants in recent years.  Some of the growth can be attributed to the Pueblo Mágico (magical town) designation bestowed by the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism.  This award recognizes selected towns for their scenic beauty, cultural heritage, and/or their historical significance.

Bananas, mangos, strawberries, guayaba, they have it all.

Bananas, mangos, strawberries, guayaba, pineapple, melons, even Washington apples, they have it all.

Tepoztlán comes to life on Market Days, every Wednesday and Sunday. That is when food vendors, craft persons and local farmers set up awnings around the main square of town.  People come from Mexico City and surrounding towns to enjoy the live music, shop for fresh produce, dine, and perhaps seek out their favorite flavor of ice cream for which the town is famous.

Our first visit to Tepoztlán was on a Sunday.  We chose a nearby restaurant for lunch before purchasing several grocery bags filled with fresh fruits and vegetables including pineapple, strawberries, bananas, mangos, mandarin oranges, tomatoes and avocados, all for about $15.  We would have looked into the 16th century Dominican cathedral, The Parish of the Nativity, except that Sunday mass was just getting out, and the area in and around the cathedral was quite crowded.

The mosaic mural is coated with varnish so the birds won't eat the seeds.

The mosaic mural is coated with varnish so the birds won’t eat the seeds.

Our return visit to Tepoztlán on a Wednesday a few weeks later allowed us time to visit the cathedral.  Access to the cathedral grounds from the marketplace is through an arched gate.  The face of this portal is exquisitely decorated with a mosaic scene portraying in fine detail the agricultural imagery of the region.  The whole scene is portrayed solely with the use of seeds, beans, and organic materials.  Even though the image is preserved by a thick layer of varnish, we learned the entire mosaic is redesigned and redone from scratch every year.

The Dominican cathedral is even more dramatic inside.

The Dominican cathedral is even more dramatic inside.

The cathedral itself is a tribute to the ingenuity of the artisans of the 1500’s who carved the intricate stonework on the façade. The local history is also superbly displayed and described at the adjacent former convent, now a museum.  We were as impressed with the stunning architectural detail of the building as we were with the museum’s exhibits.

For the more adventurous visitor, an invigorating hike up the neighboring peak of Tepozteco offers spectacular vistas of the town, the surrounding hills and the distant central valley of Morelos.  To this day there are remains of an Aztec era temple high on the cliffs of Tepozteco, probably a site for priests of an earlier era. Whether you like to shop or if you simply prefer a beautiful drive in the country, Tepoztlán is worth a visit.

living in Mexico

Taxco, Mexico – City of Silver

Taxco is reminiscent of the hillside towns of Italy.

Taxco is reminiscent of the hillside towns of Italy.

Taxis whizzing through the streets are like a Disneyland ride.

Taxis whiz around like a Disneyland ride. Mosaics of white stone are inlaid in the cobblestone streets

As our bus approaches the town of Taxco on the winding mountain highway, I find the view reminiscent of the hillside towns of Italy. The most striking feature is that almost every structure is painted white. The obvious exception is the stunning Cathedral of Santa Prisca. Built over a 15 year period starting in 1758, the twin bell towers of the cathedral were the tallest structures in Mexico at the time. Silver baron, José de la Borda, nearly went bankrupt funding the elaborate Baroque-style construction of the church.

The main altar portrays the Immaculate Conception.

The main altar portrays the Immaculate Conception in exquisite detail.

The taxi ride from the bus station to the Museum of Viceregal Art is incredibly similar to a Disneyland ride as we whirl through a maze of steep inclines and turns between three-story buildings until we arrive at the museum. All the taxis are white VW Bugs with a seating capacity for two passengers only as all the front passenger seats have been removed.

We are told the taxi is free, which I wondered about. When I saw the museum proprietor give each driver several pesos, I realized why the ride was free. The “museum” made a nice profit on our free tour based on the three hundred pesos ($25) we spent on gifts made of silver. Admittedly, it is difficult to not purchase these beautifully crafted items. An elegant silver chain necklace cost under $10.

This shop modeled itself after the rich silver mines that made Taxco famous.

This shop modeled itself after the rich silver mines that made Taxco famous.

Since pre-Columbian times Taxco has been renowned for its silver mines. Even though the last silver mine in the area closed just a few years ago, Taxco remains a focal point for handcrafted silver goods and jewelry. Tourism is now the number one industry of Taxco, and the shopkeepers and street vendors are eager to please to the point of ushering people into their shops whenever possible. Hotels and restaurants also provide many options. We had lunch at a rooftop restaurant near the cathedral with a view of the whole town.

Taxco is a shopper’s paradise. The town is strategically located on the principal route from Mexico City to Acapulco. To those for whom shopping is a not a priority, Taxco is essentially a tourist trap. While there are many options for dining and sightseeing, a visit to the Cathedral of Santa Prisca is enough to make a stop in Taxco worth the effort.

living in Mexico

The Cathedral or Santa Prisca is worth stopping to see.

The Cathedral of Santa Prisca is worth stopping to see.