Roadside America: PEZ Visitors’ Center, Orange, Connecticut

I have to congratulate the good people at PEZ for their excellent signage. I had no intention of spending any time or money on candy, but when we spotted signs for the PEZ Visitors’ Center in Orange, Connecticut, we thought it was worth a closer look. I was driving from New Haven to New York with my mother and baby daughter (neither of which is currently a big candy connoisseur, but we all loved it), and a few minutes from following the signs off I-95, we were in front of several giant packages of PEZ candy.

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For a few bucks each ($5 for adults, including $2 in store credit), we were soon immersed in all things PEZ. Invented in the 1920s in Austria, PEZ was originally intended as a smoking substitute and the first dispenser was created to look like a cigarette lighter, without the “head” now so integral to the PEZ experience. Introduced to the US market in the 1950s, the US factory has been located in Connecticut since 1974. The Visitors’ Center is a combination museum and store, with windows onto the factory floor, and filled with interactive exhibits and videos about the PEZ-making process and history.The real fun, of course, is selecting your own PEZ candy to take home. You can choose from dozens of favorite characters from Harry Potter to Winnie the Pooh, as well as visitor center exclusives, like a reproduction of the original dispensers. You can also design your own dispenser and select your favorite flavors (they now have chocolate PEZ but peppermint is a thing of the past) to fill it, provided you are partial to stickers and markers for personalizing. As a traveler, I would have liked to see more of the foreign PEZ containers to take home, but there is a large variety on display, and it just may inspire me to visit the world headquarters in Austria, or the dispenser factory in Hungary.

Get your sugar high at the PEZ Visitors’ Center and Factory in Orange, Connecticut.

[Photo credit: Meg Nesterov]

10 interesting food museums from around the world

While many people visit museums in order to learn about culture, art, or history, how many out there can say they’ve gone to a museum to see an exhibit on SPAM? Or to learn the processing history of salami? While somewhat out of the norm, these 10 interesting food museums from around the world will give you insight and fun facts into some of your favorite cuisine.

PEZ Museum in California

Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia
Location: Burlingame, California

From vintage Pez dispensers to new Pez-related items, come to Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia to learn the history of Pez as well as buy Pez products. The highlight of the museum is seeing the world’s largest Pez dispenser, which is in the form of a 7 ft’ 10” tall snowman and can hold 6,480 Pez candies. And if you get sick of looking at Pez dispensers all day, the museum also has a Classic Toy Museum and a Banned Toy Museum on site.

Located at 214 California Dr. Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10AM-6PM. SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota The SPAM Museum
Location: Austin, Minnesota

The SPAM Museum is a tribute to this pre-cooked, canned meat that includes vintage advertising, memorabilia, SPAM trivia, and interactive exhibits. Visitors can even test their SPAM-canning skills as well as learn about the large role SPAM played in the diet of WWII soldiers. See walls made entirely of SPAM cans and ceilings holding massive burger buns as you walk through this retro-style museum.

Fun Fact: An actor from New York named Kenneth Daigneau won a contest in 1936 put on by the creator of SPAM, Jay Hormel, that allowed him to choose the name for the canned meat. Mr. Daigneau chose SPAM, which is where the name comes from. He also won $100, which today could have bought him $1,500 in SPAM products.

Located at 1101 North Main St. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday, 10AM-5PM, and Sunday, 12PM-5PM.

Pick salami and paprika museum in hungary The Pick Salami and Szeged Paprika Museum
Location: Szeged, Hungary

The Pick Salami and Szeged Paprika Museum gives visitors a chance to learn everything there is to know about Pick salami and paprika through a showcase of photographs, history lessons on founder Mark Pick, production displays, and butchering guides. The best part of the museum is the life-size wooden dolls wearing authentic costumes that are setup in ways that depict scenes in the salami and paprika making process with production equipment out on display. Luckily, the Picks are still in business so after learning about these delicious treats you can purchase some for yourself.

Located at Felso Tisza-Part 10 . Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 3PM-6PM.

Musard museum in Minnesota The National Mustard Museum
Location: Middleton, Wisconsin

How much could there possibly be to learn about mustard? Apparently, a lot. The National Mustard Museum is home to more than 5,600 different types of mustard, including kinds from all 50 states as well as over 60 different countries. Visitors can sample the different varieties, some of which include tequila, chocolate, and cranberry mustard, for free at the Tasting Bar, where you will be guided on a sensual (and sometimes spicy) experience by a Confidential Condiments Counselor. A visit to the National Mustard Museum is not only a tour for the taste buds, however, but also for the eyes, as you admire antique mustard pots, reminisce over vintage mustard ads, view a film at the Mustardpiece Theatre (The Sound of Mustard, anyone?), take a mustard cooking class, and more.

Located at 7477 Hubbard Ave. Museum hours are 10AM-5PM, daily.

Chocolate museum in cologne, germanyThe Chocolate Museum Cologne
Location: Cologne, Germany

Of course, what food-related list would be complete without chocolate. What makes the Chocolate Museum Cologne unique is that it’s more than just displays of chocolate. At this museum you will travel through three levels of chocolate history, spanning over 3,000 years. Level one will introduce you to the cocoa tree, as you literally visit a tropical house to admire one up close. Next, see a glass chocolate factory to learn about the production of this sweet staple. On the next level visitors are introduced to chocolate as a luxury item, beginning in Mesoamerica. The final level allows you to peruse chocolate advertising and signs, watch films in the chocolate cinema, and see chocolate items that developed a cult following. There are lots of interesting tidbits of chocolate knowledge to learn here. For instance, did you know that 80 years ago the high calorie content in chocolate was seen as a good thing? I definitely would have liked to be around back then.

Located at Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a, 50678. Museum hours are Tuesday-Friday, 10AM-6PM, Saturday-Sunday, 11AM to 7PM.

international banana club museum in california The International Banana Club Museum
Location: Hesperia, California

I have never seen anyone as bananas for anything as Ken Bannister, the founder of the International Banana Club Museum, is for, well, bananas. This museum, decorated with banana art, clocks, photographs, and more, holds the largest collection dedicated to one fruit in the world and is the perfect place to come if you’re looking for something a little more on the wacky side. Begin in the “Hard” section and browse through pipes, trees, pins, knives, golf putters, belts, rings, cups, and more, all with a banana theme. There is even a rock-hard petrified banana that has been in the museum since 1975. Next, check out the “Food, Drink, and Notions” section, including banana-related foods, drinks, soaps, oils…even banana tobacco. The final sections are the “Clothing Section” (banana nose, anyone?) and the “Soft” section, which is the perfect place to end your day at the museum, as there is an eight-foot long banana couch and tons of comfortable banana pillows.

Located at 16367 Main St. Museum hours are Tues-Thurs, 9AM-1PM, and the first Saturday of each month, 9AM-1PM.

Raumen museum in tokyo, japan Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum
Location: Tokyo, Japan

Who would have guessed that your favorite meal in college (or the only one you knew how to cook) had an entire museum dedicated to it? The Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum includes a huge recreation of Tokyo as it looked in 1958, the year Raumen (or Ramen) was created. Visitors also get the chance to dine in some of the most well-known Raumen noodle restaurants in existence. Walk near walls covered in Raumen packages, browse Raumen and houseware displays, watch Raumen commercials on replay, and enjoy interactive Raumen video games.

Located within walking distance of Shin-Yokohama Train Station. Museums hours are 11AM-10PM, daily.

currywurst museum in berlin germany Deutsches Currywurst Museum
Location: Berlin, Germany

One may wonder why a city would decide to dedicate an entire museum to curried sausage. The truth is, there is no German dish that “inspires as many stories, preferences, and celebrity connoisseurs” as currywurst. While this may sound a bit dramatic, a visit to the Deutsches Currywurst Museum may make you a believer, as well. Get your picture taken at the old-fashioned snack bar, explore the spice chamber to solve the mystery search for the perfect ingredients, and take in the unique decor including a sausage sofa, over-sized ketchup drops hanging from the ceiling, and humongous fry displays. Visiting Deutsches Currywurst Museum is also a learning experience, as you hear about currywurst history and legends, take part in the experimental kitchen, and watch some famous currywurst scenes on film.

Located at SchÜ tzenstrausse 70. Museum hours are 10AM-10PM, daily.

idaho poato museum The Idaho Potato Museum
Location: Blackfoot, Idaho

Being that the potato is Idaho’s most famous product, it is no wonder that there would be an Idaho Potato Museum dedicated to the starchy vegetable. This museum holds a lot of information about the history of the potato, including a film about the development of the potato industry, old farming equipment, as well as educational exhibits of the harvesting process and nutrition. The real attraction at this museum, however, is the world’s largest potato chip, which, according to Roadside America, is a 25×14-inch Pringle created in 1991 by engineers at Proctor and Gamble. The gift shop here is also worth mentioning, as it sells all kinds of potato-related gifts including potato ice cream and potato fudge.

Location is 130 NW Main St. Museum hours are April-September, Monday-Saturday, 9:30AM-5PM and October-March, Monday-Friday, 9:30AM-3:30PM.

Frietmuseum in brugge, belgiumFrietmuseum
Location: Brugge, Belgium

After discussing a museum dedicated to the potato, it is only fair to talk about a museum dedicated to the world’s favorite potato product, the French fry. Frietmuseum is the first museum in the world dedicated to the fry. While fried potatos are an international treat, what many people may not know is that they actually originated in Belgium. While you will learn the history of French fries and condiments at Frietmuseum, what really attracts tourists is the Saaihalle, the 14th century building that it is housed in. When sampling some of the museum’s fried cuisine, you will be taken downstairs to the medieval cellars of this building, which is the oldest in Brugge.

Located at Vlamingstraat 33. Museum hours are 10AM-5PM, daily.

Latin America on a budget: Bogota, Colombia

Not all the glowing stories about Colombia’s travel revival are true: a visit to Bogota can still be dangerous. I actually found myself in peril my first day in Colombia’s capital when I went for some authentic lunch. As I sat down for my first Colombian meal, a friendly local recommended the “Bandeja Paisa,” a hearty Colombian dish. Why not, I thought? Except his innocent meal was not what it seemed – the dish that showed up at my table looked downright terrifying: a dangerously delicious heart-attack-on-a-plate of ground beef, a fried plantain, a chorizo sausage, rice, a fried egg, avocado, crispy pork skin (are we done yet?), beans AND an arepa to top it off in case I was still hungry. As I consumed the tasty fare, I began to feel dangerously lethargic – my breath slowed, and I literally had to fight from slipping into a nap as I later explored Bogota’s nearby Museo del Oro. In other words, I was loving every minute of my time in Bogota.

Bogota, Colombia is still a dangerous place to visit these days. It’s just that it’s not dangerous in the way you’re probably thinking. In place of drugs and violence, this delightfully accessible Colombian capital is now “dangerous” for lots of good reasons: the dangerously gorgeous streets of colonial Candelaria, the city’s sinfully exotic tropical fruit juices and mouth-watering culinary delights and, most importantly, its threateningly inexpensive costs for North American budget travelers.

This past February, I made the remarkably easy five hour non-stop Delta flight down to Bogota from New York City to find out just what everyone was talking about. My mission: to explore the city on just $75 a day. Wondering what I discovered in this dangerously intriguing South American capital? Keep reading below.Orientation
The sprawling city of Bogota rests on a high mountain plateau set against the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes Mountains. Within this metropolis of over seven million residents lie several distinct neighborhoods of interest to the budget traveler.

Visitors on a tight budget head for La Candelaria, an atmospheric neighborhood of gorgeous colonial facades and many of the city’s hostels and guesthouses. Though not quite as atmospheric, Bogota’s more upscale neighborhoods to the north, including Zona T, Zona G and Parque 93 offer equally leafy, park-laden confines swarming with restaurants, cafes and nightlife. Chapinero, just to the south of Bogota’s swanky commercial areas is an increasingly attractive option as well.

Where to Stay
Given my travel budget for Bogota, my initial search led me to Bogota’s cheaper Candelaria neighborhood, where I considered renting private rooms at Hostel Sue ($15/night) and Anandamayi Hostel ($30/night). Cheaper mixed dorm beds were also available. At the recommendation of Jeff, a Colombian expat who runs Career Break Secrets, I ended up checking out La Pinta, slightly further north in Chapinero, with private rooms for $27/night.

La Pinta proved to be the perfect match. Its pleasant backyard, proximity to nearby pubs filled with students and central location made a great base to explore Bogota’s northern neighborhoods as well as easy access to La Candelaria in the south.

Getting Around
Bogota’s progressive approach to city planning comes through in the city’s extensive transportation network. From the airport, it was within my budget to grab a regulated taxi, run by a dispatcher, for flat fare between $8-13. Make sure to look for the stand when you exit the terminal.

Once you make it to Bogota proper, getting around is fairly cheap as well. Even a typical taxi ride between the Northern and Southern parts of Bogota never cost me more than $10. Make sure to look for a regulated cab with 411-1111 or 311-1111 on the side to prevent scams. Though I typically took taxis, Bogota’s extensive and reliable Transmilenio express bus system is another attractive option at under $1 per ride.

My Bogota Experience
With little time to spare on my short weekend trip to Bogota, I headed straight out of the airport and right into Bogota’s buzzing weekend nightlife. I spent my first evening downing one dollar Aguila beers in the scruffy bohemian bars lining Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) near La Pinta. It was a delight to watch the energetic student patrons shuffle along to vintage Cumbia music inside the bars, their walls lined with Colombian flags and peeling Che Guevara posters.

The next morning was Sunday, a day many Bogota residents use to partake in the city’s Ciclovía: a weekly event when the city’s main road is closed off to cars and cyclists, walkers and joggers take to the streets in the beautiful 70 degree weather. I walked all the way from Chipinero to La Candelaria along the Ciclovía route, stopping for lunch at Sabrosita, a local Colombian chain, where I stuffed myself on a plate of hearty Bandeja Paisa ($3 for a plate) before continuing to Bogota’s famed Museo Del Oro.

It was at the Museum of Gold (Museo del Oro) that I began to realize what a gem of destination Bogota had become. The museum’s collection, housed inside a sleek, artfully arranged facility downtown, is composed of literally thousands of pieces of gold jewelry and ceremonial objects, each more stunning than the next. Best of all on Sundays, the museum is free of charge.

Thanks to a long weekend, I had one more day to enjoy in this cosmopolitan city in the Andes, and I truly made the most of it. I wandered my way back to Candelaria, stopping to take in the sprawling plaza at Plaza de Bolivar, and explore the nearby cobblestone streets lined with colorful facades, ornate woodwork and unique street graffiti. At this point my energy was flagging – a situation that I remedied with a drink made of a unique Colombian infusion of sugar, chocolate and…cheese (?) called Chocolate Santafereno at a famous Candelaria sweet shop called La Puerta Falsa.

I had read about Chocolate Santafereno, but couldn’t fathom why anyone would put a hunk of creamy cheese in a perfectly good cup of hot chocolate – until I tasted it. The salty, creamy queso blended perfectly with the sweet & spicy, thick pudding-like texture of Colombian hot chocolate. It was a pick-me-up, culinary novelty and comfort food, wrapped into one.

Much like that first taste of Chocolate Santafereno, my experience in Bogota was not what I was expecting. Colombia is indeed dangerous…dangerously addictive, that is. Take a quick taste for a weekend, and you’re likely to come back wanting more.

Hungry for more budget travel ideas? Be sure to check out Gadling’s budget travel archive.