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Travelblog Gone with the Wine Blog

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

5 Things About Traveling that Make Me See Red

Paula Gaston

Some days ago I was thinking about the things that most annoy me when I travel. First world problems, I know, but you can't really help it if you start to dislike something. So far, the good things about traveling outnumber the bad. I still long for new trips whenever I come back home, but here are the things that totally make me see red:

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1. PEOPLE TRAVELING WITH OVERSIZED HANDLUGGAGE

If someone asked me what irritated me the most while traveling, this is what comes to mind first. It happens in almost all flights here in the U.S, and really has made me dislike flying. After the airlines started charging luggage fees separately, many people started traveling with their hand luggage only, and often, with far too large ones. Then while you are in line to board the plane, you will hear the announcement that everyone fears: "Unfortunately all the overhead bins are now full. We will be checking the rest of the hand luggage to the cargo bay". Damn it! If you are at the end of the line, this is where you start to rattle off some bad words. Why do some passengers get to bring in their oversized bags and a hand bag when others get to bring in none? They will have to check in everything important they wanted to bring into the cabin with them. What about all the easily breakable things like laptops and for example your toddler's foods? Not fair! This really takes all the fun out of traveling!

2. THE REST OF THE WORLD GETTING MORE AMERICANIZED

Yes I am saying that even though I live in the U.S. It really does make me see red! Americans know how to commercialise everything and it has been noticed almost everywhere else as well. More and more countries with their own unique traditions set them aside in order to make room for big businesses and big bucks. When visiting famous sights, I would rather see some local products or try some local tastes than go to a fast food place. And when arriving to a new country, I would love to see some local things to make me feel like I am somewhere else than home. 

About 15 years ago I visited the U.S. for the first time. While I was working at a busy tourist destination on a work study program, we often laughed about the things that were built just to amuse tourists. Sometimes you really had to wonder what is real and what is fake. On one day trip to the woods, we discovered that in the middle of the forest there was a huge souvenir shop with a burger bar. There we were, eating our burgers and wondering whether the fish in the river operated on batteries. 

It actually makes me kind of sad that most of the airports nowadays look exactly the same. They all want to be international. But by being international they lack personality, and they also miss a great opportunity to promote local products to people who come to their country. 

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3. THE MASSES OF TOURISTS IN FAMOUS PLACES

In recent years there has been more and more talk about the tourist masses that take over all the known places and destinations in the world. Some of these places are actually struggling because their nature and infrastructure can't handle so many visitors, but at the same time they are dependent on tourism. Even though I have often traveled outside of the actual travel season, I have to admit that many of these super popular spots are on my list too. We all want to see the most beautiful places in the world!   

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4. SUPER TIGHT SECURITY CHECKS

I guess here I should say that what really irritates me, are all the risk factors that have made the security checks necessary. They are of course for our safety, and of course I am all for them. So in that sense I am happy to walk through all the check point they have. But I don't love the fact that I have to spend so much time from my trip standing in line to do these security checks. It is so hard to estimate the time you need for a layover for example, or how much earlier you should arrive to the airport. Sometimes there are no lines but a few times it has taken me over an hour to get out from the security check. It's not fun, especially when travelling with kids! Everyone is hungry and tired, or they need to go to the restroom, so no wonder people's nerves are really tested there. I have to say, that to some extent all these extra lines and wait times have taken the fun out of traveling. 

5. LITTERBUGS

We call people leaving trash out in nature litterbugs, and unfortunately they are many! Especially in Asia but also here in the U.S. some people just throw everything out of their car window, or go hiking and leave all their trash behind them. It feels unreal that even in 2018 some people still like nature enough to go there, but not enough to take their garbage with them. We like to visit a lot of national parks and other places where we can hike, and all the litter makes me see red!

 

What kind of things make you see red when you travel?

 

A Night in Madonna Inn and the World's Most Famous Restroom

Paula Gaston

It was finally time to head back home from our Spring Break trip. We left the Santa Monica Mountains and the Channel Islands behind, and started our drive to Northern California. We still had a few vacation days left, so we decided to cut our drive in half by stopping at the Madonna Inn, in San Luis Obispo.

I remember years ago when I was still living in Finland, I saw a TV show about the most bizarre hotels. There was a hotel were each room was different from the other and had a theme, and their restaurant was pink. Then later I was on a road trip with a friend when she suggested that we should stop for a restroom break in this cool hotel. Right away when we drove to the Madonna Inn's parking lot, I recognised it from the TV show. At that time we only stopped quickly, but I have always wanted to stay the night there since. 

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THE MADONNA INN

The Madonna Inn was opened in 1958 in San Luis Obispo, on Highway 101, and it was originally a 12 room motel. It was opened by Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis. This unique motel became a success right away and they built more rooms to it in 1966. Unfortunately a fire destroyed all the original buildings in 1966, but Alex and Phyllis re-built the rooms and chose different themes for each of them. The goal was to offer people more than just a room, and make people smile when they stayed at the Madonna Inn. Alex Madonna died in 2004 but the family still owns the business and it has only been growing.

The Madonna Inn has 110 rooms. Some of the different themes are Caveman, Romance, Old Fashioned Honeymoon, Antique Cars, Italy, San Francisco, Desert Sands, Golfer's Room, Fabulous 50s, Hearts and Flowers, and Indians. Some of the rooms have waterfall showers. You can check out all the rooms from here. The whole decor of this place is over the top and kitchy, but also kind of cool. The dominant color is pink and some of the buildings are inspired by the Alps. Our room was called China Flower and all the furniture in our room was Chinese themed. For some reason I thought the rooms would look kind of old, but ours was really neat and clean. It really was "wow"!

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 Soap Cake - not to be eaten!

Soap Cake - not to be eaten!

The Madonna Inn has been seen on TV shows like the Bachelor and the Simpsons. Many music videos have also been filmed here, like Roxette's The Center of the Heart and Lady Antebellum's Heart Break albums promotion video. 

FROM A MOTEL TO A RESORT

At the same time when the Madonna Inn was growing and getting famous, they also started adding different kinds of services. Even though the Madonna Inn still operates like a motel, you can easily spend a whole day or weekend there by doing different activities. Or, you can just stop for a cup of coffee or lunch like we have done before this trip. The Madonna Inn has two restaurants, a bakery and souvenir shop. And they have live music everyday. We ate both dinner and breakfast in the Copper Cafe which is a little bit more relaxed than Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steakhouse. It is also a lot cheaper too. You should still stop by the steakhouse since it is quite a site to see. In the middle of the restaurant, they have a golden tree and the whole decor is pink. I promise you, you haven't seen anything like this before! The breakfast at the Copper Cafe was delicious, but we thought that their dinner menu lacked for personality.

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The Madonna Inn has several different buildings and usually you can park your car in front of your room, or at least pretty close. On the other side from our room there was a gate to a Secret Garden where you can go enjoy some garden flowers, play outdoor games or for example read a book. Down from the garden lies two pink tennis courts and basket ball hoops. The latest improvement for the place has been their spa section which includes anything from an infinity pool to a gym, and massages. A horse ranch next to the Madonna Inn offers trail rides or if you are into hiking, the trails leave practically from the parking lot. 

After breakfast we walked around the premises just to see what all was there. They also offer some pink bicycles if you prefer to use those, or you can go for a bike ride somewhere further. The staff was driving around in some cute pink golf carts. Even the outdoor lamps were painted pink. Unfortunately we didn't have time to enjoy all the activities that the Madonna Inn had to offer, but  hopefully we can come back someday. Even though some of the activities are included to the room price, this motel is not the cheapest kind. Be prepared to pay for a resort fee. 

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AND THEN THOSE FAMOUS RESTROOMS

Many people just stop at the Madonna Inn for a restroom break since they have heard of the crazy restrooms they have. The water fall urinal in the mens room has been on many TV shows and has become quite famous. Don't be surprised if you see women coming out of the mens room since they want to see this famous room. I also sneaked in to get a photo for my blog. Just make sure you ask someone coming out that there is no one else inside before you enter.

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Also the ladies room is kind of interesting. It is completely pink and big chandeliers are hanging from the ceiling. This time I also visited the ladies room in the Copper Cafe which was kind of cool too. I think it's pretty rare for me to say to people "Don't forget to visit the restrooms when you stop!" but with the Madonna Inn, I have definitely done that.

If you want to see more of what the Madonna Inn looks like, check out my Instagram profile @paulagaston.  You can find some videos under the Highlights on the front page.

 

From Madonna Inn we drove straight back home. It was such a nice and short drive compared to what we are used to driving. And so our Spring Break trip ended. 

A Day in the Channel Islands of California

Paula Gaston

Our Spring break trip continued from Rancho Cucamonga to the Santa Monica Mountains and from there to Ventura on the coast. We'd made reservations to a hotel right by the beach since we'd planned a boat trip to the Channel Islands for the next day. We were so tired that evening, that I waited with the kids at the hotel while the hubby went to get us some tacos for dinner. And we didn't have to count sheep that night, we all fell a sleep faster than ever. 

The next day after breakfast, we headed to Ventura Harbor. We booked a boat trip from Island Packers, and we were supposed to check in at least 45 minutes early. For some reason, I was thinking that these trips wouldn't be so popular, but when we got to the office there was quite a long line. There was also another boat leaving before us to another island, and they also do whale watching cruises. Luckily the line went fast and we got our boarding passes. And off we went with our boat. 

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CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK

The Channel Islands are an island group of 8 islands off the California coast, right by Santa Barbara. 5 of these islands belong to the Channel Islands National Park. These islands are part of one of the richest marine ecosystems of the world, and many endemic species live both in the water and on land. In the past, the Chumash and Tongva Indians lived on the islands, and later they were used mostly for fishing. Some are in military use today. The islands belonging to the national park are inhabited, but all of them can be visited by an organised boat trip. Two of them can also be reached by plane.

The main visitor center for the Channel Islands National Park is in Ventura, and you can board a boat going to the islands either in Ventura or in Oxnard. About 70 000 people visit them every year. You can see the islands from the mainland for example in Ventura or in Santa Barbara, and we have also seen them from up in the air on our way to Hawaii. You should make a boat reservation if you want to visit the Channel Islands, rather than just show up. 

AT ANACAPA ISLAND 

We visited Anacapa Island. The most visited island is the biggest island, Santa Cruz, but at this time they were experiencing a wild fire there. In many ways Anacapa Island sounded more suitable for us, since it was easy to access even while carrying a baby. The brochures warned us about the ladder that we would have to climb to get out of the boat, and about the 157 steps that would take us up to the island. But in reality, the ladder was only one or two steps and the crew was there to help people. And the steps were not that bad when the baby was in the carrier backpack. 

It usually takes about an hour to get to Anacapa Island, but we stopped a couple of times to watch the dolphins swimming behind our boat and to spot some whales. Also, both when arriving and leaving, the boat went slowly around the island to show us what it looks like from the water. In that sense I can only say that we really loved the Island Packers for giving us what we payed for. They didn't seem to be in a rush and they really took their time trying to make sure everyone saw the whales. And note that this was not a whale watching trip. We were lucky to see some grey whales in both directions.  

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Anacapa Island was beautiful and somehow I was surprised how much I enjoyed visiting there. For some reason I hadn't thought it was going to be such an awesome trip. The spring flowers had just started to bloom and the seagulls were nesting. And there were so many of them. The seagulls were everywhere! Their nests were right by the trails and sometimes they would start squawking at us if we were too close. From further away, it looked like the whole island was covered by white golf balls. We also saw some California Brown Pelicans which basically were saved by the preservation of the islands. Also the Brandt's cormorant nests here, and we saw some of them from the boat. I think the native birds were hiding from us but we did spot a few endemic flowers which I later recognised from our photos. 

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 Inspiration point

Inspiration point

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 The Brandt's cormorant

The Brandt's cormorant

We were on shore about four hours which gave us time to walk around the island, enjoy the sun, have a picknic and feed the baby. There are no services on Anacapa Island, but they do have a small visitor center opened by the ranger who travelled with us, and some restrooms. There is also couple old coast guard buildings and a lighthouse. The lighthouse is still in use, and you have to stay a certain distance from it, since the fog horn can damage your hearing. When travelling to Anacapa, you should bring enough snacks and water with you, and be prepared to take all the trash back to the mainland yourself. And don't forget the sunscreen! You can also camp and stay the night at Anacapa and just book your return for the next day. That actually sounds like so much fun! And if you are wondering wether you can travel there with a baby; yes you can! Everything went well and our baby took her naps in the rocking boat and in the backpack. Our 5 year old was excited to fill her Junior Ranger activity book on the way back from the island. 

In every possible way we had a great day!

The boat trip to Anacapa costs $59 per adult, $41 per child and the baby was free of charge. 

If you want to see more of what the Channel Islands look like, check out my Instagram profile   @paulagaston.  You can find some videos under the Highlights on the front page.

Paramount Ranch in Santa Monica Mountains, California

Paula Gaston

On our Spring Break we drove down to Southern California, and last time I told you about how our travel plans changed. On our way we stayed in Pismo Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway, and after that we spent Easter at Rancho Cucamonga. From there we headed down to the Santa Monica Mountains where we planned to do some hiking and check out a few places. On our way there we stopped to buy some snacks and some coffee. 

SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS RECREATIONAL AREA

The Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area is a huge area on the coast of California which belongs to the National Parks. I wrote about visiting the national parks last week. You can only see a small part of it in one day, and like many others, we too visited the most popular part of it: The Paramount Ranch. The recreational area consists of many different parks and protected areas with some beautiful nature. But I have wanted to visit the Paramount Ranch for a long time. 

We started our visit from the visitor center which is located in Calabasas. Calabasas might be familiar to you from television and its famous residents. The Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center was built on King C. Gillette Ranch, and the building is actually an old barn. The barn was built in 1928. And yes, it really is THE Gillette whose razors we still use all over the world. From this ranch you can go hiking, enjoy the sun, or just spot different kinds of animals. We stayed at the visitor center for a while to see their exhibits, walked around outside and then headed to the Paramount Ranch. We got some brochures, maps and a stamp for my national park stamp book and a Junior Ranger activity book for our daughter. 

PARAMOUNT RANCH

From the Visitor Center, we drove over to the Paramount Ranch which unfortunately was the only place in the Santa Monica Mountains that we had time to see. In 1927 Paramount Pictures bought the farm for filming their movies. They built different kinds of movie sets depending on what they where filming, and usually, it was a Western. People like Cary Grant, John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich have worked there. The ranch was later sold, but they started filming movies there again after William Hertz acquired the property. 

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The Paramount Ranch changed it's owners multiple times before it was added to the recreational area. Even today you might run into a filming crew there. Next time you visit, everything might look different since they might be filming something totally different. So many movies have been filmed there, for example Sandra Bullock's The Lake House, Paleface, Wells Fargo, The Flinstones: Viva Rock Vegas, The Girl Next Door, American Sniper and Scream. Also episodes for some television shows like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, MacGyver, Charlie’s Angels and The X-Files. One of the last notable television series filmed at the Paramount Ranch was Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

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It is quite a fun place to visit and walk around. We also wandered off from the actual filming area and there seemed to be many nice looking trails around the ranch. We even saw multiple horse back riding groups. Even though the actual Visitor Center is at King C. Gillette Ranch, there is a small ranger station at the Paramount Ranch where you can get some maps or use the restrooms. And the best part is, everything is free of charge!

Our Big Plans for Spring Break and How It Really went

Paula Gaston

Spring break is over and we have gone back to our normal daily routine. Earlier I told you about our plans to drive to Death Valley and from there to Las Vegas, visit a few national parks and then drive back home. Well, it didn't quite go like that. Just like we also didn't fly to Hawaii or to Cancun as we planned at some point. So what happened?

On the last night before our vacation we still hadn't packed or booked any of the hotels. So not like me! Life with a baby doesn't leave much extra time, and since I was kind of hesitating about the amount of driving we would have to do, I just didn't get to doing it. I ordered a new phone and it did not arrive in the mail like it was supposed to. On three nights I had to run to the phone store to find out what is going on with that until I gave up and went to another store. I did get a new phone from there but after arriving home I realised it hadn't been activated. Fortunately they were able to help me on the phone. That the same week Amazon managed to lose two of my packages. Also a cabin I booked from Norway for our summer trip had decided to raise the price and since I hadn't noticed the email right away, they cancelled our reservation. I bought a new swimsuit, but after arriving home I realised it was missing the straps. And on our morning walk to school my daughter said on the way: "Well, I'm not even wearing socks!" I finally decided that this was not my week. 

Anyway, I wasn't quite sure that it was a good idea to spend hours and hours in the car with a baby everyday, so I changed our plan a day before the trip. And where did we end up?

 

FROM PISMO BEACH TO EASTER BRUNCH

So we decided to head to Southern California and spend Easter with our family. Usually we drive straight there but this time we went along the famous Pacific Coast Highway and spent a night in Pismo Beach. We arrived in Pismo Beach that evening, and the next morning it was raining, so we didn't see everything the town had to offer. Before dinner we went for a walk on the beach and then ate in a Mexican restaurant. Next morning we found a fun breakfast place in Oceana, right next to Pismo Beach. This Rock & Roll Diner had been built in an old train car. Oceana beach has been dedicated to cars and ATV's, so if that is your thing, this is a fun place to visit. And for the first time I saw that a beach can have a speed limit... it was 15 miles per hour. 

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Over all, it was a good idea to stop half way. Next day we were not in a rush and we had a nice drive to see our family in Rancho Cucamonga. We had an Easter Egg Hunt, Easter Brunch, and we left an empty basket on the table with some celery and apples for the Easter Bunny. By night time the bunny had visited and brought some gifts and easter eggs for the basket. 

SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS AND A BOAT TRIP TO THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

When it was time to leave Rancho Cucamonga we headed to the Santa Monica Mountains to do some hiking. I wanted to see the Paramount Ranch where they have filmed so many movies, and where you can still see a film crew in action. The day went by quickly and we stayed the night in Ventura. I really liked this city, they had beach, palm trees, tacos... can you ask for anything more than that?

The reason for staying the night in Ventura was our next days trip to the Channel Islands. The boat to this national park leaves from Ventura. We were lucky in many ways on that trip; the sun was shining and we saw both dolphins and whales. We hiked around Anacapa Island and enjoyed the beautiful day.

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I will write separate posts about these later. 

THE MADONNA INN, SO KITSCHY

When it was time to head back home we decided to stay the night at the half way mark again. For a long time I have been dreaming about staying at the Madonna Inn in San Louis Obispo, and this time we did it. The hotel is known for its decorative pink restaurant, mens room waterfall urinal and that each of their rooms has a different theme. I would say that the whole place is a little bit crazy but in a fun way. I loved it!

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The night at the Madonna Inn was so fun! I will tell you more about it later! After we got back home we realised that we had a fun and relaxing vacation after all.