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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.

Reima Kidventure Challenges Families Around the World to Move More

Paula Gaston

Reima is a Finnish kid's clothing brand which wants to encourage families all around the world to go out and move more. Their goal is to register 1 000 000 hours of activity for their campaign. #MillionHoursofJoy is done in co-operation with Visit Finland, and they want to emphasize the importance of exercise, as well as to tell people about the way kids in Finland spend a lot of time outside. Finland has amazing nature, clean air and a lot of outdoor opportunities. 

While being outside you can see and experience so much.

While being outside you can see and experience so much.

THIS IS HOW WE DO IT
 

Here in California the activities are very different from what I was used to in Finland. The culture is different and the distances are long. People mostly just drive everywhere; even to do sports. Bicycle roads are not very good and the traffic is horrible, so many people pack their bicycles into their cars and drive to parks or mountain trails. Hiking is also very popular, but that too usually requires some driving first. But once you get there, the nature here is amazing! We can't walk directly into a forest from our house like in Finland, but we like to go hiking on the weekends, and on our trips.

Kids here can't run freely to the parks or to a neighbor's house. Adults are usually accompanying the kids. Even that takes away from daily exercise when your parents are taking you everywhere and are there to "protect" you. I'm so happy that we have our own yard where the kids can play. Otherwise kids mostly are only able have hobbies that their parents are willing to drive them to. For us, it has been ballet class, tumbling and play dates with other kids. We have been ice skating every once in a while. I hope that at some point my kids will find a passion for some activity and pursue it further. And I really hope it includes being outside, just like my childhood hobbies. 

We try to be active daily in our routines. Now, that our oldest one has started kindergarten, we either walk, scooter or bike to school. We used to go to a park almost daily to play. Now that we have school during the day, we plan to go to the park after school as long as the weather cools off a little bit. The school also has a playground, but unfortunately the recess at school is very short. They only have one twenty minute recess which also includes a snack time. School kids won't go outside on a rainy day even if the rain stops. Because kids are not very active outside here, they often learn how to bicycle, swim or ice skate a lot later than kids in Finland. I would love my kids to be able to experience all the activities I did as a child, and especially during the winter time. Snow is not very familiar element to them. 

We have been going to school by walking and with a scooter. The baby is of course part of the activities. 

We have been going to school by walking and with a scooter. The baby is of course part of the activities. 

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REIMA KIDVENTURE CAMPAIGN

You can participate in this campaign by registering your kids daily activity hours at Reima's website, uploading a picture of your family's activities on Instagram or the Reima Facebook site with the tag #millionhoursofjoy. By participating, you will automatically qualify for a weekly drawing where you can win Reima products. At the end of the campaign 14 families will win an activity adventure in Finnish Lapland, Ruka. Sounds awesome, right? You can also download a ReimaGo app for your phone where you can register the activity hours.

We have decided to pay attention to the amount of our weekly activities, especially outside, and therefore I challenge your family to participate! It's fun for everyone!

Winning yourself!

Winning yourself!

Mayday Mayday - Wine Country is burning

Paula Gaston

Are you traveling to San Francisco, Napa Valley or Sonoma - Read this!

On Monday morning I walked my first born to school again. Looking out from the window the weather look nice, but when we started walking the cold breeze made us turn back to grab our jackets. I could clearly smell some smoke in the air and I could barely see the Californian golden hills which are close to our house. What is going on? Clearly I had not been following the news that day. I had heard that there is a wild fire somewhere up north, but fires are part of our everyday life in California. In reality, because of the wind, this fire had spread to multiple places fast, and both Napa Valley and Sonoma were burning.

The situation got worse really fast. New fires started and there just wasn't enough fire fighters to battle them all. In Santa Rosa two neighborhoods burned down. Many people literally had only a few minutes time to run from their homes so they had to leave everything behind; furniture, clothes, cars, pets, even their shoes. So far as many as 29 people have died and the amount continues to rise. There is 0% contained of most of these fires. Over 3000 homes have been lost, and two hotels were left to burn since there were not enough fire fighters to extinguish them. Their main task has been evacuating people from their homes. The fire has been said to spread faster than people can run. 

Yesterday we saw news pictures of people who returned to the ruins of their houses. A daughter who was looking for her old mother, a man searching for his cat, a young man trying to find his grandfather's dog tags and a lady crying in happiness after finding her wedding ring in the ashes. Many lost all of their possessions; some lost their loved ones or pets. The pictures were heart breaking. The whole place looks like a war zone. People are looking for their friends and family in evacuation centers and hospitals. A lonely mail truck was driving around in a destroyed area still delivering mail to those whose mail box was still up. There has been news of vineyards that were destroyed, and no one really knows how many vines have been lost. Some of the grapes were still not harvested since it is the harvest month. Some say that the heat or smoke can damage the vines, but some of the grapes might survive and take on a  smoke flavour. But a sure thing is, that this will hit both the wine and travel industry hard.

Some of the devastation in Santa Rosa:

Photo credit: María A. Mejía

Photo credit: María A. Mejía

Photo credit: María A. Mejía

Photo credit: María A. Mejía

Yesterday here in the San Francisco East Bay, it was really grey. Somewhere in the smoky sky you could see the sun peak out. Some of my friends told me that is was raining ash where they live. Some cities have closed the schools due to bad air quality. In our city, schools are still open, but the kids are staying inside for recess. People have been advised to stay inside and keep the windows closed. Especially exercising outside is not a good idea. Also San Francisco has unhealthy air quality. This morning I was happy that the sun was visible and I could see the hills again. My throat has started to hurt and my husband is coughing. It is time to plan a weekend trip somewhere. 

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Today they have ordered new areas for a mandatory evacuation, and no one knows when this will end. The forecast for the weekend predict gusty winds which will be a problem. Winds can change direction quickly and that will affect the fires as well as the air quality. The situation is horrible for everyone here! And the worst is saved of course for those up in wine country. People are collecting donations for the evacuees; food, clothes, diapers, pet food and everything else possible. They also need volunteers to help with the rescued animals.

At this moment there are 22 fires around California. A drought which has lasted years has made a match box. If you have planned a trip to these areas, you should consider a plan B. Most of the businesses at wine areas are closed, destroyed or evacuated, some are without power. In San Francisco, Silicon Valley and other areas near by the air quality is unhealthy or dangerous. Some said that it is same as in Beijing on their normal day. You can check the list of closed wineries in Napa from here, and in Sonoma from here. A list of damaged or destroyed wineries can be found from here. 

We are expecting some light rain for next Thursday. Right now, that might be the salvation for California. 

 

Las Vegas will Never be the Same

Paula Gaston

It's Sunday night and I wake up to nurse our newborn many times during the night. My husband's phone keeps buzzing and I wonder why he has the news notifications on, or who is trying to reach him. When he wakes up in the morning I hear cursing. Our close relatives have been in the mass shooting at Las Vegas, where 59 people died on October 1st, 2017, and 489 got wounded. They had sent some group texts to the family to let everyone know that they are ok, and what had happened. Everyone is shocked. Las Vegas will never be the same for us.

I visited Las Vegas for the first time two months after I had met my husband. We drove there with our friends to celebrate New Years. Las Vegas is a very strange city. It is in the middle of nowhere, in a desert, but everyone around the world knows about it. It is unreal with its themed hotels, world class shows and casinos. Everyone knows that you can get married in Vegas by Elvis or just use the drive thru. Everyone has seen the Las Vegas sign which is at the beginning of the Strip, the main street. It welcomes people to this party town, and everyone of course likes to joke that "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!"

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Part of the attractions of Las Vegas are the hotels. They are all different, and each one is stranger than the next. The shooter was at the Mandalay Bay hotel where he could see straight to the concert area, but he never had to go through the strict security required at the concert. Right after this incident, people started talking about hotel safety and whether we should have a security check when checking into a hotel. Doing that would be extremely expensive and time consuming; not only in Vegas but all over the world. And how inconvenient it would be for the customers. Recent years have not been kind to Las Vegas businesses, and this of course, wont help. 

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Bellagio's water fountain show is famous...

Bellagio's water fountain show is famous...

...and the flowers in their lobby are amazing!

...and the flowers in their lobby are amazing!

The Venetian Hotel

The Venetian Hotel

Last year only, about 43 million tourists visited Las Vegas, and about 100 000 people were working in tourism. So this city lives by the travel industry. Among the gamblers, there are a lot of regular tourists who visit Las Vegas, and many companies organize conferences and meetings there. And of course there are the wedding couples and wedding parties. I even have few friends who have gotten married in Las Vegas. We will see how all this will be affected by recent events. At least casino stocks were going down right after the shooting. 

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For those of us who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Las Vegas has always been a party place for birthdays, bachelor parties or getaway -weekends. It is only an hour flight away, so it is an easy destination even for a shorter trip. However, if I was there at the moment, I don't think I would be in a partying mood. We will see how fast people forget the tragedy and return to "sin city". Before that, there is a lot of healing to be done in Vegas. We are so grateful that our family is fine, and at the same time extremely sad, that not everybody was as lucky as us. 

 

Out with Baby - Skip Hop Diaper Bag Testing (+Discount Code)

Paula Gaston

This post was done in collaboration with Mielikuvitusmaa, all opinions are my own. 

Now that we have a baby on board with our other daughter, I had to think about how to manage everything I need to carry with me. With the 5 year old you don't really need that much anymore, so I had put away most of the baby things. We would go out carrying a purse only where I could fit maybe some baby wipes and crayons. But now we need diapers, spare clothes and everything else a little baby might need. So it was time to find a new diaper bag which I could use for both daily life and traveling. 

SKIP HOP DUO SIGNATURE

A Finnish online store Mielikuvitusmaa sent me a Duo Signature diaper bag by Skip Hop to be reviewed. I have been using it for a couple of weeks now and gotten familiar with it. The bag has nine individual pockets so it is not difficult to find spots for everything you carry with you. The side pockets close with magnets so they are perfect for mommy's own things like phones, keys, lip gloss and other things you need to find fast. You can put all the important papers, for example from a doctors visit, in the pocket with a zipper, and the big side pocket has a changing pad. At least for us, the changing pad is important since we go out a lot and travel, and we need something to protect the baby while changing her.  

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I usually have the bag hanging from the stroller, so one of the most important things for a diaper bag is to have the clips so you will be able to hang it. Other than that I carry the bag on my shoulder so a good shoulder strap is a must. This bag has a padded shoulder strap which is great, and the strap can be removed as well, if you only want to use the hand straps. This bag is a little smaller than my previous one and is good for those who don't want to carry a giant bag with them. It comes with three different colours: Chevron (which I have), black and "hearts". 

One thing I really like in a bag is all the little clips where you can hang things from. This bag has them, and right now I have a travel size disinfectant bottle, and I often carry some sun lotion since we are in California after all. I always carry a water bottle with me which fits perfectly into the pocket meant for a baby bottle, since right now we don't need to carry a baby bottle with us. 

The only thing I was missing from this bag was a proper phone pocket, so it would be easy to find the phone in a hurry. Also, I would like the straps for attaching the bag to the stroller to be little bit longer. At least for my stroller, they fit, but are very tight. Maybe for some other strollers they might be a better fit. Otherwise, I really like this bag. It actually doesn't even look like a diaper bag, so I could use it even if I didn't have a baby. 

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YOUR DISCOUNT CODE FOR MIELIKUVITUSMAA

In case you would like to get this bag, you can get 20% off from the price with the code BLOGI17. This code is valid until the end of this month, October 31st, 2017. You will also get this discount from other normal priced Skip Hop products, as well as Hape, HABA, Anne&Mikael, Zoocchin, 3sprouts, WSOY, Tammi, Oppi&Ilon and PlanToys products. The orders are usually processed on the same or next day, so they are shipped relatively quickly.

You can also inquiry about shipping outside of Finland. There are many great local products on the website, and you can always leave a comment if you know a product you think they should start carrying.

 

10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Japan

Paula Gaston

We were in Japan for the first time last November, and it was one of the best trips we have ever done. Japan is a beautiful country, and it was interesting to see this totally different kind of culture. I noticed a few things during our trip that are good to know if you are planning to travel to Japan, and what I wished I would have known before our trip. Here are some of them:

1. THE JAPANESE LOVE THE SILENCE

As coming from Finland where we also are used to the silence, this is actually not a problem, but I did have to ask my husband to speak quieter a few times during our trip. You especially notice the silence on the trains. People speak very quietly and mute their phones and tablets. There were also signs about this in the hotel rooms and AirBnB rooms.  

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2. REMOVE YOUR SHOES WHEN INSIDE

Japanese people don't wear shoes inside, so it is usually expected that you remove your shoes in hotel rooms and many other places. Also in some restaurants it is polite to remove your shoes. Many places offer some slippers that you can wear and sometimes even keep for yourself. Even the old castles that we visited required people to leave their shoes by the door or carry them in a plastic bag during the tour. 

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3. MANY PEOPLE WEAR FACE MASKS. WHY?

You will see people with paper face masks everywhere but don't worry, it doesn't mean that every one of them is sick. Some people wear masks to protect themselves from germs and some wear them during the allergy season to prevent pollen getting into their nose. The Japanese also think that it is polite to protect other people when you get sick by using a mask.

4. DON'T TAKE PICTURES OF JAPANESE PEOPLE

People in Japan are not happy about tourists photographing them and especially without asking permission first. And it is not very polite anyway. However, in many places, especially at famous sites, it is impossible to take pictures without having some strange people in it. At those places people know there is a chance they will end up in someone's home album, so you don't worry too much about it. 

If you visit Kyoto and it's famous Geisha district in Gion, you should know that photographing geishas with their customers is a big NO NO!

5. THE JAPAN RAIL PASS CAN SAVE YOU A LOT OF MONEY

If you are planning to travel from one city to another, you should consider buying a Japan Rail Pass. Train tickets are not very cheap, and already the price of a couple tickets will make the JR Pass worthwhile. With the pass, you can travel as much as you want, and you can even use JR trains in Tokyo instead of the metro. Just don't forget that you have to purchase the pass before entering the country. You can read more about the JR Pass from here.  

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6. THE GHIBLI MUSEUM IS ALWAYS SOLD OUT

In case you are interested in anime and are dreaming about a visit to the famous Ghibli museum, you should buy the tickets early. They only sell a certain amount of tickets for each day and they have to be purchased beforehand. There are no ticket sales at the museum. The tickets usually sell out months before. We tried to get ours two months ahead and they were already all gone. You can always ask for last minute tickets from the local convenient store Lawson, which seems to have also opened an online sales site since we were there. 

7. THE FAMOUS JAPANESE TOILETS

We had some Japanese toilets at work, and there were all kinds of features in them from integrated bidet to warming seat. One interesting feature was the noise button; either music or water sounds that will make sure other people won't hear you on the toilet. And you don't really need toilet paper for these toilets, since there are many different bidet options on them.

When we travelled to Japan, I was thinking that all the "Japanese toilets" were that sophisticated, but there were also "western toilets" which we are used to in the US. But then there were also the traditional squat toilets known as an "Asian toilet". So when going to the restroom, you might have several choices to choose from. 

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8. WHY JAPANESE WOMEN CARRY A TOWEL WITH THEM

There usually aren't any paper towels in Japanese restrooms. So if you don't want to walk out with wet hands, do what Japanese women do; carry a small towel in your purse. In case you forgot to bring one from home, no need to worry, almost every store sells some. 

9. PEOPLE LOVE KIDS IN JAPAN - ALSO IN RESTAURANTS

We were traveling with our 4 year old daughter and got a lot of extra attention because of her. Compared to local people, she is a blond with sandy blond hair and hazel eyes, which might be why people wanted to talk to her, but also in general everyone seemed to like kids. Our daughter got little gifts and origamis from people on the street, and lots of smiles when we were out.

We wondered how we would cope at the local restaurants since our daughter didn't know how to use chopsticks yet. But no need to worry! In almost every restaurant they brought her a kids plastic plate with spoon and fork.

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10. DON'T EXPECT EVERYONE TO SPEAK ENGLISH

Even though you will find most signs and instructions in English, many people don't speak English or do so with difficulty. It is always a good idea to learn some common phrases in Japanese which will be helpful in restaurants and stores. And it is of course polite to know how to say "hello" and "thank you" in the local language. Language was pretty much the only thing giving us trouble on our trip, and especially buying the train tickets in Japanese. But people there are extremely friendly and helpful, and always ready to guide you. 

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Do you have some good tips for people who travel to Japan for the first time?