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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.

Friends from My Travels

Paula Gaston

It is the morning of Valentine's Day. I sit in our kitchen with a coffee and a bagel, and look outside from the window. I wonder why it feels like Valentine's Day has lost it's meaning a little bit. Commercialism, junk and over pricing: That is American Valentine's Day. It all started right after Christmas. And everyone is bored of it already!

This morning I have already walked my daughter to Kindergarten where they have a Valentine's Day's party. With a quick look it looked like my daughter might have been the only one with some self-made Valentine's Day cards for her classmates. Some seem to have Shopkins or Spiderman cards based on the latest hit products, which come with a lollipop or with chocolate. And since this is Silicon Valley, I would be surprised if those were the only gifts they get. I was sure this was coming, so at least we had some Valentine's Day pencils to add to the cards. Why do we parents do this to our kids?

Last year my husband and I decided that we wont be going to a Valentine's Day dinner on the actual day. The restaurants are full, they have special menus with double prices and the waiters are too busy. Last year we went out for dinner a day before, and today we are planning to get some thai food from one of our favorite restaurants. Instead of the fancy dinners, I get happy from cards or messages I get from my friends from all over the world. That is the best thing!

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Many of my friends I have actually met on my travels, and my husband too. And with most of my good friends, I have been traveling together. My best memories are from those trips. There are so many different places in my photo album: sunny trips to Southern Europe, horse racing trips to Sweden and France, a study trip to Sweden, a prize trip to Turkey, a last minute trip to Egypt and a summer job in the US. From that summer, I still have many good friends both in the US and Europe. And even if we don't always keep in touch, when we meet again we will continue where we left off. And that is a true friendship! It means much more than chocolate in a velvet box or candle light dinners!

Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

Taste of Finland Brings Finnish Candies all over the World (+GIVEAWAY)

Paula Gaston

*In collaboration with Taste of Finland.

While living abroad the best day of the week is always the one when you get some mail from your home country. It be might letters, postcards or little packages from friends and family. Last week, a bigger shipment arrived for us from Finland. It was a Squirrel Candy Box from Taste of Finland full of Finnish candies for us to try out. That was for sure the best day of the week!

The box contains a lot of Finnish chocolate and some candy bars. We also got the Finnish speciality: salty black liquorice. I was a little surprised that our 5 year old who hasn't eaten it a lot before liked it. I guess it must run in the genes. My favorite is absolutely all the chocolate candies, while my husband went for the fruit candies. 

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TASTE OF FINLAND

Taste of Finland is a Finnish company which was established in 2017. It is easy to order Finnish products through them, for yourself or as a gift. Not all of the products are candies. They also carry cloudberry jam, rye chips, tea, coffee, Finnish mustard, Xylitol products and some other Finnish delicacies. Everything, even the shipping boxes, are made in Finland. The products can be shipped to Europe, North America, Australia and some Asian countries (see the full list here).

Among the ready boxes, you can now also order individual products and create your own box. With the sweets and savory things, Taste of Finland now also has some Moomin products like cups and bowls. I have sometimes given those as a gift to someone, and we also use them almost every day. There are five different gift boxes to choose from: Squirrel, Rabbit, Bunny, Bear and Fox. Adorable!

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WIN A BUNNY CANDY BOX ON FEBRUARY'S CONTEST

Attention everyone! This month's contest prize is a good one! One lucky winner will get a Taste of Finland Bunny Candy Box. It has all sorts of candies such as:

  • Fazer chocolates
  • Hopea toffeeta (taffy)
  • Tyrkisk Peber (Turkish Pepper)
  • Aito Suomalainen Salmiakki Mix (Salty black liquorice)
  • Brunbergin Lakritsia (Black liquorice)
  • Pantteri Mix candy bag
  • Ässä Mix candy bag
  • Different kinds of candy bars

You can participate by leaving a comment here on this post and by telling me what is your favorite candy. The winner will be drawn on February 14th, on Valentines Day, and the box will be shipped to the winner after that within the delivery area of Taste of Finland. Please leave your email address with the comment (or sign in with your email address. In which case, only I can see your address.) so that I can contact you.

You can also participate by following me on instagram @paulagaston and by tagging a friend on the contest photo. Choose someone who also would appreciate some goodies. By commenting on both the blog and instagram, you will double your chances! The contest is also posted on the blog's Finnish version here

Good luck and have a great February everyone!

THE CONTEST HAS ENDED! So many people participated here, on Finnish site and on Instagram. Thank you! The winner is Raija from San Diego! Conratulations!

The Most Bizarre Beaches on My Instagram

Paula Gaston

All these pictures are from my Instagram account. You can follow me @paulagaston

Both my husband and I were born and raised on the coast. We have always lived close to the water and the ocean. I am from a small town in Finland and my husband is from California, so water is a familiar element for us. And like many others, we often head to beach destinations for vacation. So it is not a surprise that there are many pictures of beaches on my Instagram account. 

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THERE IS MORE TO DO AT THE BEACH THAN JUST TAN YOURSELF

There is so much you can do at the beach. We don't really go to the beach to tan ourselves. Instead, we like to go to beach for snorkeling or swimming. And that is why I really miss warm waters. And of course having kids has changed things too. Kids just love the beach and could play or collect seashells for hours. Unfortunately, I think my kids will not set their feet in the cold waters of Scandinavia like I did as a kid. They are only used to swimming in warm waters.

Here in Northern California the ocean is rarely warm enough for swimming, but we liked to go to the beach anyway. It is nice to get some fresh air and maybe even have a picnic. It is fun to walk around the beach and check our what kind of sea life the waves have brought in. And many of the beaches have tide pools where you can see little sea creatures that got trapped during high tide. A few times, I have been horseback riding at the beach. There is nothing cooler to a horse lover than a nice ride at the beach! Here in California you can do it in many places, and I wish I could do it more often. In Washington, we did a bicycle ride at the beach. 

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THE MOST BIZARRE BEACHES WE HAVE SEEN

While traveling around the world, we have of course seen all kinds of beaches. The most unique of them have been here in the United States. The Green Sand Beach is the most rare beach we have seen; there are only three of them in the world! We visited one in the Big Island, Hawaii a few years ago. The most bizarre beach was maybe the Glass Beach in Fort Brag, California. The glass comes from an old garbage dump that used be on the beach. Sparkling in the sun, the beach looked like it was full of diamonds.  

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An interesting beach is also the Bowling Ball Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. In order to see the round, bowling ball rocks you must be at the beach on the right time; during the low tide. We were not able to hit that, but at least we managed to see a few of the rocks. Black sand beaches are also interesting. The picture is from Reynisfjara, Iceland which is close to the village of Vik. We also visited a black sand beach on the Big Island, Hawaii called Punaluu, and there is one even here in the San Francisco Bay Area; Ocean Beach. 

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Then there are two interesting beaches we went to where you can't swim. One is located by the Pacific Coast Highway in San Simeon, California, where the beach goes on and on but is occupied by elephant seals. The other beach marks the southernmost point of the United States and is located in Hawaii.

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We still need to see the famous pink beach! I have forgotten where it is, but that would complete our list.

And since I love the ocean, I don't mind spending time there during the winter. You can even ski on top of the ice in Finland. But here in California, we already got some lovely, warm days this week!

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A Night in a Luxury Hotel InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco

Paula Gaston

Last weekend we had an opportunity to stay the night in one the legendary hotels in San Francisco; The InterContinental Mark Hopkins. It is said to be one of the true luxury hotels in San Francisco. 

When I started my blog, I decided that I wont be doing hotel reviews like most travel bloggers do. The reason for that is, that I don't like to read them myself. I would rather read fun travel stories or introductions to the hotels, and then I read the reviews from the sites that only do those. So that is why I wanted to tell you our story of spending a night at Nob Hill. 

THE COLOURFUL HISTORY OF MARK HOPKINS

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The Mark Hopkins Hotel was opened in 1926. At first, this was the location of a luxurious mansion of a man named Mark Hopkins. His mansion burned in a fire caused by the big San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Later, the Mark Hopkins Institute of Arts was opened at the same location, and it was there until George D. Smith bought the building and decided to build a hotel to replace it. Over the years, the Mark Hopkins Hotel has undergone several renovations. It was built in the Spanish Renaissance and French chateau styles.

Many US. presidents and celebrities have stayed at the hotel. For example: Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones have been guests there, as well as Prince Philip of England and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. The Mark Hopkins used to host a popular dance club and event venue. It has always been a popular wedding venue. 

Today the Mark Hopkins hotel is registered as California Historical Landmark #754.

BEST PART OF THE ROOM - THE VIEW

Our room was on the 6th floor facing the courtyard of the hotel. In my opinion, the best part of the room was absolutely the view, even though I'm sure that the rooms facing the back of the hotel had even better views. I can imagine what it would feel like to look at the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge from your room. The room itself was pretty standard, clean but old. Everywhere in the hotel you could see how old it is, and maybe it could use a little facelift in order to hold on to its reputation as a luxury hotel.

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We only stopped at the room briefly to leave our things and then headed to the cocktail bar upstairs. But before that we went back to the lobby downstairs to see the little exhibit which showcases old items from the hotel's history. There is also a fun detail next to the elevators in each floor; a mail chute. By putting mail into it upstairs, it would drop all the way down to the lobby to wait for the mailman to pick them up.

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Old items at the lobby

Old items at the lobby

Mail chute

Mail chute

TOP OF THE MARK

We arrived at the top floor cocktail bar, Top of the Mark, right before sunset. Also kids are welcome there until 10 pm. The Top of the Mark is said to be one of the best views around San Francisco since the hotel is also on top of Nob Hill. Since it was still early, we got a nice table with a view. We ended the fun day with some cocktails and enjoyed watching the sun go down. Everywhere you turned, you could see people taking pictures of it. 

The Top of the Mark was opened in 1939 when the owner George D. Smith decided to transform the top floor penthouse into a restaurant. He was not sure if the guests would actually be willing to take the elevator all the way to the 19th floor, but the bar became an instant success. The rumour is that he was not able to come up with a name for the bar, and he told someone that he didn't know what he should call the top of the Mark. People then pointed out that it should be called "Top of the Mark". 

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While I came back home with the kids, my husband stayed longer in San Francisco. I wish I could have stayed too and see the rare super blue blood moon and the eclipse from the hotel. Oh well, it was still very pretty. 

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California Academy of Sciences

Paula Gaston

For some reason, I have kept this post waiting for a long time. I'm not sure, there is no real reason for it. So lets go visit one of the world's biggest natural history museum: The California Academy of Sciences.

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The museum is located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, so it is easy to find if you are visiting the city. This museum has a very long history. The academy was established in 1853 and the first museum opened in 1874. After that, it has changed its name, moved the location and gotten a new building several times. The museum was almost completely destroyed by the big fire after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. After that, it was opened in a new location in Golden Gate Park, but even that building got damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Then a decision was made to completely renovate the museum. The current museum building was planned as ecological as possible, and it is known for its green grass rooftop.

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Among all the nature things you can see in the museum, there is also a planetarium, aquarium and a rainforest in it. In the natural museum one can visit exhibits from all over the world. One interesting section is the part where they showcase evolution. Another popular spot is the earthquake simulator where people can feel what it would be like in a major earthquake. 

Our favorite is absolutely the rainforest. In a hot and steamy tropic room you can see all kinds of animals from poisonous frogs to beautiful butterflies. You might have to stand in a line for a while to get in, but it is well worth it!

Another one that we like is the Steinhart Aquarium which showcases one of the world's most diverse coral reef. I could stay in the aquarium for hours to watch all the sea creatures. Kids and adults too can get close to ocean critters in a touch pool where the staff will tell you about what you are looking at. I also love the colourful, tropical fish. Kids usually love to watch penguins getting fed, and they also have an albino alligator which would not survive in nature. 

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We have visited the California Academy of Sciences multiple times and it is always fun. A day goes really fast there and every time we learn something new. It is a perfect place if you get tired of sightseeing or if it is raining. I can truly recommend a visit!

TIPS FOR VISITING THE CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENcES

  • If you want to avoid standing in line, you can buy your ticket ahead of time online. You should also google some discount tickets that can often be found.
  • Going through the museum takes hours. So bring comfortable shoes and reserve a lot of time for your visit. Take a program with you from the door so you can check when the different shows start. 
  • The museum has a nice cafe where you can buy both food and snacks. 
  • There is a big parking garage next to the museum but especially on the weekends the parking fills up fast. The earlier you arrive, the easier it will be to find parking.