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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

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.

Seaside Glass Villas and SnowExperience365 in Kemi, Finland

Paula Gaston

*Our trip was made possible by Experience365,
but as always, all opinions are my own.

Our summer in Finland is going great, and last week, like every summer, we decided to drive up to Kemi, Lapland. We usually visit some family there, cross the border to Sweden and do some shopping. This time however, we were also honoured to be guests at Experience365. We stayed a night in one of their glass villa by the ocean, and visited a year-around snowcastle. Many people know about the huge SnowCastle they built every winter, but the SnowExperience365 is totally new thing, and open even in the summer.

Seaside Glass Villas and SnowExperience365 in Kemi

Seaside Glass Villas and SnowExperience365 in Kemi

 

A NIGHT IN SEASIDE GLASS VILLA IN KEMI

The Seaside Glass Villas were opened at Kemi’s SnowCastle area in 2016. They are small, log cabins, which offer an exotic choice of accommodation over the normal hotel rooms. The villas have a glass ceiling, and two glass walls, so that the guests are able to enjoy the ocean view or the stars on the sky. Now at the summer time, it is of course the Midnight sun sun, but at the winter time you can see the Northern Lights if you are lucky. Next to the villas there is a caravan area for those who travel with RV’s.

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Seaside Glass Villa in Kemi, Finland

Seaside Glass Villa in Kemi, Finland

Even though the villas are quite small, they have everything you need. Even a small kitchen. Since everything is new, the villas are clean and nice. When I heard about the night in the villas, I was wondering weather there is a toilet or a shower in them, but I can now tell you, they have both. The warm water only lasts for 13 minutes though, but that was enough for both mine and my kids showers. There is also and A/C and a heather.

Because two walls are glass, there is a lot of light in the villa even when you close the curtains. They had left us eye masks. After the sun had turned away in the evening, we opened the curtains and was amazed by how beautiful the view was. So tranquil! We didn’t really have a reason to open the curtain in the ceiling since the sun was bright, but we of course wanted to see what it would look like open. And I wanted to take couple of photos for my blog. At that point, I started wondering how to ope it, since I couldn’t reach that high, and there was nothing in the villa that I could use as a help. I got some help for this from the reception. The curtains are opened with a special stick and you have to be very careful since the paper curtains can break easily. Maybe some other mechanism would be better since the whole reason to stay in a villa like this, is to look at the sky from the glass ceiling.

Villa from inside

Villa from inside

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Very close to the villas there is a public beach, frisbee golf course and a playground. However, we didn’t have time for them since a Tivoli was in town. Tivoli is a carnival that tours around the Finland and my kids had never been to one. After that we walked to a restaurant area by the coast and had dinner.

After a good sleep in a villa, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and headed to a breakfast in Lumihiutale restaurant. Lumihiutale is Finnish and means snow flake. The breakfast was set up nicely and we ate a balcony with a most amazing view to the ocean!

Lumihiutale restaurant with a beautiful view

Lumihiutale restaurant with a beautiful view

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SNOWEXPERIENCE 365; A YEAR AROUND SNOWCASTLE OF KEMI

SnowExperience 365 offers an inside space to play at the snow and ice with the -5C temperature (XXF). It is located in the main building at the area, and right next to the glass villas. Most of the space is taken by the beautiful ice restaurant, where the tables are made of ice and the chairs are covered by reindeer fur. There are ice sculptures, an ice castle and a fun ice slide. In order to slide on ice, you should dress warmly. Our kids got an overall, boots and a funny snowcastle hat from the reception to use inside. For adults they had some warm blankets.

SnowExperience space is not huge, so it doesn’t long to walk through it. However, our kids could have stayed there for hours just to do the slide. The same building also has a reception, souvenir shop, Day Spa, ice cream bar and a restaurant. When staying in one of the glass villas, you get to visit the SnowExperience for free. Otherwise you will have to purchase a ticket from the reception. At the winter time, there is also a huge SnowCastle outside on this area.

Main building

Main building

Entrance to SnowExperience and ice cream bar

Entrance to SnowExperience and ice cream bar

SnowExperience364 in Kemi, Finland

SnowExperience364 in Kemi, Finland

Ice restaurant in SnowExperience365

Ice restaurant in SnowExperience365

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We had a fun experience in a beautiful place! I really enjoyed the Seaside Glass Villa we stayed in, and I would love to come back at the winter time, when you can see some snow, ice and maybe even Northern Lights from the windows. But I think the kids enjoyed the most the SnowExperience! Maybe we will be able to return to Finland at the winter, and visit Kemi again.

 

We Stayed in The Prison Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki

Paula Gaston

*Our trip was made possible by Hotel Katajanokka,
but as always, all opinions are my own.

As you know, we are currently visiting Finland for the summer, and last week we spent some time in the capital city, Helsinki. While we were there, we stayed at Hotel Katajanokka which was built in the old Helsinki County Prison building. So on our trip, we got to sleep inside a prison cell even though I think the cells used to look a lot different when the real prisoners were still there. Or what do you think?

Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki

Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki

SUPERIOR FAMILY ROOM AT HOTEL KATAJANOKKA

Our room was a Superior Family room on the fourth floor, and there was plenty of space for two adults and two kids. On the same floor, they used to keep the Finnish government leaders in 1945 who were detained for war-crimes trials. Also among those people was the president Risto Ryti. So quite a story! Now those prison cells have been renovated into upscale hotel rooms, where you can still see the history of the building and the city. Our room had a king bed and a fold-away sofa bed for two. And as a nice surprise, there was also a good selection of bath products and a big tub in our bathroom. Our kids are used to taking baths at home and enjoy playing in the water, so we found some use for these luxuries right away.

From our room we had a great view to Katajanokka harbor, and our kids loved watching the big ferries come and go. Every morning and every evening, we watched them load new passengers after offloading the old ones, and then slip away again. I think it would take us a long time to tire of this view.

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Our kids loved watching the ferries come and go

Our kids loved watching the ferries come and go

The names of the government leaders kept here

The names of the government leaders kept here

FROM GLOOMY PRISON TO LUXURY HOTEL

The hotel building is from the 19th century when they typically built all the county jails to look intimidating from the outside and depressing from the inside. Before here, there had already been two other prison buildings in the Katajanokka area. Helsinki County Prison was also used as a “remand prison” where the suspects were kept while waiting for trail. Finns gave this place the nick names Skatta and Nokka. Its most famous prisoners were the president Risto Ryti and his ministers, as I already mentioned earlier. They were all kept there at the end of the Second World War. War time was heavily present in Skatta’s history in other ways too. The building got damaged in bombings in 1942 and 1944.

The Helsinki County Prison was closed in 2002, and after renovations the Hotel Katajanokka opened in 2007. This old building which is protected, started a completely new life. Ever since 2016 it has been an independently owned Lifestyle-hotel, and it was just chosen for the Marriott International Tribute Portfolio as its first hotel in Finland. While staying at the Hotel Katajanokka, you should explore the surroundings and the building, as there is quite a lot to see. In the cellar for example, they have two old cells which are open to visit. The other one is a group cell which is really ascetic and dark, and the other one is an old isolation cell. Among the cells, there is also a prison chapel, a gym and some saunas for the guests.

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An old group cell

An old group cell

An isolation cell

An isolation cell

THE LINNANKELLARI RESTAURANT

On our first night in Helsinki, we had dinner at the hotel in the Linnankellari Restaurant. It is located in the cellar of the hotel, and has a very calm and quiet atmosphere. We stayed there quite a while. Their menu is not too deep, but we found something we liked right away. Like so often, I chose some fish while my husband went for the meat. But we always like to share the things we order, or at least taste each other’s dishes, so we end up eating many kinds of foods. The dessert menu had some classics prepared with a little twist, and we couldn’t resist trying some. My husband never passes the opportunity to order the Creme Brûlée, and I just had to try the Pavlova with fresh berries.

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The food was great and our waiter took such good care of us. The only thing we missed a bit was a kid’s menu which they didn’t have. Even though they were very helpful and the kitchen had some suggestions outside of the menu for kids, it is still a little bit easier for us moms if we get a written menu. At least for me, since I like to offer my kids some “real food”, and I’m secretly hoping that things like fries with chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches would not be the only items available on the kid’s lists. We do choose such food now and again, especially when travelling, but I always like to push some healthier sides for it at least. They did bring a fresh bowl of lettuce and tomatoes for the kids with the food at the Linnankellari which was great.

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They said SUMMER BREAKFAST IS MADE OF ICE CREAM

(Or so the sign said) and we believed them… ha ha. What a cute campaign! But of course, we ate something else first like delicious pancakes and fresh fruits. The best part of the breakfast was that it wasn’t like the usual hotel breakfast. Among the typical eggs, sausages and bacon, they also offered some oven-fresh meat pastry, banana smoothies and the most delicious oat meal. The oat meal was made in rice milk instead of water, which made it a little bit sweet. I loved it and will be trying it at home too! The morning coffee was drank from a steel cup just like in jail.

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Summer breakfast is made of ice cream. Porridge can be eaten at home. Yeah.

And did I mention the ice cream? The summer campaign in the Prime Hotels offers lower room prices and as much ice cream as you can eat at breakfast. And of course, all the kids were so excited! Especially when they got to scoop it out of the freezer and decorate by themselves. And I have to admit that I did try some myself too. Their campaign signs were hung from the ceiling with hand cuffs.

Breakfast is made of ice cream in the summer time

Breakfast is made of ice cream in the summer time

This is good to remember while getting some breakfast

This is good to remember while getting some breakfast

One great thing about the Hotel Katajanokka is the location. It is far from the traffic noise, but still close enough so you can walk right on to downtown. If you don’t want to walk, or you need to get there from further afield, the tram number 4 stops right in front of the hotel.

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I must honestly say, that this was one of the most pleasant hotel stays we have had. We really liked the fact that this place has such a story to tell, and the building was renovated with its history in mind. The prison atmosphere was still there even though the hotel is quite luxurious. The staff was friendly and we were well taken care of. A night in prison doesn’t sound so bad after all!

 

Copenhagen in a Day

Paula Gaston

Our summer in Europe and in Finland has finally started. Before arriving to Finland, we made a quick stop to Copenhagen in Denmark. We stayed for two nights so we had a one whole day to explore the city. Well, we did stop by at the downtown on the night we arrived too, but mostly just to get dinner and see how the metro line works. Luckily, Copenhagen is very easy to get around and most sites to see are in the downtown, so even in one day we were able to see a lot.

THINGS YOU CAN SEE IN COPENHAGEN IN A DAY

NYHAVN

Nyhavn is that famous harbour area from the 17th century, which are always featured in pictures of Copenhagen. It is known for its colourful houses which the oldest one is from 1681. Today, there are restaurants, cafes and all kinds of shops in the ground level of the houses, and people come there to enjoy a glass of beer or a sandwich. It is definitely a must place when visiting Copenhagen! The cruises in the canal also depart from there.

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

THE LITTLE MERMAID

Like my Danish friend said: “The Little Mermeid is the most overrated sites in Copenhagen, but still a must see!” So true! The statue is sitting on rock the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen and is so small, that it is hard to spot it behind the crowds. The character is from the H.C. Andersen’s fairytale published in 1837.

The Little Mermeid behind the crowds

The Little Mermeid behind the crowds

AMALIENBORG PALACE AND THE CHANGE OF GUARDS

Amalienborg Palace is in the downtown of Copenhagen and just a short walk away from Nyhavn. The palace is used by the Danish royals, and there are four separate buildings. When visiting, you should aim at being there at noon when the Royal Guard, Den Kongelige Livgarde, is changing new guards in front of the palace. The guarch march to Amalienborg from the Rodenborg Castle. When the royals are home the marching band will join the change of guards.

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ROSENBORG CASTLE

Rosenborg Castle was built in 17th century to Christian IV summer home. Today it is open for public, and they display for example the royal jewels. The locals gather to the park in front of it, and there are many beautiful flowers in the castle garden. You can visit the garden and castle yard without a fee.

Rosenborg Castle

Rosenborg Castle

KASTELLET

Just a short walk away from the Little Mermeid is one of the best preserved fort; Kastellet. The buildings are from the 17th century, and the main things to see are two gates with bastions, commander’s house, and the Rows where the commanders resided at some point. There is also a beautiful wind mill in the area. The area is still used by the army so you can see the solders walking around.

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The commander’s house

The commander’s house

CHRISTIANIA

Freetown Christiania was developed in the old military area in Copenhagen and is partially autonomous intentional community. It is located in Christianshavn and about 1000 people live there. You can walk around, see colourful buildings and the hippy culture, but you can’t take photos on the Green Light District. Kannabis is publicly sold there even though buying and selling is not legal. On other parts of the Christiania you can take photos as long as you ask people first if you take photos of them. Today, Christiania follows Danish legislation.

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TRADITIONAL DANISH TREATS

While in Copenhagen, don’t forget to try some local treats and go out to some of the many cafes in the downtown. All the cafes are selling Danish sandwiches, smørrebrød, which is rye bread with different fillings. Very often it is fish or seafood, or some shrimp and boiled egg. Most restaurants offer trendy, international foods and drinks.

And when in Denmark, you must also try the real Danishes which were invented in Denmark in 1860’s. The most popular ones seemed to be cinnamon danishes, kanelsnegle, which were covered with chocolate. We tried to find the danishes we are used to eating in the U.S. which have some fruit or berry fillings.

Delicious smørrebrød

Delicious smørrebrød

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COPENHAGEN - EASY TO GET AROUND

It is so easy to go around in Copenhagen. Starting from the airport we had no issues finding out how to get around even though we had some luggage, kids and a stroller with us. From the airport you can take a metro to downtown, or like we did, to a hotel nearby. The metro station is on terminal 3, and there were some staff members helping people to buy tickets. Metro is fairly easy to understand since there is only two lines; yellow and green. If you plan to use the metro more than ones a day, you should consider getting a day pass which is valid for 24 hours, and also works in buses. The kids were free in the metro while traveling with adults.

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It seemed like everything in downtown was close enough to walk, but if you want to be like a local, get a bicycle! They were all over! I think it was the most bikes I have ever seen in one place. And no wonder, since about 60% of locals bike to work everyday.

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Copenhagen was such a nice and compact city that we really felt like we want to come back someday. We did’t have time to visit Tivoli for example which is very famous. Other than that, we did see most of the sights in the city and had a great time. Copenhagen felt safe, if you are not afraid of fast going bikers, and everyone was friendly. The airport is close to the downtown, so it is easy to do a stopover like we did. We managed to break the jet lag by stopping in Denmark, and then flew over to Finland to enjoy the Midsummer and the Nightless Night. But we wont forget beautiful Copenhagen!

Sunset in Copenhagen

Sunset in Copenhagen

Have you been to Copenhagen? Did you like it?

The Spells of the Nightless Night in Finland

Paula Gaston

Midsummer! The crown of the whole summer for the Finns, and the weekend that everyone is waiting for. So too the thousands of Finns living abroad who travel back to their birth country just for midsummer—Just like us this year, and last year too. It is not only because while living abroad the whole concept of the nightless night gets a whole new meaning, but also that is the time when most Finns are vacationing. While visiting Finland, we want to spend time with our family and friends.

There are also a number of traditions for celebrating midsummer in Finland, and they vary a bit around the country. We have always spent our midsummer weekends at our summer house by the Gulf of Bothnia. Birch trees were brought to both sides of the door as a decoration, and many delicious foods were prepared.

By living near the coast, we always had plenty of fish and sea food, but more so, midsummer is also all about barbequeing. My mom used to bake some donuts and strawberry cake. We almost always had some guests to help us eat it all. The sauna was heated up and in between visits, one would jump into the chilly ocean to cool off.

Here on the Swedish speaking coast you can always see some Swedish Midsummer poles.

Here on the Swedish speaking coast you can always see some Swedish Midsummer poles.

When I was younger, we also tried some Midsummer spells with some friends. They are a fun part of the midsummer traditions in Finland. There are so many of them, but at here are some known in the area where I am from:

THE BEST SPELLS OF THE FINNISH NIGHTLESS NIGHT

Out of many, many Midsummer spells, I remember the best this one, where you count the cuckoo calls. It was easy to do at our summer place, because you could here the cuckoo often. If you hear the cuckoo calling in the Midsummer night, you can count how many years it takes for you to meet your future spouse.

The most famous of the spells must be the one, where you have to find seven different flowers from seven different fields, and sleep with the flowers under your pillow during Midsummer night. During the night you will see your future spouse in your dreams. I think I tried this one too when I was younger, but I don’t remember having any dreams that night.

If you find a spring from the forest on Midsummer night and look into it naked, you will see your future spouse looking back from the water. This one might be harder to do, as it is not so easy to find natural springs in Finnish forests.

One of the funniest Midsummer spells must be the one where after going to sauna, you walk backwards until you hit a pile of fire wood. Then you check what kind of a log you hit. If it is a whole one, you will get married. If it is split in half, you will fall in love with a married man.

In the Finnish sauna people use a bundle of birch branches to help the blood circulate. You will gently pat yourself or your friend with this “saunavihta”. After going to sauna on midsummer night you can throw the saunavihta onto the roof of the sauna, and see which direction your future husband will arrive from. He will come from where the handle of the vihta is pointing to.

If you want good luck in marrying, you should find a field with morning dew on midsummer night and roll around in it naked.

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So there! Now everyone can try these spells and see if they work. Just remember that it has to be Midsummer night when the Sun is out all night! I’m glad that I am already married, so I don’t have to try these anymore. Instead, we have been enjoying the company of my family and friends, eating and recovering from the jet lag. We did visit some some friends at their summer place and did our Midsummer sauna and swim.

Have a lovely Midsummer everyone!

 

Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon in Arizona

Paula Gaston

There are so many amazing places to see in Utah and Arizona! We were lucky to be able to visit many of them on our road trip. I hope you saw the pictures from our visit to Antelope Canyon. it should really be on everyone’s bucket list! Even though we really liked both Snow Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah, and hiked to see some Toadstool Hoodoos, Antelope Canyon was the most memorable place by far. But that was not all. Next we headed to Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Maybe you have seen some photos of this horseshoe shaped river in Arizona? Here is what you should know about visiting Horseshoe Bend:

GLEN CANYON DAM AND THE AMAZING VIEWS

When we started to get closer to Glen Canyon, the views started to change. We passed the harbor where you can hop on a boat to get to Rainbow Bridge. Rainbow Bridge is the biggest natural rock arch in the world, and is a National Monument. I was disappointed that we were not able to visit the arch this time, but a whole day in a small boat with the kids didn’t sound like something we wanted to do. Luckily there are plenty of other things to do at Glen Canyon Recreation Area which also belongs to the National Park Service.

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Our first stop was a lookout where you can see the Colorado River. After that we drove to the Visitor Center by the Glen Canyon Dam. Built in 1964, it is the second largest dam in the U.S. after Hoover Dam. Glen Canyon Dam generates power while regulating the water flow of the Colorado River. Since many states battle with drought and the Colorado River runs through many states, it has become an important element when distributing water. However, people are still debating about the environmental affects of the dam, and many think that it should be demolished. You can see the dam really well from the Visitor Center, and it is a great place to stop in many ways. They have great facilities for families (diaper change? no problem), and they are very helpful with the Junior Ranger Program for kids. We also visited their museum and souvenir shop.

Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam

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THE BEUATIFUL HORSESHOE BEND IN ARIZONA

The most visited place in Glen Canyon must be Horseshoe Bend which is located in the city of Page. Horseshoe Bend is a spot in the Colorado River where it makes a turn shaped like a horseshoe. It is right at Highway 89 when driving south from Page.

 

In recent years, Horseshoe Bend has become famous due to all the gorgeous photos in social media. The amount of visitors has jumped up. Unfortunately, the amount of deaths has also risen as some tourists take selfies so close to the edge that they fall down into the canyon. A 14 year old girl just fell in during Christmas week. Because of these accidents, they have now opened a new fenced viewing point at Horseshoe Bend where it is safe to look at the canyon. At the same time, they built a new parking lot, and installed some benches and a rest area to the trail heading down to the viewing point. This had all just opened a week before our visit. Now that the new parking lot was in use, they also started collecting a parking fee of $10 per vehicle. We figured we were happy to pay that for the facilities we got.

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The trail to the viewing point and back is about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) long. When you walk back, it is mostly uphill and the sun will make the walk pretty hot, so people were sitting on the benches while catching their breath. So visiting Horseshoe Bend won’t take that much time, and we were there maybe for an hour. The trail is OK to do even with a stroller. The best time for the visit is from late morning to late afternoon. Very early in the morning the river is in shadow, and in the evening it is hard to get photos because the sun will shine straight into your camera.

Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon Recreational Area

Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon Recreational Area

There are still many spots at Horseshoe Bend to risk your life and climb close to the edge, and some people seem to be very brave and even took their kids up on dangerous spots. It is hard to get a photo of the river where you can fit the whole turn in it, but I would never risk our lives for the sake of a photo. We actually figured that the best view was right at the view point with the fence, but we did have to fight for space.

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This was a great little stop, and the views in this area are amazing no matter where you go. We also visited some other national parks on our stop in Page, but more about them next time!