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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 Churches You Should Visit While in Finland

Paula Gaston

I almost feel like I’m stuck in Finland with my posts right now. I must be missing it even though many of my friends there have told me, that beautiful summer is only a memory anymore. Fall has arrived in Finland as well. Oh well, maybe at some point I will be able to move on, but for now, a few words about the churches there. Almost 80% of the population in Finland belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which means that every town has its own Lutheran church. We first started to visit churches, since my American husband was interested in seeing them, and I soon realised that they are actually very interesting. All of the churches have their own history and a story to tell, and I have been surprised about how beautiful these buildings are.

PETÄJÄVESI OLD CHURCH

When thinking about a church which has impressed me the most, the Petäjävesi Old Church is absolutely on the top. Thank you to our friends in Jyväskylä who took us there for a visit. Even though the church is not very big, it mesmerises with its many stories and long history. Squeaky planks on the floor and decorative paintings on the wall will take you to a totally different era. This wooden church was built between 1763-64, and next to it is an old cemetery and bell tower which was built later. Petäjävesi Old Church represents eastern Scandinavian wooden church building at its best, and is one the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Finland.

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As you can see from the photos, our visit to Petäjävesi was some years ago when our older daughter was still quite small. This church was really interesting with many cool stories from history.

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KERIMÄKI CHURCH

Kerimäki Church is not as beautiful as Petäjävesi, but it was very impressive in other ways. It is said to be the world’s biggest wooden church. And it truly felt quite big while walking around inside with other visitors. The church was built in 1847. Some legends say the size of the church was a mistake; like mixing up centimetres with inches or mixed up architect’s papers. Most likely they just wanted to make sure that half of the town’s people would fit in at once. During that time, there were 12,000 inhabitants in Kerimäki, and the church can accommodate 4 or 5 thousand people inside it. There are 3,300 seats in the church.

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When we visited Kerimäki Church they had an exhibition of wooden paupers inside the church. We were also able to climb up to the bell tower next to the building.

TEMPPELIAUKIO CHURCH

This summer, on our road trip in Finland, we visited the Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki. In 1961 two brothers; Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen won an architect contest with their special plan to quarry the church into the face of a huge rock. The church was inaugurated to use in 1969 and it was first called Taivallahti Church. The name was later changed. While visiting the church, one of the things you definitely notice, is the copper coated dome. Some natural light will come in from a ceiling window, and the altarpiece is a cracked rock from the ice age. Because of its excellent acoustics, the church is very popular place for concerts. It is one of the most popular sights in Helsinki.

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ST. MICHAEL’S CHURCH

We visited St. Michael’s Church this summer without an actual plan to go there. We drove by, and since we had some time, we decided to go in. And wow! I had no idea that there was such a beautiful church in Finland. It was built between 1899 and 1905, and it represents Art Nouveau and Gothic styles. There is a fascinating story of how the church was designed. The architect Lars Sonck, who was only a 24 year old student at the time, won an architecture contest with his design. The older architects didn’t approve, and they even planned to expel him from the school. Even though the church is truly magnificent, Sonck himself was never happy with his design and made many changes to it during construction. Later while visiting Turku, he never wanted to see the church.

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KORSHOLM CHURCH

I visited Korsholm Church a few years ago while visiting a friend in Vaasa. I wanted to see Old Vaasa, so while there, we also went into the church. The church was built in 1786 and it was actually a building for the Vaasa court. It is one of the rare buildings that survived the city fire in 1852. After the fire the whole town was moved to a different location, and also the court moved. Their old building was retrofitted into a church between 1862-63.

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The church is very popular for weddings and very busy on weekends during the summer. Even when we were visiting, they had a photo shoot outside, and inside of the church, the cantor was practicing the wedding march. While listening to the church organs and the beautiful music, it was hard to keep yourself from tearing up.

We like visiting churches and reading about their history. Many times if visiting during the summer, there is a guide who will answer your questions. Or you can of course, read a bit about the history of the church before going for a visit. Many churches have quite colorful pasts, and many notable people have been buried in the church cemeteries. I absolutely recommend visiting some local churches while traveling!

What is the most memorable church you have visited?


















Greetings from the Hello Mini Kitty Cafe in San Jose

Paula Gaston

Last weekend my husband got stuck at London Heathrow due to a stormy weather, and he wasn’t able to spend the Saturday with us. So what to do? A phone call to a friend and come up with a plan. Our plan was to drive over to San Jose to check out the new Hello Kitty Cafe which was opened there during the summer. So we went!

 

The first permanent Hello Kitty Cafe in California was opened to Irvine in Southern California in September 2018. But before that the Japanese company Sanrio opened two smaller pop up cafes. The other one is very close to us in San Jose, and the other in Rancho Cucamonga. We usually spend our Christmasses in Rancho Cucamonga by visiting some family, so maybe we will get to visit the Hello Kitty Cafe over there as well. The actual permanent Hello Kitty Grand Cafe offers some Hello Kitty themed cafeteria products but also a 5 o’clock tea in their special Bow Room. In the evenings this room changes into a cocktail bar, and visiting in it requires a reservation.

But the Hello Kitty Mini Cafe we visited was far from “garnd”. We had read that in weekends they have had even over three hour lines to get in! That is pretty crazy! So we decided that in case of a long lines, we would go hang out somewhere else. But once there, there were no lines at all, so we decided to head in to this pink whole in the wall.

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The Hello Kitty Mini Cafe was truly a mini. There were only room for few people to be in at the same time, and there were no seating at all, or tables. We quickly realised that many people came in to just to buy some t-shirts or mugs, and they had just sold out the latest coffee mug. Hello Kitty truly is a popular character I see, much more than I have ever realised.

We order something to eat, and went out to find a table from Santana Row Park. My cafe latte with a Hello Kitty picture and all the baked good were cute, but they tasted very industrial. Our daughter did not finish her strawberry smoothie and that says something about the taste right there. And I have to say, that the prizes in this place are totally something else, and there not very much to choose from. They definitely cash out with the name of Hello Kitty.

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Unfortunately I have to say, that we were a little bit disappointed by the Hello Kitty Mini Cafe. In Japan we visited a Café de Miki with Hello Kitty and it was designed very well. It was so much fun and had lots of products to choose from. You truly felt like you were inside a “Hello Kitty world”. So we might not return to the mini cafe anytime soon. But I’m glad we went there to see what it was like, and our daughter was excited to see all the Hello Kitty products.

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Back to Smokey California

Paula Gaston

So the summer in Finland came to an end and the school have started both in California and Finland. We returned back home last Thursday, and have been trying to get used to the American life. First days we were wondering about various things: Oh, this what our own bed felt like? Why are the toilet seats so low? What an earth did I used to cook for dinner? Even the hotel close to our house looks totally different now since it has been painted while we were gone.

The greatest thing was of course to get all your own things back that you missed during the summer, and especially my own car! Our daughter missed her own room and toys, while our baby has grown into a toddler, and many clothes found from home don’t even fit anymore.

AGAIN, CALIFORNIA IS BURNING

Besides the freshly painted hotel, there has been one disturbing thing you can see from our window. The grey sky. And han’t been because of the clouds, it was smoke which was spread all around the Bay Area. The next couple days there was a warning of unhealthy air quality. Forest fires all around the California have been spreading the smoke to the Bay Area. Due to the global warning, some have said that California has turned into a matchbox. If the summer in Finland was unexceptionally warm, here it has been cooler than usual. For me that is fine since I don’t like hot weather, but in over all it is concerning.

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Many people vacationing have been disappointed this year that Yosemite National Park has been partially closed or covered with smoke due to the fires. At this moment, there are fires total in eleven different places. The number has gone down since we got back home. Yosemite is part of the UNESCO Heritages Areas and about one million people visit there yearly, so you can imaging how many people this have affected.

If you traveling to California, you can see the current fires at CAL FIRE site. 

THAT LOVELY JET LAG AND START OF THE SCHOOL

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The day before schools started our local florist was giving out some flowers to kids to bring to their teachers.

Our first week we were quite jet lagged. Our older daughter got into the new rhythm almost right away, but the baby has been waking up early at mornings to play. Only couple nights ago she slept without getting up, but she still wakes up and rolls around in the bed. I of course, have to get up when the baby gets up no matter how tired I would be. But I’m sure we will get through this soon.

The best way to do that is to keep up a daily routine. But even that we are still trying to figure it out since our older daughter started the first grade and their day is completely different than in kindergarten. And this week they have had a shortened days. The nap time for the baby should be great for the future school schedule, but this week we have had to play with the timings a little bit. We will see how things develop and how our new daily routine will feel like after the school really starts.

But now, greeting from California and see you later! Next week we have a lot of fun things coming up!


A Weekend in the Urban Hotel Verso in Jyväskylä, Finland

Paula Gaston

A couple weeks ago when we were still in Finland, I drove to the city of Äänekoski and Jyväskylä with my little girls. We had all kinds of activities on our schedule and I will tell you about them later, but now I would like to show you where we stayed. I was finally able to stay in a hotel that I have really wanted to visit for a long time now, Hotel Verso. 

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

A MODERN URBAN HOTEL 

Before going to Hotel Verso, I read a little about it from their website. They kept calling the hotel an modern urban hotel, and I was wondering what that really means. I found out quickly after arriving there. They have really managed to create a totally different kind of vibe than in most hotels. With the colorful decor, fresh flower arrangements, local products and cleanliness, they have built a very unique place from this former chain hotel. I liked it!

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When we walked in, we saw a dad in a rocking chair reading a book to his son. What an idyllic sight in a hotel! Well, of course my daughter wanted to try out those rocking chairs which were in a lobby on every level... and of course, every single time we walked by. 

Hotel Verso is located in the city center of Jyväskylä where the old Hotel Jyväshovi used to be. The Verso is a boutique hotel which offers something different to those who are tired of all the same hotels. The key word in this place could be locality or Finnishness, since both of these things seem to be highlighted in the hotel. The Verso was opened in 2016 and behind it is a family company who also owns Hotel Yöpuu and the Restaurant Pöllöwaari in Jyväskylä. There are 128 rooms in the Verso. 

A CLEAN AND CONFORTABLE ROOM

Our room was clean and comfortable. With some fresh textiles and wallpapers, they have applied a new look to the old hotel room. Our 6 year old slept on the sofa bed and there was a crib for the baby. Still there was a lot of room to walk around. The bathroom looked recently renovated, and since there was a bath tub, our kids were able to take a bath just like at home. Most Finnish homes have a sauna and showers instead of a tub, so having a tub in the room was a pleasant surprise. 

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 We love taking baths and the bath salt in the bathroom was a big plus

We love taking baths and the bath salt in the bathroom was a big plus

When staying in this room though, you should keep your curtains closed during the morning. I guess this doesn't apply if your room is located on another side than ours was. I like to open up the curtains in the morning and let the light come into the room, but after I had been walking around the room in my pyjamas, I noticed that outside our room people were having breakfast. The view from the breakfast room was straight into our room! I hope no one choked on their bread when they saw this tired mama in pyjamas and hair sticking up.

TOP NOTCH BREAKFAST 

The breakfast at Verso is served in the Silmu Restaurant, and it is the pride of the hotel. When my friends heard where I am staying, they immediately mentioned the "awesome breakfast at Verso". There were all kinds of Finnish products and foods, and definitely a lot of things an average hotel breakfast doesn't have. There were many local treats, seasonal products and fresh baked breads. I especially fell in love with the apple juice from Åland Islands and the lingonberry pudding. That is something I don't often get, since we don't have lingonberries back at home in California. The kids seemed to love the blueberry juice and the bread baked with Verso's own bread root with cold smoked salmon. 

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There are also omelette chefs in Silmu who will make an omelette of your choice. This is one thing I always miss with a hotel breakfast. I also have to give a big thanks for the kids plates and cups they provided with the bibs. I got the feeling that everything was planned extremely well. For example they served some delicious overnight simmered porridge, but since it was made with milk, it wasn't suitable for our baby yet. I asked about the other options and immediately they gave me some oat meal made with water. Baby's breakfast was saved, thank you!

 Finally a hotel with my size coffee cup!

Finally a hotel with my size coffee cup!

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After having this breakfast I understood what my friends had been talking about. This is a meal I would gladly offer for my foreign guests.

THE DECOR TEMPED US TO SIT IN THE LOBBY

Hotel Verso's bar has a lot of personality. Among the drinks, the bar in the lobby offers some lunch during the weekdays. Unfortunately we were travelling on the weekend, so we didn't get to try it out, but we were sitting in the lobby just for fun. They also offer dinner during the weekdays. We loved the colorful decor and interesting furniture they had. And my daughter wanted to write something in their guest book.  

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 My daughter enjoyed writing in the hotel guest book. 

My daughter enjoyed writing in the hotel guest book. 

Thank you to Hotel Verso and their friendly staff for the great weekend!

 

Quick Stop at Naantali Spa Hotel

Paula Gaston

Our road trip in Finland came into it's last destination when we drove from Turku to Naantali. We had driven from my hometown Kokkola to Heinävesi, and visited the Valamo Monastery, and from there to a summer cottage in Rääkkylä. We saw Nightwish exhibition at Kitee, travelled to Vyborg, Russia via Saimaa canal, and spent a day in Porvoo. Then we drove to Helsinki where we stayed in famous Rock'n Rose Room in Radisson Blu Aleksanteri and visited Temple Square Church. Finally we visited Turku we tested a Turku Food Walk cards as well as Kakolanmäki Museum. And now to Naantali...

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

In Naantali our main destination was the Moomin World which is an amusement park based on a Finnish kid's character Moomin. Naantali is a beautiful town with a lot to see, but this time we had promised to our daughter that she will get to meet the Moomins. We stayed in Naantali Spa Hotel which also offers many things to do. It's definitely a resort where one can spend a whole day without having to exit the premises. Many of the customers seemed to be families who left to visit the Moomin World for a day, but at least we would have been perfectly happy just staying at the spa and other hotel areas.  

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 The shopping area reminded me a bit of a taking a cruise

The shopping area reminded me a bit of a taking a cruise

 Free kids activities and play rooms were all over the resort

Free kids activities and play rooms were all over the resort

BEST PART OF OUR ROOM WAS CLEANLINESS

Our room was in the main building, and it was very clean and spacious. On this trip we loved rooms with some space since our baby had just learned how to crawl. And we also had an access to a balcony which was nice. A fun little detail in this room was a door bell. How many times have you seen one in a hotel? Of course our daughter had to ring the bell everytime we arrived back to our room. 

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If you travel with some Moomin fans or with kids, you should ask for the Stroy Theme rooms which are decorated with plenty of Moomin products.

SWIMMING, SWIMMING AND SWIMMING

When you stay the night in the spa hotel, you get to walk from your room to the spa in your robe. They even had robes for kids which I thought was super cute. We didn't take the baby swimming this time, even though it was allowed in the spa. She is still so small that she is perfectly happy in a bath tub and this way we didn't have rush out of the pool. So we took turns in swimming.

The spa department was clean and pretty plain looking. I pictured in my minds a tropical place with some palm trees and plants, but the pool area reminded me more of ancient Greece. We mostly stayed in a regular pool practising swimming but of course we dipped into all of them. I think the highlight of the spa area was the pool which continues outside of the building. I always love to finish my time in spa in a hot jacuzzi, and so we did this time too. And like many times after swimming, we were starving when we got back into our room.  

THE HIGHLIGHT OF OUR SPA DAY WAS THE DELICIOUS FOOD

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We were pleasantly surprised that our spa day ended with a great restaurant experience. After swimming we were very hungry and we chose one of the restaurants at the cellar; TK's (Tammikellari). All the three waiters we spoke to were very friendly and so professional that I was very impressed. Also the food was delicious and we got it quite fast. I chose a traditional Fish and Chips portion but I think my husband's food won with it's unique presentation. It was Roasted Scampi, Mussels and New Potatoes. They also had a great kid's menu and our daughter chose a pizza with cold smoked salmon on top. Wow, they did not skimp with the fish. I just had to taste some! 

TK's was our choice also because it is open very late. It closes at mid night so that way you can enjoy the spa area as long as it is open. 

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They did have some other nice restaurant as well. For example their thai place was still open but we figured that it might be too spicy for kids. Thai Garden in Naantali Spa Hotel is the only thai place in Finland which have gotten an Select recognition due to it's authentic food with good quality. 

We also enjoyed the way the breakfast was organised in Naantali Spa. It was served in Le Soleil restaurant which was very spacious. It was also very clean there even though the morning must of been quite busy for them. With the space I don't mean that they had tons of empty tables. The restaurant was just very spacious and there were a lot of free space to walk around and find your favorite foods. So we ended our visit with full stomachs and headed back to our room to pack.

 

Do you like to go to spas?