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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.

Closing the Door to the Travel Year 2017

Paula Gaston

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

It is time to sum up again what has happened in the past year; ups and downs, and then move on to new adventures. Even though we were not able to travel as much last year, it was still a memorable year for other reasons. 


In January, I traveled to Finland to visit my family and friends. At that time we had just found out that we were expecting a baby, and I knew that most likely I will not be able to visit Finland later in a year. I thought we might be traveling to closer destinations, but honestly, during this pregnancy I felt like home was the best, so our travels were minimum this year. 


While I was visiting Finland I also went to Matka Nordic Travel Fair in Helsinki. It had been a few years since my previous visit to the fair and it was interesting to see all the changes.





After visiting a travel fair in Finland I also participated in a fair here in Santa Clara, California. The high light of the Travel Adventure Show was meeting Phil Keoghan from the Amazing Race, but there were also many other interesting keynotes at the show.


In March, my friend and I toured around Eugene Oneill's Tao House in Danville (the main picture). He was a famous novel writer who also won a Nobel prize. The house is part of the national parks system and so I was able to mark it off from my list.

In April, we got some guests when my husband's family was visiting us. Their only wish was to see Alcatraz. So we headed to San Francisco and took a ferry to Alcatraz Island in the beautiful spring weather. Even though I had been to Alcatraz before, there was still plenty to see there and we had a great trip.

In May, we headed out on a road trip to Southern California. Our little miss got to experience Disneyland for the very first time, and of course, that was the highlight of the year for her. 


The actual reason for this road trip was a family wedding. It took place in Temecula Wine Country which was so beautiful.

After the wedding, the trip continued all the way to San Diego. We visited famous Old Town San Diego, some beaches, Cabrillo National Monument, the Gaslamp District and some Top Gun filming locations


From San Diego we headed back up north, but we stopped at Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave desert, Cesar Chaves National Monument and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. At Sequoia we saw one of the biggest trees in the world: General Sherman. We also drove part of the original Route 66

After the road trip it was time to settle down and get ready for our new family member. We did one shorter trip and went to see Port Chicago National Monument as well as the house of John Muir. They are also part of the national park system. 


At the end of April, during the great solar eclipse in the US, we had a beautiful little baby girl. Absolutely the highlight of our year! A couple of months went by just like that, while we were trying to adjust to our new life. I at least managed to visit some old colleagues at Instagram Headquarters for lunch.  


The year 2017 was one of the worst wild fire years in California. We also got our share of it when the winds blew all the dangerous smoke our way. On those days we had to stay inside the house. Even the sun was just a little dot in the sky which could be seen through the smoke. Both Napa Valley and Sonoma Wine Country suffered tremendously, and hundreds of people lost their homes. It was horrible!

One of the most unique places I visited this year was for sure the Museum of Ice Cream. I have never been to a place quite like that and certainly never swam in a pool of sprinkles. We had fun in the museum even though we would have gladly stayed there even longer. 


Our new baby did her very first trip when we travelled to Southern California for the holidays. The drive over there was long and slow, but coming back home was nice since we cut it in half by visiting Solvang. Solvang is a cute, Danish-style town close to Santa Barbara. Very close to Solvang is Michael Jackson's Neverland, where we visited before driving back home. You are not able to go in of course, but you can see all the mementos and pictures the fans have brought to the gate, and read some of the things they have written on the stones.


At Christmas time, we visited The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California. Every year it is beautifully decorated for the holidays. We also went to the Historic McDonald's Museum. I will be writing about both of these places in a post soon.


Happy New Year to everybody!

An Echo of Denmark in California - We Fell in Love with Solvang

Paula Gaston

You might have read about our travel plans for the holidays that didn't quite work out. Since my husband had some time off from work, we really wanted to do something after Christmas before heading back home from his family's place. We had all kinds of alternatives, but they all fell apart for one reason or another.

Our drive to Southern California before Christmas was long and slow. I can't remember the last time there was so much traffic on that route as this trip. And since we were driving with a little baby, we had to do some extra stops to feed her. I was completely tired of the drive when we got to our destination, and I started looking for a place to stop on our way home, so we wouldn't have to do the whole drive at once. I remembered that there is a little town called Solvang about half way home if we would take a different route back. After my friend confirmed that the smoke from the wild fire in Santa Barbara had blown away to the ocean and the air was clear, I made a reservation with a hotel in Solvang. Yay, I was starting to get excited about this trip again! 


Solvang was established by a group of Danish immigrants in 1911, and it is located about 230 kilometres from Los Angeles in the Santa Barbara Mountains. Until then, the area was inhabited by American Indians and Spanish missionaries and the mission remains close to downtown. While getting to Solvang, we drove through the Chumash Indian reservation which has about 250 residents. They also run one of the most popular casinos in the United States. 

Solvang itself is lovely with it's Scandinavian style houses and windmills. The downtown is full of hotels, restaurants and bakeries, and they all are in the cutest little buildings. Many businesses and streets have Danish names, and there are even replicas of famous Danish landmarks like the Little Mermeid statue and Rundetaarn (round tower). One of the must do things in Solvang is of course to stop in a bakery to get some fresh Danishes. Even though Solvang feels almost unreal to be an actual city, there are about 6000 inhabitants. Around town we saw many horse ranches, and for those who are interested, I should say that I have visited the horse whisperer Monty Roberts' Flag is Up Farm in Solvang some years ago.


Our hotel, Hotel Copenhagen Inn was also quite lovely. The rooms were almost like small townhouses. It was located right by the main road, so it was easy to go out for dinner or just a little stroll. Every room had a door that was a different color, and the office reminded me of a church. We really liked this hotel. Our room had two beds, one downstairs and the other in a loft. Also the breakfast was great. They had a nice variety of goods, and of course, plenty of fresh danishes.  


The weather in Solvang is warm, but not too hot all year round, which also brings a lot of people over there. It must have been all the wild fires close by that scared the tourists, since we felt like it wasn't crowded at all. Even the locals told us that it typically is full of visitors at this time of year. Well, we got to enjoy our stay in Solvang with no crowds. We plan to return to Solvang someday again!

Historic McDonald's Museum in California

Paula Gaston

After Christmas we suddenly got an idea to visit the birth place of McDonald's in San Bernardino. We were visiting my husband's family for the holidays in Southern California. I don't think any of us are huge McDonald's fans, but the idea of the museum intrigued us. It was close enough so it wouldn't take all day, and sounded kind of fun. That is how we ended up visiting the Historic McDonald's Museum.


In 1940, Dick and Mac McDonald opened a restaurant in San Bernardino, California. The menu was mostly barbeque themed, and the restaurant soon became very popular. In 1948 they decided to change the business idea and only left the items sold the most on the menu: burgers, fries, milkshakes and sodas. They wanted to serve good quality food to people so that they wouldn't have to wait too long. They came up with a new techniques for cooking food faster, and at the same time, created the world's first fast food restaurant.

In 1998 Albert Okura bought the building where the restaurant used to be. It became the headquarters for his chicken restaurant: Juan Pollo. Mistakenly, some people thought he was opening a museum, and they sent him some original items from the first McDonald's. Later he decided to showcase the items to the public, and that is how the Historic McDonald's Museum got started.


The museum is easy to find. The area is not the best part of town, but you will definitely recognise the building when you see it. There is a huge McDonald's sign in front, and all kinds of statues around it. There is also a colourful mural going around the building. I think I actually enjoyed the outside area more than the inside of the museum. Inside they showcase different kinds of mementoes and collectibles from all over the world, as well as some things from the Founder movie. The movie tells the story of the shameless business man Ray Krock, who ended up buying the restaurant from the McDonald's brothers. He started franchising it and made it a world famous fast food chain. If you haven't seen the movie, it is a great way to learn more after your visit to the museum. The movie is well made, and it actually made me kind of sad.

Even though the museum is very small and you can walk it through pretty quickly, it is a fun place to visit. McDonald's for sure is part of American culture, and many people think it is the only "real" fast food restaurant. Unfortunately there is no restaurant by the museum, so we ended up leaving for lunch somewhere else. And this time, it was not to McDonald's.

To the New Year with New Plans (+ a Giveaway)

Paula Gaston

The year 2017 is now history and we can turn over a new leaf for the new year. New adventures are awaiting. We have already been making some travel plans, and I'm excited to make them come true. In honor of the new year, there is also a little giveaway for those who might be participating in the Matka Nordic Travel Fair 2018 in my home country of Finland.

We just got back from a road trip to Southern California. We visited some family there for Christmas. On our trip we also went to the famous Mission Inn Riverside Hotel & Spa, McDonal'd Museum, the Danish-style town Solvang and to Michael Jackson's Neverland. I will tell you about all these a things little later. Our new family member's first trip was a success. We are now travelling with a five year old and a baby.

Here are some of our travel plans for 2018:


Now that our family also has to take into account school schedules for the first time, we will have to travel more and more during school holidays. And that of course means also more expensive flights and tickets. For that reason we have already started to plan where we want to go this year so we could purchase the tickets early. At first we were planning to drive to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming until we discovered that there is still so much snow at the park in April that we wouldn't be able to see all the cool things there. Then I was dreaming about flying to Hawaii for spring break, but the flight schedules just didn't seem to work for us.

From all the possible options the most likely ones are either a trip to Hawaii or a road trip to Arizona. For a long time I have been dreaming about visiting either Kauai or Honolulu. However, it looks like we are going for the road trip idea. We would most likely drive through Death Valley to Las Vegas, and from there to Grand Canyon and some national parks below that. We have been to the Grand Canyon before, but only to the North Rim. It would be nice to see the more famous south side of the canyon too. 



For the summer we will be heading to Finland to spend some time with my family. There are so many places there that we would still like to see, but we will also head to Sweden and Norway on this trip. We are planning to drive all the way to the Lofoten Islands to enjoy the scenery and do some hiking. Afterwards, we will drive back and stop in Sweden at the Kukkolankoski river rapids. Hopefully we can visit some family in Kemi as well at the same time.

We are also planning to visit Moomin World in Turku. Moomins are Finnish cartoon characters and very popular there. The Turku area is very beautiful, but one can always take a ferry to the Åland Islands also, for example. This road trip will end in Helsinki, the capital city, where we hopefully have some time to explore the sights as well. Then we will drop my husband off at the airport and he will return home, while I will stay a bit longer in Finland with the kids. 



In 2018 we are planning to stay home for Christmas. Usually we have been visiting family in Southern California. This time, we plan to drive over during Thanksgiving instead. On these trips we always try to see something new, for example a national park or something else cool.

At some point, I also want to drive up to Sacramento, the capital of California. You never know what other trips are waiting for us. We usually don't plan things this much ahead of time, but these three trips are the start. 


I'm happy to be starting this new year on my blog with a giveaway. I realise it mostly benefits my Finnish readers but hey, if you happen to be in Helsinki at the end of the month, here is your chance to get some tickets to the Matka Nordic Travel Fair 2018. The ticket will give you one entrance between January 19th to 21st, 2018. I am giving away two tickets, one for readers who comment on this post and one for readers commenting the corresponding post on my facebook page. Don't forget to leave your email address on the comment or by signing in. I will randomly draw the lucky winners on January 10th and will personally let them know about it. Good luck!

Happy New Year 2018!

Matka (1).jpg

When Travel Plans Don't Work Out

Paula Gaston

This Christmas we were finally planning to do a little traveling again. Since we just had a baby 4 months ago, we have been home more than ever before. Like last year, we wanted to drive to Southern California and spend Christmas with my husband's family. After Christmas we planned to drive somewhere to have a little vacation, but one plan after another has been ruined. We will see, if we ever get out of the house this Christmas. 


The freeway is literally burning this year. Wildfires are everywhere in California, two of them are on our route. The fire has jumped from the other side of the road to another, and is now burning on both sides. I hope they won't have to close any of the roads or we might not be able to go anywhere.



Then I got an awesome idea for the days between Christmas and New Years! We could jump into a cruise ship in Long Beach and visit Mexico. On our way there, the cruise ship will stop at Catalina Island where I have never been. A cruise sounded so fun, plus it is always easy with kids and strollers. But after I started to read the fine print of buying a cruise, I found out that they won't take babies under 6 months onboard. I never found out why that is, but that ruined another plan of ours.



The next idea was to visit some national parks, since I am an enthusiastic national park explorer. There are two on the California coast that I have not yet visited; the Santa Monica Mountains and Channel Islands. But what else could have ruined this plan but another wildfire? I had been thinking about either glamping or staying the night in a teepee in Santa Paula. But that is exactly where the Thomas Fire is and I'm not sure if this camping area even exists anymore. I hope the fire hasn't destroyed it. 



Then we decided to look into cutting our drive in half and staying the night in the Madonna Inn in San Louis Obispo. The hotel is famous for it's rooms each having a different theme, and the whole building being very kitchy. I have stopped there a couple of times, and even the restrooms in that place are famous. The men's urinal is built as if it was a waterfall, and you can often run into some ladies in the men's room trying to take a picture of the urinal. 

We have often talked about staying the night in the Madonna Inn and now would have been a perfect opportunity for that. Especially since we are driving with a baby and this would have made the drive easier. But who knew that a place like the Madonna Inn would be full booked during the holiday season. Sigh!


We have no idea where we will end up; only time will tell. On the morning of our drive, we still have to check that all the roads are open, and we are able to make it without detours. I will also be checking the air quality in different places. Could you believe that here in Silicon Valley, they even have an app for that too?! So our plans are still on the table! Even the best plans don't always work out.

Have you ever had travel plans that didn't work out?