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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.

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!

 

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!

 

Visiting Antelope Canyon in Arizona with Kids

Paula Gaston

Our Spring Break trip continued as we moved from Utah to Arizona. We still had many exciting places to see before returning back home to California. So far, the most memorable things we had seen on this trip were the amazing hoodoos in Kanab, but we also really liked beautiful Snow Canyon in Utah. After I injured myself in Zion National Park, I had to be really careful not use my thumb, but the swelling had already gone down. I also found a brace for my finger from Walmart which helped a lot. We had now driven to Page, Arizona, and our plan was to visit Antelope Canyon which had for long been on my secret bucket list. I have actually never written down a bucket list, but I have always wanted to visit Antelope Canyon.

DEADLY BUT GORGEOUS ANTELOPE CANYON

Antelope Canyon is located close to the border of Utah and Arizona, in a small town called Page. It is a slot canyon shaped and carved by water. The canyon is on Navajo indians’ land, so when visiting, people need a permit from the Navajo tribe. There are actually two separate canyons; Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon, and both of them can be visited by purchasing a tour.

 

Over many years the canyons were formed due the rain water accumulated on the top of the canyons. After building up some power at the top, the water then runs through the canyons with force bringing sand at the same time. This erosion has carved a path, a slot canyon, which is big enough for a man to walk through. In 1997, 11 people died while visiting Lower Antelope Canyon when it was suddenly filled up with water. After that, the safety of visitors has been improved by building a medal staircase in the canyon and by building an alarm system. People are also not allowed visit the canyons by themselves anymore; everyone is required to book a guided tour. In 2010 the flooding scared some visitors in Upper Antelope Canyon. No one died, but some of the visitors got stuck on ledges until the water level lowered again.

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Antelope Canyon has fast become very famous after people have seen the magical pictures of its’ red wavy walls.

ANTELOPE CANYON WITH KIDS

Before our visit, I was desperately trying to find information about visiting Antelope Canyon with kids - Especially with toddlers. Few tour operators would take kids at all, and after reading many reviews and searching for the information, we decided to go for Upper Antelope Canyon. We ended up booking a tour with Navajo Tours since they seemed to have been hosting tours with kids before and we wanted to support the Navajo tribe’s business since we were on Navajo land. I think bigger kids do fine on this tour, like for example our six year old, I was more worried about our toddler. We always want to be considerate to other people on the tours as well.

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We chose the Upper Antelope Canyon because the Lower Canyon has a little bit of climbing to do. You will have to walk some metal stairs up and down, and sometimes a small amount of sand might be falling on you.

For the tour they wont allow any bags or backpacks, so carrying the baby or a toddler on your back is not an option. We figured that our toddler must be able to walk along with us or we will have to carry her. We did see a dad there with a very small baby who was in a front carrier though…and to be honest, the canyon is very narrow, so carrying a child on your back would be kind of difficult and dangerous. Walking through the canyon is not hard or long, maybe 15 minutes total if not counting photo breaks. So in that sense, we were sure we would be able do it. However, every toddler is different, so before booking your tour just remember, that kids can’t run around in the canyon or stop whenever they want.

There were some websites that said you must bring your own car seat for the child, but I think most, if not all of the tour operators now use trucks. People will sit on the back of the truck and the toddler or a baby can sit on your lap. The drive was quite short and they drove very slowly.

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THE AMAZING UPPER ANTELOPE CANYON

Our tour went really well. 15 minutes before the tour, we were led to the trucks and then we drove about ten minutes in the sandy river bed. At the canyon we had to wait a little while, since it was pretty crowded. Our guide told us about how the slot canyon was formed and something about its history. He also showed us the best spots to take photos and took group photos for people. Tour guides seemed to know all the best filters and settings to use your camera or phone in the canyon.

This is what it really looked like.

This is what it really looked like.

The canyon is quite narrow and here and there we had to give room for people coming out. The fact that it really is pretty crowded can be a buzz kill, but the guides had everything under control. However, everyone had to really follow the rules and move along with your own group. We didn’t care so much, since the canyon was so mesmerizing!

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THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE VISITING ANTELOPE CANYON

Visiting Antelope Canyon is extremely popular and the best times for the tours are sold many in months advance. You should book your tour as soon as your trip to Page is confirmed. The best time of the day is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., when the sun is high up and you can see the sun beams shine down inside the canyon.

When we arrived, we first had to sign up to our tour and pay. Since we were there quite early, I asked if there was any room in the earlier tour. They told us that all the tours for the day were sold out, and everyone had showed up to the tour before us. You are required to check in to your tour an hour earlier, and I had read from somewhere that if you come even one minute late, they might have already given your spot to others. So of course, we were there way earlier than needed. They don’t offer an indoor spot to wait around, and it was getting hot outside, so we decided to go for a little drive after checking in. This allowed the baby to take a little nap in the back seat, and we were able to get a quick lunch. Our tour started at noon and we were guided to our tour truck at 11:45.

The price for the tour was $60 for adults and $30 for kids. And even our toddler had to pay. I knew that in recent years the prices have gone up, but most of the tour operators charge the same price. However, some charge more during the middle of the day to see the sun beams. An $8 permit fee for the Navajo tribe is included in the price, but has to be paid separately with cash. Otherwise you can pay with a credit card too. Also, don’t forget to tip your tour guide. Bring your ID and your confirmation of the reservation at check in. The tour takes about 1.5 hours.

Since there is a little bit of a wait before the tour starts, make sure to bring some water with you and maybe some snacks too. They don’t allow any bags or backbacks on the tour, and no selfie sticks or tripods. A water bottle was OK. There is no video taping in the canyon, so they also didn’t allow GoPro cameras. Sunscreen might be needed while waiting, but the canyon itself provides shade. Some kind of a hat, and even a scarf or bandana is really good on a drive, and sun glasses to protect your eyes. The sand is flying everywhere, and it made people cough and wipe their eyes.

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Despite the crowds and the waiting, we really enjoyed visiting Upper Antelope Canyon. What a surreal place! Everything went well, and as memorabilia, we got some beautiful photos from the canyon. If you visit Page, you don’t want to miss this! And next time… another amazing place from our visit to Arizona!

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Toadstool Hoodoos in Utah

Paula Gaston

Surprisingly, one of the best hikes of our road trip was not in a national park, but just a small trail starting from the side of the road on the border of Utah and Arizona. We had just left Zion National Park behind us and spent a night in Kanab. Then we headed towards Page were we had our next hotel reservation. While looking at the map I spotted some interesting rock formations—hoodoos, close to the road, and when we saw the sign for it, we decided to stop.

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BEAUTIFUL BUT DISPUTED GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE

The hoodoos are along the Toadstool Trail and they are part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. When Bill Clinton made this area a national monument some critiqued him and questioned the president’s authority to designate such a large piece of land as a monument. The Grand Staircase-Escalante has multiple interesting rock formations, gorges and canyons shaped by rain water, and even petroglyphs. They have also found many fossils and animal prints from these areas, as it used to be habited by dinosaurs. In fact, in 2013 they found a completely new species of dinosaur. The name Grand Staircase-Escalante comes from it’s massive rock wall that looks like a staircase. Escalante is a river running through this area.

In 2017 President Donald Trump ordered the size of the national monument to be reduced by 47%. By doing that he opened some doors to mining and road building on the Grand Staircase-Escalante. There are several law suits pending against this reduction.

TOADSTOOL TRAIL AND THE HOODOOS

The trail that takes you to the hoodoos leaves right from Highway 89. There is a small parking lot and sign which has information about the trail. When we arrived there, there were a few other cars and some people were ready to go hiking. The trail is not very long, only 1.5 miles (2.4 km), and it is easy enough to take kids with you. Most of the hike is done on a sand bed, that appears to be a dried river or such. A few times we had to climb on top of some rocks, but nothing too difficult. Our older daughter enjoyed jumping on the rocks and our smaller one took a little nap in a carrier backpack.

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The first toadstool we saw was quite impressive, and one can see it from far away. There were only a few people among us. It was so nice to be able to enjoy this place without huge crowds and take photos at your own pace. These rocks have been shaped by wind and erosion. On top of the softer sandstone there is a harder shell of rock. The harder rock will wear down more slowly than the softer rock, leaving the top rock bigger. A toadstool is another name for a mushroom, and that is exactly what these rocks remind me of. Some day the erosion will shatter the pillar of these rocks and they will fall. How sad is that!

Grand Staircase-Escalante and Toadstool Hoodoos in Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante and Toadstool Hoodoos in Utah

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I read from somewhere that if you follow the trail on from these rocks, you will see more and more hoodoos. To be honest, we were not sure what way to go since the trail is not marked and there were several paths that looked like a continuation of the trail. We tried one but it ended on top of the hill, and another one looked like it was a really steep climb. We decided we had seen enough rock formations and we headed back to the car. The day was getting hotter and it was close to lunch hour. Because of the hot weather, I would recommend this trail early in the morning. There is no shade anywhere on this route. We were there in April and it was already getting quite hot there. So I can’t imagine what it is like in the summer time. It is also easier to find parking in the morning.

This was an awesome little hike, so if you are ever driving around in this neighborhood, you should definitely stop there. We on the other hand, headed towards Page and on to new adventures at Lake Powell and famous Antelope Canyon.