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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.

Living in a Middle of the California Wild Fires

Paula Gaston

It is bizarre to wake up and see a red ball on the sky which you can stare at without it hurting your eyes. It is the famous California sun which is covered by a thick layer of smoke. With a quick look it looks like any other winter morning at the San Francisco Bay Area; grey and foggy. Except that this time it is not fog. And you will notice that when you open the door. You can smell the smoke and it will make you cough. Later in the evening the eyes get itchy and the head ache sets in. Not the greatest experience!

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This is the second time after I have moved to California that we live surrounded by the smoke. The first time was last year, when the smoke from destructive fires at Napa County and Santa Rosa came to our way. At the moment there are fires at the both ends of the state, and the smoke over here is coming from the north, from the Butte County. The fire is called Camp Fire and after destroying a whole town; Paradise, it is still moving along. There were over 26 000 people living in Paradise. About 6500 homes have been destroyed and at least 23 people have died. Hundreds are still missing. And as long as the Santa Ana winds are spreading the fire, there seems to be no end to this.

On Saturday I put a mask on and left to a grocery shopping. The whole neighborhood was quiet since no one was out, and everything looked grey. The kids haven’t been outside in three days now since even the school kept them inside for Friday. And you can only imaging all the energy in kids when they don’t get to go outside. I keep making plans for the day and then remember that I wasn’t suppose to go outside. People have been warned not to exercise outside and also to wear N95 masks. When I moved from Finland I could have never thought that someday I can’t go outside because of the bad air quality. It really makes you look at the things from another perspective.

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Even though the wild fires have affected our lives, we are still thankful that we still have our home and each others. Our experiences of course don’t compare to the devastation that has hit people who lost their homes or loved ones. I have also seen many articles about people letting their horses loose since they just didn’t have to find trailers and take them with them. Also many pets were left behind. The fastest the fire was moving was an 80 football fields in a minute. Yes, that is insane!

Even though the sun sets are the most beautiful now and as red as they will ever be, every night I hope that the smoke and the fires are gone when I wake up!

 

Japan in Photos

Paula Gaston

Have you ever been thinking what is the furthest destination you have been to? Seven years ago I was thinking that when I vacation in California or when I move there, I will be quite far away from my home. I was living in Finland at the time. Even the flight to California was so long, that I really felt like I was going to the other side of the world. And I was. If you look at thing from Finland, the furthest place I have visited is Hawaiian Islands. If I look at the same thing from California, it would be Dubai in United Arab Emirates. But I have actually traveled to those places from shorter distances.

But being far from home can also be measured as a feeling as well, not just by the miles or kilometres. Being in a totally different culture what you are use to definitely makes you feel like you are far far away. We got this feeling in Japan. Japan is physically far away from both California and Finland, but even more it really feels like far away. Everything there was different! After figuring out how things work there we absolutely fell in love with this country! It was both exciting and awesome, and somehow tiring as well. But we feel like it is definitely a country far away that we want to return someday.

These are the things we wont forget:

BUILDINGS

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Japan is a mixture of both history and modern building. From the skyscraper’s Tokyo you can take a bullet train and within an hours be walking around the traditional, old Japan. The picture on the left is from Todaiji Temple which is said to be the biggest wooden building in the world. On the right is the Himeji Castle, one of the national treasures of Japan.

DIFFERENT KIND OF PEOPLE

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The amount of people in Tokyo feels surreal. But even though the metro is full of busy people, they will never pump into you or be rude. In different prefectures of Tokyo you can meet different people with different styles, and you might run into a wedding couple if you visit a temple. We even saw few geishas in Kyoto even though seeing them is quite rare.

RELIGIONS

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Different religions are strongly visible and present in Japanese life. Anywhere you go, you will see temples and shrines. Visiting them is interesting and there are many rituals and traditions that takes place at the temples. Even though these places are open for tourists as well, they are mainly calm places designated for praying.

FOOD

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Exploring the Japanese food was one the highlight on our trip to Japan. We got to try many new foods that we had never tried, and some local treats. There is some international chain restaurants there but they are very expensive compared to the local food places. And who wouldn’t like Japanese food?!

GOOFYNESS

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We were surprised how often so serious and quiet Japanese people seemed to love everything goofy and silly. It was awesome! We visited several theme cafes, and at the Trick Art Museum where the photo on left was taken at. People in Japan truly knows how to have fun!

OPPOSITES

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From the city life to the calmness and quietness. From modern into a middle of the history. Japan was truly a country of opposites where you can meet the modern future and the old traditions in one day. The picture at left is from Nara where you can pet some tame deer, and the one at right is from Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a big modern city with a piece of sad and touching history in a middle of it.

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

 

Happy Halloween! The Blog is Getting a New Look!

Paula Gaston

The blog has been quiet the passed few weeks. Suddenly I just didn’t feel like writing. But even though there weren’t any new travel stories, something did happen in the blog. It now has a completely new style! I have been planning this blog overhaul now for a while, but I never seem to have time for it. While living my every day life or traveling with the family, I can barely squeeze out the stories from our trips. And writing along with photo editing takes a surprisingly lot of time.

Overall the blog template will remain the same, but I have styled it a little bit, as well as updated colors and pictures. I am especially excited about the new world map on the destinations page that allows you to hover over and choose which country you would like to read about. The same kind of map is also used for displaying the states of the United States. You can also browse some stories about traveling in general, airlines or expat life.

HALLOWEEN GREETINGS

Yesterday here in the U.S. we celebrated Halloween. Like many others, we too went trick or treating in our neighborhood, and our daughter got a HUGE amount of candy. Some people go all in with decorating their houses and we visited one which was more like a haunted house. They had all kinds of moving spiders, dancing skeletons, a body jumped out of the grave and talking witches. So many halloween lights, scary music and smoke. I was surprised that our daughter bravely walked to the door, but after we left she got spooked by a zombie video playing in the window and started crying. That kind of house is so much fun for adults, but a little too much for small kids.

 Our one year old was dressed as a chicken and her sister was a witch. The chicken costume was borrowed from a friend (thank you!) and people kept asking about it or taking pictures of our little one. Best Halloween costume ever!

Our one year old was dressed as a chicken and her sister was a witch. The chicken costume was borrowed from a friend (thank you!) and people kept asking about it or taking pictures of our little one. Best Halloween costume ever!

But now we have stored away both the chicken and the witch costumes for next year and for somebody else, and today I have started to clean the halloween decorations off. Next holiday is just around the corner, and we will drive all the way to Utah for the Thanksgiving. Along the way there we will probably see many interesting and cool places. And after that it’s almost Christmas time. Like always, we will drive down to Southern California to spend the Christmas with the family.

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So stay tuned for the new celebrations and for the next trip! And I hope you like the new look of the blog!



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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