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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.

Filtering by Category: California

Living in the Middle of California's Wild Fires

Paula Gaston

It is bizarre to wake up and see a red ball in the sky which you can stare at without hurting your eyes. It is the famous California sun covered by a thick layer of smoke. With a quick glance, it looks like any other winter morning in 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 your eyes get itchy and the head ache sets in. Not the greatest experience!

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This is the second time since I have moved to California that we live surrounded by smoke. The first time was last year, when the smoke from the destructive fires in Napa County and Santa Rosa drifted our way. At the moment there are fires at both ends of the state, and the smoke over here is coming from the north, from Butte County. The fire is called the Camp Fire and after destroying a whole town; Paradise, it is still spreading. 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 for the grocery store. The whole neighborhood was quiet since no one was out, and everything looked grey. The kids haven’t been outside for three days now, since even the school kept them inside on Friday. And you can only imagine all the energy kids have, when they don’t get to go outside. I keep making plans for the day and then remember that I wasn’t supposed 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 have thought that someday I can’t go outside because of the bad air quality. It really makes you look at things from another perspective.


Even though the wild fires have affected our lives, we are still thankful that we have our home and each other. 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 couldn’t find trailers to take their horses with them. Also many pets were left behind. The fastest the fire was moving was by 80 football fields a minute. Yes, that is insane!

Even though the sunsets 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!


The Paramount Ranch we Just Visited Burned Down

Paula Gaston

Last April we visited some national parks in Southern California. One of those places was an old Western town at the Santa Monica Mountains where they have filmed many movies and television shows. The town is actually just a movie set so none of the buildings are really real. Even so, hearing about the latest news about the Paramount Ranch, made me really sad. The whole place burned down in one of the wild fires raging in California right now, the Woolsey Fire.


Paramount Ranch was established in 1972 when Paramount Films bought it for a filming location. Different kinds of setting were built depending on what they filmed, everything from the city of San Francisco to a western village. The last sets had been used to film Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman which was starred by Jane Seymour. Other shows filmed there are for example X-files, Charlie’s Angels, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Mentalist and many others. So many movie and TV stars have been working there, like John Wayne, Gary Grant, Warren Beatty and Lucille Ball. Today the ranch is part of the national parks system and therefore projected.

Paramount Ranch used to be a popular place to visit and there were multiple hiking trails around it. It was also very popular amongst the horseback riders who would bring their horse there, meet each others at the parking lot and go for a ride. Many people just wanted to see the movie sets and enjoy the nature around it. Visiting the ranch was free of charge.


Woosley Fire started on Thursday from a canyon called Woolsey, and then rapidly spread due to the Santa Ana winds. Today, over 200 000 residents of Ventura County and Malibu have been evacuated, and the fire is still spreading. It has burned at least 170 houses and is heading to the area where many famous and wealthy people live. Some have found help from friends, some are staying at shelters or even in cars and tents. What makes things even more difficult is that there are no changes in the weather on days to come.

This what the Paramounts Ranch looks like now. The only thing standing is the church:

We hope that all these fires will be contained soon, and people can return to their homes or start rebuilding. Someone at the news said, that California is not anymore just known for it’s beautiful weather and beaches, it’s now known for it’s fires.

If you want to see more about our life in California, go and check out my Instagram account @paulagaston. Among the photos you will also see some videos on instastories.


Greetings from the Hello Kitty Mini 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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 



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!

10 Pictures that Will Inspire You to Visit San Francisco

Paula Gaston

San Francisco is much more than just city life. Close by, in San Francisco Bay Area, there are many beautiful beaches, parks and trails. The giant red woods are amazing and the sun set over the ocean wont leave anyone cold. If you don't believe me, juts see for yourself!


The Golden Gate Bridge is the mark of San Francisco and its most famous sight. If you want to see it from somewhere else than from the city, you hike up the hills on the opposite side of the bridge and enjoy some fresh ocean breeze. 



The world's biggest China Town outside of China is colorful and full of life. It's a great place to just walk around, eat or stop in the many little stores they have. 



In the middle of the city there is a huge park called Golden Gate Park. It hides inside so many beautiful places but one of the most beautiful one is the Japanese Tea Garden. It is definitely at its best during spring with the cherry blossoms. 



In the 18th century the Sutro Baths used to be sort of a spa and its remains are right next to the famous Cliff House restaurant. It used to be the world's biggest indoor swimming facility but none of the buildings exist anymore. The pools now get filled by the ocean's crashing waves and there are great hiking trails in the area. Sutro Baths is part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area so it is protected and part of the national parks.  



One of the most beautiful places in the San Francisco Bay Area is for sure the Filoli Gardens. It is great all year round but especially gorgeous during the spring time. If you get bored of the flowers, you can also visit the mansion which was used in the Dynasty TV show. 



A little bit north from San Francisco lies the Point Reyes National Seashore. They have excellent beaches, forests and great hiking trails. One of the most visited places at Point Reyes is its old lighthouse. 



This well known ship wreck at the Point Reyes National Seashore is hidden behind a restaurant building, so most times you will be the only one visiting it. Unfortunately, some time ago someone set it on fire, so I am not sure how much is left of it anymore. 



In San Francisco and close by it, you can find many beaches where you can go horse back riding. This picture is from Drake's Beach. 



Muir Woods National Monument is north of the city of San Francisco. The rare coastal red woods grow on this protected area. After a twisty mountain road you will forget city life by walking into a whole different world. The oldest tree in Muir Woods is over 1200 years old.



Nothing is better than sun sets in California. And you will have plenty of places in San Francisco to see them. The city is surrounded by water, which makes it a special place to watch the sun go down on summer evenings. 


Everyone should experience San Francisco once in a lifetime!