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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.

Filtering by Category: Traveling

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!


What All Can Go Wrong Before Our Trip

Paula Gaston

That long awaited day is here! Tomorrow we start our journey from Silicon Valley to Europe... at least I hope so! But like many times, things haven't gone so smoothly. When you travel with kids there are so many things that can go wrong, but that is not the only thing threatening our trip. Well what else can there be? 

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

KIDS GETTING SICK

Oh well, this is the classic case. A day before we are supposed to leave, our daughter wakes up with a tummy ache and starts going to the bathroom every five minutes. Maybe a bladder infection? All I can do is to reach out on my phone and call the doctor, but the timing couldn't be better. Today we were supposed to pack, do some last minute shopping, and other things. But let's try to stay positive; We would rather take a bladder infection than stomach flu or something that would prevent us from flying. 

FINNISH SUMMER WEATHER

The Finnish weather is showing us its best side. Part of May, and the beginning of June have been beautiful in Finland, warmer than California in fact. But the headline in the newspaper went something like this: "Everything you don't want in midsummer weather". So we are expecting thunder, heavy rains and cold weather. On Wednesday we are taking a smaller plane to get to my hometown, and of course for that day they predict high winds. Yay! Oh well, is there anything good in this? The midsummer weekend we are probably still jet lagged, so we are happy just to spend time with family and friends, not matter if it's indoors or outdoors. Maybe later we will get to enjoy some sun. 

WORK STRESS

The weekend goes really fast when you are trying to prepare yourself for a longer trip. We have done some last minute shopping and cleaning. My husband has stressed out about work, since it is not very common to take this long of a vacation in the U.S. He will come home before us though. And that's how it often is, the last days at work before vacations are super busy when you are trying to make sure everything is taken care of. Anything positive in this? Well, maybe he can finally relax when we get to Europe and let loose. And it's always good to remember that the family is most important! 

AIRPORT STRIKE

In last week's Finish news it was expected that the airport workers would strike. Then the strike was moved from last week to this Tuesday (our travel day) and then to Thursday. Even though the strike would have started on Thursday, some airlines might start cancelling flights as early as Tuesday. Great! I find it difficult to say anything positive about this, for us anyway. How about some excitement on our trip?

Finnish news article about Finnair's possible flight cancellations

Finnish news article about Finnair's possible flight cancellations

So here are a few things to get you on high blood pressure meds before a trip. Let's hope everything goes well after all, and our vacation will be a successful one! Finland here we come!

Where You Can Find Us This Summer

Paula Gaston

So it is June already. That long awaited summer when we pack our things and head to Europe again. Our Kindergartener still has less than two weeks of school and we are still in our daily routine; breakfasts, walks with the baby, pick ups from the school, homework, park dates, cooking and so on. After that we will try to get used to the nightless nights and foreign beds for a while. But we are looking forward to all of it! And our baby will be boarding on her first long flight. 

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THREE COUNTRIES, ONE WEEK

We travel over to my home country, Finland, where we will start our vacation by celebrating the summer solstice. Once we have recovered from the jet lag and have spent some time with my family, we will hop into a car and head north. Our first pit stop will be in Kemi, where we will visit my relatives. We always have fun when we are there. After Kemi we will cross the border and drive to Sweden. Our plan is to visit Norway, but we might have to stay the night somewhere in Sweden, maybe in Kiruna, and then drive to Narvik, Norway. Unfortunately, since we mostly want to see Norway this time, we won't have a lot of time to spend in Sweden. I know there is a beautiful national park in Kiruna called Abisko, and we would also like to see Kukkolankoski rapids on the border of Finland and Sweden, but we will see if we have time to stop at those places. Hopefully we will at least see some reindeer in Swedish Lapland. 

Our destination in Norway is the Lofoten Islands where we want to see all the small fishing villages, go hiking and just admire the views. Tourism in Lofoten has exploded in the last few years so we are a little bit worried how crowded it will be in the busiest season, but this really is the only opportunity to go there for us. We will drive back on the same route and hopefully can fit all this into one week. 

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CHILLING IN FINLAND

It has been a while since we have been to Finland. Last summer I was very pregnant, and for some reason the dark Finnish winter didn't inspire us to travel. We will stay mainly in my hometown Kokkola from which we've planned to do a day trip to Tankar island to see their lighthouse. One day we will probably drive over to Härmä to an amusement park called PowerPark. We adults would also love to visit the Kyrö Distillery, a home of world famous Napue Gin, but let's see how organised we are. We will also visit the city of Vaasa for sure, and maybe check out the ruins old Vaasa.

At some point we will also hit the road in Finland. For a long time we have promised our first born that she gets to visit Moomin world, which is an amusement park with the characters from a Finnish cartoon and books. Now it is time go since soon she will be so big that she will no longer care about Moomins. On the same trip we will visit Turku where they have a medieval castle and some very cool museums. From Turku we plan to drive up to the capital city, Helsinki. Hopefully we have some time to visit some museums there too and I would really like to see Temppeliaukio church, which is a church built inside a rock face. We also hope to be able to see some friends on this trip as well. At the end, we will drop my husband off at the airport and he will head back home while I stay in Finland for a little bit longer with the kids.

For the rest of my visit, there are no plans. Hopefully we get to spend plenty of time with my family and friends. Maybe we will visit some national parks and a couple other towns while we are still there. We'll have to see. But I'm sure there will be many stories to tell you guys after the summer. 

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We are really looking forward to this trip and already planning what we should pack. Travelling with the a baby is always a little challenging but luckily, we have some baby items there already waiting for us. We hope this will be a fun sunny summer since it has been a long time since our last visit!

 

Tips from a Local for a Road Trip in the USA

Paula Gaston

Before I moved to the U.S., I was often here visiting. We did multiple road trips and went all over California. Luckily I had a friend who knew how things here worked. Still every once in a while there were moments when I was doubtful whether we knew what we were doing, and I still have sometimes. That is why I decided to write down some information for all those who are planning a road trip in America.

When I started writing this post, different kinds of things from travel insurance to renting a car came to mind. I will later write another post in generally about visiting the USA since otherwise this post would become way too long. This will be about road tripping only. And then of course, we have to remember that I live in California, so some of the things might not apply in other states. Hopefully someday I will be able to visit every state, but for now I can only talk about the ones I have been to. So if you have something to add, please share it in the comments section as it will be very helpful to those who are planning a road trip to some other states. 

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PLANNING YOUR ROUTE

America is huge and the distances are really big, so while planning your route you should allow yourself a lot of time. Especially if you are passing some big cities or mountains, calculate more time on your schedule than what your navigator says. In metropolitan areas you are most likely to get stuck in traffic, especially between 6 am. and 10 am, or between 3 pm. and 7 pm. Also while driving mountain roads it usually is slower due to the twists and turns of the road. And then of course, there are those extra stops when you get hungry or need a restroom break that your navigator doesn't take into account. We also sometimes stop to take some photographs, especially when driving through some scenic area. If you see a "Vista point" sign, you might want to check it out, as it refers to some kind of an area with a great view. So plan your route as flexibly as possible. Many times the best trips come by just winging it when ever you see something you like. 

The best map applications used by the locals are absolutely Google Maps, Waze and Apple Maps. To use these, you will need a data plan, so a good option for this is to rent a navigator with your rental car. The newer cars usually have a navigator built in, so before renting one, make sure your car doesn't already have one. One great help is to always save your route in offline mode in Google Maps for example, or even to carry a paper map with you. Since the USA is a huge country, you will most likely be driving in a "no service area" every once in a while. Map applications will also tell you about possible road closures and tolls. 

A good app for planning a road trip is "Roadtrippers" for example. You can plan your route, check the map, and get suggestions of sights that you will be passing while driving. I have found many cool places with it that I never knew existed. Roadtrippers uses Google Maps as a base.  

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DRIVER'S LICENCE

As a visitor, you can drive and rent a car in the U.S. with a foreign driver's licence. They actually don't even acknowledge the international driver's licence here, so don't bother getting it because of your trip to the U.S. Each state has their own driver's licence and their own laws, so what ever is the law in California might not be in New York. If you want to read more about driver's licence or traffic laws,  you should be able to find some kind of a drive's manual from the DMV page of each state. Here for example is the one from California California Driver Handbook (2018).

You should note that the foreign driver's licence usually does not qualify as an ID while going into clubs or casinos, so when going out, you should always carry your passport with you. It's a good idea to carry a photocopy of your important documents with you. While traveling, I usually snap a photo of my passport or licence, and my rental car licence plate on my phone. Many hotels will ask for the licence plate number when checking in. 

ON THE ROAD

Driving in the U.S. is actually not very complicated at all. From time to time there can be a lot of traffic depending on where you are, and some big cities can require a little more concentration while driving there. One difference at least to most European cities are right turns, and the STOP signs that are everywhere. So traffic lights allow turning to the right on red unless there is a sign forbidding it. For intersections with STOP signs, is first come first serve. If both arrive at the same time, the person on the right goes first. When you get used to these two rules, you wish they would be used elsewhere as well.

Speed limits vary based on what state you are in. If you want to a drive little bit slower than most on the freeway, you should stay in the outer-most lane (slow lane) where the inner-most lane is often called the "fast" lane. Many metropolitan areas also have car pool lanes or some kind of Express lanes. The car pool is marked as HOV or with a diamond shaped symbol  . Look for the signs indicating who can use the car pool lane and when.

Many times while driving longer distances in the USA you will notice, that the next gas station or food stop can be far away. In case you are in the mountains or desert areas for example, it is always a good idea to get gas whenever it is available. Some gas stations don't accept foreign credit cards unless you walk inside and show it to the cashier. If you need to check the air in your tires, at least according to Californian law the gas stations can't charge money for it if you buy gas. Many people don't know that and of course, they wont advertise it either. So if you need air, just go inside after getting gas and ask them to unlock the air pump.  

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PARKING

Parking is allowed on the road side when there is no sign that forbids it. Parking can also be restricted by the color of the curb. Solid red colour means no parking or stopping. On a green color make sure you check any signs that will tell you how long you can park, usually it is 15 or 30 minutes. If there is no paint or signs you are usually free to park on the road.

In the big cities it is often easier to find parking from parking garages than from the road. Unfortunately though, they are pretty often quite expensive. Some smaller cities offer garage parking for free. You can easily check the closest parking areas from Google Maps, or for example from BestParking app, which also shows the cost of parking and opening hours.

For a couple times on our trips, we have forgotten where we parked our car. Many parking garages are huge and multiple levels, and they all look the same. We have started to take a photo with our phone of the parking spot number or the level number. Sometimes I even take a picture of the road name so I know how to get back to the car. It makes life so much easier when you don't have to walk around for hours to look for your car.

It is also good to remember, that you should not leave anything that looks valuable in a visible place in your car. For example, any kinds of bags, cameras, phones and such are liable to get stolen. Especially in the bigger cities the car thieves are actively looking for cars where people left their belongings in the open. I understand that often while on a trip the only option is to leave things in your car. In those cases I try to cover bags and other things with a blanket or a towel. Knock on wood, so far we have been lucky not to have our car broken into. 

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WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU

It is easy to give advice to people about what you should take with you on a road trip when you live in the U.S., and have everything needed at home. But I realise most of you will fly over from another country and can not bring so much with you. However, there are some items that you can buy very cheaply when you arrive in the U.S., and they will make your trip more comfortable, and then there are some things that you absolutely need. 

WATER AND FOOD

Always carry plenty of water and some food with you. As I mentioned earlier, the distances here are long, and sometimes you can get caught up in extreme weather too. If your car breaks down in the Nevada desert, you will be happy that you brought some water with you. Also, some of the national parks that people love to visit are in the mountains, in forests or the desert where the phones wont work. Unfortunately every year here we read in the news how someone got lost or got stuck with their car in a remote location without any food and water. There have been cases where those people have been found in pretty poor condition or even dead. So it is always better to be well prepared when you hit the road. 

COOLER

One of the most helpful items on a road trip is a cooler. For example, you can get one from Walmart pretty cheaply before you start your trip. At the same time you can buy water and other supplies. We always have a cooler with us which I fill up with ice cubes. Then I add water bottles and other perishable foods. When we get to the hotel, I empty the cooler by placing the foods in the fridge and throwing away the ice. When we are ready to continue our drive, we get some more ice from the hotel ice machine. Ice is also sold at the gas stations and by the doorways of grocery stores.

Last summer my friend taught me a great trick; we placed few water bottles in the freezer in our hotel fridge and the next morning they were frozen. We used them as ice packs in our cooler until the water melted and the water was drinkable again. This can only be done by the store bought bottles which we usually have in our garage in our earthquake safety kit. Otherwise we use reusable bottles, but on a road trip the store bought bottles are very handy because you can just buy a whole case in your trunk. At least here in California you can recycle those bottles by leaving them in recycling bins instead of trash cans.  

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SNOW CHAINS

In case you are driving through the mountains, make sure to check the road conditions before leaving. In some places there might be snow even during June. If there is a chance of a snow storm, make sure to carry chains with you. Some car rental companies have chains, but you can also buy them from Walmart for example. Depending on how long you need them, you should calculate whether it makes sense to buy or rent. If you drive through the mountains while chains are required and you don't have them, you will have to buy them from one of the road side stores where you pay double or triple price.  

You can find information about road closures and conditions from here. In case you are visiting some national parks, they usually update all the relevant information on their website. And you can always call your destination, for example to your hotel, and ask about the current weather conditions. 

OTHER USEFUL THINGS

It is always a good idea to have a little survival kit with you. Some of the items to carry with you are; bandages, disinfectant wipes, a bottle opener and a flash light. I usually also carry some baby wipes with me and they have saved us from many messes in the car, and they can be used to wipe your hands before eating. I also carry some empty plastic or paper bags with me. Bigger ones can serve as a trash bags in the car, and smaller ones are good for snacks or other items that you want to keep clean. And for a few times we have needed the famous sick bag while driving on mountain roads. 

Always also carry some change with you. You can use the coins in parking meters and bills to pay road tolls. Some states the freeway tolls are collected as coins.

ACCOMODATION

Depending on the trip, we might sometimes leave the reservations for the last minute. We might even book the hotel on the same day when we see how far we can drive. I have noticed that the online prices are often better than what you get by just walking to the front desk. Some hotels will match the price but few times we have stepped outside to make a reservation and then walked back in. It sounds so silly but hey, if you get a room cheaper that way and they wont accommodate you, why shouldn't you then? But if you are driving around in a popular area during the holiday season, I would definitely recommend booking the room beforehand. For example the Pacific Coast Highway hotels in California during the summer are often full booked.

I sometimes use either Hotels.com or Booking.com to find a room on the road. I always check though if the hotel has the room with a cheaper price on their own website. If you are not sure how far you will be able to drive, you should read the cancellation policy before booking the room. We usually travel with kids, so we prefer having breakfast at the hotel. It makes it faster for us to get out on the road again when we don't have to look for a breakfast place first. Hotel breakfasts in the USA varies a lot, so be sure to read the reviews first. That is how you find out what they truly offer. In big cities the AirBnB might be cheaper than a hotel, and naturally motels and hostels are the cheapest options. 

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Wow, this was a lot! And I will add more if something comes to my mind later, or someone will point out something important I forgot. Until then, have fun on your road trips and stay safe!

And here are some of our most memorable road trips. I think we most liked the ones at the famous Pacific Coast Highway aka Highway 1 in California, our two road trips in beautiful Utah, and the Loneliest Road in America (Highway 50) which is in Nevada. Enjoy!

The Beast of California's Pacific Coast Highway
The Loneliest Road in America - would you dare to drive it through?
Walking in the Steps of Dinosaurs in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
Bryce Canyon, Utah - My most unforgettable national park experience

 

5 Things About Traveling that Make Me See Red

Paula Gaston

Some days ago I was thinking about the things that most annoy me when I travel. First world problems, I know, but you can't really help it if you start to dislike something. So far, the good things about traveling outnumber the bad. I still long for new trips whenever I come back home, but here are the things that totally make me see red:

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1. PEOPLE TRAVELING WITH OVERSIZED HANDLUGGAGE

If someone asked me what irritated me the most while traveling, this is what comes to mind first. It happens in almost all flights here in the U.S, and really has made me dislike flying. After the airlines started charging luggage fees separately, many people started traveling with their hand luggage only, and often, with far too large ones. Then while you are in line to board the plane, you will hear the announcement that everyone fears: "Unfortunately all the overhead bins are now full. We will be checking the rest of the hand luggage to the cargo bay". Damn it! If you are at the end of the line, this is where you start to rattle off some bad words. Why do some passengers get to bring in their oversized bags and a hand bag when others get to bring in none? They will have to check in everything important they wanted to bring into the cabin with them. What about all the easily breakable things like laptops and for example your toddler's foods? Not fair! This really takes all the fun out of traveling!

2. THE REST OF THE WORLD GETTING MORE AMERICANIZED

Yes I am saying that even though I live in the U.S. It really does make me see red! Americans know how to commercialise everything and it has been noticed almost everywhere else as well. More and more countries with their own unique traditions set them aside in order to make room for big businesses and big bucks. When visiting famous sights, I would rather see some local products or try some local tastes than go to a fast food place. And when arriving to a new country, I would love to see some local things to make me feel like I am somewhere else than home. 

About 15 years ago I visited the U.S. for the first time. While I was working at a busy tourist destination on a work study program, we often laughed about the things that were built just to amuse tourists. Sometimes you really had to wonder what is real and what is fake. On one day trip to the woods, we discovered that in the middle of the forest there was a huge souvenir shop with a burger bar. There we were, eating our burgers and wondering whether the fish in the river operated on batteries. 

It actually makes me kind of sad that most of the airports nowadays look exactly the same. They all want to be international. But by being international they lack personality, and they also miss a great opportunity to promote local products to people who come to their country. 

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3. THE MASSES OF TOURISTS IN FAMOUS PLACES

In recent years there has been more and more talk about the tourist masses that take over all the known places and destinations in the world. Some of these places are actually struggling because their nature and infrastructure can't handle so many visitors, but at the same time they are dependent on tourism. Even though I have often traveled outside of the actual travel season, I have to admit that many of these super popular spots are on my list too. We all want to see the most beautiful places in the world!   

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4. SUPER TIGHT SECURITY CHECKS

I guess here I should say that what really irritates me, are all the risk factors that have made the security checks necessary. They are of course for our safety, and of course I am all for them. So in that sense I am happy to walk through all the check point they have. But I don't love the fact that I have to spend so much time from my trip standing in line to do these security checks. It is so hard to estimate the time you need for a layover for example, or how much earlier you should arrive to the airport. Sometimes there are no lines but a few times it has taken me over an hour to get out from the security check. It's not fun, especially when travelling with kids! Everyone is hungry and tired, or they need to go to the restroom, so no wonder people's nerves are really tested there. I have to say, that to some extent all these extra lines and wait times have taken the fun out of traveling. 

5. LITTERBUGS

We call people leaving trash out in nature litterbugs, and unfortunately they are many! Especially in Asia but also here in the U.S. some people just throw everything out of their car window, or go hiking and leave all their trash behind them. It feels unreal that even in 2018 some people still like nature enough to go there, but not enough to take their garbage with them. We like to visit a lot of national parks and other places where we can hike, and all the litter makes me see red!

 

What kind of things make you see red when you travel?