24 Hours in Sonoma, California

Vintage Plane Spotting with my sweet ride, Black Truffle, in Sonoma

I needed a break. Work was all encompassing. It was time to take matters into my hands. I had to channel the Layla I used to know and love. The Layla I had ignored for structure, order, and responsibility. It was time to throw caution to the wind and channel my inner spontaneous bon vivant.

I went onto Hotel Tonight on Friday night. The next thing I knew I was spending 24 hours in Sonoma at the Sonoma Hotel, a quaint historic inn smack dab in the center of Sonoma Square.

Sonoma Hotel… ain’t it cute?!

We didn’t want to drive once we started tasting (obviously), so, after searching for hotels in the center of town that were available last minute, reasonably priced, and walking distance to tasting rooms, we settled on the Sonoma Hotel ($200/night). It was adorable and just what we thought it would be. Quaint. Simple. Clean. Reviews were accurate about one thing. The walls are thin. Thankfully, after several tastings and general parenting exhaustion from the week/years, we fell asleep at around 10pm and didn’t hear a thing.

Tasca Tasca

Since this trip was completely spontaneous, we didn’t make a single reservation, but that wasn’t a problem. We headed for a late lunch at Tasca Tasca, a Portuguese tapas & wine boite served in a charming, European space. The above photo (from left to right) is their 7 item sampler. Perfect for two. We ordered kale salad (I’d probably pass on this next time or get the dressing on the side as it was a bit tart for my taste), blood sausage (husband loved it), ceviche (good and healthy since we wanted to drink our calories), crab empanadas (solid), Queijo de Sao Jorge cheese (I’d pass and try something else), Linguica Caseira (delicious traditional Portuguese sausage), and Bacalhau (salt cod cakes… can I get a ‘Si?’)

Sonoma Goods

We then walked off the food by visiting the Mission and reading about the history of Sonoma. One thing missing – the history of the Miwok and Suisunes people. All mentions of indigenous culture appear erased. Note to the Sonoma Tourist Board: rectify that situation, please. First, you see the servants quarters of General Vallejo’s home, La Casa Grande, built in the 1830s which later became the center of social life north of San Francisco. General Vallejo was born in California, but Mexico controlled the area at the time. In 1846, he was confronted by leaders of the Bear Flag Party (yes, that’s where the Bear Flag originates!). California was home to American settlers who didn’t trust their Mexican rulers. When rumors of an impending war between the US and Mexico came to California, according to Wikipedia, The California Republic, or Bear Flag Republic, was born as an unrecognized “breakaway state” from Mexico. For 25 days, the Sonoma area was controlled by the settlers and the breakdown of Mexican rule began.

Passagio Wines

After our tour of the town’s Mission and history, we were thirsty. Next up: wine at Passaggio Wines in the Sonoma shops. Since I’m a lover of white wines, I’d read that Passaggio had a nice selection. My tasting included their 2019 Sauvignon Blanc from Albini Vineyards in Sonoma, their 2019 Chenin Blanc from Heringer Estates in Clarksburg (my favorite tasting for its light clean aftertaste), and the 2019 Tempranillo rose (aka. Rose Colored Glasses). Steve, the sommelier, gave us a great history of the wines and the shop. Apparently, the owner used to work in law enforcement and, later in her career, decided to study wine making to eventually open the shop.

Life goals!

Day Boat Scallops

We then took walk around town to burn off calories and moved onto dinner. Since we enjoyed the tapas spot, we decided to try their sister restaurant, La Salette. I guess we were in the mood for Portuguese. My husband ordered a Wood Oven Roasted Octopus with sweet onion purée, red wine vinegar, and fried potato ($16) to start and he said it was delicious. I ordered the Chouriço Crusted Day Boat Scallops, Japanese sweet potato purée, leek confit, and molho cru ($17). The scallops were fantastic and cooked to perfection. The chourico (chorizo) crust was an excellent touch with its the firm consistency and succulent flavor. I also loved the leek confit mixed with the Japanese yam purée. Everything tasted filling, yet fresh and healthy. For our main, we shared the Bacalhau no Forno, a traditional baked casserole of north Atlantic salt cod, potatoes, onions, and olives ($27) because we love Bacalhau. What can I say? We ate it twice in one day! The other items looked wonderful, but we were pretty full from eating and drinking throughout the day. That said, we finished with a port flight and dessert because… rice pudding with cinnamon, madeira braised fig and toucinho do céu (an almond cake that almost tastes like caramelized fluffy oranges).

La Salette’s traditional dessert tasting

From there, we took the short walk through the quaint city square, made it to our warm hotel room above The Girl & The Fig (another local fave), and it was… 24 hrs. of bliss.

Discovering Provence: The French Riviera

WE132919 - © - J¸rgen Feuerer

The Lavender Fields of Provence

Cézanne, Van Gogh, Chagall, and Matisse all drew inspiration from the storied beauty of Provence, and now savvy travelers can as well on a new, affordably-priced 12-day small group tour with Odysseys Unlimited: Discovering Provence with the French Riviera. From billowy lavender fields to rose-hued salt marshes, hilltop villages to medieval towns, and traditional cowboy ranches to the French Riviera, the small group tour relishes la vie Provençale with visits to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, and the quintessential Provençal villages of Lourmarin, Rousillon, Les Baux ,and Saint-Rémy; along with the Camargue region, Avignon, and Nice.

Six-time honoree of Travel +Leisure’s World’s Best Tour Operators award, I like Odysseys Unlimited approach with small groups, limited to 12 – 24 traveling companions, and led by top-rated tour directors with a balanced mix of guided tour and time for independent exploration. There’s nothing worse than never having a moment to relax. The company’s tour directors illuminate historic sites such as Cézanne’s atelier in Aix, the Pont du Gard and the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) in Avignon, and the UNESCO sites of Roman Arles, while also allowing ample time to stop and smell the sunflowers. Or the lavender.

TET-TI47001708 - © - Henryk Sadura

The sights of Provence

Small group highlights abound, including a private cooking class from a local Provençal chef, dinner and a wine tasting at a vineyard, a visit to a working manade (traditional ranch) in the Camargue, and a stay at a converted 17th-century convent.

Priced from $3,997 total price from Boston and New York ($3,495 air and land inclusive plus $502 airline taxes and departure fees), and slightly higher from other gateway cities, Odysseys Unlimited’s 12-day Discovering Provence with the French Riviera debuts April 6, 2020, and has 12 departures through October 12, 2020.  There is an optional three-day/two-night extension in Nice on the French Riviera, from $245.

www.odysseys-unlimited.com

For a day-by-day itinerary check it out here:

Discovering Provence with the French Riviera

Genius Travel Hack: The Bracelet Hair Tie

The Ebony and Ivory Bracelet Hair Tie Combo

I was recently sent a pitch from Go Girls Design and nothing says a genius travel hack than the bracelet that doubles as a hair tie. The sophisticated style beats the basic wrap around your wrist and features:

  • one white and one black bracelet
  • 3 hair ties included with each bracelet
  • available in size small (2.5in diameter) – standard bangle size
  • Stainless steel with rose gold plating

I love clever little utilitarian items like this!

Retails: $45

https://gogirldesign.com/products/ebony-ivory-silver

Summer Feels all Year Round

If you know me well, you probably also know that I was born in the heat and live for summer. So, to that end, I live for conditioning treatments and products that say ‘sunkissed’ all year round like:

LOVE SUN BODY 

$21.00 for 3.38 oz (TSA carry-on approved)

www.lovesunbody.com

NATURABRASIL

From Creamy Body Wash to Body Butter / Lotion, Body Mousse, and Soothing Massage Balm

Price – from $5 – $30

www.naturabrasil.com

What You Need To Know Before You Travel To Thailand

 

thailand mg cthu

(c) Mg Cthu

 

If images of the Buddha and pristine beaches come to mind when you think of Thailand, you aren’t alone, and you aren’t wrong either. This unique Asian country has seen a large growth in tourism in recent years, with more than 32 million travelers making their way there in 2016.

Before you plan your trip to Thailand, though, there are a few things that you should know before you go. Check out the helpful information below to discover a few things about Thailand so you can make the most of your vacation.

Why is Thailand amazing? 

In addition to being beautiful on its own, Thailand is conveniently located, so you can gain easy access to other nearby destinations that are just as unforgettable. In just a few hours, you could travel from Thailand to Bali, Singapore, and Hong Kong, as a few examples. 

– The locals in Thailand are welcoming and friendly. You may notice that they are quite happy, helpful, and polite. Travelers often feel safe as they make their way through the country and see the sights. 

– Nature lovers will find an array of outdoor spaces to explore during their time in Thailand. From picture-perfect beaches, to lush jungles filled with wildlife and waterfalls, the natural beauty of Thailand can’t be replicated. So don’t forget to pack your camera and make sure the battery is charged! 

– Many people ask, “Is Thailand affordable?” The simple answer is: yes! If you are traveling there with U.S. dollars, for example, your money will stretch very far. You could stay at a hotel or a guesthouse for less than $20 per night, so you can probably imagine that even the top-notch resorts will be surprisingly affordable. And when it comes to food, you could eat yummy Thai food at a restaurant without breaking the bank, or you could even get some food from the country’s famous street vendors for about $1. 

– Sure, there are plenty of things to do during the day in Thailand, but what about at night? Well, you needn’t worry about that either. The country is home to a thriving nightlife.

 

thai nightlife florian-wehde

Thai Nightlife (c) Florian Wehde

 

What are some of the must-see places in Thailand? 

There are a lot of must-see places throughout Thailand, so creating an itinerary to follow once you arrive could certainly be helpful. Here are a few of the top picks for visitors who are going to be checking out Thailand for the first time:

– Doi Inthanon National Park: Perfect for exploring the great outdoors and the stunning landscape, this park is also home to the highest peak in the country, Doi Inthanon. Throughout the park, you will also have the opportunity to catch glimpses of various wild animals that you can’t find anywhere else. 

– Sai Yok National Park: Another perfect spot for nature lovers, this is where you can spot some rare wildlife while also exploring caves and basking in the beauty of waterfalls. 

– Khao Yai National Park: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the biggest monsoon forests in Asia, and it is also the second biggest national park in the country. You will find everything from valleys and waterfalls, to mountains and myriad species of mammals and birds. 

– Phanom Rung Historical Park and Phimai Historical Park: Perfect for history buffs, these parks feature ancient Khmer ruins that date back to the 12th century. 

– Bangkok: The capital of Thailand has plenty to offer travelers. Check out the incredible Grand Palace, which is one of the most famous landmarks in the nation. It dates back to the 1700s and boasts intricate details and stunning architecture. Then head over to the city’s famous floating markets, where you will find people in little boats selling a variety of fruits and vegetables, local food, and coconut drinks. And don’t forget to also visit Wat Pho, the well-known Temple of the Reclining Buddha. 

– Similan Islands: The Similan Islands were designated as a Marine National Park back in 1982, so this is an undeveloped natural haven for those who truly want to get away from it all. Snorkeling and diving in these waters will give you access to an array of coral and fish, so if you love spending time in the water, this is the place to be. 

– Phi Phi Islands: These popular islands are easy to access, as you can take a ferry or speedboat from Phuket. Once there, you will find breathtaking rock formations, pristine water, and perfect beaches for sunbathing and swimming with colorful fish. 

– Chiang Mai: Another popular city in Thailand is Chiang Mai, which is found in the mountainous northern part of the country. One of its many attractions is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which dates back nearly 700 years and is one of the most important spiritual and historical spots in Thailand. But another popular historic attraction in Chiang Mai is the Wat Chedi Luang, which was built between 1385-1402.

 

phi phi island shifaaz-shamoon

Koh Pi Phi (c) Shifaaz Shamoon

 

What are the best beaches in Thailand?

To help you narrow down your many choices, here are some of the country’s top beaches:

– Kata Beach in Phuket

– Lamai Beach in Koh Samui

– White Sand Beach in Koh Chang

– Klong Dao Beach in Koh Lanta

– Donald Duck Bay in Similan Islands

– Railay Beach in Krabi

– Thong Nai Pan Noi and Yai Beaches in Koh Phangan

– Buffalo Bay in Koh Phayam

– Laem Thong Beach in Phi Phi Islands

– Pattaya Beach in Koh Lipe

Are Thailand’s tigers drugged? Are the elephants abused?

Unfortunately, as is the case with so many other places around the world that use animals for profit and entertainment, the wildlife in Thailand isn’t always treated well when they are used in tourist attractions.

Take the famous Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi as an example. For years, this establishment was accused of illegally breeding and trafficking endangered tigers. Visitors could pay to feed, pet, and even bathe the tigers, who were strangely calm. Reports surfaced that the tigers were drugged in order to keep them docile enough to interact with the visitors. Then, in 2016, more than 100 live tigers were confiscated by officials, and many tiger carcasses, including those of cubs, were also found in the facility before it was shut down.

When it comes to the elephant parks in Thailand, you should do your research before visiting one as well. Remember, a place could easily call itself a sanctuary without really functioning like one. It is best to steer clear of establishments that give you the option of riding elephants, taking a selfie with them, or watching them perform. These animals are captured from the wild, abused, and confined in severely cruel conditions, according to experts.

Ultimately, whenever you travel anywhere in the world, the very best way to view wildlife is in their natural habitat (and there is no shortage of truly wild places to view animals in Thailand). The second best way to view them would be within a reputable sanctuary that has a clean record of keeping their animals wild, free, safe, and well cared for. If an establishment is letting visitors take pictures with the animals, feed them, etc., this is a sign that it likely isn’t a place that truly respects the animals.

When is the best time to go to Thailand?

Thailand is a tropical destination, so you could travel there at any time of the year and enjoy hot temperatures and sunshine. But the best months to go are between December and March. Just keep in mind that an unpredictable rainstorm could occur even on an otherwise sunny day.

The west coast and its islands (Koh Lanta, Krabi, Phuket, and Koh Phi Phi) have the best weather in December and January, when there tends to be just a small amount of rain and loads of sunshine. The islands of Thailand that are found within the Gulf of Thailand typically receive less rainfall even during the rainy season than other parts of the country. Experts recommend visiting the islands of Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui between the latter part of January and the middle part of March. February will usually be the driest month.

The wet season in Thailand runs from May through October, and this is the season during which monsoons are possible. While you might get some good deals and smaller crowds if you’re traveling during that time of year, it may not be worth it if the wet conditions keep you from enjoying the beauty of the islands.

It is a good idea to have some cash on hand at all times, as some shops, guesthouses, and small hotels may only accept cash payments. Other establishments, such as major shops, airlines, and larger hotels, may accept credit cards like Visa and MasterCard.

Which electrical outlet adapter do you need for Thailand?

Power sockets in Thailand include types A, B, C, F, and O. The standard frequency is 50 Hz, while the standard voltage is 220 V. Therefore, you might need to pack the appropriate power plug adapter and voltage converter to use your appliances during your stay. 

Do you need vaccinations to go to Thailand?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of contracting Zika virus is high in Thailand. So if you are pregnant or you are planning on becoming pregnant, your doctor may recommend postponing your trip, as infection with the virus could lead to birth defects. Also, all travelers should take the appropriate steps to prevent both mosquito bites and sexual transmission of Zika.

Before going to Thailand, talk to your doctor to be sure that you are up-to-date on routine vaccinations, such as the polio vaccine, flu shot, varicella vaccine, measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. The CDC also recommends receiving vaccinations for typhoid and hepatitis A, as both of these could be contracted through contaminated food and water in Thailand. Tell your doctor about where you are going in Thailand, what you plan on doing, how long you plan on staying, and if you are visiting other countries during your trip. This will help him or her decide if you need additional vaccinations, such as those for hepatitis B, cholera, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, and rabies.

Ready to dive into Thai culture?

Thailand truly is a country like no other. You could spend one day exploring a lush forest and the next one lounging on a sandy beach and swimming in crystal clear water. And in between exploring temples, ruins, and markets, you can sit down to indulge in some authentic Pad Thai and Thai iced tea. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your next exciting trip to this exotic and unforgettable destination!

Melita DeHazes is Marketing Director, North America, for cross border payments provider OFX. In this role, she is passionate about educating North American businesses and individuals on how to lower their fees on cross border currency payments. https://www.ofx.com