F is for FCC
‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns….’ If I had to choose one spot for a sundowner, out of all the places I’ve ever been, I wouldn’t opt for a cocktail overlooking a glorious tropical beach or an iconic natural landmark. No. I’m heading back to Phnom Penh.
By the time of our visit in 2009 (I can’t believe it was 10 years ago!) the Foreign Correspondent’s Club was way past its glory days. Founded in 1993 as a haunt for the growing number of expat journalists that were there to cover the peace settlement, it was still however an iconic landmark in the city. The 3 storey French colonial building oozed history and atmosphere with wooden ceiling fans and photos of Cambodia’s turbulent past.
Converted into a hotel, we spent 3 nights there which gave us an advantage over those visitors just dropping in for a drink. Each evening, we’d head upstairs, grab 2 of those cool chairs with FCC worked into the metalwork, and commandeer a spot at the front of the roof terrace.
It was a sociable place – hotel guests and visitors swapped stories about their travels while locals and expats offered advice about the city.
As the sun set over the Tonle Sap river in front of us, we’d sip our cocktails and enjoy the spectacle on the street below…. monks, tourists, expats, tuk tuks and thousands of scooters all swarming in every direction. Most of those scooters carried more than just the rider – they were laden with boxes, bags and baskets piled high or tied to the sides. If there was no cargo of goods then there were passengers – usually at least 2 along with the rider but we spotted several families of 4 or 5 – dad, mum and children comfortably balanced along with the shopping bags and school satchels. Traffic light changes were the best – a surge of scooters and tuk tuks pulling away with deafening engine noise and a chorus of horns.
Recent reports suggest the the FCC has nowadays deteriorated into a somewhat shabby tourist trap. So, on second thoughts, I’d probably pass on a chance to go back – better to live with memories than face disappointment. Maybe I’ll just head to a tropical beach for that sundowner after all!
(F – first published Mar. 29th, 2019)
G is for Gorgonzola
Isn’t it wonderful to know that there’s a town called Gorgonzola! I remember getting very excited when spotting the road sign in northern Italy. I don’t know why I was actually surprised – most cheeses and wines as well as many other foodstuffs are named after their place of origin. For the majority of countries on the world map, we’d do well to name the capital city and maybe a landmark or physical feature . But the Italian map is dotted with familiar names – many of them being places that would probably mean nothing to us without the food item that’s attributed to them. Did you know there’s actually a village called Prosecco – now a suburb of Trieste, while the town of Cantalupo in Sicily has lent its name to the cantaloupe melon.
Here are a few more familiar places in Italy with well known product associations:
Parma – Parma Ham (prosciutto crudo di Parma) and Parmigiano cheese
Bologne – Bolognese sauce and Bologna sausage
Florence – Florentine biscuits
Rome – Romaine lettuce (apparently reached western Europe via Rome)
Capri – Caprese Salad
Naples – Neapolitan ice cream
Asti – Sparkling wine
Chianti (Tuscany) -Wine
Marsala (Sicily) – Marsala fortified wine
Sardinia – Sardines (maybe!)
Genoa – Genovese cake
Its not just food that has highlighted Italian place names. Others are familiar to us because of a famous person:
Vinci, Assissi, Caravaggio, Corleone…..
It’s no wonder we all love to visit Italy – we know it so well already!
(Trivia moment! Words derived from place names are toponyms)
(G – first published Apr. 9th, 2019)
H is for Hot Air Balloon
I am anything but an extreme thrill seeker! I love water parks but you’ll find me jumping the waves or on the lazy river rather than flinging myself onto the kamikaze slide. At DisneyWorld I head for Dumbo rather than Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. I bottled the zip-lining in Costa Rica and had to descend the mountain along the lonely path of shame as I listened to screams of joy above me! So I’m never going to jump out of a plane or go cave diving.
However, Hot Air Ballooning I can do! And did! This is probably on most bucket lists and I was lucky enough to enjoy my balloon experience over the Serengeti at sunrise.
Collected from our lodge in darkness, it was cold so we wore almost all our clothes. The transfer to the launch site was like a mini safari trip in itself as we passed animals on the move.
Two balloons were in use that morning – 16 guests and a pilot in each. I never gave any thought to the logistics of the trip – so I didn’t know that the basket would be on its side. We slid into 8 compartments like bottles in a wine rack! Once everyone was aboard, we braced ourselves for the lurch as the pilot inflated the balloon and the basket straightened.
And up we went. As the sun rose above the Serengeti, we looked out for wildlife below – zebra, hippo, wildebeest, elephant – either individuals or herds crossing the plains. But the experience turned out to be less about the animals – everyone there had already enjoyed safari drives and seen plenty – and more about the silent journey through the air, broken only on occasion by people’s shouts and the pilot hitting the gas.
And when it was over, we left one wine rack and headed towards another as champagne was poured. Then we sat around a table in the middle of nowhere and as breakfast was served we compared travel stories with our new found friends.
(Silverware, Champagne and a ‘Full Irish!)
(H – first published Apr. 24th, 2019)
I is for Irishness
For such a small nation, we certainly pack a punch. The Irish diaspora has been put at over 70 MILLION worldwide. But there are many far flung (and not so far flung) corners where we are still unknown.
We are usually met with one of two reactions:
Faces sometimes light up in recognition and proudly show what they know of our country. It’s usually a single word – generally limited to ‘Guinness’ – but it might be ‘Bono’ and once, in northern Laos, ‘Pierce Brosnan’ (we were very impressed with that one!).
Often, however, we are met with a total blank expression. Following up with ‘Irlande’, or any such variation, rarely helps. On many occasions over the years, there have been discussions among all within earshot and then someone will come up with ‘Iceland’ and everyone will nod happily. Problem solved! We usually keep quiet and nod in agreement – we’ve been called worse!!
If you’re lucky enough to be Irish…
… you’re lucky enough!!
(We’re (almost) everywhere – recently spotted in San Pedro, Belize!)
(I – first published May.10th, 2019)
J is for Journey
‘I always liked those moments of epiphany when you have the next destination’ (Brad Pitt)
Well that sums it up for me (although I never thought I’d see the day I’d be quoting Brad Pitt!) – that wonderful eureka moment when a travel plan presents itself. And it doesn’t just apply to major holidays – I love a day trip or overnighter whenever the opportunity arises. With vacation planning, my year is structured in such a way that I always know the ‘when’ before the ‘where’. ‘When’ is the easy part. Despite an endless bucket list, the ‘where’ is not always obvious. The best destinations are always the unexpected. At the end of last August I read about Oman in Wanderlust. That was it – I was hooked and we went in October. In January, I knew we would go somewhere in April – who would have thought then that we’d end up in Belize!
The journey begins for me at that very special moment when the decision is made. Then there’s the frenzy of flights, itineraries, visa, vaccinations, car rental, accommodation….. by now the destination may not be exactly what I had envisioned at the start but that’s part of the fun. Next is the lull – the trip not quite forgotten about but shelved – until that final rush – pack, notify the bank, tell the neighbours, empty the fridge…..
I’ve had a great time…. and haven’t even set off yet!
‘The journey not the arrival matters’ (T. S. Eliot)
(J – first published May. 24th, 2019)
In case you missed it……