Vignettes Revisited: F-J

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:

VinciAssissiCaravaggio,  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.

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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.

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(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!!

Irish Proverb:

If you’re lucky enough to be Irish…

… you’re lucky enough!!

20190417_165814(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……

Vignettes A-F

37 thoughts on “Vignettes Revisited: F-J

      1. If Ireland were to sink into the sea and we’re all to be relocated … I think I’d pick Italy!!!

    1. That’s disappointing for you – but you’ll get there. Things not good in Italy at the moment – heard on the news earlier that they are facing another shut down due to rising covid numbers… will it ever stop! Yes Bernie – I’ve been very lucky and see a lot – but there’s SO much more I want to see and do…. can’t wait to get going again. Have a lovely weekend. XXXM

      1. Oh for sure we will go. For us these were prime travel years; his flex hours and my casual job post retirement. But it’s only a year or two out of our lives rather than our lives so we will handle it. Take care.

    1. I’ll second that Linda….. we’d usually be heading off for a few weeks in April…. Last March I was bemoaning the fact that we weren’t going anywhere the following month – 12 months later, who’d have thought!!!

  1. I loved this! So many similar memories, but also some different experiences to enjoy through your eyes 🙂 On the FCC, we’d hoped to have a drink there when we were in Phnom Penh last February but it was closed for refurbishment (maybe addressing those ‘shabby tourist trap’ issues?) So we had to settle for the bar on the opposite corner, but nevertheless had an excellent cocktail and the same wonderful view of all the activity below. It was our first evening in the country, the first evening of our trip – what a glorious way to start to get over the jet-lag and switch to ‘being there’ mode!!

    Reading your Italian place names list I wondered if you’ve been to Bologna, as it’s such a wonderful foodie destination? If not, do consider it! I was surprised to read in your account of your hot air balloon ride that you got in sideways like a wine rack (great simile btw!) as I’ve been lucky enough do three (UK, Namibia and Morocco) and always had to climb up into the basket 🙂 Getting out however has mostly been sideways, as the basket tilts on landing – apart from in Namibia where if I remember rightly the pilot managed to land upright on the dunes 😀

    And to finish this lengthy comment, I loved your J for Journey piece which rang so many familiar bells for me!! The decisions, the planning, the lull and then the frenzy leading up to departure 🙂 Oh how I miss all that …

    1. I love arriving somewhere and something nice happening that first evening – as you say, a settling in drink and getting orientated for the days ahead. I’m usually inclined to whinge about tiredness but Tom insists on going out – even for 10 minutes as he says – which always ends up longer because I’m delighted once I’ve made the effort.
      We’ve been to Bologna once – we went one October to Parma, Bologne and Ravenna… all gorgeous. terrible weather but we just ate …..!
      Where in Morocco? Desert?

      1. No, just outside Marrakesh. We could see the foothills of the Atlas Mountains at sunrise (although it was quite a murky one) and drifted over rural houses where people were still sleeping in their internal courtyards or just getting up, letting the sheep out to graze etc. It was fun, although not a patch on the Namibian Desert flight I wrote about recently. Still, I might share some photos in a future blog …

  2. Very interesting! I always wondered why the word “Neapolitan” is used to describe the chocolate/vanilla/strawberry combination of ice cream in Anglo-Saxon countries. Not only is such a combination unheard of in Naples itself, but most people, when told about it, are pretty disgusted! In Spain there is also a breakfast pastry called a “Napoletano” – a cushion-shaped object full of chocolate – likewise unheard of in Naples!

    1. I always assumed it was colours of a flag – not Italian but a local one….not mad about it myself … I don’t love chocolate ice cream so I’ve never bought it! XXXM

      1. Well lucky you – Lucca is lovely. We’ve been there a few times but only on day trips or passing through. We camped – maybe 4/5 times in Tuscany over the years. Its been a while so we’re due a visit back.

  3. Such a brilliant post, Marie. As usual, I very much enjoyed your travel photos. I’ve never been to Naples, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Neapolitan ice cream 🙂 Have a good weekend. Aiva 🙂

  4. Great post, Marie, and I was with you in every place. We had a couple of nights in the FCC in Hanoi which was much as you describe the one in Phnom Phen when we extended our initial stay which had been 3 nights in the Metropole because I insisted on being in the hotel where Graham Greene had written The Quiet American. In those far off days it was so easy to change tickets and hotel bookings. Remember them? I didn’t have the nerve to hot-air balloon in Africa, convinced we’d come down in the middle of a pack of ravening lions! Reading your post and remembering past holidays I realise once again how lucky I was to have a husband who was happy to neglect the house and ‘things’ in favour of travelling at the drop of a hat. Sounds as though you’re equally lucky. But then, you’re Irish!

    1. I’ve been so lucky Mari – we’ve had the same philosophy always as yourselves…. travel comes first. Look at all the memories we have – and sure the house is fine – we just didn’t change curtains and music systems as often as others. And I’m ever conscious that time together is precious and not infinite as you well know. This decade in our 60’s is hugely significant travel wise so I begrudge the lost time this past year or so but sure we’ll hopefully be able to make up for lost time when we get going again…. whenever that will be says you!!!! Meanwhile, have a nice weekend. XXXM

  5. There’s so many points in this post that we want to reply to! We would have made Phnom Penh last year on the trip that we had to abandon when the pandemic broke, we are determined to finish that trip just as soon as we can. We completed our first hot air balloon ride last October, in Turkey, isn’t it just brilliant… our guy managed to land the basket not only upright but right on the trailer sent to collect us. And finally…have you ever been to Santa Cruz on the island of La Palma, there is a very unusual and strong Irish connection there, and we arrived there on St Patricks Day. The main street in town is even called Calle O’Daly….the bigger story is on one of our posts. Loving reading your memories…keep them coming…

    1. Talk about timing – just settling into your big retirement trip when Covid interfered!! Of course you’ll get it finished…. and you’ll be back on the road well before us I’d say at the rate the vaccines are going here. You were so lucky to get to Turkey – we’d talked about going there last June… There’s quite a strong Irish link also on Gran Canaria I think… not sure about the other islands although they won’t be short of Irish pubs!! I can’t remember ever being away for St. Patrick’s Day – when we were working it was term time with just a day or two off. And since retirement, we’ve tended to head off in April…. But you’ve given me an idea there!!! I could offer my services as a roving St Patrick’s Day reporter!!☘️

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