Maybe it’s a reminiscence of my childhood, when my father got his two-week annual vacation every August, put us in the car and drove towards Spain or Italy. Or maybe it’s just a natural reaction when the only homeland you’ve ever known is actually an island nation.
Whatever the reason, there is just something so exciting, so full of opportunity and adventure, to walk through a city and see signposts with names not only of other places in the same country, but cities in a completely different country.
Although I have traveled all over the world for years and often as part of a living, it is still an experience that never fails to lift my heart and makes me feel that some kind of wonderful discovery could literally be down the road.
It happened again a few days ago when I was in Trieste in northern Italy. There I was, just off the train from Venice and strolling around town in search of the hotel I had booked for the night.
As I stopped at a major intersection and waited for the green light to allow me to cross, I caught a glimpse of a cluster of signposts in front of me, and there it was, not even on its own, but among a line of Italians buried place names: “Ljubljana”.
Imagine this: you could just keep driving from there, so you would be in Slovenia in no time. Or even Croatia, if that got you thinking, because I spotted another sign too – big black capital letters on a white background – that simply said “Istria”.
You just had to turn right at the crossroads where I was standing and hey presto, in a couple of hours you could be rocking up in Porec or even Pula.
Is it an islander that makes me feel this way? If I had grown up in, say, the south of France instead of the island of Ireland and hopped back and forth to Italy in a jiffy at the weekend, would I have a different attitude? Probably.
And yet, when it comes to feeling European, being part of the entity that is the European Union, here in Ireland it seems geographically separate from mainland Europe only to strengthen the bond.
Yes, of course it’s nice to be recognized as Irish when we’re in another European country, but in that very separation there is also an unspoken sense of unity, common purpose, understanding; indeed a recognition that as a European body we are more than the sum of our parts, island or non-island.
But maybe it works the other way around when it comes to the thrill of the unknown in this European context; the grass always looks greener on the other side.
I met Nicoletta in my hotel in Trieste. Born and raised in the city, she was happy to tell me how she would be in Dublin this weekend.
“Have you been there before?” I asked. Oh yes, she certainly had – and for Cork and Galway too.
And your favorite place? The Aran Islands.
There are not many signposts to Ljubljana.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/imagine-driving-to-croatia-this-evening-if-the-notion-took-you-41480978.html Imagine going to Croatia tonight if you feel like it