I’m definitely not made for big city living. Yes, of course I know Derry is technically a city but really we’re quite small and rather parochial when compared to the likes of Dublin, where the buildings reach up to the sky and every footpath is crowded with a myriad of people of different ethnicities rushing their way through town.
I spent three days in Dublin last week and once again was reduced to feeling like a bit of a hick from the North - scrambling through my purse to figure out what the coins were, standing blank faced at the Luas self service machines wondering what to do and getting lost (again) as I tried to to find my way to Grafton Street. (I also got lost in Howth, and Temple Bar ... my sense of direction is clearly useless).
The first time I visited Dublin, I was 15 or 16 and myself and a school friend got the bus down to then go on and meet her sister who was studying in Maynooth. We took with us probably about a tenners spending money between us and a packed lunch for the bus.
Too afraid to drink our cans of own brand cola until we were sure Dublin was in our sights (the lack of toilet stops being a major concern), we ended up drinking cola the temperature of hot tea and trying not to boke as we pulled into Bus Aras where the warnings of pick pockets greeted us before we walked the dark streets to find our bus. (A man who had clearly lost control of his faculties sat in front of us the whole way to Maynooth - which was an experience to say the least).
Still, it felt thrilling to be in the “big smoke” - and I walked around mesmerised by the height of the buildings, the width of the footpaths - the feeling that everything was bigger and perhaps a little brighter.
I was entranced by the music from the buskers, the bustle of people walking in their suits with trainers, the number of bicycles scooting up the inside lane and the sheer number of shops and exotic eateries such as Supermacs and McDonalds (Derry not having either in those heady days).
Twenty years on, I still get a thrill when I get off the train at Connolly Station and I still feel a little intimidated. Everything still feels bigger and more alive - and ever so cosmopolitan.
I feel in many ways, with my funny Northern accent, that I stick out like a sore thumb and as I get lost, or stop to ask for directions I feel as if everyone is laughing at the tourist. (Which of course they aren’t, because they are too busy getting on with whatever they have to do themselves.)
I wandered the streets of Dublin last week feeling a little out of my comfort zone. Everyone around me seemed to be walking determinedly in the direction they wanted to go in while I was wandering along trying to spot a familiar landmark.
Everyone else seemed to confidently dipping into their purses and wallets to pay for their coffees-on-the-go while I held onto my bag (afeared of the much mentioned pick pockets) and paid for everything with five euro notes to avoid having to deal with the tiny coins.
A visit to Brown Thomas had me feeling like Julia Roberts in that scene from Pretty Woman where the shop assistant is snooty to her and when I walked into a small bar for lunch I got that distinct “You’re not from round these parts now are ya?” feeling.
The anonymity of a big city also kind of freaked me out - knowing that I could walk the streets for hours and not meet a single person I knew. It many ways it felt,well, just a little colder and a little scarier than the familiar streets of Derry.
From my hotel room I could see across to an apartment block with a dainty little balcony, on which sat a pink metal table and chairs, a pink barbecue and a string floral lights.
Through the windows I could see that a young woman lived there and I imagined she was living a very Sex and the City, uber exciting single lifestyle.
For a moment I was jealous - her little batchelorette pad looked stunning and I figured she lived at the heart of a vibrant city. But then I realised there is something more comforting about my own, child filled, house - the familiarity of my street, the warmth of the Derry people and I realised I’ll always be a hick from the North and I’ll always be proud of it.