It’s a warm sunny day in Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, where the Romans stopped in 6 BC convinced that venturing further north would only lead them into swamp lands. Here the hand-laid brick paths pave the narrow streets that reek centuries of history and culture. The tallest building is the famous dome tower, long separated from its church by the wrath of a hurricane. Everywhere is as flat as the eye can see.
I am surrounded by water, locks and canals that feed eventually into the Rhine of Germany and Amstel of Amsterdam.
Maui is a good twelve time zones away. When I wake up, my friends and family on Maui are getting ready for bed. And vice versa.
As I settled into the Dutch monument house and garden house next to the canal, I reacquainted myself with my old life. There were many things that took getting used to. After leaving Maui in mid-June via three days in Boston and a short holiday in Vienna and Southern Italy, I’d like to share a few observations.
Proximity of others and diminished personal space
The first day I sat in my back garden in Utrecht, I heard my neighbors. The kids jumped on their trampoline whenever the sun was out. I smelled their barbecues. I overheard their conversations. There were people everywhere, standing room only. It’s no wonder that the Netherlands ranks as the country with the densest population in Europe.
Convenience and affordability of groceries and other daily items
The first time I walked to the local supermarket, I couldn’t believe how low the bill came to. I could afford not to have a shopping list and swing by whenever I needed something. As long as I brought my own reusable bag, whether by foot or bike, I could shop to my heart’s content. I did not have to or want to drive. Shopping was no longer a chore or an investment.
The people sitting outside drinking and eating were local residents not tourists
Now that is a keen observation by my friend visiting from O’ahu. There are restaurants, cafes, and pubs with outdoor seating so their guests can enjoy the sun in good weather. On Maui, these are the tourists and visitors while the locals barbecued from home or in parks and on beaches. In general, I daresay Europeans make time to socialize in this manner.
Good-looking people, young and fit
My friend exclaimed that she felt old, fat, and short surrounded by the Dutch. Another American friend had also exclaimed how good-looking everyone was. The Dutch men are known to be among the tallest in the world, and the women a close second or third. It’s a college town after all and home to the largest university in the country. The young and old cycle everywhere, along canals and on the streets of cobbled stone.
Before long, I rejoined the nearby sports club where I had been a member for five years previously.
The weather is as indecisive as it is fickle
On a warm summer day like today, I can’t say I miss Maui. But when the weather turns, as it does on so many occasions and even during the day, I long for the certainty and stability of the perfect outdoor temperature range of the tropics. I find myself checking the weather forecast several times a day, especially when I cycle outdoors. And if I’m ill-prepared, I’ll shiver and feel uncomfortable. What the weather will do is an additional consideration, something I had taken for granted and dismissed on Maui.
What do I miss about Maui?
The perfect weather. The generous personal space. Living outdoors. The vivid blue colors of the sky and ocean. Picking fresh fruit. Sakamoto swimming pool. My family. My friends. The aloha spirit.