A few days after we arrived, I realized what was different. We had taken several walks around our new neighborhood, trying to feel out the landscape. The nearest large street by our apartment is a popular strip with cafes and shops. It was sunny, so plenty of people were outside. I guessed that Germans were similar to the Dutch in that way: celebrating whatever sunshine was available.
Finally, it came into focus. The sidewalks are bigger. The streets are wider. There is more space for people to sit and walk and meet and stroll and chat. When I looked down this street, it was in widescreen. I could share the sidewalk with three or four people, and we would still have room for bikes and cars and trams to go by in their own lanes.
In Holland I got used to hugging the buildings, trying not to get in the way of fleeting bicycles or topple into a canal. Holland is dense. In Utrecht, the city I just moved from, if someone wasn’t lucky enough to have a terrace, they occupied whatever spot of sun on the sidewalk they could grab. I often saw people have dinner in their doorway, so their feet could poke out onto the sunny street. For such tall people, there was not a lot of space to stretch out.
But my boyfriend reminds me that of course The Netherlands is the exception. And this is normal. The Dutch have to make narrow streets so canals can fit in. (There’s that saying, “God made the world, the Dutch made The Netherlands.”) Sometimes it felt like big omnipotent hands just kind of pushed everything towards each other to save room. Here, it’s spread out, which is the kind of landscape I’m used to in the US. It feels more relaxed, more comfortable…to me at least. Almost like there is better air circulation? In Holland, I don’t remember feeling especially cramped. But I can see now how much I had adjusted myself to the narrow spaces.
My friend from college told me once that she sometimes felt creeped out by all the gigantic Redwoods trees surrounding us on three sides in Humboldt County. Of course, they were beautiful. But they also made her feel claustrophobic. She was from Arizona, and wide-open deserts. I am recognizing the opposite feeling now. Not that I was ever creeped out by the compactness in Utrecht. I just feel how much more space I have here, and it feels great.
Someone back home just asked me if this city was walkable. Compared to American cities, sure, it’s walkable. (Well most cities can be walkable, it depends on how much you like to walk.) But compared to the tiny city center I lived in for the past four years, there is more space in between here. More gardens to walk through. More big buildings to walk around. So it’s walkable, kind of. But I don’t mind. I like to walk.