The other day I was around town by myself, and it was one of those times when I realized that this moment would forever be stashed in my fond memories of Maastricht. I looked all around me at the new foliage and flowers that recently shed their winter blankets. I walked underneath a massive rock archway, crossed a wooden bridge, and found a gated area where goats, long-wool rams, and deer grazed the little grass field. As I walked along the river flowing through this park, geese and ducks waddled and quacked and honked on all sides of me, begging for bread or crackers.
I didn’t have anything for them, but there were plenty of school children skipping along tossing bread to them and elderly couples impressively hand-feeding the feisty geese. Dutch college students sat on the benches, studying or eating lunch, and young couples walked along the river holding hands.
Trees canopied over the edges of the water and the walkway, and the sun peeked through the gaps in the trees; it was warm and windy, and it felt like home. The park was dense with the sound of Dutch chatter, kids laughing, and geese honking. I walked back and forth along the road, watching the animals and the people, engraving those sights and sounds in my memory.
I followed a man walking his Old English sheepdog on my way back to the dorm, and I saw numerous dogs walking leashless beside their owners. Even though I’ve grown used to the city’s cultural tendencies, this day I felt like I was experiencing it all for the first time again. One of the first things I noticed when I got to Maastricht was that everyone owns a dog, and those dogs go almost everywhere humans do. When I first saw a dog inside a restaurant in Maastricht, my eyes darted around the room to see everyone’s reactions, but it was to my surprise that nobody thought the dog was out of place. Almost every building in Texas has “no pets allowed” signs, and seeing an animal on a bus or in a restaurant means it’s a guide dog. In Europe, though, I fawn over the well-behaved puppies riding in bike baskets or trotting alongside their owners in shopping malls. I thought about Puppy, Amanda and Rachel’s (I like to claim him as partly mine, too) little white Shih Tzu back home, and I grinned and thought to myself that this is a place he’d like to live.
I’ve already grown to love the scenery and the buildings in Maastricht, but I guess the winter blanket was lifted off of my eyes, too, because I saw the whole town with new excitement this day. My university back home has some old, beautiful buildings on campus, but none of them compares to the tapering spires, the elaborate cathedrals, and the colorful history and picturesque exterior of the architecture in Maastricht. I’d never even seen a cobblestone street before Maastricht, and now I walk them every day, staring in awe at the beautiful buildings around me. Now, when I catch myself thinking of a 100-year old building as ancient, I feel silly when I realize that it’s just a baby on the European timescale.
As I got closer and closer to the dorm on my walk home, I took a route through a little neighborhood. The set-up of these neighborhoods are nothing like the spacious layout of ones in the States, but they’re cute little cobblestone streets lined with two-story high apartment-style houses on each side. Mothers and children were sitting in their doorways and enjoying the sun on the street. Little boys kicked a soccer ball against the brick wall, and a few other kids raced their bicycles down the road and yelled excitedly in Dutch. A cute old man leaned over the window seal upstairs and shouted down friendly hellos to his neighbors, and then to me.
I smiled and scrounged up the most Dutch-sounding “Hallo!” I could, and success!: he thought I was Dutch. “Hoe bent u?” he asked, and I smiled, unsatisfied with my own English answer, but happy to be talking to the cute old man regardless: “I’m good, how are you?” He nodded his head, smiled, and waved his hand, gesturing what I assumed to be something like, “I’m doing good! Have a good day!” I smiled, waved back, and went on my way down the road. That day I heeded the wordless greeting from the cute old Dutch man hanging out his window– I definitely had a good day.