By Clark Boyd
There are places that excite and astound you. Locations that exceed even your wildest expectations. Countries that sweep you up in their history or natural beauty. Exotic cities or towns imbued with meaning because you were there during a key moment in your life.
Then there’s Zandvoort.
It’s a town of roughly 17,000 on the Dutch coast that dares not speak its own name. Guidebooks and websites just refer to it as “Amsterdam Beach,” because it’s so close to the capital. It’s home, allegedly, to one of the longest stretches of sand in northern Europe. “With will I hope will be in large amounts on your shoes,” as our Airbnb host put it in his welcome letter. I’m not sure how much of that is factually or grammatically correct, but one thing’s for sure—the place is dirt cheap in the middle of the Dutch winter. When they run the Formula I Dutch Grand Prix here later this summer, rental prices will go up by a factor of 10 or more.
I’m here because I lost a race of my own, not because I like off-season beach vacations. The whole winter has been a slow-burn contest between my broken back and the disintegrating plumbing in our house in nearby Haarlem. We moved from the United States to the Netherlands a little more than a year ago, after my wife got a job offer in Amsterdam. My personal contribution to our life here? Two cracked vertebrae in the lumbar region of my back that cause debilitating nerve pain down my right leg.
As I plodded my way through four doctors, an MRI, a CT scan, and Dutch phrases like “mijn rug is kapot” (my back is broken), the bathroom that came with the house we bought, sight unseen, descended into that leaky, mold-ridden circle of hell reserved for naughty mermaids. Why did we wait so long to address the issue? The Dutch housing market is hot right now, and it’s hard to get a contractor to do anything but gut and rebuild entire canal houses in tony neighborhoods. Our tiny bathroom, in a small row house that backs up onto an abandoned slaughterhouse, is kleine aardappelen.
However, in the race between cajoling a contractor into accepting small potatoes and finding a willing neurosurgeon, the contractor won out by a few weeks. So, while I wait to go under the knife next month, the bathroom has been transformed into a metaphor for my physical state: demolished, scraped bare, full of giant holes. Also, they turned the water off. Hence, our sojourn on the Dutch coast.
Zandvoort, I told myself as I booked this place, must be Dutch for “holding pattern.”
My first glimpse of our temporary hometown came through the windshield wipers of