Flumes Vol. 5: Issue 1, Summer 2020 - Page 86

windshield wipers of the taxi, wipers which were trying, and failing, to beat away the driving rain brought by winter storm Ciara. The winds, gusting up to 70 mph, blew the taxi back and forth across the road. Ahead, I could begin to make out Zandvoort’s gray apartment blocks. Out the side window, I watched giant waves churn onto the beach. Silently, I channeled Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now: “Zandvoort...shit.”

Like many northern European beach towns, Zandvoort’s coastal location doesn’t guarantee sun, fun, or anything else. In fact, the closer you get to the zand, the less you want to reach your destination. As you approach the beach, the town’s trim Dutch houses give way to a sand-addled cocktail of brutalist apartment blocks, nervous tweakers, and rusty Zimmer Frei signs.

The Germans, for some reason, enjoy coming here in packs during the summer. Maybe they have a collective memory of their grandfathers huddled in the concrete war bunkers that still dot the dunes here, defending the Atlantic Wall against an Allied invasion that instead chose Normandy. Or maybe the Germans just love splashing, ironically, in frigid water under leaden skies, choking down soggy “Superschniztels” and overpriced liters of Heineken at dinner, and then taking ecstasy and dancing at some tiki-themed beach bar as the rain obscures yet another Dutch summer sunset.

“Ja, but at least it’s not Mannheim, Klaus!”

On the plus side, for cost-conscious Germans and everyone else, the Zandvoort train station comes with free entertainment. You know the guy. A modern troubadour with the long beard, tattered army jacket, and a guitar with four strings, three of which are always out of tune. He knows two songs, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Clapton, and that Bob Marley “Three Little Birds” song about how everything’s gonna be alright. He plays them on an endless loop, as stoned European tourists in delightfully quixotic footwear dance and sing along, waiting for the train to carry them back to all of tomorrow’s harsh realities.

Not that there aren’t harsh realities here in Zandvoort. Ciara did her best to keep our expectations exceedingly low. For four straight days, the storm slammed relentlessly against the walls of our apartment, the high winds driving sand underneath every door frame and into every exposed bodily orifice. A trip to the grocery store was like chewing glass while simultaneously having your corneas scraped away.

he Netherlands is already dark enough at this time of year, but add a winter storm and you’ll soon find yourself chasing Vitamin D pills with shots of local gin on a twice-hourly basis. You turn to the TV for distraction, but all that’s on is some billiards-type thing called snooker and a show in which beautiful Dutch people pretend to love one another after one date. Hey, it could happen, right? A snooker, I mean. Whatever that is.

All in all, it was hard to see Zandvoort in its best light. Or any light at all, for that matter. Our Airbnb host tried to make the best of the stormy situation. He suggested bracing