He suggested bracing winter walks on the beach, skeeball at a sad local arcade, or a spin down “the mountain (tiny mound) of snow below sea level” at an indoor ski slope nearby. “Get a Superschnitzel!” he told us. At least five restaurants here claim to make the best giant, breaded pork cutlet. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my daughter made us all go vegan six months ago.
As Ciara waned, I forced the kid—who was on school vacation, texting with one friend skiing in the alps and another doing seaside yoga in the Canary Islands—to accompany me to Zandvoort’s municipal museum. Unsurprisingly, we learned that the town’s history and economy revolved around fishing and gathering driftwood. Presumably, that was before landlocked Europeans decided that going to the beach, no matter where, could be a recreational activity.
Isn’t that section now the ‘topless’ one?” my daughter asked as we stared at a painting of three old women wrapped in black shawls. They were huddled together, gutting mackerel and herring in the dim mist of Zandvoort beach circa 1880.
“Only for locals,” I joked. “Foreigners aren’t allowed to do that.”
“What?” she fired back. “Gut fish?”
Currently, the museum’s main exhibition is about another visitor to Zandvoort, Empress Elizabeth of Austria. “The Kim Kardashian of her day,” Sisi, as she was called, enjoyed nothing more than getting away from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and her four kids. She’d regularly hop on a train (her own) and travel “incognito” around Europe with an entourage that took up 60 rooms in all the fanciest hotels.
In the mid-1880s, Sisi came to little old Zandvoort. Not once, but twice. One stay was for three weeks, and the other for a month. Even today the town is filled with all manner of Sisi themed hotels, tchotchkes, and other paraphernalia. The meticulously detailed 15-minute film in the museum records her waking up at 4 am every day for a saltwater bath, followed by numerous light meals, doctor’s visits, and then long walks on the beach. When things got really slow, she’d ride a horse or go to church.
Waking up at the end of the film, my daughter and I were inspired by Sisi’s determination to enjoy the delights of the Dutch coast at all costs. We passed on saltwater baths, but since the hail had stopped, we “pulled a Sisi” and tried to take a long walk on the beach. Dozens of little European-sized dump trucks and front-loaders were hurriedly moving sand from one place to another. This seemed pointless, as the wind, still blowing at a steady 40 MPH, quickly blew it back again. The waves still crashed in, the water thinning as it ran up the long, shallow beach. The wind aerated the water, creating bits of white foam that broke off and went skimming across the sand. “It’s like whipped cream,” screamed one little girl.
“Can we please just go back to the apartment now?” asked my teenager.