It was really hot in Amsterdam, hot even by North American standards, so we decided to go to the North Sea. I’d never seen the North Sea before, but had several times in my life read or heard “working on a North Sea oil rig is the most dangerous job on earth”, so I imagined it as a place of ceaseless deadly storms. We took the train out to Zandvoort aan Zee, a destination notable not only for its wealth of double vowels but also as the only beach accessible by public transport from Amsterdam. I knew from experience that “only beach accessible by public transport from nearby major city” was not necessarily a promising sign, so my expectations were pretty low.
Once upon a time a naive young me, spending the summer in Boston for the first time, had been delighted to discover there was a beach accessible by T. My roommate Greg and I packed bathing suits and a picnic and eagerly set off on the Blue Line for this surely delightful place called Revere Beach. I don’t know what Revere Beach looks like today.* But in 1999 the water smelled funny and the sand was thick with broken glass and cigarette butts. A cracked concrete wall lined the beach; beyond it were a sun-bleached out-of-business miniature golf place and some drunk guys shoving each other in front of a 7-11. We spent a long time trying to find a spot without broken glass where we could sit on the sand, and a much shorter time sitting there wolfing down our sandwiches while we chatted about our never-to-be-realized screenplay idea for a romantic comedy set in the 1940s, in which a telephone switchboard operator mischievously crosses the wires on phone calls to zany love-triangle effect. Then we got the hell out of Revere Beach, stopping only to try to go into a bar to pee (they said no).
So I was surprised to see a placid North Sea, and surprised that Zandvoort aan Zee is a much nicer place than Revere Beach. The beach itself is lovely: nine kilometers long and very wide, with clean sand and some child-friendly little lagoons. The water was cold and muddy and waveless; the presence of many wind protection tents on the beach suggested that our windless day was unusual. Zandvoort would be a great place to come for a walk in winter. We heard this is a popular thing for Amsterdam residents to do. Not as popular, however, as visiting Zandvoort the day we did, when we seemed to be in the company of half the population of Amsterdam, and saw that even a 9-km-long beach’s capacity to absorb beachgoers can be exceeded. Besides being predictably overcrowded, Zandvoort had an ugly built landscape of mid-20th-century concrete high-rises. Apparently it used to have pretty buildings, but they were destroyed in the war. It would probably be more scenically satisfying to come there with a bike, as there’s a national park with sand dunes and bike trails directly north of the beach.
One cool thing about Zandvoort is that in August 2007 a 2.5-meter-tall Lego figure was found bobbing in the sea there. It was wearing red pants and a t-shirt with the slogan No Real Than You Are. It origins remain a mystery.
*While writing this post I became curious about whether Revere Beach had gentrified in the past decade and did a google search. One of the top results was the following yelp review: “I’ve been coming here nearly every summer weekend for about 5 years and I’ve never once run into a hypodermic needle.” Which I guess means yes?