Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Race is On…To the Castle

It was time to get back on the horse, metaphorically speaking. I had not toed a starting line of any sort of race since Badwater in July, so I registered for a 15 km running race (9.3 miles) located in the oddly-named town of ‘s-Heerenberg, about 80 miles east of Amsterdam, on the German border. Click HERE to read all of the sordid details of the race.

We had foolishly expected another sunny day (see previous post about our trip to Texel Island), but we're we wrong! It was rained buckets most of the day. Stacey and the kids hung out in a snack shop during the race, but they were already soaked to the bone.

Luckily, the adventure was worth the drive. After the race and a warm shower for Dad, it was on to the family portion of our daily program, a visit to ‘s-Heerenberg’s biggest tourist attraction…

…a medieval CASTLE.

The kids were thrilled, even at the mention of the castle (that’s actually how we “sold” the trip to them). Cole was obsessed with questions about the bad guys, and loved trying on pieces of the armor and holding swords. Maya kept trying to figure out where the king and queen slept, ate, etc. (and princesses/princes as well), but she really loved the armor and skeletons a lot too. The Kasteel Huis Bergh is surrounded by a moat, and it’s a building that goes back as far as the 13th century. It’s filled with an impressive collection of early Italian paintings, medieval manuscripts, and an immense collection of period coins.

But the structure itself was the most impressive feature. We were treated to a private tour of the castle tower, where we were able to hold replica swords. Here are the kids trying out some Spanish-style armor:

Winding staircases and narrow passageways led us to the roof of the tower, where visitors are treated to an impressive view of the town and surrounding countryside. It’s not too difficult to imagine that you are a 14th-century sentry on the lookout for marauders.

Check out the castle online at

An Island Vacation

Who says that islands have to be tropical to be fun? I’m sure they have a lot of fun in Iceland, and that’s an island. Same with Prince Edward Island and the Aleutians.

What The Netherlands lacks in warmth this time of year, they make up in scenery that can take your breath away. Sometime last week, I read in a travel magazine about the beauty of Texel Island, located about an hour drive north of Amsterdam. On Saturday, we made the spontaneous decision to make the journey.

[The previous day, Nike threw a Sinterklaas party for the children of employees, and it was quite a chaotic event. The entire program was in Dutch, but the kids didn’t seem to mind since they’ve learned all the Sinterklaas songs in Dutch at school. As we've mentioned in the previous Sinterklaas post, one tradition is that Zwart Piet hands out little cookies ("peppernoten") to the children, and these Zwart Piets were making a game of it, throwing handfuls into the air throughout the room during the party. Cole particularly loves them, and was eating them hand over fist. The party ended with a gift given to every child, organized by age groups and gender - a Jasmine Barbie doll for Maya and some trucks for Cole. We capped off the evening in a decidedly Dutch manner by having dinner in a Panekoeken house with some friends.]

Saturday dawned brilliantly sunny, as we set out for the town of Den Helder, where, we boarded a ferry for the brief 20-minute float across the water. And once on Texel, we quickly saw why the magazine had rated the island so highly. Small, quaint villages dotted the landscape, but the feature we enjoyed most was the beach that gave us incredible panoramas of the wild and wooly North Sea. The wind was a bit harsh, so we didn’t stay long on the sand, but the hike from the road to the water and back was great fun. The nice 50 degree F weather certainly helped.

The journey back home was fairly uneventful, but the drive alone was a nice way to spend a Saturday. When you’re a foreigner in a foreign land, every curve in the road holds an adventure.