We have no plans so I search Google Maps for inspiration. It seems there are many castles in The Netherlands and a few are within easy drive of my uncle’s house. Slot Loeverstein (Loeverstein Castle) is open today (Boxing Day) and look suitably Medieval.
My uncle decides to join us for the day both to show us the narrow back roads past the canals and because, despite living just 40 minutes away he has never been to the castle. I’m glad he joined us because he sure does know every byway in the area and we get to see some gorgeou riverscapes along the River Meuse that we would have missed on the highway.
The castle is part of a network of protection that extended down the Rivers Meuse and Waal for centuries. While it started its existence as a private home, that didn’t last long because the original owner built it using stolen taxes. The government (King) of the day quickly caught on and stole the castle when the owner was away.
The waterways that surround the castle are more than a mere moat. They are part of the waterlijn (water line) defence system that supplemented the castle fortifications. This unique method of defence was truly Dutch. Through this system the Dutch flooded the lands near the rivers to about 1m deep block the passage of advancing armies. The system worked until WWII, which saw the introduction of military aircraft. It’s really quite ingenious. A part of me feels an extra touch of pride at my Dutch heritage after hearing this creativity.
Inside the castle walls is one of the best interactive museums I have visited to date. Visitors receive an electronic key shaped like an old medieval one. Throughout the castle are slots where you insert the key and become part of the medieval and Napoleonic world. There’s a Napoleonic era bomb shelter where soldiers await the flooding of the plains. There’s the story of Hugo de Groot who was held prisoner here but escaped in a book box (he is the lawyer who came up with the basis of all maritime law relating to where countries end and the sea begins). And there’s many other stories to hear.
My favourite thing about the castle are the interactive games. I wore a heavy helmet and carried a sword. I rode a children’s horse toy because I couldn’t walk on the stilts. I shot laser-fitted rifles at medieval targets with an audio track either congratulating or chastising me depending on my accuracy.
After a spot of hot chocolate and apple tart (the Dutch make it the best), we set off again for home. This time we followed the River Waal for a bit before switching back to the Meuse and on to the farmlands of Noord Brabant. We stopped to take photos along the way and take in the windmills and old buildings.
We pass my Oma’s line dance gathering in Berkel-Enschot so stop in to take a peek. Oma has been line dancing for 22 years but this is the first time I’ve seen her 80+ year old dance feet in action. She clearly loves it as she trips across the dance floor, feet skipping along to the routines.
The atmosphere is serious and concentrated. Club flags in American styling a hang from the ceiling around the dance floor. Men wear hats. Many are American civil war era military hats with gold rope and military insignia. The women who wear dresses look like dressed up versions of Annie Oakley or ladies I might expect to see on a Mississippi River Boat two centuries ago. There’s also other takes on America country culture too like t-shirts adorning Native American imagery and modern rodeo-inspired attire. It’s all a little unexpected here in modern Holland with its fashion-conscious European culture and strong medieval farming history. But the dancers must enjoy it because they keep coming back.
We end our day with dinner at my aunt’s house in Eindhoven. It’s fabulous to catch up and share a meal. By the time we return to my uncle’s house our eyes have fallen closed before our heads make it onto the pillow.