Saturday, March 22, 2014

Where the F*ck is Doornenburg?

One of the best things about living in Europe is the fact that there are castles everywhere.  Literally.  Even in the middle of nowhere, which is where Doornenburg is.  At one time--1300 years ago--it might have been a relatively important city in the border area between the Netherlands and Germany.  Of course, back then there was no such thing as the Netherlands and Germany, which means that Doornenburg was in the middle of nowhere even back when everywhere was nowhere.  

I imagine that it must be a pleasant bike ride through the Ooijpolder to get to Doornenburg, but since they don't rent fietscars and I'm notoriously clumsy on a bike (plus the flaky weather) we elected to drive.  Over the river and through the woods--now replaced by new housing developments--it was, into and out of several villages that are well off the beaten path, and to Doornenburg.  We spotted the castle from a good 2 km away, but there was still some winding about to do before we reached the parking lot.  

The castle itself comes in two "pieces", both of them surrounded by a moat and accessible only via bridge.  The main entrance, pictured above, opens into a courtyard which used to house the tax office, the stables, a barn, and the chapel.  Now, as you might expect, the stables and chapel have been converted into a coffee shop (not "coffeeshop"). The barn is still a barn, but the tax office is completely closed, though they do have a pillory on display, in which you can stick your head and hands in and pretend to be a commoner who couldn't pay his taxes.  

We got there a bit early, before the tour of the castle--the actual castle, the place where the lord and his lady lived--began (13:30) so we took a walk around the moats.  It would have been nicer if the weather had cooperated, but of course this is the Netherlands and it always rains on the one day when you want to go out. There were, however, poems cut into giant iron tablets you could read all the way around, if poems are your thing.  The castle itself might have been interesting had it all been original, but most of it was destroyed during the Second World War.  Most of the building is therefore a reconstruction, and most of the furniture is a mishmash of antiques from other places, or reconstructions of medieval stuff.  Nevertheless, it is an impressive structure, full of "secret" stairways and impressive rooms and neat displays of medieval artifacts that may or may not have been found on the site (missed that part of the explanation.  

Parents here might be wondering whether it was wise to bring kidlet.  After all, it's a castle with a guided tour, meaning lots of standing still and being in one place.  Well, kidlet isn't walking just yet, so he's not able to get up to too much mischief.  There were, happily, several wide open rooms with no cordoned-off areas, so I let him crawl around on the floor, mumbling to himself, in those rooms.  For the most part, he was happy to do his own exploring, though I still had to devote one eye and ear to keeping him out of people's ways.  But by and large he was quiet, squawking only once.  By the time we reached the rooms with cordoned-off spaces and places one was not supposed to be in, he was thoroughly tuckered out and it was only with a well-timed biscuit that a meltdown was averted.  During the summer months, they have more child-friendly activities, but kidlet--being all of 16 months--is much too young for those. 

It is a nice castle, and I imagine that living in it--which the family did, until the 1800s--must have been exciting in its own way.  It makes for a nice day trip--something out-of-the-way and not something that tourists would necessarily be familiar with; while I'm sure the tour guides would be willing to try to accommodate you if you didn't understand Dutch, I'm not sure that the experience would be improved in English.  Because it is so out-of-the-way, then, the groups will probably be small (ours was about 10 people) so it's easy to ask questions.  Cost is €7.50 per adult, €5 for a child between 4 and 12, and free for children younger than 4.  The tour is not handicap-friendly.  We had to leave kidlet's stroller in the first room, and carry him around to all of the other spaces.  Somehow, despite that, he ended up more tired than we did.  Which was kind of the point of the whole thing.  

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