Today we woke up to sunshine! Rein, the first mate, told us that there was a “zero” percent chance of rain, so I skipped the rain jackets, packed our lunches, and we headed out to the bikes!

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We started our ride on the outskirts of town (after a blissfully peaceful night with no boats knocking around), and headed towards the city center of Gorinchem.

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We arrived at a very small ferry terminal (which we would catch later) and parked our bikes for the walk to the center square.

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I saw this on the way:

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If you look closely, you’ll see the battery on the rear mount. Sigh. Why don’t we have set-ups like this just sitting in front of a window on the sidewalk in the States?

In the town center, we got our bearings, and split into teams. Geert really wanted to stay with Malachi, so Aldo took G, Malachi, and Thomas, and the four men made a team. I teamed up with the Irish lasses (Geraldine, Aisling and Aine), and the Germans stuck with the Canadians.

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This was our “treasure hunt”:

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What an INGENIOUS way to discover the town. We girls walked, briskly (we don’t want to lose, you know) toward the first stop. Some were a bit tricky, but we meandered through small stone paved alleyways, under ancient arches, popped up on medieval dikes and learned more about the city in such a fun way,than I ever expected to learn. Here’s an archway from the 14th century: (the fourteenth century!!)

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And a view of one of the old gates to the city and the canals, from atop the medieval fortress wall:

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We made it back to the city center and found Rita waiting for us at the fountain. We were the first in, but we’d also started first, so our standing was yet unassured. But after 5min, 10min, our victory was sealed! But then we kept waiting. After a rather long while, the Canadian/German team made it, despite starting after the boys. Hmmm. We waited. And waited some more. We had a ferry to catch, you know. People started talking about coffee and hot chocolate, so I decided to walk back to the ferry terminal to see if somehow they’d ended up there by the bikes (the hunt ended with an arch in the city center, the one that Hugo de Groot had been smuggled under in a book trunk in the 1600’s before the Spanish Inquisition – I think). If they finished the tour, they’d HAVE to end up in the center, and we’d have seen them. As I neared the dock, I saw Aldo sitting on the bench, boys running around him. He looked tired.
“Where ya been, Aldo?” I quipped.
“What do you mean? We won! Where have you been?” was his retort.
Hilarious. I asked him if he’d checked everything off his list? “Yep” Are you SUUURE? “Yep” Did you find the arch with the 13-something date on it? “Yep” Right, sigh, okay, come get some coffee. So we walked back into town, the boys trailing behind, and got coffee, just in time to finish and catch the ferry.

To get to Castle Loevestine, we got to take two ferries. We had lunch on the first, but it was starting to get a bit cooler and cloudier out and Geert and I ended up back inside.

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Our first ferry stop was some ancient wall, where we got off to wait about 10min for the next ferry.

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Then off to the castle!

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The ferry dock was right in front of the castle, upon which ground broke in 1361. Whoa. See the moat?

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Inside, we headed to the visitor center/gift shop, where we picked up our “tickets”, which were plastic keys hung from lanyards to wear around our neck. These keys would allow us access to the buildings and also, if you saw a info post, you could slide your key in the lock and a short audio tour would start in your own language. Genius.

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The boys sword fought in the gift shop (as any good knight would), then we gathered our things and went to explore.

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This is the the original part of the castle, and it expanded out from this center building over hundreds of year. There’s a draw-bridge for the inner moat, in addition to the outer moat, AND the castle is on an island. Triple water crossing. Cool.

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Just sitting in a box under the trees were some kid toys – stilts, iron rings to push, and hobby horses, so kids could just see what they felt like horsing around with (ha).

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We crossed the bridge, and “unlocked” the gate to get inside the castle. Down a kind of creepy staircase was a room with gear to dress up like a knight or a lady. The Irish kids were into it. Geert, not so much. He seemed to already be dragging a little bit.

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We went through various rooms in the castle – this is an ingenious bench in the enormous dining room, with a backrest that swivels from side to side. If your belly gets too hot in front of the fire, you can switch the backrest and warm your bum!

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We got to another chamber where a woman was stationed who could give a history story in any language (oh, the multilingual Dutch), in front of a scene set up on the floor with plastic soldiers. The boys weren’t interested, but she told us how during WWII many important Dutch documents were smuggled into Castle Loevestine and successfully hidden from the Nazi’s.

We saw frescos that were 600+ years old

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And found an outhouse, which was amusing. I don’t remember the exact story, but apparently in medieval times, foes used to dump dead bodies in the moats of castles to poison the drinking water and force defenders out. Castle Loevestine had a very deep well, which was protected from that disgustingness, and could hold out sieges much longer than the average castle.

Alas, even that didn’t hold G’s attention. He started to wander, so I followed his lead and we went back outside. He found the gunpowder tower and we climbed the stairs to find a fun interactive display. They were teaching you the ingredients to make gunpowder with ye so much charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur. So Geert got to try different recipes by slipping bags in the holes.

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The voice would heckle him about what a crappy soldier he was for getting the ratios wrong when all of a sudden LIGHTNING LIGHTNING BAAAAMM!! The room flickered with bright lights and then a red light explosion! Geert and I both screamed! and laughed so hard, we couldn’t breath. Nice job, G, you finally figured it out, and holy cow we weren’t expecting it to blow up. We left to find the next thing to do.

Outside we found a bunker, but it only had an audio display (boring), then saw some kids firing muskets and gave that a try.

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The guns had laser pointers so you could hit the faraway targets, and again with the heckling. So funny.

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Then we gave the canon a try, which was really heavy. We were rewarded with another loud BOOM when Geert figured out the order for how to load and tamp down, etc the canon.

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We wandered around a bit more, checking out some of the living quarters. Soldiers who lived there had families at one point, so there was a small school room and some kid artifacts, which were fascinating. We met up with the others at the appointed time, got to keep our keys, and headed towards the bikes as the drizzle started.

We rode in POURING rain for what seemed forever. Geert had been dragging a bit at the castle and now on the bikes, he was having a really hard time. He seemed to be able to up his effort when I “cheered” for him, but otherwise we were way off the back. In the pouring rain.

We stopped at a little family bar for hot chocolate in small paper cups. Somehow the kids found South Park? Great. When the swearing got pretty good, we were able to change it to the Tour de France, which no one was really interested in. Ironically.

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More riding through the rain. We passed fields and went through ten house towns. We rode up on the dikes for most of it, at one point passing a small house seemingly in the middle of a tiny tiny nowhere town. The house was nestled at the bottom of the dike and two 12-ish year old girls were walking a horse in the yard next to it, beautiful and pink-cheeked and laughing in the rain. What it’s like to live out here, where you can see the sky, I wondered. Then another cable ferry crossing, the biggest one yet!

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Rain was dripping down the inside of my coat, my pants were stuck to my legs. Geert seemed relatively unphased, because he’s awesome, and because when I stripped him out of all his wet gear one back at the boat, I was shocked to find him DRY inside. Dry! What the…

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We finally made it back to the boat, docked in the lovely town of Heusden, took hot long showers, and had the daily snack along with some good Uno playing.

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What a beautiful spot, especially as the sun started to peek out from underneath the clouds.

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Dinner was, as usual, superb. Having a chef on the boat was such a great experience. Home-cooked meals that were balanced and delicious made such a difference over eating out every night. Geert impressed everyone with his exceptional vegetable eating (more than any other kid there) and was always happy with what he ate. He still asks me to make “Dutch meat on noodles”, but I have no idea what that was. Some kind of spicy, dry shredded/chunked beef, with a gravy sauce and buttered noodles. I think he ate three servings this night.

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We plopped the kids in front of Aldo’s laptop for a movie, and I headed out for a self-guided tour of Heusden with Aldo and Geraldine.

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What a beautiful town. All the Dutch towns we saw or rode through were beautiful. All neat and clean. All with manicured, even if tiny landscaping. There must be a vestigial part of me that’s Dutch. Geert, well, that’s obvious.

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We got back right at the end of the movie and put very tired kids to bed.