Four Verbanszkys in Europe 2014 travel blog

There are only about 15 minutes left of the soccer match between the United States and Belgium. I am sitting on the couch, laptop on lap, trying to catch up on the trip journals while also watching the game. Belgium is doing a great job attacking the United States. If it weren't for the U.S. goalie, Tim Howard, however, Belgium would be way ahead in points by now. The U.S. team is just not as energized as the Belgians which is both annoying and disheartening to watch.

Stephanie is out cold beside me. She tried to watch the game, but her eyes sank heavy early in the first half and she was deep asleep by half time. We are all tired tonight for we had a long day exploring De Hoge Veluwe National Park. I wonder if I will make it through the end result of this game.

This morning for breakfast we had a special treat I picked up at the grocery store. Stephanie could barely watch Izzy and I eat this: herring and blood sausage. Izzy loved learning about how, and of what, blood sausages are made and dissecting the pieces of tongue meat that were mixed into it. She even took the larger tongue pieces and displayed them in her mouth as if they were her own tongue. The herrings were fresh and lightly oiled. Sprinkled with fresh cut onions they were a delight. Zenny appreciated these exotic items as well but she rather focused on the strawberries.

Surprisingly, Stephanie graciously declined multiple offers by Izzy to have some blood sausage or herring and continued to stick to brötchen and deli meats. Zenny again covered herself with strawberry juice as she gobbled up the bowlful.

An hour drive took us to the “Green Gem of the Netherlands: De Hoge Veluwe”. With the strange Dutch intonations and more phlegmy speech than the Germans, the park is practically impossible to pronounce. To make it easy on ourselves, we gave it the name ”Högen Bögen” and used that throughout the day. (Izzy still believes she speaks Dutch saying the park's made up name.)

Of the three entrances, we chose the Hoenderloo gate for it was only 4 km from the visitor center as opposed to 10 kilometers.

A long, tree-lined narrow road led us to the park from the highway. Every few minutes we would come across a red triangle sign with an exclamation point in the middle. Underneath the triangle were the words “Wild Rooster”. Shortly after the sign, we crossed over a cattle grate. So we assume it was the Dutch word for “Cattle Grate” or, perhaps, it is a warning of the elusive Holland Wild Rooster!

(Editor's note: Google translate confirms it was the former of the two.)

After finding the parking area and buying our entrance ticket, we walked about 200 meters to a large bicycle lot. Throughout the park, there are over 1500 free-of-charge white bicycles waiting to be borrowed. Each one is equipped with a child seat on the back and there are quite a few that have front seats for infants. This staging area must have easily had 400 plus bikes.

We watched the actions of others and followed their lead in simply grabbing a bike off the rack and riding off. A pair of ladies in their early 70s, well-dressed—make-up and scarves and all—each pulled a bike off the rack, hoped on, and merrily pedaled away.

After buckling the kids into the seats—Zenny on Stephanie's front and Izzy on the back of my bicycle—we began pedaling our way through the park. It is a huge park of forests, moors, sand, and ferns and is a wild animal habitat for elk, deer, boar, and foxes—but we did not see any of those despite our stops at observation areas.

The girls loved being on the bicycles as we made our way along the well-maintained bike paths. Zenny, eyes squinting and her hair wisping with breeze, let out loud exaltations of joy, while Izzy kept yelling “faster Daddy! Faster!”

Zenny waved at every passing bicycle to the delight of every one and Izzy smiled from ear to ear. Our little ambassadors continue their good work.

Not too much later we found the visitor center and walked around the upstairs, which was not remarkable or too different from home. But the downstairs was amazing!

Once you go down a hallway that was a large replica of a drainage pipe, you are immersed in life underground.

It is the world's first museum dedicated to all things that live (or have lived) underground. Large tree roots cover the ceiling above and everything from fossil replicas, stuffed critters, and plant life are below in beautiful exhibits. There are little cubbies to open and peer into—revealing videos of things like baby gophers snuggling or ants in their nests. There is also an earthquake platform “replicating” an earthquake, but it was as close to an earthquake as the United States' strikers are to making a goal in this World Cup game: not at all!

After we came out of the underground we walked across the large open area to the Restaurant De Koperen Kop where we had wienerschnitzel and beers in the large indoor restaurant. There are attempts to make the restaurant décor look more rustic and it was successful in the ceiling and the lighting fixtures, but the scraps of cow hide the size of sheets of paper randomly stapled on regular office-like couches did not quite work out.

After lunch, we went over to the large playground to let the girls move freely for a while. Izabella loved going on the zip line and climbing up to the tree house with the bigger kids. Zenobia had a delightful time attempting to walk across the sand, and when she got tired, to cover herself with sand...or try to eat it.

Eventually we were able to pry Izzy away from the playground and find another pair of bikes from the bicycle area. Soon we had the kids strapped on each bike, this time Zenny was with me and Izzy with Stephanie. Our next stop was the Kröller-Müller Museum in the center of the park.

The museum has the second largest collection of Van Gogh's work in the world, as well as many other famous Dutch artists, from Rembrandt to Vermeer. There was even a bronze sculpture that was from this past year's Academic Decathlon Art packet. It was really cool to see that in person. Additionally, we came across a couple of other bronze sculptures similar to some we saw in a museum in Sweden.

Near the entry of the museum was a pair of easels with large touch-screen tablets in place of paper. You are to select a piece of work from the museum's collection and try to imitate the style using the painter's tablets of colors. Izabella truly enjoyed replicating—at her level of ability—in meticulous detail the art piece. This made her incredibly excited to later see the work she attempted to replicate on display in the museum.

Additionally, the museum offered a detective game for kids with close up of art pieces that kids had to find throughout the museum or the adjacent sculpture garden. Thankfully, a key was attached for us parents to guide Izzy along.

She especially enjoyed pointillism by Seurat and walked back and forth as she discovered the exact point where dots become image and image becomes dots again. She also appreciated seeing the various thickness of paint on pieces, especially on the Van Gogh's. She loved the piece with the haystacks, while I was excited to see “Cafe at Night” since I have a poster of it in my classroom.

Next came a walk through Europe's largest sculpture garden. There were some creative and beautiful works, while others looked like the pile of stuff we have stacked in our backyard behind the trash cans. Some highlights were “The Swan” (a large white plastic bird-like structure on a pond that was wind-driven. The musuem had a children's book based on it in the gift shop which we naturally picked up) and “Jardin d'email” (which is a large platform of white with contrasting black lines creating a sort of Seussian landscape. You are allowed to walk and climb on it and it occupied Izzy for some time.” Of course there were “the usual” Rodin sculptures as well.

Since the museum was soon closing we made our way out and found the same bikes we used earlier still waiting for us.

We made the 5 km trek back to the entrance gate, enjoying the warm breeze and late afternoon sun. Unfortunately, the only critters out were the mosquitoes and other pesky evening bugs. But it was a very lovely ride back to the entrance where we returned the bikes to their staging area. Stephanie and I were proud of our total 12 kilometer of bike riding with kids in tow as we looked at the map where we rode. Not long after we were on the road back to Heijen.

Along the way home, we decided to stop at the suggested Pannenkoekenhuis de 7 Dwergen in the town of Cuijk. Despite the guidance of the GPS, a few wrong turns were taken, mostly due to the bike paths looking like the car paths since they are the same size and color. I even accidentally turned into one thinking it was a car road—which prompted a quick turn-around. There are more lines and dashes and signs on the Dutch roads than I have ever seen before, making it rather challenging at times—especially when we are all hungry.

This Pannenkoekkenhuis was themed after Snow White's 7 dwarfs. The food and service was not as good as the other house we went to a couple of days ago, but the setting was great. But above all, it has a complete amusement center inside of a replica castle behind the restaurant. It has a bouncy house, trampolines, ball pits, slides, scooters, tricycles, and obstacle courses. Since it was a Tuesday evening, an hour before the restaurant closed, we were the only ones there, completely unsupervised. Izabella loved going from slide to trampoline to bouncy house to ball pit and back to trampoline and to slide and climbing structure.

The restaurant does not offer the same “decorate-your-own” pancake for kids, but it was still covered with various forms of sugar items sprinkled on it. Izzy also received tokens with her kid's meal and she picked out a princess crown to go with her bracelet and necklace from the previous pannenkoekenhuis.

The rest of us had more savory choices with cheeses, meats, and vegetables. Stephanie's looked more like a pizza than a giant pancake. A couple of half liters of beer washed everything down easily!

Stuffed and tired, both girls fell asleep within moments after I pulled out of the parking lot. They also easily transferred to bed, which delighted Stephanie and me greatly to have a little quiet evening before the game begins at 10 pm our time.

The soccer game is in overtime now and it is late. I will watch the game a bit now.

(Editor's note: The U.S. lost and Paul did not make it in staying awake to watch the end of the game. )

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