Four Verbanszkys in Europe 2014 travel blog

Happy 4th of July! We spent it by going to Castle Arcen. In 2005, Stephanie and I were in the small Hungarian town of Eger with just the two of us backpacking by train across Europe finding hostels and pensions as needed. Now, in 2014 we are in the town of Arcen, Netherlands. Our family size has doubled and we are traveling with more luxury—rental car, nice vacation homes—and...lots more luggage!

As castles go, it is not a very large castle compared to the ones that Stephanie and I have seen in our travels. It looks more like a very wealthy noble family's retreat. But it does have a moat surrounding it with large lily pads and ducks floating on its surface. It was enough of a castle to have Izabella look at it with awe for she had not seen a castle in real life before and immediately asked me about knights and princesses. I had learned my lesson from our conversation about dragons, so I did not answer with what I wanted to say.

I said, “yes., there are still knights and princesses. They just don't dress the way they used to.” (In my mind, I wanted to say I used to be a knight—albeit when I was in the musical production of Camelot—but I did not want to confuse her again!)

A large sign with a guide map greeted us in Dutch and English before the bridge over the moat. The English translation was humorously imperfect. For example, the gardens of the castle are described as “32 acres of pure vitamins for your senses.” I am not sure that is what they exactly meant, but we got the gist of it.

Initially I felt the entry cost was overpriced (15 euro per person, kids under 5 free), especially while walking through the rather dull and not very interesting main halls of the castle. I was surprised to see so little grandeur. I guess I am used to more elaborate castles, but Stephanie explained that it was the Dutch way of not spending too much money.

A hallway had large paintings by a local artist. A cute moment occurred when Izabella approached one of the pieces and then slowly backed up and approached it again. We recognized what she was doing and we explained to her that these were not the same style of art (pointillism). She then pointed out to us to “look at the thick paint when you get closer.”

There was a wedding in the upstairs level, so we were not able to visit those portions of the castle, but we were more than happy to head to the gardens.

The gardens made up for the entry cost. They are beautiful and vast. We spent many hours going through the entire place. The roses are in full grandeur and covered the formal garden with all sorts of colors. There is a large greenhouse with tropical plants, as well as Asian, Mediterranean, Rhododendron, and other styles of gardens. There was a small area with flamingos, storks, peacocks, and squirrel monkeys as well as various water features and sculptures.

Stephanie pointed out that she somehow always manages to drag me to some botanical garden on all of our big trips. Which is true Not that I mind, for they are lovely, but not necessarily my go to when I think of what I want to do. But I always enjoy myself and have more ideas for our own home landscaping.

At the far end of the garden, perfectly placed, was a quaint restaurant next to a pond and a large...yes, you guessed it...playground. Izzy and Zenny enjoyed the playground and Izzy even took the raft across the pond on her own by pulling on a rope.

The restaurant was deserted. There were only two other couples there. We had a nice lunch of beer, French fries, bratwurst, and fresh tomato soup. The soup was a hit with the girls. Stephanie ordered it for herself, but Zenny made noises that she wanted to try it. So she offered Zenny a sip. Zenobia's eyes lit up and like a little bird, opened her mouth for more. Of course this intrigued Izabella and she wanted to try it as well. Of course she loved it for she loves tomatoes. For the rest of the large bowl of soup, Stephanie was doling it out to her children like a mama bird with only an occasional sip for herself, for if she did not move fast enough, Zenobia let us know!

Next to the restaurant was a miniature golf course that snaked through a “Mountain Garden.” It was included in the price of admission. Again we were the only ones there, possibly because of the grey skies and occasional plops of rain. Izabella never played golf before, so it was fun for us to play together. Rules were not quite followed, especially when the course became more difficult or Zenobia walked up to the ball and started chewing on it.

There were some lucky shots by both Stephanie and me coming in below par. At one point, in a fake cave, the water obstacle was too wide for Stephanie's putt and the ball went straight into the little stream. Of course, I was expected to pull the ball out. I could not quite see it from above and just saw where it went in. As I cautiously reach into the murky, cold water fumbling for the golf ball, Stephanie yells “watch out! It's going to bite you!”

Oh my God! I jerked my hand quickly out of the water and jetted for the cave exit before realizing that she and Izabella were almost crying with laughter for there was nothing there.

Ha! Ha! I sheepishly pulled the ball out of the water to continue our game.

After about an hour, we made it to the end and returned our clubs. We noticed that the restaurant was closing and decided it was probably best to keep moving before the park closed.

We made it around the gardens and back at a slightly faster pace for it was closing at 6:30 pm and we did not want to be kicked out before finishing our tour.

We literally walked through the exit 2 minutes before closing and returned to our car.

As we pull toward the parking lot exit gate, I was ready to insert the parking token I bought for 4 euros, when I noticed that the gate was open anyway. Apparently, we found out later, after 5 pm you park for free. Ugh! I dropped the token in anyway for it clearly stated on it that it was only valid at that location.

On the way back we were detoured by construction and had to take a different route that took us past more golden wheat fields and flower fields. The sun was lower on the horizon, casting its warm late afternoon glow onto the fields and dikes. Large, heavy clouds were off to the north, creating a dramatic setting.

We needed to stop at a grocery store and saw a Lidl store along the way. It looked like a typical grocery store from the outside, but it was more of a discount grocery store. It was limited in what we needed and, unfortunately, the girls were starting to melt down because they were hungry. We quickly bought what we found and returned to the car.

On the way, I noticed there was another grocery store down a couple hundred feet called Jan Lider so we walked over to it. This store was a normal store and it had fruit and vegetables, as well as eggs. But we also needed hair conditioner and soap, but it was nowhere to be found.

So we went over to the CVS equivalent. In terms of hair products there was a huge selection, in terms of bars of soap, there were four to chose from. But if you use shower or bath gel, you are in luck because there was an entire aisle devoted to them.

The streets were empty since the Germany World Cup game was going on. We returned home to watch the rest of it while eating dinner, and then fell asleep during the Brazil game despite our best efforts.

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