article by Rick Tillman
This past week TIC had yet another successful and enriching outing! In order to more appreciate what our province of Noord-Brabant has to offer, we took a half-day trip to Kasteel (Castle) Heeswijk which has been deemed as one of Brabant’s top monuments. The castle is striking and majestic, but also has been an integral part of local and European history. We learned from our very knowledgeable and fun tour guide, Jos, that when the American paratroopers landed to liberate The Netherlands, they (mistakenly) dropped into the surrounding grounds and some right into the moat. They meant to land at a castle around 40km away, but I guess from the air, they all look the same!
After viewing a few rooms that were beautifully appointed, such as the dining room which contains some of the best preserved Chinese wallpaper in current existence, we learned that the family to inhabit the castle for a large portion of its existence in the last few centuries were no strangers to scandal and family troubles that you might see on a current “reality” show. There was a mixture subterfuge, disinheritance, mistresses, abandoning the house for many years, reassertion of ownership, and some really odd collecting habits of some of the family members. But thankfully, the final owner upon his death willed the castle and grounds to an association that has since renovated and kept the castle running by hosting tours and events, such as the wedding where everyone in our group had to stop and admire the happy couple. We are very thankful indeed that associations in The Netherlands and Brabant have decided to try their best to preserve parts of history so that many future generations can enjoy and reflect on the rich history of the area.
Although a lot of the collections and furnishings were sold off long ago by some family members not so eager to preserve history (but to cash in on valuable things such as Rembrandt paintings and priceless artifacts), there was no lack of splendor in each of the rooms we visited. Kasteel Heeswijk contains an abundance of wooden staircases (my favorite were the tiny hidden ones!), ornate bookcases, and interesting wall coverings of paper, silk, and even leather. The main staircase with the beautiful blue and white Portuguese tiles still intact was one of the highlights of the tour. There were even replicas of the chainmail and armor suits that Jos insisted that one of our members wear! Our guide Jos helped bring each room to life as he explained what the room was used for and helped us imagine life in those times when the castle was filled with (only slightly more than our group’s) nobility. The end of the tour showed the definitive hierarchy of life surrounding the castle where the local villagers could not even look into the kitchen when they brought the goods, or one particular (jerk) nobleman designed a rotating table where he would not have to see his servants. Thankfully, some things have been left in the past. As Jos was a former teacher, he was able to make the tour appeal to children and adult alike (and older “kids” like myself!). It was interactive and a most enjoyable time for all those who were with us.
Because we had worked up such an appetite climbing up and down stairs and through long passageways, we went into the center of the Heeswijk village for some sustenance. We found what looked like an ice cream shop (not a bad thing!), but they ended up having an extensive food menu. Other than food envy that invariably comes with watching each dish come out, everyone enjoyed their food and most of all the company of the members. I like the attractions that we’ve traveled to as a group very much, but my favorite part is being able to sit and commune with our fellow members and reflect on the sights of the day as well as connect with each other.
Alas, we had to retire for the evening, so we returned with the people that were so gracious as to offer their time and cars for everyone to easily get there. I know we all look forward to our next adventure!