Friday, June 04, 2010

Waking up in Amsterdam; Also: Castles

When I woke up this morning, I was in Amsterdam, which was a little disconcerting since I’d been having a dream about losing my passport in Canada. In that dream, I didn’t live in my apartment, but instead in some strange house made almost entirely of picture windows. Dreams are entirely fucked.

We tottled about the city for a while, looking for some place called Bever Somethingorother, an outfitter in the city that might be able to get us a converter for the laptop. We never did find the place, and while we were waiting outside a McDonalds for a coffee and the use of their free WiFi, we noticed an electronics shop that sold exactly the sort of thing we were looking for. Of particular interest in that shop was the storekeeper, a surly British man of about thirty who treated us exactly like I treat customers in my store: with expertise and a side of derision. He told us not to buy the thing we didn’t need, asked us for exactly what we did need, and sold it to us with an attitude that said we were entirely too stupid to be allowed to go outside unaided. I liked him, and if we need for electronic doo-dads while in Amsterdam, he’ll be the first person we go to.

With our prize in hand, we began to plan a trip to Muiderslot. Nestled in the adorable Dutch town of Muiden, Muiderslot is a 13th century castle and a pretty kick-ass place to eat lunch. Being from North America, and more specifically from the Canadian West, I’ve never actually had the opportunity to see a castle in person, and it was a pretty intense experience for me. Muiderslot looks very much like the stereotypical Disney castle, complete with drawbridge, towers, crenellated walls and a keep.

The courtyard had a large tarp providing shade in the harsh noon sun, and along the walls were strewn the backpacks of some fifty small children here for the tour. A few of them were playing on the battlements without the supervision of an adult. (This is something I deeply appreciate in this country; there are canals without guardrails; in Canada, someone would get sued because someone else would be too fucking dumb to survive a canal without a guardrail. Amsterdam is a city that believes in natural selection). We go up one tower, stopping at every room that we pass. There are little plaques that tell us what the rooms were for; traditionally, the tower was a dungeon. We notice this in the first room meant to keep prisoners. It’s quite a bit bigger than I would have expected for a room of its ilk.

The tower led to a battlement that had been a dead-end when the castle was still occupied. They had decided that certain parts of the castle should be inaccessible to attackers who managed to sack other parts. If you wanted the western battlement, you’d have to take the tower; if you wanted to take the tower, you’d need to deal with the people on the Western battlement shooting arrows and shit at you.
The second tower we hit is less substantial in my mind. I remember a table with swords that controlled a video game. Not exactly inspiring of my mind’s memory space. ^_^

We hit the Riddertower, the Knight’s Tower, and went up some eighty stairs to the top. There were a couple of bare rooms on the way up, but some of the things in them (treasure chests and the like) were totally worth the long climb. I have a soft spot in my heart for treasure chests. I’m pretty sure that’s my inner adventurer.
Then we hit the keep, where there were the Lady’s rooms, and an amazing display of medieval weaponry, and a jousting pit – where Holly totally kicked my butt at fake-jousting – and a place to try your aim with a crossbow. The whole of the experience was a little overwhelming for me. ^_^ Many pictures were taken.

We took a break in the “tavern” where I partook of some apple juice. I’m sure they had beer, and to be honest, a beer would have been great. It was blazing hot outside, some thirty degrees centigrade, and the shade and drink were amazing. From there, we saw the gardens which had a couple of totally awesome statues in it and the falconry, where we got to meet some birds that totally put mine to shame (sorry Merry and Pippen!). We ate some lunch on the non-castle side of the moat, and headed home.

Game Stuff

This is, ostensibly, a blog about role-playing games. So I try, in my writing, to make it as much about role-playing games as I can. In the course of the next few weeks (as I write my blogs in Microsoft Word without the aid of the Internet), I’ll be writing mostly about my travels through Europe, and putting a bit of a gamer’s spin on them.

Today, I’m going to talk about castles.

A lot of the time, we try to make castles seem somehow more bad-ass than they actually were. We all know the cheesy history lessons with the bad art that say that castles were actually rather silly places, and we try to ignore the silly and rock the huge stone fortress angle instead.
Except that castles are actually both. Muiderslot (pronounced Moe-der-s[ch]lot) is a huge square of stone with tall towers and crenellated walls from which you could fire on invading armies. It’s pretty fucking bad-ass. Its name sounds like some sort of tool you would use to kill a man: “Oh, that? That’s my Murder-slot. The slot I use to kill people.” Its most famous owner, though, was a poet. It has doors and window covers that are orange and yellow diagonal stripes. There are EIGHTY SMALL NARROW STAIRS to get to the top of one of the towers and some thirty wide-and-tall to get to the ground floor. It is, in short, a deeply silly place.

Not to mention, there are tunics and silly conical hats, and a musket so large I couldn’t fit the whole thing into a picture frame from five feet away. It is everything you might expect to see from Monty Python. Worse, Muiderslot takes itself pretty seriously.

Don’t shy away from the silly elements of your games. Sometimes things that are historically accurate are going to seem strange and funny to our unaccustomed imaginations, and that’s fine. Let them be silly, because the silly is just a part of the whole thing. It doesn’t need to be completely bad-ass all the time. Mix it up.

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