Saturday the 7th was our last day in the hotel, and in Utrecht, so we had breakfast while watching out for the potential hazard of the cat looking for softboiled eggs. (As I recall he focused his attention on other tables.) I got some photographs of the lovely lake and patio and such, and we did our packing. The hotel desk called us a cab, and it took just long enough to arrive that I had the chance to investigate a curious set of stairs leading over the hotel's front door. They lead to a tiny loft with a few computers. We never did get around to the hotel's bowling alley.
From the Utrecht central bus and train station we got the inter-city rail to 's-Hertogenbosch. We tried to buy tickets through the vending machines, but somehow we weren't able to do that, so we had to find a ticket agent and establish that we haven't got the faintest idea how to pronounce 's-Hertogenbosch. Perhaps luckily for us, the Dutch don't either, and they just call it ``den Bosch'', so we were able to get a train ride through again wonderful, picturesque settings.
From 's-Hertogenbosch --- and pausing to admire the lovely column with a gold-colored dragon on top, as well as the bus station design that really didn't account for how passengers and buses would have to use the same blacktop space simultaneously --- we loaded everything onto a bus which would take us to the town of Kaatsheuvel, which never heard of you either. Kaatsheuvel is of course the home of the Bunnies Kinderschoenen shoe manufacturers, explaining a statue in town of a shoe cobbler at work, but the really big thing for us is that it's home of the Efteling theme park. The bus ride was a fairly long one --- an hour or more --- but it dropped us off right in front of this amusement park bunny_hugger had long dreamed of visiting and long imagined she'd never have the chance to see.
Thing was we didn't want to be at the amusement park just yet; we wanted to be at our hotel, which was just a few minutes walking distance away if you found the right street. We didn't find the right street, so we ended up rolling quite a few pieces of luggage, growing heavier as only luggage can do, through Kaatsheuvel hoping to find some hint of the street we wanted or the hotel we thought we might have seen from the bus window. Ultimately we did find it. We got off to a bad start, going down the street in front of Efteling when we should have just gone directly across the interchange. In our defense we were pretty tired after hours on taxi, train, and bus, and the bus managed some kind of spin-two twisting around the streets just before reaching the theme park, so while it did technically go right in front of the hotel, we didn't have any chance of seeing it.
Efteling, well, that's a world-class amusement park, and we were getting there on one of its rare days of being open until dark --- quite late, considering that at those latitudes (51 degrees) the sun rises about 4 am and doesn't set until 9:15 in the morning two days later --- and we were exhausted so after checking in (a little earlier than expected for all that, although all the hotel needed to do was make sure that we had toilet paper; we had, although the toilet seat was one that had to be held up or it'd fall back closed) that the sensible thing to do seemed to be to nap for an hour or two, and then get up ready to charge into six hours or more at the park. Thus we rested.
It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, with little puffs of children's storybook clouds. We walked up the park's lovely entrance --- and, wow, the novelty, of just walking right up to a major amusement park --- and past the near-full lots and the signs with different characters to represent different lots, like the giant or the fakir on a flying carpet or the fellow with a very long neck or the ... donkey that's ... flying and leaving a trail of coins behind him ... ah ... well, never mind. The main admission hall is called Het Huis Van De 5 Zintulgen (the House of the Five Senses), the world's largest reed roof (over 150 feet tall at the peak), with five peaks and resembling a sort of crown or jester hat with Indonesian styling. It comes with a legend of how the five sons ruling a kingdom together fell out until the jester brought them together with their understanding that each of them --- representing one of the five senses --- was dependent on the others, and if you imagine a park that puts that much thematic attention to the place where you buy tickets, and that builds something as impressive as a 150-foot-tall reed spire, you can imagine how enthusiastic we were to get there.
Although ... we couldn't help noticing ... the crowd was entirely people streaming out, with we two the only ones entering. This was strange, but ... maybe they were leaving for dinner before coming back for hours of rides and attractions and the light show and all that? Maybe? But why were all the ticket counters closed except the one at Customer Service?
The woman working Customer Service was baffled by our desire to buy a full-day pass. The park was closing in 45 minutes.
We'd got the schedule wrong and even though it was the first full weekend in July, and a gorgeous Saturday at that, the theme park was closing at 6 pm.
We didn't go in for such a short trip, of course, but walked disconsolate back into the streets of Kaatsheuvel. We did resolve to get up early and get the full day in, at least. And we wandered the streets of a suburb strikingly --- almost unsettlingly --- quiet and cozy considering there's a world-class theme park literally across the street. And not across a major street, either.
If you were to call up Central Casting and order up a ``small, cozy town the Low Countries'' it'd be hard to do better than Kaatsheuvel. There were surprisingly few evidences of people actually around, but the houses all looked very much like Home (which, for a guy whose own heritage is Central New Jersey with a tint of Polish, seems a bit odd, but there you go), and the shops were all closed tight against the ravages of the fourteen hours remaining until nautical twilight. Among the curiosities passed were streets named for John F Kennedy, and one house where the upper windows had those frosted-glass decals advertising ... Disney's Pocahontas. There's no predicting where fandom will strike, I guess, but I suppose it warms the hearts of whoever it was that had responsibility for Pocahontas to know that nearly twenty years later there's a devoted fan of his in a suburb of 's-Hertogenbosch.
We found our way to a Chinese buffet restaurant --- Hong Kong City --- which was familiar enough to American-based Chinese buffets that we weren't lost, apart from their having some kind of dessert that was a sort of marshmallow-sized puff of creme covered in chocolate. I want more of them, possibly an endless supply of them.
And after this we went back to our hotel --- where we had the only patio, looking out onto a quiet intersection and a diner for the locals which had a Bob's Big Boy mascot on top --- and settled in for the night.
Trivia: The 1972 Munich Olympics was the first time a team from East Germany competed. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle. (Earlier games, such as 1960's in Rome, had a combined East/West German team.)
Currently Reading: Creatures Of Accident: The Rise Of The Animal Kingdom, Wallace Arthur.