I thought I heard something in the small hours of Sunday morning. I thought I heard rain. I closed my eyes harder, hoping I was wrong. Then I hoped that it would rain itself out by about 10 am, when we might get going to the park. I hoped.
It was raining, when we got up and really started the day. It was raining through breakfast, in the cozy room below with a table assigned by room number (there were only twelve rooms in the hotel), and as we ate a breakfast with slices of cheese and soft-boiled eggs and such pretty much like what we'd had at the first, much bigger and more commercial, hotel. bunny_hugger overheard a delightful exchange between the hotel keeper and one of the kids; she discovered a slice of toast left in the toaster, and asked the kid if it was his. No, it wasn't. Well, she declared. Someone has forgotten their toast. Of course I filed that line away for future application.
We bought tickets to the park from the hotel counter, and it seemed the rain had let up, too. We entered the park, got maps --- rather well-made ones, with stiff covers, although in Dutch so we could only grasp at the meanings of things --- and entered the Fairy Tale Forest as the rain went from nagging a little more to really coming down. The Fairy Tale Forest is a kind of attraction you don't see much at parks these days (although Cedar Point's new Dinsoaurs Alive is along the model), simply walking through an area and coming across animatronic representations of fairy tales. We entered at The Red Shoes, which showed a pair of red shoes dancing endlessly around a checkerboard floor, and marvelled at how they kept the shoes in motion (magnetism no doubt, but the shoes weren't connected to one another, so how do they stick to a credible distance apart? How do they not fall off the track?), and then to the Troll King, who lives in a tree and comes out to mutter some and mostly go ``oy yoy yoy yoy yoy''. At this point (a) my camera was dying for want of battery, and (b) it was raining heavily enough to sink Noah's arc.
We retreated to Het Huis Van De 5 Zintulgen, and the gift shop, where ponchos were doing brisk business (and giving us fine, practical, souvenirs) and I replaced my batteries. While we waited for the rain to dwindle enough again we watched a performing band, the sort that'd ordinarily roam the whole park, and every moment of everything they did was a great picture. Also a guy in Kiss makeup walked past, but I was futzing with my camera and bunny_hugger didn't see it, so I can't prove it happened. I thought it was certain we'd see one another again, but, we didn't.
When the rain settled to a more steady drizzle we ventured back out and wandered around the Fairy Tale Forest again, taking in --- it turned out --- only about half the attractions. Some of them are simple settings of a character or two interacting; some are houses with stuff like Red Riding Hood going on inside; one part is even a whole Troll Village, with the trolls doing their various bits of work and, I note, living with squirrels very nicely. Squirrels seem to do quite well for themselves in Troll Village, even getting things like rocking horses to themselves.
I can't exaggerate how beautiful the park is. It's designed roughly around fairy tale themes, certainly, but everything is solidly constructed and in great shape, and it's just packed. It shows evidence the park landscapers figured that everywhere you looked, if you looked long enough, you should be able to find something you hadn't noticed before. It shows evidence they don't mind spending money even on the little things that anyone might say were inconsequential. As an example: every amusement park has waste baskets. How many do you know surround (some of) the waste baskets with ceramic figures, giants with open mouths, flanked by a goblin-y creature pointing to it, and calling out ``Papier here! Papier here!'' --- and saying ``thank you'' when someone does throw paper out in the paper-gobbler's mouth? A simple gimmick, yes, but what an incentive to not litter, especially when you're a kid.
The rain never fully left for the day, although there were good patches of the sun breaking through (we felt very cheered when we could actually see shadows), and maybe it served us by keeping crowds down a little. While we spent time underneath shelters waiting for storms to pass, we were able to also get on such major rides as Joris En De Draak (St George and the Dragon), a wooden dueling coaster. This is a pair of roller coasters competing to come in first, certainly, and going over the lake past a giant animatronic dragon that splashes water and maybe breathes fire --- we were never quite positive we saw it --- but with those extra little wonderful more touches that makes it great. The two cars go out from Blue (Water) and Red (Fire) stations, and whichever train wins is notified of this by a sign just before the return is finished. Good start, certainly. But then the losing train is held up a few seconds, while the winning train returns to the platform. And then a set of banners drops from the ceiling, heralding the return of the winners --- along with recorded cheers and celebratory noises. Then the losing train rolls into the station, with no banners dropped, just the boos and jeers of the recorded crowd. They're a great ride to start with, but to add the points of pride and shame, and the cheers and boos --- matching a rousing (I imagine) departure speech which we couldn't understand because it was in Dutch, then we have something magnificent.
But the firs troller coaster we rode there was Python, at one time the largest steel roller coaster on the European mainland, and a chance to see if our rule for how we came out in ride photos --- me wide-eyed, mouth open, like a maniac, while bunny_hugger comes across looking like she's just been assessed for street repairs and owes $10 for each little house on the board --- carried across continents. It did. The ride queue includes several monitors showing video of people taking the rides; I thought for a moment they might be the people on the current trains, but that was clearly not so. Adding to the excitement of this one is we didn't actually catch them checking that the passengers' restraints were in order, so that while it must have been obvious from the launch station, we were able to go out with the vague suspicion that maybe someone was going to get flung out over the Dutch forest, which is always exciting.
Another roller coaster was the De Vliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman), loosely based on the legend of, well, it's right there on the label. This, I believe, had the longest queue of the day, but it was an interesting queue. The launch is from a vaguely 17th Century Dutch village, and the setting recreates a whole, tiny, dark, packed, village square, with videos and noise effects casting vague curses we couldn't understand at us. This prompted me to think of what a real pity it would be to be haunted by a ghost in a language you don't understand, and while we waited in line bunny_hugger and I roughed out a sketch based on that premise. The ride itself is partly a roller coaster but also partly a water ride: it splashes down into the pond outside (opposite Joris En De Draak), and it'd be a good roller coaster on its own. To add to it the splashing-down and water ride part makes it really novel. And, of course, there's music to go with, so that it's not just an exciting ride but it's an exciting ride in a great setting with a surprising finish and the Prague Philharmonic adding to the experience.
The other roller coaster we found on the map was Bob, or Bobslee, or Bobbaan --- it's not perfectly clear which is correct, and the Roller Coaster Database settles on ``Bob'' as the name on the entrance sign --- and that's a simple bobsled roller coaster with a vague Swiss theme because bobsled coasters are attached to Swiss themes. It's a pleasant ride, and felt faster and less controlled than Cedar Point's Disaster Transport (although this was also a ride out in the open where we could see things like the trees grown very well all around it), and monitors on the ride queue tried to feed off trivia questions and such about the park in-between promotions for Burger King.
The other major ride bunny_hugger hoped to get to was the Carrouselpaleis (Carousel Palace), one of the handful of surviving salon carousels in existence. These used to be not just good-sized carousels but also coming with facades and enclosing tents and steam engines and organs big enough to overwhelm the fairgrounds and provide room for spectators, tables and chairs to sell refreshments, even a dance floor. The survivor at Efteling is impressive, not just a good ride (with the band organ plainly working yet, and also some of the park's plush merchandise used to decorate the machinery in a cute humanizing touch) but a restaurant surrounding the ride, and then hallways surrounding the restaurant showing off dioramas of elaborate and moving scenes. The park doesn't let you just have anything; it has to pack everything full of even more.
A minor thing we were looking for was the PandaDroom, a ``4-D'' film show, although the first thing we found that seemed to be it was a room presenting an elaborate marionette-based landscape of ghosts and goblins and netherworld-type stuff, and good luck figuring how this related to pandas at all. The PandaDroom was the other entrance to this spot, which took us a surprisingly long time to find. And that was a two-part interactive-style show, the first of which was showing videos of animals while we sat on the floor. The second part had us move into a theater and put on 3-D glasses, so we could watch a series of idyllic scenes of animals being animals interrupted by disasters like the collapse of the iceberg the polar bears were playing on, or the trees the lemurs were frolicking in being cut down. (This was augmented by actual physical effects in the theater, too, like the seats dropping a few inches at the appropriate moment.)
We did a lot of wandering around, too, just admiring the landscaping, the decoration, the beauty of it all. It's a park that would be worth going to even if you didn't ride anything. We filled up the day all the way to the end of the park's operating hours --- an incredibly early 6 pm considering it was the second Sunday of July --- and felt quite satisfied.
We did snack just a little bit while at the park, and it was a delight. You see, the Netherlands still have Automats. They're kind of a genericized trademark --- as ``automaats'' --- rather than anything connected to the original company, but, they're still around, and look just about like they did in the Warner Brothers cartoons. We got from one a set of kaasoufflés, cheese souffles, which immediately became our favorite food in the Netherlands, maybe in all Europe, possibly the world. bunny_hugger identified them as tasting like the cheese of Cedar Point's cheese-on-a-stick, although without the batter-fried shell or the stick. They do a lot of stuff with cheese in the Netherlands and each bit of it is way better than cheese in the United States.
Finding someplace to eat after 6 pm on a Sunday seemed like it might be harder even than finding a place to eat after 6 pm on a Saturday. We managed it by vaguely remembering there seemed to be sushi places. This tiny town in the Netherlands actually had two sushi places. One of them was an all-you-can-eat sushi spot, though, and we went for that. Our waitress asked if we understood the ordering system --- we didn't --- or Dutch --- no, again --- so she apologized that she couldn't explain it in English and had to get her colleague (or as she pronounced it, ``college'') to explain. It's not actually a complicated system; they gave us a card with all the menu items listed, and we were to mark down which ones we wanted and how many, and they'd take the card and return our order. Then we could go to another round on the card, up to four rounds, after which we'd ... get a new card, I suppose. We didn't get up that far, although we did stuff ourselves full of vegetarian sushi options and, at the end of dinner, ice cream (sesame, in my case, which was quite tasty even if it felt odd having bits of sesame in a cool scoop of ice cream).
After some more walking around town we returned to the hotel, confident that while we had lost hours in Efteling due to not knowing how early it might close on Saturday, and more time due to showers Sunday, we had at least got to all the roller coasters and the biggest attractions, and we could be satisfied with that. We were wrong.
Trivia: Four days before the opening of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, work crews dismantled and destroyed an outdoor art and photographic exhibit along the marathon route which included art critical of the city's demolition of single-family housing (and some 19th-century mansions) in favor of high-rise apartments and commercial offices. A provincial court compensated the artists five years later. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.
Currently Reading: Creatures Of Accident: The Rise Of The Animal Kingdom, Wallace Arthur.