Monday (the 9th) bunny_hugger and I had breakfast at the hotel, in a different spot, as they apparently rotate the assigned tables around the room. Fair enough. We also, having thought about Efteling things we hadn't gotten to see, decided to ask the desk if they'd hold our bags while we went back to the park for a few hours. We were to go to sleep in Amsterdam, but that didn't mean we lacked time to get there. The desk clerk was happy to. As she processed selling us park tickets she muttered something, and then apologized to us, for thinking to herself in Dutch, here, in a small town in the Netherlands. bunny_hugger and I thus have received possibly the most unnecessary apology of our lives. We accepted it. (We did try to explain that ... well, sheesh, if you can't think to yourself in your native language in your native home, where can you?)
In the Roller Coaster Tycoon series of games, facilities are represented with often comically on-topic representations: a giant hot dog for stands selling hot dogs, a giant soda cup for a soda stand, instead of stuff that looks like what you see at actual amusement parks. We had written it off as fancy, and maybe an effort to add visual appeal to what'd otherwise be, from the games' high perspective, an undifferentiated mass of buildings. Then we got to Efteling and saw that their ATMs are inside giant gold buildings made to look like piggy banks or treasure chest or so. In this, we learned that our United States-based experience had left us too parochial: there are places which will do something absurd like making a gigantic piggy bank to let people know where the cash machines are. And this should give you another good idea what Efteling is like.
Efteling is really into big things, too. Not just the traditional big things like the elevated observation towers, but big decorations. For example, there was a giant roc, dozens of feet high, towering over a courtyard, with a head that swings back and forth. When we first saw it we supposed it was leading just to another food court or something like that; bunny_hugger found on Sunday evening that it was actually the exterior of a dark ride, Voegel Rok.
It's not just a dark ride, though, not the sort of thing like Stillwalk Manor at Seaside Heights where you putter through a room through various settings, some of them interactive. It has got a faintly Arabian Nights theme to it, and the queue, and there's rocs in painting all over the place (including some nests and eggs in the elevated control room), but it's an indoor roller coaster --- much as Cedar Point's Disaster Transport was --- only this one's dark on purpose. Mostly dark, anyway. There are props lit up, such as a small flock of rocs --- flapping their wings --- that the steel roller coaster takes you around, or --- in another wonderful surprise --- a late stretch in which the coaster flies right into the giant maw of a serpent. It's not just a fun roller coaster with great props, and a synchronized soundtrack, it's a surprising and fun one. (Wikipedia even claims there are extra wind effects added for the experience). We immediately went back to ride it again.
But dark rides are one of the specialties of Efteling, which overflows with this kind of attraction comparatively neglected in the United States. Right next to Voegel Rok --- which you should feel bad about missing if you've missed it --- is the Carnival Festival, a ride which certainly looks like their effort to do It's A Small World. It's a very long (at least five minutes, maybe ten minutes) continuous procession in tiny cars that goes between rooms full of animatronic, cartoonish figures set in various nations of the world. An infectiously catchy tune accompanies the cars, in endless loop, on this very well-populated (it was one of our longer queues, although none of the queues were that long, possibly thanks to the rain) procession through genial, vaguely racist figures. Most of the scenes are just silly, of course: the tower of Pisa tipping over and back again as people flank it, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, sumo wrestling while a figure dressed as Uncle Sam takes pictures. Actually, all the scenes are silly. I was taken by surprise by the ride camera, which I didn't realize was an actual functioning camera and not just part of the scenery.
Next to this is Jokie's Wereld, the gift shop, featuring ``Jokie'', the carnival mascot for the ride. In there was a match-the-character-to-the-region game that I needed about ten tries to understand. A kid coming in after got it from the first attempt. Here we bought an album of the park's music, the various sounds of the rides, many of which are orchestrally recorded.
bunny_hugger had spoken of how renowned Efteling was for its dark rides, but I had no idea. It isn't just that there are many of them, portraying stories ranging from a graveyard dance to a ride through fourteen (count them!) Arabian-style settings with (Wikipedia says) 140 animatronics to a slightly roller coaster-like ride through a fairy dreamland, but that they're packed, each of them, full of so much stuff in motion, never mind stuff just in the background, that it's not possible to get the whole thing in one tour. The rides are long and luxurious and still overwhelming. My camera was still malfunctioning badly enough I couldn't take enough photographs, but, there aren't enough photographs to take: the place won't be compressed to a few words, or pictures, or even movies. There's just too much.
There's ever more settings and attractions, of course, such as a troll village that we were better able to examine because we had more time, and less (though not no) rain, and which had a monorail riding above to enjoy the view. And more of the fairy tale village, too: we found paths we hadn't suspected the day before, including ones with a dragon guarding a pile of treasure --- and an obviously loose ring in the pile of treasure --- and displays of stories like The Little Match Girl (done with animatronics and signal-splitter glass for the more ethereal effects).
Also they have a number of old-fashioned play rides, including some tiny carousels designed to be spun by human power. We waited for mothers and kids to have their fill and then bunny_hugger got on one (one of them was a goat) and I spun her up to speed, and leapt on myself, which felt rather mad when I realized how slippery the sandpit had left my sneakers. But I didn't kill myself and I got some good pictures.
The park would be open a little later this day --- the new week brought it a couple extra hours, for which the price of the ticket increased by, I think, two euros --- but we thought we'd best go somewhere and eat, and make our way to Amsterdam, our bed for the night. We didn't eat in the park, for whatever reason, but instead walked into town. We remembered to stop this time, before leaving the park, to pick up a fresh park guide book, and there we learned --- from the park staff volunteering the information --- that they also had maps in English. Just not very many, or very prominently. But now that we were leaving the park we could say with certainty just what we had seen, and establish that bunny_hugger's guess about the Dutch word for roller coaster was correct.
One of the first animatronics seen as you enter the park --- and one of the last seen as you leave --- is a column, with a book on it, and a quill pen moving back and forth, magically writing. The column's within a clear pillar, and the whole thing rotates slowly. Signs around the park, particularly as you exit, encourage you to write yourself into the park's legend. Maybe that's part of what I'm doing here.
In town we decided to try something novel and see if we could find a restaurant selling actually Dutch food. Wikitravel tells bunny_hugger that Dutch people don't go to Dutch restaurants to eat Dutch food, and our experience would seem to bear that out. But we ducked into what turned out to be a shopping mall and found a little care with kaassoufflés and a cashier who had no idea what we were asking for by trying to pronounce the word as if it were Dutch. She resorted to pantomime, holding up various options (fries, particularly) and getting ``sorry, no'' from bunny_hugger. This would be our first serious language barrier of the trip. But bunny_hugger found a flyer selling the kaassoufflés we wanted, and through various feats of pointing we got a perfectly good meal of warm cheese, French fries with mayonaise, and Coke Light. As we ate, the mall closed.
From the hotel we got our bags, and clearer directions about where to pick up the bus --- the parking lot outside the park was the place to go, and sure enough, not only did the bus we originally got to get to Kaatsheuvel go past there, but an express bus going right back to s'-Hertogenbosch went there too. We got back to the bus station, and its difficult-to-navigate parking lot (they really did not imagine there'd be pedestrians getting off the bus), and its brilliant gold-colored dragon on a sphere on a pillar, and its Burger King, and, its inter-city rail transport. Once again we failed to buy tickets through the automated vending machine, but we did figure out the train to take and the platform to get on to bring us to Amsterdam.
So we spent more time watching the gorgeous scenery rolling past us, while I tried to keep my oversized suitcase and carry-ons out of the train's aisle, and maybe to keep from crushing poor bunny_hugger's legs. I really should've gotten a smaller suitcase, but I'd bought it around a decade ago, with the idea of transport to and from Singapore, and it's sized to that.
Anyway. At the Amsterdam Central Trail station we had directions to the hotel which were, allegedly, not five minutes away. Just a few streets across. They were, if you could find the streets, but we weren't having luck with that, or with finding street signs. We tried to get to an information kiosk which was, of course, closed.
However, an English-accented fellow noticed me walking toward the kiosk and told me about it being closed, and asked where we were heading. While I tried to be as cagey as possible for me (shocking bunny_hugger with how much I was saying about plans to a guy we know not a thing about), he did claim to know where all the hotels were and, challenged on our hotel, was taken back a bit and then suggested the road that, yes, our reservation did say it was on. He then proceeded to give directions, but since those directions started with ``if you imagine going through that building and across the canal'', we thanked him as if he had provided actual information and made our way across the canal at least.
Lest people be left with a suspicion of the guy, I should point out: we determined later on that, if we understood his directions correctly, then he did give us correct directions. They just supposed that we were able to penetrate buildings and also float far above the water surface. But he did genuinely know the hotel, and its location, and apparently he just liked to hang around the train station looking for lost travellers.
But for us, we were lost. We couldn't figure how to get from where we were to the street we wanted to be on, and as best we could tell Amsterdam didn't label streets or much of anything. We worked our way to a convenience store with a name coincidentally close to our hotel's name; I thought surely someone else would have asked them about the hotel, but if so, our cashier wasn't the person asked. We did get a map, though, and that let us find our way through the twisty mazes of Amsterdam's red light district until we got to the outskirts and our hotel.
Amsterdam's red light district is a packed, busy, somewhat raucous place, with in our experience a lot of the air of an amusement park, or a campus during a major festival, or the like. That's fun to wander through if you're not lugging suitcases and carry-ons at the end of a day of amusement park and travel, but even then it's a bit fun. But the hotel was lovely, lavish, fresh-renovated and quiet, and with a Wifi password almost cartoonishly easy. It wasn't quite ``password'' but it was nearly so. This would not be our last encounter with hilariously weak hotel Wifi passwords.
Really, it was all wonderful ... except that their Wifi wouldn't let e-mail or ssh through. That's ... less than wonderful.
Trivia: Following the shooting down of Korean Air Lines 007 the California legislature unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Soviet government and calling for athletes from the Soviet Union to be banned from the 1984 Olympic Games. The legislature later withdrew the call. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.
Currently Reading: Wartime, Paul Fussell.
PS: Playing with Tiles, as I got a link to a fun little database of ways to cover the plane with repeating patterns.