Thursday, 13 September 2007

Day 4: Alton Towers

Today I got to finally fulfill a childhood dream.

The fun actually starts before you even get to the park. It is completely hidden in the countryside and in amongst the hills. When you see the landscape, you understand why the park has strict restrictions when it comes to the height of rides. You are driving down a country lane, turn a corner and there is a small entrance. You'd miss is it if it weren't for the sign and the fact that the GPS is telling you you have arrived at destination. You drive on (in your fantastic car) and the magic begins....

The car parks are huge and quite far from the park itself but a decent monorail takes us through the forest and there... you get your first glimpse of Air, Nemesis and Katanga Canyon.

Notice how, in both photos (a bit blurry i know), the rides seem totally immersed in nature.
It's like this on all the rides in the park. It really gives it something special.

Note: I won't be going into tech details on this post. I have been finding out about them, but it's taking me ages and if I don't get this post out now, I'll start forgetting stuff, and this is a day I want to remember for ever!
Any info you want is just clicks away on a really great site:

Ok back to the park.

Armed with wristband to record our visit, we head to the Spinball Whizzer, a spinning coaster in Adventure land. It's a great little ride that got us going for the day. Perfect.

Here is also where we saw the first of the "queue jumping signs" which John and I decided we should print out and stick everywhere at Walibi. (More on queues later).

From there, we headed the long walk to the far side of the park to UGland to try out Rita, Queen of speed (normal queue time: 0 mins, front seat queue time: 7 mins).

The station is in two parts and there are two trains therefore turnaround is lovely. All safety announcements are made through the speaker and we get our first glimpse at how nice it is to be in an English park. There are 4 members of staff manning the station and another two dealing with queue distribution and ride manipulation.

This ride is mostly about the launch, and as opposed to Turbine's flywheel launch at Walibi Belgium, this is a hydraulic launch.
It propels you into the ride at huge speed and then proceeds to give you three instances of airtime that really give the ride it's edge (and it doesn't break once during the ride). Rita boasts 4.7Gs, however I didn't feel them as much as I was expecting. Fun enough to ride it three times though, that, and the fact that apart from the front seat queue, there was no queue.

We tried out the front and back seats and as always, the view from the front seat is unmissable. The ride from the back feels heavier but you lose nothing of the launch or airtime.

Remembering how rough old corkscrews can be, I was expecting to get my head bashed from side to side on the Corkscrew (nqt: 2 mins) and I was right. Corkscrew was built by Vekoma in 1980 and it shows. It is really jerky, not very fast and just downright painful. I'm a dab-hand at reducing headbanging on these rides, and subsequently had to spend the ride sticking my head forward as much as possible to avoid injury (I failed miserably). The only thing going for it, is the fact that it is built in and around Rita, so you get the excitement of seeing her whizz past you. The ride is old and really should be shut down.

We leave Rita behind us and walk back towards the castle
and enter it for HEX.
(Alton Towers is basically a huge park with a castle in the middle of it.)

Reading the limited info on it, we guessed it was an Ali Baba replica. And we were right. You have to walk through the castle in very little light and listen to the Legend of Alton Towers before getting to the actual ride part. While the ride is essentially the same, it has the edge on the rides of this type I had already tried because of the theming and effects. Unfortunately, the end is so anti-climactic that you leave thinking you just wasted 20 minutes.
Exiting in the castle grounds we realise how
great this building would be during Halloween season.

Oblivion was our next stop. Their opening ad campaign had reached me and I was really excited about riding it. I had decided I would try everything in the park, but faced with this, I wussed out. I'm not a fan of drops and this looked like exactly that. John volonteered to brave the longest queue of the day (15 mins) to give it a go. It is classified as a vertical rollercoaster however a drop coaster would be more accurate. You are brought up to a vertical drop, hung over the edge and then released into a tunnel of mist.
For the scaredy cats out there, there is a great viewing section right at the foot of the drop where the tunnel starts and the rush of adrenaline you get from watching it thunder down the drop was enough for me.

No photos from the top so i 'borrowed' a couple from elsewhere.

John will describe the ride more accurately than me in his trip report, but he used one word to describe it. CRAP. Can't see how that is possible but I'll trust the master.

We stopped off for KFC in this area. The food throughout the park is really varied, there's something for everyone, from the fast food classics of burgers, pizzas and chicken buckets, to the healthier option of baked potatoes and salads. You can even get traditional English food and a cooked breakfast.

Our long walk across the park takes us through the Haunted Hollow (path in the woods with spooky theming that does what it's supposed to - distract you from the walking).
All the areas in this park are quite far away from each other and sometimes only accessible via one route. This layout does wonders to dissipate crowds but it means you do an awful lot of walking. Which i can imagine would be great on a busy day when you spend in excess of one hour queuing for each ride. There is a huge lake in the middle, surrounded by vast lawns where you can sit and relax in the sun. A Huge bonus for Season pass holders.

We arrive into the Forbidden Valley to be greeted by Air, Nemesis and Ripsaw.

We didn't ride Ripsaw as we have the same ride at Walibi. But Alton Towers has added an excellent twist. WATER. The jets are controlled by a member of staff and granted, this is a bit of fun when on the ride, but I think the most fun is had by the people watching. It is hilarious.
It's a little long, but the video below shows the moment when riders are lowered onto the jets face on. I saw this happen many times and it still cracked me up.

Next was Air (nqt: 10 mins, fsqt: 15 mins). My first ever flying coaster. We rode this twice and my second time was a lot better. Mostly because I was not in the front seat on the first try. And the lovely view of dirty socks and being downwind kind of distracts you. The harnesses are really comfortable despite looking a bit like a torture device as they also have leg bars. You have to back into the seat and sit down, before being harnessed in and then tilted to a lying position before you are told to "Prepare for Air" (sorry) and the ride begins.

This ride is not the most thrilling of the park but it is an engineering marvel. It's pretty impressive. During the 'flight', you are sometimes turned to lie on your back, but mostly you are lying face down smoothly passing over the scenery. Not tempted by Skydiving, this is a good alternative for me, but the fact that it is low on the ground means that sensation is not huge. I'm looking forward to riding a higher version of Air.

We had great fun on this one though, singing the Superman theme tune and striking the out-stretched clenched fist pose. :) And for some reason making a total arse out of yourself on a coaster is allowed!!

Over the square to Nemesis (nqt: 0 mins, fsqt: 10 mins). This was the ride I was most looking forward to. An inverted coaster but clearly the best one of it's kind. The harnesses are not the soft foam kind, but rather hard. We were worried this might be a problem when inevitable headbanging arises in banks, but there were none. NONE! The ride is soo smooth, it allows you to really enjoy the ride. It lacks in height but its amazing speed and design takes you in ravines, over blood coloured water and in through the trees. Brilliant!
I'm ashamed to say, at one point I got so overwhelmed by excitement, I nearly peed myself (I said nearly) :)

I never bother filming rides as I feel it never lives up to the ride itself, but I did this time and even though I only got 40 seconds of footage without sound it came out great. (Not for the fainthearted)

We spent the next 30 mins going from Air to Nemesis and back again before deciding we should get on with the other rides.

Onwards to Katanga Canyon.
John LOVES water rides and the sun was out, so I followed him eagerly onto the RiverRapids (nqt: 7 mins). BIG MISTAKE. This is your traditional rapids ride with 8 per boat and as always, it's basically a gamble whether you get wet or not. As the park was so quiet, we were able to get a boat to ourselves. The good thing about these rides is not everyone gets wet to the same extent, and when a fellow rider gets a good wave, it's hilarious. The smile was wiped off clean off my face and onto John's when I received a drenching which left my back and most of my jeans soaking. Hmmm.

It gave us the opportunity to try out the drying cubicles at the exit of all water rides. Cool feature though kind of cheating and not efficient when drenched.

Whilst already wet, we move on the Flume (Not ONE could come up with a better name!?). Apart from it's low water level but amazing scenery nothing really sets it apart from other flumes. Except maybe the fact that whilst in the tunnel, if your are lucky - which we were - you get the Runaway Mine Train whizzing past you in the opposite direction. Very cool. There's a nice little drop in complete darkness to surprise you too.

It was nearing 4 pm and with only an hour left to go, we headed back to the park entrance to pick up our purchases to avoid the end of day rush. Ha, end of day rush.... that's funny.
You can buy photos, mugs, etc at the rides and collect them all at once so you don't have to carry them around with you all day. A nice little service which is really handy.

Nemesis called from afar, and I was eager to get the end of the ride on film so we walked/ran back through the Canyon and the wood. This walk basically finished us off. We didn't manage to get the front seat as the line was closed so I didn't get my film. But what a great way to end the day. :)

Stopped off for another snack and watched the last Ripsaw riders get drenched by the jets (the guy operating the water was clearly on a mission and barely stopping the jets at all. Then began the endless path back to the entrance, onto the monorail and back to the car.

Everything shut down at lightening speed once the clock hit 5pm but we were incredibly lucky that it was so empty and with queue times so short we were able to have at least 15 rides, which is huge (I have read that in peak season it can get so busy that you would only manage 3 or 4 rides in a whole day. We even had bags of time to check out the arcades. We didn't venture into the smaller rides or kiddy areas of which there seem to be plenty, nor did we stop off to shoot the living dead).

Both staff and fellow coasties were very courteous and respectful of the park. We saw no pushing, no queue jumping and above all no spitting. A real delight. Everyone seemed to be having a fantastic day and it made the whole Alton Towers experience that much more fun.

Also noteworthy is the fact that we had no ride breakdowns - which has been a thorn in Walibi's side all season.

So I think I speak for both of us when I say we are very proud of ourselves for making the trip.
The third member of our mini coaster fan club was not with us on this visit, and he was missed. but hopefully our trip reports as well as other video and photos will make up for him missing it.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Day 3: Dublin to Alton

John was off doing his own thing this morning, so after a bit of a lie-in and thus no breakfast, I spent the time making the most of the room. At 12, we move onto the actual purpose of the trip.

I saw this handicapped parking space in the hotel parking lot. It gives you a good idea of the roads on the Irish part of our trip.

Back at the house, while John does the heavy lifting, I played Tetris (again) trying to fit all the boxes in the back of the Espace so they wouldn't look 'stealable' on the way back (and particularly while parked all day in a parking lot at the park). We were very efficient and it only took us 40 minutes.

We head off to the ferry with the car now slightly heavier than before - note to self, the car will now take longer to brake. I say goodbye to Dublin a bit sad the visit was so short.

We wolf down some bacon and sausage baps on the boat and had there not been a rather long and disturbingly inert queue, I would have bought myself a second!
I'm not so lucky on the slot machines today, and with rising nausea, I decide to catch 40 winks before we arrive in Holyhead.

We got to see a piece of Wales in the daytime today. And it's beautiful! I have decided I will go back there soon. Maybe when I'm over in Bristol visiting Harry. We give up trying to pronounce town names like Llanfachraeth, as all attempt is useless.
I'm sure the pronunciation of these names could be used in a lethal drinking game.

I had managed to get a few names of b&b's near Alton Towers and once again we call to get rooms but it seems most had planned their visits earlier than us! Finally found one in the village of Oakamoor and while the reception we got there was pretty awful, and there was no way to get food anywhere in the village after 8pm - which was unfortunate as it was 8.20 when we arrived, the village is stunning, and the pub landlords and patrons were really decent. We snacked on Marmite branches and Peperami's while watching Russia get their arses kicked by England!

We ended the evening as you would in a country English pub, by playing a little darts!
And play around with the rules and make up your own version. (If we had stuck with the official rules, I would still be there now trying to finish with a double! - or was it triple?)

this was my best score :)

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Day 2: Holyhead to Dublin

This morning I had cooked English/Welsh breakfast outside in the sun. (while everyone else was at work.) We made the most of the b&b having free Internet access so we booked our tickets to Alton online.
(The pressure was now on me not to crash the car before we got there). I felt slightly shitty for going without our 3rd regular member of the 'group', but not soo much that I was going to miss it. :) He'd understand!

As we loaded onto the ferry, I thought back to the last time I had taken a ferry. Over 15 years ago! sheesh...
I relit my dangerous love for slot machines and much to John's amusement I won £23, £7, £5, £1 and £4. Not bad for a ferry trip :)
OK, I put some of it back in the machine, obviously, but I was well chuffed as I had managed to pay for my Alton Towers ticket with my winnings.
This trip is soo fun!!

We drive through Dublin onto Tallaght where's J's family home is. I finally met John's mum and saw a couple of baby pictures and the Ground Force garden. A real cup of tea later and we head over to the hotel so I can drop my bag off. In the room, once again I am reminded of how small my bathroom is. But then again, who at home, has a bathroom bigger than the Blue Banana?

We walk to the Square Mall, although it's really a pyramid. (I'm told the Irish called it that because they couldn't spell pyramid. An Irishman told me this.)
Inevitably we are drawn to the arcade. For some reason I only ever walk into one when I'm with John. Although dragging is not needed. I demoed the ITG machine and then watched fascinated as John amused himself by receiving electric shocks for fun. Aah, boys...

I was taken to the Porterhouse for drinks tonight, and despite wanting to raid the Belgian beers from behind the bar, I was determined to give the Irish stuff a go, and, I'm told this was the best place to go as they brew the stuff themselves.
I braced myself for a night out with 3 Dubliners. Would the Belgian survive?

First up was Brainblasta. The strongest ale of the night, It was decent but it has a nasty little bitter aftertaste. I think I might have liked this one better later in the evening. Next was a Stout, Oyster by name. (It is brewed with fresh oysters. weird) No fishy taste though, thank god, and it's actually really nice! Porterhouse Red was next. Another ale, with a supposed caramel taste. Not bad but to be honest was starting to get a bit happy.

It is at around about this time in the evening, that I noticed this in the women's bathroom. Is it just me or is that continuing to encourage women to be obsessed by how they look? On the other hand, it would be bloody useful during a humid night in a bar! - Not that I'd ever have the guts to use it in public.
I noticed the mirror was deliberately forgiving too! Shameful. ;)

After came the TSB and I'm sure I was drooling over Carl's Barbar by now. Carl is one of J's uni buddies. Decent bloke who borrowed my camera and took illicit photos with it!

Moving on to Temple bräu, my least favorite of the night. Luckily a very tasty ginger cocktail was placed in front of me, which was most welcome. I think I had most of J's too, or was it Emily's? (the real life irish dancer. I'm in awe at whoever can move their feet so fast!)

Closing time came and plan B was put into action. (Plan A being the best fish&chips in town)
Eddie Rocket's, a pseudo American diner. But better, as the signs on the wall take the piss out of the original ones (Totally forgot to take a photo). Massive amounts of finger food were ordered and despite multiple attempts, we never got the jukebox to play our requests (kind of like the DJ in the mp3).
I will be kind to all involved in that part of the evening and not post photos. :)

Stumbled into bed some time after half two...

P.S. I have no idea if anyone except maybe John will be interested by these posts, but this way i've got something to read back in a couple of years.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 1: Brussels to Holyhead

The point of this trip was to help John retrieve some of his stuff from his family home in Dublin and drive them back to Brussels. Being the one with the driving license, I was the designated driver.

Ever true to himself, John was late picking me up, though this time he actually had a damn good excuse.
All was forgiven when I finally sat down in the car and marveled at its technological wonder. Now I drive the "IKEA" car, a Peugeot 206, and when you move your seat, you are most likely going to end the maneuver with the lever coming off in your hand. But with the Espace, EVERYTHING is electric. Seat adjusting is a doddle using little electronic levers and I was amazed at seeing there was a memory button for seat positioning!
We also discover that the front loading cd player can hold 6 cds and play mp3s - If only we had known. Soo many other gadgets and crafty things that make driving an absolute pleasure.

The only let down was the electronic handbrake. It took me at least 5 times (hurting fingers each time) of pulling the outer bit out while simultaneously pushing the middle bit in (and swearing) before it became 'easy' to use but I missed the traditional handbrake that you can use for uphill starts. Maybe it's just me.

Worth noting is the GPS system that shows you the route but also the signs. Very nice feature.

We had planned to take the ferry across but as J had never taken the "Chunnel" we thought we'd give it a go. It's quicker, really easy, (though could become quite a headache if your car is higher than 1m80!) and the GPS systems get all confused.

35 mins later (snoozed in the car - good excuse to adjust the seats again and open the huge sunroof. :) ) we arrive in Dover and the moment I had been dreading arrives: Driving on the left, err right, no, left.

I got into it pretty well but we were mostly on motorways. The English lorry drivers are overtaking freaks! While still ever so courteous, I found English drivers to be more reckless than I had remembered (but then again I was driving back then.)
Anyway, we bypass East London, up past Newport Pagnell (*smile*) and up again over Birmingham via Rugby - kind of.

And then I saw it.
The sign somewhere up near Stoke-on-Trent. Alton Towers.

For those of you for who that means nothing, Alton Towers is a famous Theme park in Europe.

I swear light bulbs went up over our heads and for the next miles we wondered how easy it would be to rejig the plans and free up a day. Pretty easily it turns out, amazing how flexible you can be when it comes to the thing you've been wanting to do since being a kid.
Ok, enough rollercoaster talk, there'll be loads of that later.

Stopping in Chester for dinner was my first real challenge. I got completely frazzled by driving in a city at night. I finally selected the 6th parking lot J pointed out (His patience astounded me on that one) and we went off in search of food - and in my case HALF a pint to calm my nerves and growing pissyness.
Aah the wonders of nice people and cider. I am in England again.
No food was found unfortunately but my trusty TomTom took us to a cash machine! Well impressed.

Plans rearranged, I felt ok to drive all the way to Holyhead another 1h30hrs away.
Nice little b&b in Holyhead, but stomachs were growling. Ironically this tiny Welsh town allowed me to taste one of the best kebabs. Could have done without getting frozen solid by the sea wind. :)

I'm feeling good about this trip now. So far everything has been a laugh. And there's so much more to come.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

And in other news...

... I'm going on a road-trip (my first real one) tomorrow. Driving to Ireland in a Renault Espace. Anyone who has seen me drive will know this will be a challenge. But I'm thirty, I've driven all kinds of cars and vans, and I'll be in the UK in a boat sized vehicle with Belgian number plates... So I think I'll be fine. (famous last words) - aah yes, and we have two up to date GPS systems to show us the way :)))) (and no, I won't take my eyes off the road).

... Actually glad to be getting out of the flat for a bit. The new "mystery" tenants have moved in upstairs. All I know so far is that there's two of them - one male, one female, they come in and out late at night and to be honest, aren't that bad...YET. Also the workmen are in again downstairs, which finally means I might get my bathroom fixed. Got broody this week and started wanting to finish the flat off.

... I've bought two more pillows in my never ending search for the perfect pillow. The research is tedious, but I will prevail!!!!
(Jury is still out on this particular pillow at time of writing.)