Modern hotel chains have both advantages and disadvantages. The key advantage of staying in a Holiday Inn, Mercure, et al is the quality control that comes with the corporate brand. The room you get is going to be, as near as matters, identical to every other such hotel you've ever stayed in anywhere in the world. All rooms look the same when you're asleep. Occasionally, however, a hotel falls well below the expected standard. One such disaster was the Mercure Hotel Zwolle.
The first major problem was the lack of air conditioning in the hotel. The average climate in Holland is such that climate control of any kind is generally not necessary, and as such it would not be fair to hold the hotel entirely responsible for this situation. However, on the night of our stay, the thermometer on Tom's alarm clock was still showing 28° celsius in the room at three in the morning. It is simply not possible to sleep in tropical conditions like these, at least when one is not accustomed to them.
I finally managed to fall asleep after lying awake for hours, with credit to the soporific effects of CNN. Our agreed start time of 9:00am should have allowed me at least a few hours respite, but the hotel staff had already decided it was not to be. At 6:45am, the alarm clock on my TV started chirping. It took me a few moments to silence, but by that stage I could hear the same noise coming from rooms all over the floor. I found out later that George and Tom, who had been on the floor above, had experienced the same problem. Our friendly hotel had seen fit to wake all their guests early on a Saturday morning.
After a stunt like that it might have been expected that the staff on duty would be trying to ameliorate the situation, perhaps with a complimentary breakfast, or, at the very least, an apology. We received neither, and on being informed of a €14 charge for the aforementioned buffet we decided to give it a miss.
28th May 2005
Attractiepark Slagharen is a treasure trove of unique and historical rides. It is located in north east Holland only a few miles from the German border, and for this reason park maps (and for that matter the official web site) were available in both Dutch and German. English was unfortunately not available. Consequentially the ride names in this report will likely fluctuate between both languages depending on whether I remembered to photograph the signage or not!
The park is laid out with two groups of rides at opposite ends of a long pedestrian street lined with shops, food outlets, and the occasional arcade. The Kabelbaan sky ride travels right down the middle of this street some twenty feet in the air, providing an interesting viewpoint as well as some particularly good photo angles for some of the rides. Many of the commodity rides here turned out to be vintage Schwarzkopf models, such as the Ferris Wheel and Polyp. Spread among these were a range of unique attractions, including some hardly ever seen any more such as the Apollo. Amidst the flat rides lies a classic Looping Star (#478), serial number six. Though twenty five years old, you'd be hard pressed to know it. This served as yet another reminder, not that one was needed, of how far ahead of his time Anton Schwarzkopf was.
Though it occupied a space no larger than the average travelling ghost train, the Ocean of Darkness dark ride felt much larger. This was achieved by restricting the riders viewing angle to straight ahead only by means of a fully enclosed vehicle with small port holes at the front. This allowed the vehicles to negotiate a tighter space than would ever be possible with open seating, as there was no requirement for everything to be beyond the reach of inquisitive fingers. One or two of the scenes reminded us quite clearly which country we were in, and would not have been out of place on one of the extra-charge channels in our hotel.
I made a point of looking closely at the vehicles before boarding, as the bolted doors could present a safety hazard in the event of an emergency. It turned out that the door lock was held via an electromagnet which the operators were manually releasing in the station by means of a foot pedal. This design would immediately spring open in the event of a ride stop or power failure.
Mine Train (#479) became my fourth 335m Vekoma junior coaster in just six weeks.
Kettenflug Apollo is the Schwarzkopf-built ancestor to modern wave swinger rides. There are two main differences. The first is that the ride remains level at all times, rather than moving up and down as it spins. The more obvious change, however, is that the Apollo ride is huge, seating at least fifty people. Very few of these rides remain simply due to the amount of space they require, which is not inconsiderable due to their diameter. The moon in the centre rotates at a constant rate in one direction while the riders spin the other way, serving to amplify the sensation of speed.
The Sky Tower observation deck was unusual in that it was driven by a chain lift mechanism. In more than one hundred parks I have never seen this sort of drive system, which makes me wonder if it was a prototype model or something like that. As such rides go it was not terribly big, being no more than one hundred feet or so, but in Slagharen that was plenty to get a good view of the park. However, it suffered from the same problem as just about every other observation platform out there, in that the windows could have used a clean.
Tom elected to sit out the Riesenrad ferris wheel. This one did not have any safety barriers, and with the rest of us changing position throughout for photographs he decided that he would not enjoy the experience. The lack of barriers seemed to be a recurring theme in Dutch parks; it seems that in this country people can be trusted not to do stupid things.
After a second go on Looping Star we decided the time had come to move on to Hellendoorn. Before that, though, we decided to go for a lunch break, given that none of us had had a proper breakfast. The food was of a higher standard than what is normally seen in theme parks, though our opinion might have been distorted somewhat by the benefit of going indoors, given that the outside temperature had now hit 30° celsius.
28th May 2005
Hellendoorn adventure park opened originally as a tea room with some game equipment for children to play with. Over time it has been developed into a full theme park, although it remains sufficiently small that half a day there is ample to explore all that the park has to offer.
In addition to the ubiquitous tivoli coaster range, Zierer also produce two models of junior coaster called the Force-One and Force-Two respectively. Both are sufficiently rare that I had never ridden either model, though there are nevertheless several of each around the world. Donderstenen (#480), a Force-Two model, was absolutely brand new on our visit; so much so that the builders had yet to complete the permanent fence around the ride. While the layout itself is good, the experience is marred by the design of the trains, which feature seat dividers placed in such a way that they are quite uncomfortable for adults. This has to be considered a design flaw given that the coaster has been targeted at family groups rather than children alone.
The Sungai Kalimantan ride was a particularly good example of a River Rapids ride done with limited space but plenty of imagination. The boats picked up a not insignificant speed as they completed the course, with quite a bit of rotation brought on by the design of the track. Towards the end of the course was a dramatic water tunnel effect, nicely placed so as to be totally invisible from anywhere other than on the ride, and carefully angled so that riders do not get very wet.
It seems that those responsible for theming the Rioolrat (#481) may have paid a visit to Lightwater Valley. The queue line of the two rides is almost identical; both open with a metal staircase with a continuous flow of water beside it, followed by a walk through a dimly lit tunnel built out of large sections of concrete pipe, designed to look like a sewer. The coaster itself is completely different, passing through a small outdoor section in addition to the main enclosed ride. Having said that, it is not the original model; the first Rioolrat was removed in 1996. Might it have been a clone too?
As Vekoma sit down coasters go, Tornado (#482) was not the worst, but such a comparison doesn't say a whole lot. The ride was almost exactly the same height as the Schwarzkopf earlier in the day and ten years newer, yet the tracking could be described as awkward at best. The ride is not completely worthless, though; local engineers have utilised the structure by installing a mobile phone mast on the top of the lift hill. This change has probably increased the cash value of the ride by a factor of ten.
The Canadian River flume may not have been quite as impressive as the one yesterday, but it still had a reasonably lengthy course with the obligatory large splash at the end. Next to it was found the Mack-built Monorail, which featured inline seating that was nevertheless too small to allow more than one adult in each car. As such, three car train was just fine for our group. The drive system was so noisy that there was not a chance of talking on board, but it did travel very close to the Tornado allowing some good photographs.
The Dino Sky Pedalo was surprisingly hard work, as the vehicles were heavy enough to be equivalent to a medium-level programme on the average exercise bike. This is not something we would normally bother with, but it did pass directly beside the Donderstenen giving a much better picture angle than that possible from ground level. It also passed over the Jungle Monster boat ride, which we had earlier skipped, and from the overhead view it looked like it would actually be worth riding. The enclosed section was certainly a unique experience, although the scenery was spoilt somewhat by the fact that we could see the mechanics behind it on the way out.
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