Whew! That last Netherlands post was heavy. Lightness from here on out.
So anyway, while I was in Amsterdam I went to the Anne Frank House- Oh goddammit.
Okay, maybe not all lightness. Damned Nazis.
Truth be told, I accidentally booked a ticket for the Dan Frank house, where a men’s rights activist bravely hid from feminazis in his mom’s basement. Easy mistake to make.
Straightened that out and made it to the actual Anne Frank house, where they sadly do not allow photography inside. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:
I’m pretty sure it didn’t look like this back in Anne Frank’s day, I think at some point the museum bought the adjoining buildings to accommodate their expanding operations.
Anne Frank, her family, and four family friends hid from the Nazis in the long, narrow building that housed the spice and gelling company her father worked for. Her family had fled to the Netherlands after the Nazis came to power in their native Germany. They lived in Amsterdam from there on out, unable to escape the Netherlands when the Nazis invaded the country in 1940.
I explored a lot of World War II on this trip, in many different countries, and one of the things I found the most poignant was this sense of the people then not knowing what was coming. Of them thinking that the rules of life that had applied up until that moment would continue to apply. It must have been terrible to be a Jewish person trapped in the Netherlands, knowing you could have escaped to a neighboring country if you’d realized the Nazis were going to invade when they did. In a way this was like a very extreme tax on optimists.
The Anne Frank house is a very solemn place intended for reflection, which is why the photo ban made sense to me, annoying as it was for blogging purposes. There are no tour guides, instead you’re given an audio guide and you explore the canal house on your own, gradually working your way to the hidden Secret Annex in the back, where Anne and her family spent two long years.
This was all complicated by covid, of course. I’d generally found the Netherlands to be pretty oblivious about covid at this point in time, contrary to the stereotype of Europe really being on top of all this. No one at Efteling was wearing any masks at all, and I spent most of the day there not wearing a mask, reasoning that covid must not have really hit the Netherlands yet if nobody was taking any precautions. After that day I decided that “just do what the locals are doing” was a flawed strategy and went back to my own personal approach of wearing a KN95 mask at all times unless I was alone out in wide open nature or back in my hotel room. Masked up inside the Anne Frank house, keeping the suggested two meters of distance from everyone else was a real challenge in the tiny rooms of the annex.
You enter the annex through a fake bookcase that had been modified into a door, which was pretty impressive. Inside, the Franks and their friends only had roughly 450 square feet of space to exist in, and didn’t dare move around or use the sinks or toilet during the day when the business they were hiding inside was operating, since only a few trusted members of the staff knew the Franks were even there.
That being said, the space was actually much larger than I had always imagined. I had pictured the whole family basically hiding in a closet, when in reality it was more like a small apartment, with multiple rooms on multiple floors. And at night when the workers went home, the Franks had the run of the entire canal house. You could imagine existing there for a while.
It honestly took me at least an hour for it to sink in that this was the real place. I was actually here. Anne Frank spent two years in this little room and slept in this bed. This wasn’t some kind of museum recreation. An extremely long-lived fly on the wall would have seen all of that happen and, many sun ups and sun downs later, me walk into the same room. This was very surreal to me.
The thing I found the most poignant in the entire annex were the pictures plastered on the wall of Anne’s little room. They were cut from newspapers and magazines, pictures of movie stars and the like. Exactly the kind of thing a young girl might put on her walls. For some reason this both humanized her for me, and made me realize how recent this all was.
All trip long, I kept being reminded that World War II wasn’t that long ago. Those people lived lives that would be recognizable to us today. World War II has always felt like ancient history to me, a bygone era that was tough to relate to. But this trip really made me realize that World War II only ended about 30 years before I was born. Thirty years ago it was 1991. That’s not that long ago. I remember what I did in individual months in 1991. The Gulf War ended in 1991. Nirvana’s Nevermind came out in 1991. The Bulls beat the Lakers in the NBA finals and the Twins won the World Series. Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested. The Super Nintendo came out. There’s not that much history separating my own life from World War II.
I was also very moved thinking about the helpers in the office who had kept the Franks in hiding. I’d like to think I would do the same in their situation, but it was still amazing to think of these people gravely risking their lives to help someone else who wasn’t even their family, as their fates would be no better than the Franks’ if any of this was discovered.
In 1944, the Nazis did find the Franks and everyone in hiding was sent to the concentration camps. Only Anne’s father Otto survived. The rest were part of the three quarters of Jews in the Netherlands who didn’t survive the war. Otto was instrumental in getting Anne’s diary published, which went on to become one of the most widely-read books in the world. Filmed interviews of him from after the war are anguishing to watch. What a thing to survive.
How were the Franks discovered? For decades it had been theorized that a new employee at the business turned them in to the Nazis, but proof of this was never found. Recent research has uncovered the likelihood that it was all by accident. The division of the police responsible for investigating fake food rationing cards and employment violations raided the business and instead of what they’d come for, they discovered the Franks instead.
The museum attached to the house also tells the stories of the Franks’ Jewish neighbors, some of whom escaped the Netherlands in amazingly creative ways involving disguises, uniforms and hiding inside unconventional objects. Reading about World War II will definitely make your own life feel uneventful in comparison.
Leaving the Anne Frank house, I was struck by how the Netherlands’ two most famous historical figures today, Anne Frank and Vincent Van Gogh, both died in obscurity and only impacted the world when their work was discovered after their deaths. So basically what I’m saying is don’t go to the Netherlands to get famous, it’s probably not going to end well for you.
What else is there to do in Amsterdam? A lot! It’s a lovely city beyond just being heaven on Earth for stoned white teenagers.
For example, you can stay inside the World Trade Center like I did, in their dog-art themed hotel rooms:
Or you can visit the Our Dear Lord in the Attic Church, where a dude in the 1600s built a whole ornate church in his house after Catholicism was banned in the Netherlands in the aftermath of repressive Catholic Spanish rule.
Basically, the Dutch are real big on improbable shit hidden in plain sight.
How about we grab some lunch? Can I interest you in some vegan bitterballen and fried not-actually-calamari rings?
That doesn’t float your boat? How about tiny houses? How does that grab you?
Like I said, shit hidden in plain sight. Some local dude with too much time on his hands got annoyed that the houses on his street skipped several numbers, so he built these seven tiny houses and wedged them between the buildings where those numbers should go. This was really hard to find.
No? Wanna ride some bikes? Like, A LOT of bikes?
All right then: Drugs.
No really, we insist you do some drugs.
This may or may not be related to that last one, but can I interest you in a wiener?
Wanna just wander around a bit?
Tired of walking? We could borrow Ty Burrell’s ridiculous car from that one Muppet movie:
All right fine, how about a visit to the Rijksmuseum? They’ve got more symbolic swan paintings than you can shake a duck at!
Plus cannons modeled after Goofy...
Lotsa lotsa tiny ships...
Art that may or may not be watching you...
And some baller dollhouses.
Whew! I’m exhausted, let’s just chill out at the park for a bit.
In Wales, I had discovered these convenience store machines that suck in oranges and barf out absolutely delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice. In the UK, this was dispensed in bottles roughly the size of a shot glass. But for whatever reason in the Netherlands, you could use whatever size bottle you wanted. I had excitedly already paid and was out the door before I asked myself how in the hell I was going to drink two liters of orange juice before it went bad.
I retired to Amsterdam’s central park to drink myself sick on delicious orange juice and call in to a work meeting from the bucolic silence of a pondside-
Right then a dude walked by smoking a blunt and blasting hip hop on a boom box.
Whassat? Yeah I’m in the office! Why do you ask?
Just when you thought I'd written hilariously too much about The Netherlands already, I went back! I returned because after my earlier visit I had become obsessed with European theme parks, and now I was trying to visit all of them. Or at least all of the good ones, of which there were many more than I had originally dreamed.
The first park I visited upon my return to the Netherlands was Walibi Holland, which used to be a Six Flags park, and it shows. Compared to the fantastical childhood wonder of Efteling, this park was meant entirely for teenaged Mountain Dew addicts who hadn’t had the risk assessment section of their brains develop yet. I was both the only foreigner in the park and one of about three people over the age of 25.
Walibi Holland is meant to be accessed by automobile, contrary to everything I’d believed about the Netherlands up until that point. The closest bus stop is in the tiny village of Elburg on the other side of the river, which is way, way out of walking range. I’d had to get creative to make this work, eventually renting a mobile home on the Elburg waterfront that came with free use of the owner’s bicycles.
This was great. After checking myself in, I walked back into town to find some groceries on Elburg’s adorably tiny main drag. The town’s one wee little grocery shop was closed because it was after 4pm. Whoops. I made my way around the town, looking for something that smelled vegan.
Eventually I found a restaurant with some vegan options on their posted menu, and took a seat out front.
Mid-way through my meal, my very friendly waiter (thank you so much for speaking excellent English, everyone in the Netherlands) noted that I might want to move inside, because it looked like rain was on the way. I politely declined, since not eating indoors was my main method of not catching covid on this trip. He agreed this was probably wise. Then it immediately began to rain.
My waiter moved me to a little couch attached to the front of the restaurant, under a tiny awning, and I ate with my plate of food on my lap, curled into this miniscule arc of dryness.
The sun went down and the cute houses along the canal began to light up.
This worked fairly well, but eventually my meal ended, and it was still raining. Nuts. I should have brought the bike. Or at least a raincoat. It was about a mile and half back to the mobile home.
I looked at the forecast on my phone, which regretfully informed me that the rain was only going to get harder. All right, fine. I needed some exercise anyway, so I decided to run back to the mobile home park.
My favorite thing about this experience was all the people who passed by me on bikes as I was running at a good clip along the waterfront in the pouring rain. All of them, to a man and woman, cheered loudly as they passed.
Wow, that guy is dedicated to his training! He’s even running in this crazy rain! He’s like Rocky or some shit. Definitely not some dumbass who didn’t bring his raincoat on a long walk in the Netherlands.
All in all I probably could have walked since I couldn’t have gotten any more wet than “all the way wet,” but it was a fun experience all the same, and nice to discover that I can still run a mile and a half without dying.
The next morning was completely awesome, riding my borrowed bike along the waterfront and across the bridge until the path cut inland, and then I was riding across the open countryside and farm fields in the early morning light. This is fantastic. I love the Netherlands.
A passing motorist honked a friendly honk and I waved back. I’m absolutely certain I don’t know them. I must look really Dutch right now. Maybe they recognized me as that awesome running guy.
The bike path was like a very wide sidewalk, and after the previous night’s rains there were approximately 4 million black slugs attempting to cross this path. I spent the morning swerving back and forth across the path trying not to run over any slugs, like I was playing some kind of slug-themed video game.
Getting to Elburg had been extremely complicated, since covid had started to get out of control in Europe over the past month since I'd last been in The Netherlands.
I was planning on going to Poland and Germany next, but Germany was restricting entry for people who had been to certain areas of the Netherlands in the past month. Elburg and Walibi were in a safe zone, but the entire regions of North and South Holland were verboten. So I couldn’t fly into Amsterdam or even pass through that region. I ended up flying into Dusseldorf in Germany and taking a circuitous, looping train route around the Netherlands’ hot zones, threading the needle to get to Elburg.
Now I was finally here and it was all worth it! How could I miss this opportunity to put my life in the hands of a giant heartless corporation and bored teenagers working their first summer job?
So, what’s Walibi Holland like?
Well, for one, the Dutch hadn't got any better at wearing masks since I left, in spite of the fact that covid was now spreading rapidly through their country (these two things might even be related!). Efteling had done a decent job skipping rows on rides and putting foot-pump hand sanitizer dispensers and spools of disinfectant wipes everywhere. Walibi Holland was much the same, if not any better on masks. At least the Dutch were very good at following social distancing rules.
What they absolutely suck at, however, is translating any signs or other important information into English. At Efteling I had got kicked out of the line on Baron 1898 for being in the under-18-only line. I didn’t know this at the time, but back then the Netherlands was primarily managing covid by keeping adults and kids separated. This was under the assumption I guess that kids couldn’t get covid or it wasn’t a big deal if they did. So rides at Efteling had separate lines for kids and adults, and only the adult lines had social distancing going on. This was of, course, only explained on two very small signs in the park that were entirely in Dutch. I had hopped into the Single Rider line for Baron and was happily waiting away when a park employee called me out for being old as fuck. He explained all kinds of things about why I couldn’t be in that line, except for the important detail that all the Single Rider lines in the park, which still said “Single Rider” in English above them, were actually kids-only lines now. I eventually figured this out on my own.
Walibi Holland did them one better. I got in line for my first ride of the day and was immediately kicked out by a Dutch teenager with a name tag. It turned out there was some kind of app I needed to download to book time slots for each ride, sort of like a FastPass at Disneyland, except way more confusing and shitty. This took me a solid 30 minutes to figure out since you couldn’t actually book your time through the Walibi Holland app, you had to do it through the park’s Dutch-only website.
This was all to reduce the time people spent in close quarters in lines, potentially giving each other covid. As it turned out, the park had sent me an email explaining this that very morning while I was riding my bike to the park. The email was 100% in Dutch.
I had all kinds of jokes running through my head about the Netherlands not being ready for tourism yet, but truth be told, the joke was on me since as far as I could tell I actually was the only tourist in the park, everyone else seemed to be locals. The lack of other languages probably didn’t hurt this park in reality.
The general theme of Walibi Holland was impressively douchey. I honestly did not think the Dutch had this in them.
One thing I learned about theme parks on this trip is that almost all of them have the exact same music soundtrack, as if required by law. They’re all, right now, playing a loop of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You (I’m in Love with Your Body), The Chainsmokers’ Don’t Let Me Down, Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time, then Shape of You again in case you didn’t get the message the first twelve times. I had actually only heard one of these before this trip, and am so old I had to look up what the other two songs were right now to write this. But don’t worry, I have them all memorized, involuntarily.
Now that I’ve made this whole experience sound absolutely awful, let me talk about how fun it was!
Walibi is divided into a few different themed zones, the only one worth remembering being the Wilderness area, which has a post-apocalyptic theme, as if Chernobyl had an amusement park. Oh wait, it does!
I quickly realized this is a really smart theme for a theme park to have, because the more you half-ass the maintenance and upkeep, the better it looks.
The star of the Wilderness area, and the star of the park, and the main reason I had come to Walibi Holland in the first place, was Untamed.
Untamed is a wooden rollercoaster build by Rocky Mountain Construction of Idaho. They specialize in taking old, busted wooden rollercoasters that parks have given up on, and rebuilding them into awesome pants-shitting machines. They do all kinds of innovative things on their rides, like building wooden rollercoasters that go upside-down, bank perpendicular to the ground, and turn at seemingly impossible angles. They’re the current kings of the hill when it comes to roller coaster manufacturers worldwide. If you look at any online enthusiast polls of the best coasters in the US or in the world, something ridiculous like 90% of the top coasters are RMC. Pretty impressive for a small company that’s only built 18 rides to date.
After experiencing my first RMC wooden coaster in Sweden and riding it ten times in one day, I had set out to ride all three of their coasters in Europe. So here I was, ready for number two.
Untamed’s theme is that you’re riding a giant irradiated bug through this post-apocalyptic landscape. Pretty simple. The station is an overgrown greenhouse that makes a cool THWUMP THWUMP THWUMP sound that flickers the overhead lights every time the ride launches.
You climb on the bug and THWUMP THWUMP THWUMP you’re off, to be dragged up the dizzying lift hill.
Once you hit the top you AAAAAAH for about two minutes, running through RMC’s greatest hits, going upside-down five times, through a barrel roll, a zero-g stall (where the ride pauses while you’re upside-down so you can start to fall out of your seat before being whipped around and sucked back down) and something called a “double inverting 270-degree corner stall”. I became something of a roller coaster geek over the course of this trip, and I still have no idea what that means.
The dirty little secret of my first ride on Untamed was that I actually found it pretty disappointing. Oh no! I was a lot slower than Wildfire in Sweden had been and just seemed kind of meh to me. Then I rode it again at the end of the day and AAAAAAAAAH all was as it should be. This was when I learned that roller coasters do, in fact, get much faster and better as the day goes on and the track warms up.
Sadly the app queueing system meant I only got to ride Untamed twice, which would have seemed like a lot to me before this trip, but only counts as a tease once you get deep into the roller coaster game and start riding things a dozen times so you can talk about airtime and negative Gs with a bunch of 14 year olds online.
My favorite photo of the entire trip came when I was in line for Untamed the second time and a bee flew into my lens right as I was taking the picture. Pretty fitting for a ride about a giant flying bug.
The next best ride at Walibi is Goliath, a large steel coaster that gets up to 66 miles an hour and has a fun part where you swoop down to the surfacae of a small lake sideways and if you lean your head out of the car, you feel like some kind of dragonfly skimming along the top of the water hella fast.
It also has this funny box of destroyed cell phones and shattered dreams.
The most mysterious ride in the park was Xpress Platform 13. What the hell kind of name is that? Then the entrance to the ride was impossible to find. It turned out it was indoors, between the cotton candy booth and the nachos machine. I thought it was the line for the bathroom, but no, there was a rollercoaster in there.
The queue for this ride was the most unique I’d ever experienced. You wander through an abandoned London underground station after some kind of disaster has decimated the city. You can hear garbled announcements over the loudspeakers and see choppy bits of news on televisions that are strewn about. Clearly whatever is going on, things aren’t going well.
And then you’re down into the subway tunnels, which are dark as hell. And this goes on FOREVER. I kept asking myself “Wait…. Is this the ride? Is there a ride at the end of this or is this the ride?”
The effect was aided by the fact that I had no idea what this ride was even supposed to be, if it was a roller coaster or a haunted house or what. The tunnels were so dark I had to feel my way along the wall in parts to find the other end. Then I turned a corner and a subway car was bearing down on me, blinding headlights and horn blaring! Ahhh! After ducking back around the corner I realized the car wasn't actually moving and I had to cross the tracks in front of this blaring train to continue on.
Jesus. Is this the ride?
After what felt like ten minutes I finally got to the end of the queue, where doors opened and oh neat, there’s an actual ride at the end!
I sad down in the car, buckled up, and waited as a lot of loud hullabaloo happened all around me, amping us up for the WAAAAAA suddenly we were pinned back into our seats as were off like a shot down a tunnel of disorienting pulsing lights and, completely unexpectedly, birthed out into the daylight for some loop the loop roller coaster stuff.
The actual coaster couldn't quite live up to the queue experience, but that was okay. I later learned that this ride is exactly the same as the Aerosmith Rock ‘n Rollercoaster at Disney World, just outdoors and without the theming. I guess they ran out of theming money after they made the queue ridiculously bananas. But it was interesting to see how much the theming at Disney can make a coaster more fun. Anyway though, greatest ride queue ever.
The park’s other big ride was Lost Gravity, a Mack Rides Big Dipper coaster that had some fun upside-down shit strewn around the ride and a very trippy queue.
Speed of Sound is a Vekoma Boomerang coaster, where you race through a few loops and a roll before stopping suddenly and then flying through the whole thing again backwards. This is a very common ride type present at many parks, but this particular one was elevated by a really bumping EDM soundtrack inside the cars that made it a lot of fun.
My favorite non-coaster ride at the park was Merlin’s Magic Castle. I had no idea what this was going to be as I waited in a line that wrapped around the graffiti-covered castle near the water in the Chernobyl area.
Inside, we were seated on benches with lap bars and treated to a show where Merlin’s animatronic pet owl appears and Merlin attempts to teach him to levitate the room. I assume, anyway, it was all in Dutch but context is everything. As the owl fumbled his way through the spell, the actual room began to rock back and forth, and then the floor and ceiling spun around us again and again, floor and ceiling trading places as the seating area tilted back and forth, creating the illusion and sensation that we were upside down and the whole room was rolling over and over.
As I traveled around Europe and visited more parks, I quickly realized that every park has this ride, which is called a Vekoma Madhouse. They’re just themed differently. But this was my favorite of all of them.
My favorite thing about the ride was that once the owl started talking, my brain immediately went “Bulllllllllshit, owls can't speak Dutch!” This still cracks me up. Somehow it’s more believable when animals are speaking English, you know? I mean, I can’t even speak Dutch. What is this, some kind of genius owl?
The only thing I didn’t ride in the park was Skydiver, a big cable doodad that towed you up a tower soaring over the park and then let your ass go, swinging through the air like a wrecking ball. This looked fun but was expensive and took forever to get suited up for, so I had to choose between this and a second spin on Untamed, which I'm glad I rode again.
Eventually the Mountain Dew ran out and it was time for everybody to go home. Ah. Thanks Walibi Holland. Getting to see the douchey side of the Netherlands was well worth the price of admission.
On the bike ride back to Elburg, I rolled along the bike path and laughed out loud when I realized the same slugs from that morning were still making their way across the path. They’d each made it about six feet during the ten hours or so I’d been in the park. Stay cool, slugs. Don’t let anybody get you do-OH GOD SWERVE SWERVE SWERVE.
I was up crazy early the next morning to begin my journey across the country to Toverland, a magic-focused theme park in the southeast of the Netherlands. Pack on my back, I walked through the dark and rain-slicked streets of Elburg, on my way to catch the very first bus of the morning.
It was actually quite lovely to have the village to myself, my only company the one dedicated cyclist who glided by and shot me a “Hallo!” as he passed.
Interactions with bus drivers in the Netherlands are a friendly affair, assuming you’ve actually managed to pay for your ride.
“Goedemorgen!” the driver greeted me warmly as I climbed on the bus in the dark, from the back door, as covid dictated. I Goedemorgened her right back, and watched this ritual repeat each time we stopped to pick up someone else. “Danke je!” I thanked her when I climbed off the bus in Nunspeet. “Fijne dag!” she replied, wishing that I might have a good day myself.
After a long wait on the dark platform with two other lost souls who were also at the train station at 5am for some reason, the train pulled up. All right, off to Utrecht!
Wait, why does this train say “Putten”? What the fuck’s a Putten?
It was clearly the right train, as Nunspeet is not exactly a bustling metropolis with a ton of different trains coming through, so I climbed on and sat down. Hmm. Maybe Putten is the stop after Utrecht? None of the screens seemed to agree with this theory.
About a half an hour later, the train stopped. Like, really stopped. Uh-oh. This was supposed to be a much longer journey than that. The loudspeakers “wak wak wak”ed a bunch of Dutch I didn’t understand. Everyone got off and the lights turned down low. Uh-oh. I’m pretty sure this isn’t Utrecht.
I followed the other passengers as they swiped their chipkaarts at the station’s gates, ending their train journey. Hmmm. I nervously swiped my chipkaart, having effed this up so many times already that I was constantly being charged extra for not being Dutch. I followed them across the street, where they congregated around a little chipkaart terminal by the side of the road that looked like it had just fallen off a truck and happened to land there. Everyone waited. Oh Christ, what is going on?
I scanned the faces of the crowd and picked a nice-looking couple.
“Excuse me, sorry to bother you, but do you know why the train stopped here or what we’re doing?”
The woman from the couple looked at me with big saucer eyes of complete incomprehension. Her partner stared at the sidewalk. Uhm, hallo?
No “Ik spreek geen engels,” no nothing. Huh. I mean, it was clear now they didn’t speak English and seemed to be German rather than Dutch, but I found the utter silence to be funny. Okay then!
I ran my eyes over the crowd again and noticed one of the lost souls who had been on the platform with me in Nunspeet. This will have to do as far as us having a bond of solidarity. He was smoking and had a lot of tattoos as I asked him the same question.
“Oh yeah man, the train track is out, so they’re putting us on a bus to get around the outage.”
Ahh, thanks Dutch tattoo guy.
A bus did come and we packed it preposterously full, against all known covid regulations. Ten minutes later we came to a stop and people started to disembark, so I followed them.
Well okay then. I have no idea where I am. Then I looked back and realized only a dozen people had got off the bus. This probably isn’t it! I ran back and climbed on the bus again. I’m riding this thing until everybody gets off.
That was the next stop. A train station. Okay then! Now we’re back in business.
All the trains to Utrecht were cancelled. Track was out. Dammit.
I walked back to the bus driver and asked how I could get to Utrecht. He suggested taking the train. He didn’t believe me that they all were cancelled. A young woman overheard this conversation and ran over, typing furiously on her phone.
“I can help! You need to catch the train in Amersfoort!”
“*type type type* You need bus sodinfoaisdnfa;o.”
She was clearly spelling out the bus line for me but they say all the letters and numbers differently in Dutch. I had no idea what she was saying.
She looked around, frustrated.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “THAT BUS!” She pointed frantically at a bus up the block that was beginning to pull away.
I had no time to figure out if I trusted her or what the hell was going on so I sprinted after the bus and they Dutchly let me on.
Okay. How do I know when to get off the bus? These people must mainly be going to the train station, I’ll just get off when they do.
We motored through the countryside and eventually I saw something out the window that said Amersfoort. Cool, we must be close. I pulled up Google Maps on my phone and tried to search for where the train station was. Suddenly the bus stopped and most of the passengers climbed off. Oh shit, this must be it! I stuffed my phone in my pocket and jumped off the bus.
Standing on the sidewalk, I looked around. Huh. No train station. The bus pulled away. My Google Maps search finally popped up to tell me the train station was on the opposite end of Amersfoort. Walking time: 1 hour 20 minutes. It began to rain.
Okay then! I’m getting the cheap tour of Amersfoort, whatever the hell that is. I walked along in the rain as a parade of Dutch children cycled by. What a different place to grow up. I wonder what their lives will be like?
Oh hey! That must be the Amers… Fort?
Doot de doo… hey, nice bike!
Eventually I made it to the station, and off to the promised land of Utrecht, and then to world-famous Horst, and then legendary Sevenum, and from there a short walk in the rain to Toverland.
Ah, Toverland. That’s “Wizardland” to you and me. Let’s go.
Toverland was utterly empty, because it was raining. This was kind of fun because the employees were happy to strike up a conversation everywhere I went. I stuffed my bag in a locker and set out to explore the park.
My first stop was Troy, one of two world-class rides in the park that I was here to X off my list. Troy is a huge wooden roller coaster themed after the Trojan War, or at least the big wooden horse part. The only thing I knew beyond that was that it blew down when they were building it.
Without any line, the ride was a walk-on and it was just me and some Dutch kids on the train, who kept looking back at me like I was a narc. We thundered through Troy’s rattly drops and turns in Dutch glee. This is fu-OW OW OW OW. The rain began to fall, which is like getting shot in the face with a BB gun when you’re going 60 miles an hour with no windshield on a rollercoaster. I squinted my eyes as the smeary, wet world blurred by me.
Well, that was fun! Sort of. Oh hey, this park has an indoor area too. Time to check that out.
I passed some kind of closed food truck and a slug that couldn’t see what everyone was complaining about, this weather is fantastic.
Toverland had a cavernous indoor area full of restaurants and kiddie rides. Ohhhh so this is where everybody is. Wow, there are a lot of kids here. Shit.
Just like there are many things women deal with that men will never understand, I’ve generally found my female friends to be oblivious to how much it sucks to be a single guy around kids in this era of pedophile hysteria. I get it, the thought of something happening to your kids is completely terrifying, but a lot of people let this fear justify treating every unmarried guy like they’re a monster just waiting to be unmasked. The same people who would recoil at the sight of racial bias or overt sexism feel completely comfortable putting single guys in the impossible box of “guilty until proven innocent,” regarding something where proving your innocence is impossible. I like kids, but I give them a wiiiiiiiide berth in public because it’s just a lot simpler that way. This is a bit more challenging when you’re a single guy who loves theme parks.
Oh well, just play it cool, at least I’m not a foreigner from a country that’s not even supposed to be here- Oh goddammit.
The indoor area had darkly-lit fantasy passage that took you into a hidden world of fiberglass mushrooms and other fun stuff.
One of the cavernous rooms had a bunch of witches hanging from the ceiling, either as a half-assed early Halloween decoration or just a warning to witches everywhere.
The most interesting-looking ride inside was something called Expedition Zork, which was a log ride that featured an absolutely massive Yoda that I was pretty sure wasn’t supposed to actually be Yoda, or at least wasn’t licensed to be.I climbed into a log and was dragged up the jittering lift hill like a meatloaf on a supermarket checkout belt.
Halfway up the belt, an unexpected turntable swiveled my log around backwards, and I went down the first drop of the ride in reverse. Fun!
The ride culminated in a dark tunnel that led to a big outdoor drop. Wait, weren’t we hanging out inside in the first place to stay dryAAAAHSPLAAAASH!
Time to hit the Family Dryer, a paradise for wet families everywhere.
The other indoor ride that looked fun was something called Maximus’ Blitz Bahn. This started out with a queue that made its way through a little Swiss chalet packed with really fun decorations and animatronics.
A safety video looping on old televisions in the line warned you not to wear a hat or scarf on the ride, to avoid certain death. You were told this by a character who was wearing both a hat AND a scarf. Huh.
The ride itself involved boarding little powered bobsleds.
These rolled through a metal chute and you had a brake lever to control your speed. What happens if you just push it all the way downAAAAAAH I took off surprisingly fast and screamed down the bobsled run and through a dark tunnel of flashing blue lights and arcing electricity.
Everyone I’d watched riding this thing had kids with them and were truckin’ along at a leisurely pace, I had no idea these things could go so fast! I swooped through curves and tunnels in the covered outdoor run, the jankiness of the vibrating sled adding to the thrill. Man, I’m hauling balls!
Suddenly I shot through a barn. Inside, animatronic chickens clucked wildly and jumped up in the air, startled by my sudden arrival and just as sudden departure out the other side. Ha! That was awesome.
As I slalomed through more outdoor track I began to worry I was going to ram into the people who had left right before me, since they were going much slower. Surely the ride must control for that, right? Space out the launches so you can’t- I zoomed back into the building and the ride HERKKKKKed to a halt. Oh, okay. Cool. Didn’t kill anybody.
Back outside, it had stopped raining and I got to ride Troy twice more. It was a lot more fun when you weren’t getting shotgunned in the face the entire time.
I wandered into the line for something called Dwervelwind, which had a kind of wooded and enchanted queue area. This is Dutch for… vertebra… no, Whirlwind! Okay.
After winding through a landscape of plants and bounders, and past a mist-covered pond, we approached the station.
The station was a cute overgrown elf house, where we boarded the round little cars and were off.
I knew this was going to be a kiddie ride, so my expectations were low, but it ended up being maybe the best kiddie coaster I’ve ever been on. Wow, this starts out pretty high up for a kids’ ride-WHOOSH. Our car spun continuously and unpredictably as we zoomed around the track, dipping and swerving and tilting perpendicular to the ground. You never knew which direction you were going to be facing and which drops you’d go down backwards or sideways, as fantasy theme music pumped from the car’s speakers. It was a really fun, disorienting blur.
Man, I’m hungry. What do they eat at theme parks in the Netherlands? Potatoes that have had a terrible accident? Okay.
I am, of course, saving the best for last. And by far the best thing at Toverland was Fēnix.
I knew this going in, as Fēnix was rated as one of the best coasters in Europe, which is what had put Toverland on my list in the first place. Even better, Fēnix was a wing coaster, one of my favorite types of rides. On a wing coaster, rather than sitting above or below the tracks, you’re suspended out on either side of the track with your feet dangling free and nothing above or below you. This provides a great sensation of flying.
The theme of Fēnix is that in the era of Avalon, you’re riding a fiery phoenix as it escapes from an evil Ice Dragon. The queue is a huge castle full of dark corridors you snake through for an improbably long time.
Deep within the bowels of the castle, a holographic Merlin (my god, a wizard at Wizardland!) implores you to choose the right path. I actually can’t remember if this part was in English or if I was just starting to understand Dutch better at this point. The corridor you choose determines which side of the wing coaster you’ll be sitting on, which makes a pretty big difference in the ride experience.
The line takes you up and down some shockingly narrow and perilous stairwells. This would never, ever fly in the United States, there would be a park-ruining lawsuit on the very first day. I very nearly fell down the stairs several times and I can’t be the biggest oaf out there. A part of me admired this, though. How quirky.
Finally you reach the boarding area, which, like the queue, was nearly deserted. I never waited more than a few seconds to get on the ride.
Securely bracketed in, you’re whisked forward and around a corner in the dark, to where a giant white ice dragon is busting through the wall and barfing dry ice smoke ominously into the room. You swoop through the smoke, below the dragon’s clutches and climb up, up, up the lift hill.
At the top of the hill you slowly turn to the right, seemingly the entire Netherlands spanning out all around you in every direction and the park straight down there, way beneath your feet. Then the coaster suddenly turns into a twisting dive straight down. If you’re on the right side, this is a turn and drop, but on the left you’re hoisted even higher into the air and then flung straight down. Left side, all day long.
After an airtime hill and a swoop down beneath a bridge, you bank into a tall, twisting loop and race down to ground level. This is where the right side gets to shine, as you’re the side that’s seemingly inches from the ground as you bank along the surface of a small pond and get to lean your head out for even more of a speed effect, the water blurring by. Another twisting loop drops you beneath another bridge, then you whip back and forth through a series of switchbacks before gracefully arcing back into the station.
It’s a relatively short ride… but wow wow wow! The sensation of flight was breathtaking. The things that coaster enthusiasts generally look for in a ride are of course speed, airtime (when you lift up out of your seat and float weightless at the top of a hill) and G forces. Fēnix was more focused on graceful swooping than pure speed, but the G forces were world class. As rides evolve these days, they are beginning to max out what the human body can handle.
One of the effects of particularly strong G forces on a ride is something called “greying out.” This is when the force of the ride is so intense that it shoves all the blood in your body down into your feet, leaving little in your head and causing you to momentarily lose consciousness. This feels sort of like suddenly going to sleep, things get fuzzy and you can’t remember a few moments of the ride. A more extreme version of this is blacking out, where people don’t come to until the end of the ride. Coaster enthusiasts have learned tricks from Air Force pilots to keep from greying or blacking out on a ride, like clenching your abs and glutes during the big drops to keep the blood in your head.
Fēnix had a couple of these grey-out moments during the fast, swooping movements, but for me it stayed right on that perfect borderline between “This is so intense it’s fun!” and “OK this thing is just beating the shit out of me.”
The only bad thing about the ride was that they were making people go through the line again every time even though there was hardly anyone there. This was a long process with all the tunnels and steep stairwells. But this was fun in its own right, racing through the dark tunnels with the other riders to get the best seats for the next run.
I quickly discovered that the left front outside seat was where it was at. You wanted the front no matter what since then you couldn’t see the ride car at all and weren’t looking at the back of anyone’s head, it was just you out flying around. You wanted the outside seat since everything was more intense there and you were closer to the ground on the swoops down. And the left side gave you that killer first drop.
I’d first rode Fēnix in the morning right after the rain had stopped, and I got into a routine of riding it five or six times, then taking a break to go ride other things while my body recovered from the intensity of the flight, then going back for more. In the late afternoon, the park thinned out and there was truly no one in line for Fēnix any more, so they started letting us stay on the ride if there was nobody waiting when we got back into the station. I got the front-left spot and ended up staying on the ride continually until the park closed, I lost count a bit, what with all the zooming and blood sloshing and whatnot, but at best guess I rode Fēnix 25 times overall. It was an awesome day.
Just to illustrate how weird and contradictory covid regulations were from country to country in Europe on my trip, I actually got yelled at by park employees while I was on Fēnix for wearing a mask. Every other country was either leaving you alone or yelling at you if you weren’t wearing one, but the Netherlands wasn’t having none of that mask nonsense. This happened again in Finland, go figure.
The park closed for the day while I was looping Fēnix, so once the ride shut down it was quickly time to go home. Or in my case, on to the next place. I bused and trained my way to the city of Eindhoven, where I had a flight to Poland booked for the next day. Eindhoven was nice but not that interesting to write about, though I did get to eat an absolutely incredible stack of pancakes…
And shop at Sissy Boy…
So you can’t really complain about that, can you? Goodbye, Netherlands, it’s been echt.