Saturday, March 16, 2019

Europe 2018 - Part 2: Underneath The Lovely London Sky

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them. They will still be in the same tab and you can easily click out of them to continue reading the report!

Welcome back to the Europe trip, for the large London update!

London is my favorite city I've ever been to. I can't think of any time I was disappointed with the city throughout all four days I was there. There's just so much vibrant culture, sightseeing, tourist attractions, shows, wonderful people, memories being made at every corner, history, hot young women... yeah you get it. (forget I said that last part =) )

Day 1 - The arrival and introductions

Right after we arrived, we, of course, took a nice train ride from Gatwick to London Victoria Station (in case you didn't know, Gatwick Airport is about 30 miles south of the actual city) and the train ride was a nice little teaser to see how beautiful the country is, even if it was all farmlands and small neighborhoods. Once we were passing by some small buildings, and the man on the intercom said, "Now entering London Victoria Station," I knew it was time for the real treat.

Side note - Google Maps really helped me with making this trip report. For those of you who don't know, if you leave your location on 24/7 (like I do), there is a setting in Google Maps on the triple-bar menu that says 'Your timeline' and it keeps track of your history at every place you've visited.

Once we got into the station, we immediately grabbed a quick snack at a Burger King in the station. While I generally don't eat there, I came to figure out that food in Europe is far more well done than in America. So I actually liked the Burger King meal for once. Soon enough, we were back on the train to Battersea Park.

When we were in London, we stayed at a lovely little flat in the neighborhood Battersea Park. As an enthusiast, this park is legendary for what in my opinion is the worst coaster accident in history - the Big Dipper crash. Back in 1972, Battersea Park had a classic wooden coaster called the Big Dipper, and the chain lift failed, causing the train to crash backwards into another train in the station. I believe this is the only coaster crash in history to have more than 1 casualty. I didn't really go into Battersea Park at all, but I had that in mind. The flat was incredibly nice. It had just enough rooms for us to live in and we never felt cramped even though it was small, and some small things like the internet connection and a widescreen TV were nice.

Because of the time change, it was only about 2:00 PM once we all finally got settled, so since we had so much daylight to burn, we took our first glances at London at our own pace for our first ever European sightseeing tour.

We walked back to the Battersea Station and took it back to Victoria (the third train ride of the day!) and got out into the city, before buying a London Bus Pass. First ever ride in a Double Decker Bus! =)

So 5 hours were spent walking and riding around London at our own pace. We mostly used it to sightsee and take in the city, but there was the occasional culture stop, such as St. Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. The former has been used in many movies and it an icon on so many different levels, and it was a beautiful piece of England that's still here many centuries later.

You might be asking why I don't have any photos from this day, but that's because of jetlag. I was so damn tired this entire time, and during some of our last bus rides, I almost passed out. I think I actually did towards the end, but was awoken by my family once we arrived in Cardinal Place for dinner. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was a busy sit-down place with some good, fancy food. Finally, we took the train back to Battersea Station and relaxed the rest of that evening.

Day 2 - Tower of London, more delicious food and sightseeing, and a royal ritual

Get ready, everyone, here you'll finally find some photos!

Because of staying awake for about 38 hours on end (from waking up the day of the flight through the time change and a full day in London) wasn't what I was hoping, I hit the hay early the last night and was able to sleep in due to our itinerary.

But the first stop was possibly my favorite in the whole city, the Tower of London.

Look at it's beauty!

It was a quick 20 minute journey from the flat after a nice breakfast that we packed with us from home (Cracklin' Oat Bran just screams European vacation, right?) and we got a chance to enjoy the nice London skyline for our walk over before we came upon the first historic attraction of the trip; the Tower of London.

The main portion of this part of the trip was the tour, with the great guide, Barney the Beefeater. He was informative as we walked around the grounds and got up close and personal with some ancient artifacts, and managed to pack in lots of good jokes and humor along the way. We even got a religious experience inside the tower's church!

Here he is, complete with his costume!

As amazing as the whole thing was, it was pretty crowded, especially for a Thursday.

I'm sorry I don't have more photos, but I was just so enamored in everything that happened, it didn't cross my mind.

It was an amazing tour and enthusiast or not, I recommend anyone with a pulse to visit when they're in London.

After that, I took some cool photos as we waited for our lunch to be made.

Ah, the Tower Bridge. Who can forget that?

There was a nice little mini-beach here but unfortunately we couldn't find any ways to access it.

Tower Bridge with more of London's skyline

Lastly, here is the whole thing in all it's glory!

A little note on London's food - I said earlier it's incredibly well done, and here's the case in point. Simple fish sticks, from a not super well known restaurant, was served completely fresh and warm without question, and it was prepared faster than most fast food joints here in America!

After lunch, we spent the rest of the day wandering and exploring London at our own pace.

This is Leadenhall Market - one of the biggest shopping centers in London and was even used for Diagon Alley in the first movie, The Philosopher/Sorcerer's Stone!

Speaking of Harry Potter, because my entire family is a huge fan of the whole franchise, we had to find some of the locations used in the movies.

Speaking more of Harry Potter, Part 3 of the Europe Trip Report will be the Warner Bros. Studio Tour - Harry Potter movie artifacts to your heart's content!

Which exact buildings from Gringotts were inspired by these escapes my memory at this time, but I'm sure the internet has a list somewhere. This one looks a little like Ollivanders, doesn't it?

A little bit more walking brought us to the second stop of the Peterson family tour - St. Dunstan East Church Garden! This isn't something from Harry Potter, but the church was bombed a LOT in World War II, so it was a historical attraction for us.

I know this isn't a Harry Potter stop as I said, but this looks a little like the brick wall that is an entrance to Diagon Alley in the movies, doesn't it?

The whole church was beautiful, and the area in the middle has loads of greenery and benches that has been added since the war. Even though it's very sad that a church was destroyed like this, the ruins are a relaxing place to just take a nap, or have a long chat with a friend.

Although you can't see it in the photo, the piece of metal in the middle is a memorial to the city of London in the war.

A five-minute walk east brought us to the third destination - Tower Hill! Namesake from the London Bridge, of course.

The whole location dates back to the 600s AD and has undergone the survival of many parts of the city's history, including several executions on the spot. While nothing too special or the most memorable moment of the trip for me, it was a nice little place.

Tower Hill is home to an Underground station as well, so we took the subway (we took the subway a LOT for transportation this entire trip - London public transportation is several times better than that of America) for a nice 15 minute ride over to Westminster Station, and got off for a short rock to our fourth destination of the day - a Royal Guard ceremony!

It was really cool. We got to watch all the rituals of the Queen's guards and their horses who were unexpectedly hilarious; they went to all the right positions, but they all acted bored and did a lot of random things in place, like moving their head all around, clopping their hooves in place, it was memorable enough to watch the guard do their thing, but I didn't expect humor!

Follow the leader, the leader, the leader...

As he was walking around, he gave a little speech about something which escapes my mind at this time.

Then at this point, he started to call out the rest of his lads.

The local cops always show up... just in case. Nice to be in a country that knows how to use their assault weapons for good reasons. =(

Oop, here they come!

Check out this video I shot of the whole ceremony, including cheeky horses =) (the rest of the guards come in at 4:52)

Mini rant - the crowd control for these ceremonies isn't the best. These children just randomly appeared in front of me, and neither their parents or anyone else seemed to care. So be sure to know where to watch if you do this. This is also why my video stopped abruptly.

After the Guards, we were planning on making the Churchill War Rooms the fifth destination of the day, but as you can see here, the lines were spilling out of the entrance (even in London this happens) and they weren't selling Priority Passes because it was late enough in the day =( (we were planning to go at about 4:00 PM, but another note - a lot of attractions in England everywhere like to close early, and most don't usually stay open past 6:00 PM)

After that, we just went back to our flat, so we walked to St. James Station and took a quick train back to Victoria Station (this is the main station hub of the area our flat was in, Battersea Park, so we got to know it very well)

As we switched trains at Victoria, we came across this band that was just performing in the middle of the station. Being a longtime Trumpet player and in band for almost 4 years, I love seeing street performers like this.

Back at the flat, eating our dinner that we picked up at Victoria (can't remember what it was) we brainstormed what we could do with our evening. Earlier in the day, my sister picked up some fliers as we were walking around the city, we chose to head back in the city for one of London's favorite evening attractions, the Ghost Bus Tour.

I know this is a pretty bad photo, but you can kind of see the curtains in the bus, and to fit the theme, the whole thing was painted black (interior and exterior), and while I didn't get any more photos on the tour because they wouldn't be very high quality, I can say that all the stories they told of death around every corner we turned were both informative and some wild to the point of being humorous. Also one of the tour "assistants" played the part of being possessed at a certain point and it did kinda scare me. It was all very well done, however, recommended if you have time to burn in the evening.

Seems a bit funny that they would name a street after a chicken, or... you know, never mind. =)

I'll end this update with a bit of European art =)

Thanks for reading the first big update! It took way too long (3 months) to finally complete but I'll be sure to get more updates (as many as possible!) from the 2018 coaster season done before the 2019 coaster season begins for me.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Europe 2018 - Part 1: Traveling to London

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them. They will still be in the same tab and you can easily click out of them to continue reading the report!

Never for the longest time I thought I'd get to Europe until I was an adult. I grew up looking at maps and the world and watched lots of movies that took place there. That all changed in 2016, during a trip to a family reunion where it was announced that my direct family and a few other relatives would be venturing to Europe in 2018.

It was a trip two years in the making. Several locations were thrown out there for where in Europe we would go, but the only thing that was for sure was that we'd be going to Germany. The other countries we were thinking about going to were Italy, Poland, England, and the Netherlands. During 2017, it was decided we were going to England, and the planning commenced.

We only visited three parks on this trip; Alton Towers, Holiday Park, and Tripsdrill. As much as I would have loved to visit other parks in the area, like Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures (which was actually in the works but cancelled due to time) in the UK, and Phantasialand, Hansa Park, and, of course, Europa Park in Germany (Europa was also in the works but cancelled due to how far it was away from where we were staying). But there's always another time to go back to Europe. We might be going to France even within the next few years, but if not that, then the next possible Europe year would be 2022.

Enough about the future though, let's get back to this trip. It all began on Tuesday, June 19. The last couple days had been extremely relaxed, and at 5:45 PM, our driver from the airport picked us up and took us to O'Hare. While waiting for our plane to arrive, I took a few photos. So here are the first photos of the trip!

Ah, gate M15, traveling to London-Gatwick. Notice the heavy clouds too. There was a threat of intense rain all day, but luckily stopped well before we took off.

Here it is... the Norwegian Airlines plane in all it's glory! (note the quality of these photos aren't too high because I was trying to avoid getting stares of people around me)

And we've boarded! It took us a little while to take off, but it was nice to enjoy a little bit of Chicago evening while we were waiting.

This photo was taken right as we left the gate (notice how much darker it is out!) Also I apologize about my reflection in the window. As you can tell, this was taken with my phone which doesn't have nearly as high of quality as my camera.

It was a smooth night. It was great being able to see Canada for the first time, and I actually saw some of the lights of Montreal from up high! (I didn't see La Ronde, obviously but that would have been really cool)

Also, Norwegian Airlines has some incredible service. Free blankets, ear plugs, and pillows, as well as reclining seats, a built-in TV with USB and outlet charging, and mood lightning in the windows. Not to mention the TV had a very wide variety of movies and TV to choose from. I remember watching The Mask (1994 with Jim Carrey) and Die Hard in terms of movies, and Young Sheldon and Modern Family in terms of TV shows.

Once we passed over the Nova Scotia, I fell asleep, and it lasted for a few hours until the plane adjusted time zones, and it was time to wake up to some excellent Norwegian Airlines hospitality.

The next morning I woke up to this. Hearty British breakfast and Family Guy!

Here's a better look at the breakfast. Assorted fruit selection, biscuit, cheeses and meats, and a hard-boiled egg! Thanks Norwegian!

I'd be okay with waking up to this every morning, how about you?

This photo is completely raw. I don't even know how to caption it, it gives such a perspective on this big chunk of the earth's surface and the atmosphere!!

Land ho!

Welcome to Ireland, laddies!

Flight Attendant 1: "Please take in these views of all the quaint villages, we will only be flying over Ireland for a short time. Thank you."
To his attendant friend: "Americans have such an interesting way of speaking."
The attendants were all British, which I thought was great. Maybe Norwegian Airlines is trying to get us all prepared for the new (and superior) world ahead of us. =)

The clouds here literally look like white splatters on a blue canvas...

...and with that we arrived in London.

Check back soon for the second part - London culture! I'll be filling all 4 days we spent in London itself into one big update!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Little Amerricka and Santa's Village AZoosment Park Trip Report - June 16, 2018

This is going to be a bit of a different trip report. Rather than one giant day at a park, like the COASTERMANIA! trip reports, this is from a credit whoring day. We had our sights set on Little Amerricka in Marshall, Wisconsin and Santa's Village AZoosment Park in Dundee, Illinois. So did we get every credit and have a good time? Go ahead and read how it all went!

All right. Time for a coaster day trip, this time into Wisconsin!

Quick note to anyone planning a visit to Little Amerricka - beware of deer everywhere. Seriously; on the entire drive up from the exit off of I-90 to Little Amerricka itself, there were a LOT of deer crossing the road, running along the road, etc. etc, there are just a ton of them. So drive with caution.

All right. We're officially in Marshall. It looks like a nice little quaint town at first, until... come across this super sketchy contraption known at the Chance Toboggan. Yup, it's time for Little Amerricka!

Once we purchased our tickets, it was time to pick up some credits, and the first one we hit up was the extremely rare Allan Herschell Mad Mouse!

The reason I say it's extremely rare is because there is only one other Herschell Mad Mouse left in operation, and it's at Joyland Amusement Park in Lubbock, Texas.

On a side note, I think these are the coolest cars. They look so classy, have no restraints at all, and are surprisingly comfortable!

Here I am next to this vintage ride.

Mad Mouse actually started it's life out at Seven Peaks Water Park Duneland (one hell of a long name for a park!) in Porter, Indiana from the 1960s until 1990 when the park went into bankruptcy.

Luckily, out of the ashes, Lee Merrick was planning his brand new amusement park, Little A-Merrick-A (now shortened to just Amerricka), and he needed some roller coasters. And by sheer fate, both the Mad Mouse and the Chance Toboggan were waiting to be relocated, and they became the two big coasters of the new park.

By the way, there's my dad on Mad Mouse. Being so old school, it doesn't feel as stable as most other coasters in existence (except for maybe the Chinese knockoffs), so he doesn't look too sure it'll hold him. Bottom line, he made it out alive.

Right before the final brake run, Mad Mouse has this tiny, unassuming hill that looks kinda dumb at first, but when you ride it, it's brutally rough but with crazy airtime. It's the real 'OMG moment' of this classic steel coaster.

It seems the wide opinion on Mad Mouse is that it's a little sketchy, as shown by these two girls' nervous expressions. Despite the thrill factor in all of it, I really loved Mad Mouse. It's probably my favorite Wild Mouse coaster I've ever ridden, if not it's up there.

See what I mean? =)

Here's a little geek shot for all you die-hard coaster enthusiasts out there.

The large tree behind Mad Mouse created a great backdrop for photos. I especially appreciated it as a photographer!

Here's one last long view of this fun ride before moving on to the second coaster of the day...

...the Meteor, the park's woodie right across from Mad Mouse!

Here's a photo dedicated to my friend Adam Karas - several buzz bar restraints!

Don't these restraints just scream "classy" to you? A simple single-position buzz bar, lots of cushioning, no seat belt, this might as well be Phoenix at Knoebels in training! But there's another reason for this, and we'll get to that real soon.

Here's one last view of the entire empty train before moving on. All you classic wooden coaster fans, rejoice!

I didn't actually take very many photos of the Meteor, something I definitely regret, but I'll just keep it simple here.

Meteor is a great classic family woodie. It has a lot of small dips and with the comfy open trains, a surprising amount of floater airtime (Phoenix in training!), and I just had a ball riding it. It was definitely my favorite coaster in the park, and I wish there were more of these small PTC family woodies around.

Wait, why would two grown adults want to enter the kiddie section?

Because we're coaster enthusiasts and credit whores, of course! =)

Even though we didn't really check out the kiddie section for obvious reasons, it looked to have a lot of cute rides for the little ones, and I'm always a big fan of seeing parks invest in rides for the whole family.

It's time for some classic Allan Herschell fun!

Little Amerricka can be a scary park with some sketchy rides and a cemetery on the other side of the kiddie coaster (see the photo above), but don't worry. It's safe!

The adorable Little Dipper was purchased from an unknown third party in Missouri in very poor condition, so owner Lee Merrick gave it the Merrick charm and completely refurbished it. And they've done a great job because it's a fun little kiddie coaster with a bit of airtime over the hills and has vibrant paint.

Uh oh... THIS is the fourth credit?

Yep. The last permanent Chance Toboggan last in existence. Over 25 of these rides were constructed by Chance Rides, and this is the last one operating at a park. There is one traveling with the Skerbeck Brothers Show of Michigan.

The Chance Toboggan is considered one of the worst coasters in existence. It ranked as the third worst steel coaster in the 2013 Mitch Hawker Poll. So when I pulled down the car on top of me for the first time, I braced myself and was very happy to find tons of padding everywhere in the car.

You won't believe this... I liked the ride. Maybe it was the padding, maybe it's because Little Amerricka is a great little park and knows how to maintain their rides, but the vertical lift hill, hundreds-of-degrees helix and final dips were all smooth if a little awkward, and I was able to enjoy the unassumingly intense ride.

Here I am trying to figure out how to enter the bizarre trains.

This is the "help me" face.

I'm supposed to trust this, RIGHT?

In the end, despite it's reputation, I did seriously have fun on it and I think it's an underrated coaster.

Goodbye Little Amerricka. Hopefully we'll see you again soon! But first, it's time for some more credit whoring to finish out the day.

Ah... back into our home state...

... for the only decent sized park in Illinois I had not yet visited! Santa's Village!

Santa's Village actually has a very long history, starting back when the park opened back in 1959. They've been a small park with lots of family rides ever since then, and a lot of thrilling coasters too, including the infamous Typhoon which now operates as Rainier Rush at Washington State Fair. They spent a few years closed, from 2006-2010, and have been operating since then. Since my name is Illinois Coasters, let's get onto the coasters of the park, starting with...

...the Wacky Worm!

Here you can see both coasters of the park... Wacky Worm in the foreground, and the newest, opening in 2017, Super Cyclone, in the background!

After adding another shameful coaster to our count, it was time to check out my first every Galaxi / Zyklon type ride.

The "theme" of Super Cyclone is rather bizarre. I like the way the orange track and gray supports stand out, but with the 60s design of the station and cars, I'm not 100% sure how it all fits.

Ugh... OTSRs on a Pinfari coaster. =(

I can hear the coaster boys already yelling at me that this ride was made by Interpark, not Pinfari. But after Pinfari went defunct, Interpark rose out of the ashes, so I'd say I'm close enough on my facts.

And yeah, technically they're more vests than a restraint, but I'd still rather have lap bars. Anyhow, enough complaining. Onto the ride!

Yeah, I'm not a fan of the bright yellow flowery cars on sharp orange track.

So my first ride on it was... interesting. I rode with my dad in the second to back row, and it wasn't the most comfortable ride ever, with the OTSRs and some heavy braking. But we came back, and hoped that it would improve maybe in some other rows.

Here goes Super Cyclone through another slow turn.

All my local Illinois friends continuously rave about Xtreme Elevation, the supposedly powerful Larson Drop Tower. So, of course, I took it for a ride!

"Patience, please... your drop and genital pain will come momentarily!"

So far, so good...

Jeez, how long does it take to get to the top of a 140-foot drop tower?

HOLY CRAP! How is a smaller-sized drop tower's drop so intense?!

Wow, that was actually as good as my friends made it out to be. It might be 100 feet smaller than Great America's Giant Drop, but I don't get how that inital drop is just as intense, if not more than Giant Drop. It's so good I don't care that it caused minor pain.

Okay, it looks like the line has gone down for Super Cyclone, given the end of the day and all. Let's try this again.

No lines means an easy front row ride. And an easy front row ride means a happy Josh!

I rode it a couple times again, in the very front and very back, and it is much better in those rows. Nice job with this one Santa's Village! I know your last big coaster, WildCat (actually from Pinfari!) only lasted a couple years, but I hope this one lasts longer.

This ride is very tall, moreso in person. This photo might do it a little bit of justice, but it rides as good as it looks =)

So yeah. That's about all I rode at Santa's Village. It has nice theming and tons of other rides for the family, but with the park nearing the end of the operating hours, I was there for the thrill rides.