July 10th, 2013

A Purple Straw Hat

Diever, Drenthe: trip report

Diever is a village in Westerveld in the province of Drenthe. It is right next to a national park: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationaal_Park_Drents-Friese_Wold.

It is tremendously cute. I mean, you would not believe. There is a duck pond. You can ride your bicycle a very short way and be cycling through the woods. There are ice cream shops and farm houses and a lovely Coop to get your groceries at. The Etos is tiny, but present. What with the Shakespeare festival, the spiritual/rock shop/gift shop, you would swear you were in Ashland, OR.

I do not know of a cuter place that I have ever been, altho generally speaking I prefer less relentlessly flat terrain. We rented a farmhouse.

http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p277981

The family which rents it is very nice and always helpful and everything worked -- we even got to do all our laundry before we left for Efteling. Even with the exchange rate less favorable than in the past, the rate was extremely reasonable.

We only ate out once, and the name of the restaurant escapes me at the moment, but it was good. The beer selection was limited but tasty. When the kids wanted take-out kip-nuggy and frites, there was a fry shop in town that was extremely inexpensive and made _really_ good chicken nuggets.

Honestly, even if I hadn't been going to visit family, this is a worthwhile place to hang out. There's camping in the area. I'm not sure why someone from the United States would go all that way to what is, realistically, a regional destination, but wow, it was really, really pleasant there. Miniature farm animals. Carefully groomed lines of oak trees. The Hoofdvaart if you want a canal boat ride for pleasure. Adorable bridges. Tiled and thatched roofs. If it rains, you can take the kiddies to Oranje Speelstad, which is a covered playground with trampolines, pedal rides (including pedal monorails), powered rides (including kiddie coasters), boat rides, table tennis and who knows what else on the floors we didn't visit. There's an amazing zoo in Emmen (which we didn't get to this time but have visited previously) and a smaller zoo in Leeuwarden (Aquazoo Friesland) where the enclosures ... aren't, so if you're lucky, the little monkeys or lemurs or whatever might actually come jump on you. We did visit that one. Weird seeing wasbeeren (raccoons) as an exhibit.

There's a million things to do, if you need stuff to do, but Diever is a really amazing place to just hang out and relax.

Oranje Speelstad: http://www.speelstadoranje.nl/

Aquazoo Friesland: http://www.aquazoofriesland.nl/

23 June: departed Logan on Delta (locked post for flight report)
24 June: arrived Schiphol, rented a Ford C-max from http://www.bblcarrental.com/

We liked the Ford C-max. I wouldn't put an adult in the third row seating, but T. really liked it and this car, while very small, allowed us to have two adults in front, one adult in the middle along with a kid in a car seat, and a third kid in a car seat in the way back. BB&L has someone meet you in the airport and walk you out to a car where you do the inspect and sign the contract. The return is done in the departures lane. So no shuttle to another lot -- very fast, very friendly. Car seats are an expected part of the process and that worked smoothly and was not expensive. I highly recommend this company and will use them again on future trips.

Drove to Diever. Settled in. Called my cousin and arranged to meet the following morning.

25 June: met my cousin for an enjoyable morning visit.

26 June: Went to Aquazoo Friesland in the afternoon with kids and cousin.

27 June: Oranje Speelstad

28 June: late morning visit with cousins! A.'s son and grandson were there so we met more family. Wonderful! Packed up and drove to Kaatsheuvel. Checked in to Efteling Bosrijk (more in later post)
A Purple Straw Hat

McDonald's in Meppel, Heerenveen

Meppel is on the way from Schiphol to Diever. The boy was hungry. He wanted fries. We stopped at a McDonald's. We were a little early, so we had to wait a few minutes for the first batch of fries, but they were very nice to us. I got through the transaction entirely in Dutch, but they knew perfectly well I spoke English because I was talking to T. in English. So when the nice young woman handed us the extremely hot fries, she very, very carefully and precisely enunciated, "It was my pleasure!"

I was dead on my feet from an overnight flight, but that was a ton of fun.

I don't advocate eating at McDonald's anywhere, but wow, do they implement those recipes as perfectly as they possibly can be implemented. There's a lot of competition for excellent fries in the low countries, but the Golden Arches are at least making a solid showing, far better than is typical here in the United States.

Our second and third visit to McD's were in Heerenveen. We got lunch after a morning visit one day, and before a zoo outing another day, IIRC. There was an outdoor play space with a no shoes rule that I did not detect on the first day; there was no sock requirement, which is an interesting difference. I was stymied by the offer of Danoontjes, which turns out to be a squeezable square pouch of strawberry yogurt with a pink screw cap on it. T. was initially freaked out by this, but they grew on him and by the end of the trip, he was demanding special trips to the Albert Heijn to get another 8 or so to eat in a single day. You may feel free to believe that I am exaggerating for effect. The quarter pounders were consistently better executed than any quarter pounder I've ever had on either coast.

I would certainly hope that you can convince your traveling party to eat in a better place than McD's, should you be traveling in the Netherlands. However, if you find yourself at the Golden Arches, it will be pretty damn good, for where you are.
A Purple Straw Hat

Paying for Things in the Netherlands

I've posted elsewhere about this issue, but I figure I might as well collect it all in one spot.

People don't really use credit in the Netherlands. This is sort of a fuzzy statement, because the way bank accounts work is different (there seems to be a small credit facility so if you overdraft, you don't get huge fees, as long as you cover it quickly). But everything is essentially a cash payment, altho it is as often as not done using a chip-and-pin payment card. The cards have a computer chip and the computer chip has a program on it which when inserted into a payment machine controls how the transaction occurs. The pin part is authentication. The account number is not secured (just like your checking account number is printed on every check you have). Magnetic stripe cards are usable in cash machines (at least in theory) but are difficult to use elsewhere and the difficulty is escalating rapidly. We used a credit card exactly once on this trip: for the car rental.

According to our host in Diever, no one will take (including banks that you don't already have a banking relationship with) E200 or E500. The claim was also made that they won't take E100, and places like the fry shop and the kiosks that do ride fotos at Efteling have standardized signs indicating they do not take E100 and above. However, we had no difficulty using E100, as long as the change back from the transaction was going to be less than E20 (or thereabouts). So groceries, gas and substantial souvenir purchases all took E100 with no complaint. I always asked before pulling one out. R. says they carefully visually inspected the one he used. The Albert Heijn had a machine they ran it through.

While it is customary when renting a home, apartment, etc. from an owner to pay in full in advance, it is less customary to pay for a hotel in full in advance, at least in my experience: you do it to get a better rate, not because you have to. However, Efteling Bosrijk required full payment for a cottage (I forget how far in advance, but it was weeks). Our rental in Diever took PayPal (woot! Very convenient!). Efteling required a wire transfer.

We've gotten into the habit of grilling people who come back from trips to Europe how they paid for things. We're very annoying that way, and have thus collected a rash of stories about long waits at restaurants in big cities that didn't know how to deal with a magnetic strip credit card and wound up having to bring over a manager and then call the bank to figure it out.

Also, E1 and E2 are coins, not paper -- the smallest paper is E5. There is no penny; the copper coin is what we would think of as a nickel. The polite thing to do at a store which calculates to the penny (such as an Albert Heijn) is to wave back the last partial nickel -- they will figure it in your favor and offer, but you should say no as it will make them happy and cost you nothing to speak of. Banks charge businesses for rolls of coins, so you really will be asked for change to make things work out with the least number of coins going your way (not by value, by number). If you're having trouble figuring it (I do, because of that whole penny thing not existing), stick a bunch on your hand and let them figure it out. They'll be happy.

Lobby your financial institutions to implement chip-and-pin. Please.
A Purple Straw Hat

Efteling Bosrijk

Vacation bungalows seem quite common in the Netherlands (maybe Europe in general). I had noticed some advertised on the web some years ago when I was first thinking of going to Efteling some day. During my many years delay, Efteling built their own, Efteling Bosrijk. There are two larg-ish buildings with apartments (suites) and a bunch of scattered cottages and townhomes with larger suites. We stayed in a 3 bedroom, but there are larger ones as well.

While you can park in the lane (and occasionally in a dedicated parking spot, if you are at an accessible cottage) to load and unload, Efteling Bosrijk has a parking lot where you are to leave your car when not actively loading/unloading. This has the nice effect of drastically reducing car traffic throughout Bosrijk, and making it possible to shrink the overall footprint of Bosrijk thus increasing its walkability in general. A variety of small playgrounds are included, intended to look natural. So a slide is still metal (there are limits), but built onto a hummock rather than elevated with a ladder. They even have an archimedes screw to lift water up in the play area next to the gate house. You can easily walk to the park entrance from anywhere in Bosrijk, but your kids will get tired, so around opening and closing times they run a little tram around every 15 minutes to save you at least park of the trek.

The gatehouse includes apartments but also the swimming pool. The swimming pool is pretty incredible! There are two wading pools and a bunch of toys (both under a foot deep). Children who do not have a swimming diploma (like mine) must wear water wings (they will sell you Jokie and Jetti ones for E3, so you get a souvenir out of the deal). There is a jacuzzi, built on a platform above the pool, accessible by stairs over a little bridge. The portion of the pool which goes around that tower is like a canal and the jets are aligned to create a strong current. Fun! The bucket-dumper is themed beautifully and you can operate it from levers by one of the wading pools.

No shoes allowed in the locker/changing rooms (lockers E.50, you need the single coin, obvs, but you can run over to reception to get change). The entrance to the pool deck from the locker/changing area is a shallow pool that will clean your feet. Very smart! We should do that here; it keeps keep things clean.

Lots of little changing booths so you don't have to change in public; the locker/changing area is unisex.

When you enter a 3 bedroom cottage, there is a mudroom/entry area with hooks! Fabulous! Also a lavatory. Then a full door to entry the cottage proper. It is all themed beautifully inside and out. Once in, open plan for the main floor, u-shaped kitchen with no oven (well, microwave with grill feature so you can cook a pizza in there, I think). This is one of the rare places in the Netherlands where the burners are _not_ gas. Toaster is in the cabinet, coffee machine is senseo, and they provide an electric water kettle for tea. There's a dishwasher and detergent pellets in the "Proper Settje" provided, along with sponge, microfiber towels, senseo packets, teabags, salt, pepper, sugar, creamer. You can have bread and pastries delivered in the morning and pizza in the evening (for a fee); we did neither. You can also buy a few groceries (cereal, bread, milk, etc.) in the shop in reception.

TV, no DVD. There is wired internet but I FORGOT MY HOTSPOT. The one time I could ever have used it and I failed to bring it. *sigh* No wifi in the cottages.

Upstairs are a toilet (another seat plus cold water tiny sink) and bathroom (big sink, shower and tub with telephone shower, and the obligatory, super awesome, why do I keep forgetting to have this installed where I live radiator/towel rack), and bedrooms. Two bedrooms with two twin beds shoved together and made up separate (bottom sheet and duvet and pillow). One bedroom with bunk beds, built in Efteling game and adorable little light to go with it. That bedroom also includes one of those net-sided on the floor not-a-crib things the name of which I have forgotten.

There are hooks, a short rod and a mirror in two of the bedrooms. All three bedrooms have shelving (with doors or without) for clothes storage. It actually works out really well. One of the bedrooms has a safe built into the shelving, which is a little lame as it takes up a lot of space.

Theming is close to Disney-quality, and the layout is very convenient. The cost is also drastically lower than DVC. On the other hand, there is no laundry! At all! You'd have to go to Tillburg or something to find a laundromat or while-you-wait place, or use the front-desk hotel-style take a day and charge you by the piece facility. (Which I did.) OTOH, there is a tub, and the rack; we did wash kids clothes the old fashioned way.

Picnic table outside will figure in the Day of Small Thefts post when I get to it.

If you like theme parks, and can fit Efteling into a larger vacation, you're making a mistake to miss out on this. It's hard to know if it justifies a dedicated trip. _We_ spent a week there and had a blast, but YMMV.
A Purple Straw Hat

A Tesla in the Efteling Bosrijk Parkeerplaats

R. and I, completely separately, both photographed a Tesla parked in the Bosrijk Parkeerplaats. Today, during my Dutch lesson, I was telling my teacher, A., about this and attempting to involve him in speculation about wtf someone was doing with a Tesla at Efteling Bosrijk. He noted that it was surrounded by minivans, and obviously a Tesla is a sports car. It was not obvious, however, to A. that it had no back seat (he asked), altho as he pointed out you _could_ take one child to Efteling in a Tesla, and in any event, A.'s lone visit to Efteling had not involved children. I was going to ask him if he remembered Droomvlucht and what he thought of it, but his recollection of the rides seemed very limited.

Also, A. didn't know about Tesla, which made me realize several things quite quickly. First, explaining that Tesla was an electric sports car was completely irrelevant to him. Elon Musk didn't mean anything to him. And PayPal as an explanation for Elon Musk wasn't a very powerful explanation of any of this. R. didn't know about Musk, but _did_ remember the This American Life about the auto factory in Fremont that used to be a joint venture between Toyota (?) and GM, that was now (?) a Tesla factory.

So. Apparently, billionaires -- mostly tech billionaires, but billionaires in general -- are the only celebrities that I consistently keep track of (wow, does this say truly shitty things about my character). R. will remember anything that involves a factory. And sensible, decent human beings remain fully oblivious to all of the status implications -- whatever they might or might not be -- of fully electric sports cars.
A Purple Straw Hat

Efteling Trip Report

I spent parts of June 29, 30, July 1 and July 2 in the park. A. spent those days, plus July 4. T. spent the 4 I spent, plus July 3. R. spent every day in the park. It rained on July 3, but not heavily. Guests in Bosrijk had an extra half hour before park open to ride a small number of rides and see a couple shows; we never took advantage of that. We had no touring plan. We didn't even make it in for the first hour of open several of the days. We were idiots, basically, but we had a couple things working in our favor. First, and probably most important, the school year had not yet ended for most/all of the Netherlands. Second, the weather was on the cool and cloudy side.

I don't think we waited a whole hour in any line. Ever. Altho we may have gotten close a couple times on the 29th -- that is, our first day had the worst lines and it only got better from there.

The only ride closure which impacted us was the little cars (think Disneyland's Autopia). We all got to ride it, but when we tried to ride it on later days, it was closed, we think for repainting. There was an unexplained, substantial delay on Bobbaan one time that A. and I rode it, but that only added about 15 minutes to our wait.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Track

That's a deeply freaky ride and a ton of fun. If you get a chance to ride on one of those, go for it. Check this list:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobsled_roller_coaster

A. _loved_ it. Along with the adorably themed monorail:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_People_of_Laaf

and "the beautiful ride":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droomvlucht

The bobsled is pretty exciting! But unlike most coasters, no huge drops and super smooth. I think it's also less intense if you are shorter and smaller. But who knows? The Volk van Laaf is pure theming, and brilliantly done. Lots of places to walk through and partially integrated as a playground, themed in and out, top to bottom, and them a monorail (the ride vehicles are snails) which wends among them. Really nice -- much better than the Santa's Village (New Hampshire) monorail, which is in itself quite enjoyable.

Dreamflight is just weird. Tons of fairies: little and winged, human looking with long hair and a low-key sexy vibe. Adorable little trolls running around naked, playing in water, playing music and generally frolicking and cavorting. No story, no mischievousness, no darkness at all: castles in the clouds, later castles on asteroids. The most excitement is where two ride vehicles are joined and then sent down a spiral into a lower room with a bunch of trolls playing in water. You can find websites suggesting how to handle the logistics of being high while riding it and I can definitely understand why someone might want to do that, but it seems like overkill.

A. got into a coaster mood one day, which was a bummer because while she's over 110 cm tall, she's under 120 so couldn't do a bunch of the coasters. I didn't attempt Villa Volta with her, but I did put her on Fata Morgana because hey, it's a dark ride and I love those. Probably a mistake; by the end of the ride, she was trembling. That last room really freaked her out. She was up for Joris en de Draak, which she was allowed to ride in the middle seats on the train. It's a racing wooden coaster and a decently fun if jarring ride. We got a great ride photo with all four of us, which R. has posted to FB.

The loading system on many of the rides at Efteling is shared: a big, rotating platform. The round boats on Pirana (A. _loved_ getting wet on that ride and asked for it towards the end of each day) used it. The boats for Fata Morgana used it. The cabins for Droomvlucht used either the same thing or something a lot like it. The Gondoletta ride used it -- that's a _long_ ride; you're in that boat moving around the lake looking at water fowl and plants and whatever for 20 minutes, IIRC.

Most of the coasters do not use it: they're trains and batch load rather than continually load. There is one downside to the platform which continually loads: when they needed to do a wheelchair transfer, they frequently stopped the platform entirely.

Like most theme/amusement parks, Efteling rents something to help you out with your soon to be brutally exhausted small children.

Really nice pictures here:

http://www.vijfzintuigen.nl/Forum/index.php?topic=22263.0

They are a little heavy, but work well. You pull them behind you, rather than pushing them in front. They cannot roll out of control, as they are two wheelers and have a stopper. You can park them in a sort of upright position, but I never bothered. They were charging E4/day for one and you got a little stamped card with the number of your wagon, in case you forgot which one was yours. I didn't get one the first day, but I did thereafter. It's good to leave something (NOT an Efteling shopping bag) on your wagon, because people will pick up the wrong one in error, and if you leave something, it's a little less likely to be taken by someone who lost theirs to someone else. If you're committed to hanging onto your particular wagon through the day, you could bring a lock and hook it to things when you walk away; I saw that happen.

It's the Netherlands, so there are fries _everywhere_, but the coolest common food item was a box with a "kiplolly": fried chicken in sort of a disc form with a crunchy coating, on a stick. A chicken lollipop. It came with fries, mayo and a drink choice. A. and I wound up sharing it a couple times (I ordered additional ketchup for her), because it's a lot of food. I ordered the Donner kebab once, but it took so long to get an answer on the allergy question that I just didn't bother after that. T. mostly ate frites and donuts.

Don't walk around with your food -- even in a theme park, the Dutch think you should sit down and eat proper, and they think you should do it at the correct time of day (don't worry: in addition to breakfast lunch and dinner, there are two snacks in between, and frites count as snacks so it's not like it's possible to actually go hungry, much less starve). Fortunately, they have tons of seating and table space, and it appears to be completely acceptable to bring a blanket and set up a picnic on the grass.

R. and I both tried the noodle place next to the Pagode. Like all varieties of asian food, there's a lot of local influence, but tasty. A.'s favorite ice cream novelty was the Cornetto.

The Pagode is basically one of these:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_picker

Only it has a viewing platform with seats. It goes up. It rotates. It goes down. The signs saying don't drop anything off the platform are in four languages and do NOT say any form of A.U.B., please, etc. This is strong language for the Dutch, and yet some asshole dropped an (empty) can off while we were waiting. Yikes. In a flat country, this kind of thing gives you a helluva view ... of some cooling towers, among other things. Are those really the ones 50 miles away in Borssele?

Merch is quite limited: there aren't as many shops, they aren't as big, and they are sparely populated compared to a typical American entertainment venue. Virtually all the merch is aimed squarely at children, so if you're thinking you want a whole Efteling wardrobe (jacket, tees and sweat pants, type of thing, with some sunglasses and a watch) the way you can easily do at Disney, you are seriously out of luck. Several of the shops have merch you cannot find elsewhere in the park (the Droomvlucht shop and the Fata Morgana bazaar, in particular), so if you want something there, don't assume you can pick up the exact same thing at the big shop at the main entrance/exit at the end of the day.

The oldest section of the park is the Sprookjesbos: fairy tale forest. There are some fantastic sections with little shows and animatronics and similar to stand and watch. The kids were impatient and I didn't get to see everything I wanted to. All the speech is in Dutch, so accessibility to non-Dutch speakers is somewhat limited. R. saw PandaDroom (the 3D movie with limited seat effects); I did not. None of us saw the other scary show. None of us went to the live show or watched the water show.

Efteling has possibly the Best Ever Solution to the Dumbo Ride problem. They have a whole plein, or square, full of carousels and spinner rides of various sorts. Thus, no massive line build on any of them. They _also_ have an indoor steam carousel (which is _LOUD_) that moves the horses in an almost realistic way.

Finally, whatever you might think about Disney and race, Monsieur Cannibale will likely shock you to your core. It's a teapot ride with a roof, and a swinging tune in French. But the theming is, well, see for yourself.

http://parkpoint.ucoz.com/publ/monsieur_cannibale/1-1-0-31

http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsieur_Cannibale

I'll probably think of things I forgot, to add later; hopefully R. will add some remarks about the coasters I did not go on, which he did go on with T. Vogel Rok is an indoor coaster. Python is a metal coaster. The Flying Dutchman is indoor/outdoor and has some water elements.

ETA: If you are wondering why we didn't go on Carnival Festival, well, so am I. IASW is A.'s favorite Disney ride, and this is the Efteling equivalent. *sigh*
A Purple Straw Hat

A Day of Small Thefts

I mentioned the wandelwagens, the pull carts, that you can rent in Efteling Park so the kid doesn't get too tired to walk back and require you to piggy back him or her out. Well, while A. and I were up in the Pagode, someone took our wandelwagen.

I was pissed.

However, I'd been in the park for a few days, so I had a couple ideas. I figured we could either take our little card, tell our sad tale to the attendants and get another cart, or we could keep going on rides, and keep an eye out for our number. I had already noticed I was seeing the same people over and over again, and even the same _carts_ over and over again, and was betting I'd spot my cart in short order and just take it back.

Well, it took longer than I thought it would. We went on a ton of rides, got nicely tired, and were doing the last round on the Monorail when, looking down and reading numbers _while on the ride_, I _spotted our wandelwagen_!!!

So very impatiently, I waited for our ride to end and hustled A. over to the playground where it was parked next to the big slide. I made a _big_ production out of getting out the card and holding it next to the cart while I said to A., "Let's make _sure_ this is our cart." The guilty party was sitting right there and was so flustered she turned bright red (well, some on, she's Dutch and super pale) and loses all capacity to speak English and is desperately trying to justify herself by saying well her cart had been taken so she took mine. Right. Because that's what we all should do when someone takes our stuff, right? Take someone else's! Not.

So we had the cart for the longest walk of the day, back to the exit. Ha!

When we got back to our cottage, I fixed A. some beschuit with peanut butter and sprinkles (don't start with me: I learned to use peanut butter from my cousin A., so you can't really claim it's not really a Dutch way of doing things), and put some strawberries out with it to pretend this wasn't just like eating reese's peanut butter cups for dinner. A. played and ate and after a while came in for a few minutes and later I went out to retrieve the food. The beschuit was gone! And a suspicious trail of sprinkles led past a couple of gnawed on strawberries!!!

A squirrel must have stolen A.'s beschuit, so I made her another one, threw out the strawberries that were gnawed on, and contemplated the fact that the extremely rare squirrels that are so exciting to Dutch people (someone stopped us and asked us to come look so exciting sssshhhh it's on the branch -- all in Dutch, mind you -- for a squirrel! Seriously!) are the same goddamn rat thieves that our common squirrels are.

I think the only reason there aren't more of them in the Netherlands is that there's no ecosystem for them to subsist in. The place is manicured and curated to within a half centimeter of completely sanitization. Which is not a word, but should be.