Sunday, 26 September 2010

Alton Towers

September 24

Finally a weekend to ourselves. Steve and I decided to use this time to go to Alton Towers, yet another amusement park.
Entrance decoration.
It was fairly chilly today at 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), so waiting for the rides to open was unpleasant. Also, there was uppity youth present who began chanting. I am starting to think that Europeans are genetically programmed to chant. However, it gave us plenty of time to look at the Towers themselves.
They opened up the pathways and everyone just bolted all around the park. I cannot run so we just walked briskly. We headed for the back of the park first because there was a new ride there, 13, which was advertised as "the ultimate ride experience" and as the scariest ride since the Annie McLeod Experience. We couldn't actually see any rides because they are so well hidden by the trees and terrain. The park is also EXTREMELY green, as you will see in the pictures. It is also f*ing HUGE. Anyway, we continued in the direction of 13.

But we didn't go on 13 first.

The first ride we went on was Rita. Rita is a launched (61 mph) coaster that was more about its twists than its speed, which I though was a good direction for a not terribly fast launch. It was a good ride.
The unstoppable crowd here nearly has us giving up.
Next we went on 13. 13 had a very disturbing queue line. I'm not sure what the story line is behind 13, but you walk through some desolate woods and come upon the station building. Inside there are creepy sounds like water drops, etc., and then a young girl whispers over the loudspeakers, "If you go down to the woods today, you better not go alone". These sounds and phrase repeat CONTINUOUSLY while you are in the station, which gets annoying. Oh yeah, then some kind of loud pop goes off and electricity goes all crazy around a plasma ball in a fenced off exhibit within the queue. Many people jump at the sound and visuals, but we were past that section when it went off. Anyway, onto the ride. It appears to be a kiddy ride at first with a very small hill and relatively low speed. It goes into a separate station and stops. ***SPOILERS*** Then the train free falls for about 10 feet (it is the first roller coaster to do this). Then it exits the station and rides backward in complete darkness though still not too fast. Then it stops again and proceeds forward into the station after the track switches back. No, it was not the ultimate ride experience, but it certainly was a new experience, and for that it garners some points from me. I have no pictures because it was all in the woods.

In Six Flags Great Adventure, there is a ride called Superman Ultimate Flight. On this ride you essentially are rotated so that you experience the whole ride on your belly (or back if you have flipped upside down). Steve and I took a few friends from Virginia to the park, and after riding this, one of them kept commenting on how it is like Air, a ride at Alton Towers. In an attempt to honor this good friend (who is also responsible for the name of the blog itself), I thought we should make Air our next stop.

We failed at that attempt (But we wound up going on it pretty soon! Please don't be mad! Please!).

We were on our way to air when we came upon the edge of the valley. So we turned around and walked for a bit, and we somehow ended up back at 13. Uh... how? Anyway we then walked all the way to the center of the park (near where we started) and took a path that was about a quarter mile long just twisting and turning. That path was also spooky themed as there were lots of spooky things. We emerged into a new section of the park and immediately encountered props for Nemesis, which we went on next. Nemesis theme to an alien invasion, so there are deep canyon and river/waterfalls of blood. Neither Nemesis nor Air (which is right next to Nemesis) is remotely close to their positions on the map. As for the ride itself, Nemesis was good but not great. What made Nemesis great was the immersion in the scenery, swooping through the canyons over the blood and through misty tunnels. I deemed my second favorite ride of the day. We went on again via the single rider line after we got off.
Bloooooood! Wheeeeeeee!
We finally went to Air, which was the prototype for the previously mentioned Superman Ultimate Flight. After the intense Nemesis, Air looked like a very serene ride. The line was a little longer because these types of coaster take longer to load, but we finally got on, the ride turned us onto our tummies, and we were off. As predicted, the ride was very calm, but like Superman, this ride did not unleash the potential that these rides should have. It was not a bad ride by any means; I actually quite enjoyed it, but it is always somewhat disappointing when a ride wastes potential (biggest violator is Volcano at King's Dominion).
Puts Superman to shame.

After air, we rode Nemesis again.

Then we got Nemices Donuts, which ruled.

We decided to head for Oblivion, riding the Runaway Train and Duel along the way. The Runaway Train is a mine train. Duel was a haunted house ride where you get a laser gun and shoot the monsters for points. I destroyed the rest of the people in my car, though pulling the trigger so many times induced hand cramps.

Oblivion was by far my favorite ride. It was the world's first vertical drop coaster (which they make damn sure you know). Now I LOVE drop towers, and this gave me a similar feeling of free fall and calmness. However, the ride was short and basically consisted of the drop and then the return to the station. However, its vertical drop was fantastic. The queue line had all these silly videos that tried to scare you with one guy arguing with another with exchanges like:
"This ride is perfectly safe."

"If this ride is so safe, why is it called Oblivion?"
 If you look closely, you will notice that the retort doesn't make any sense.
 Also, the gift shop sold a very interesting term as well.
I'm not sure what it says about your penis when you cover it with Oblivion.
We rode Oblivion again, and then we headed toward Sonic Spinball.
I did not go on this ride because it spins, so Steve went on it alone. Afterward, we went on a kiddy coaster, Beastie.

We went on the Sky Ride to get back to Nemesis, rode it, and then headed to Air, which had broken down. Lame. We then headed on the Sky Ride to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie was a dark boat ride and when we first set off, the couples in the two rows ahead of us tried to snuggle, tipping our boat to within an inch of taking on water. The ride sucked, by the way. We made our way to 13 again, which lost a bit of its charm since I knew what was coming.

And then came Hex.

Hex was set in the towers themselves (the actual ride part was not) and started out with a video about an urban legend. The Earl was heading back in his chariot when a beggar woman asked for some change. The Earl responded with something on the lines of, "No! You can't have any f*ing change! I hate you!" (may or may not have been exact words). Anyway, she got mad and put a curse on him (points for originality) that linked an old oak tree. Whenever a branch on this oak tree falls a member of your family will die. Well shortly after, a lightning storm took down a branch and a family member perished. The Earl then chained all the branches to one another and the tree to prevent further incidents. Then he grew obsessed with the branch that had fell, became a mad scientist, built a secret lab, and did experiments on the branch. I get the feeling that the last part deviates a bit from the original story. Anyway, we walked in and sat down onto what Steve immediately identified as a Vekoma Madhouse. In these rides, the seats tilt and the walls of the room rotate so there are gravity shifts that appear to be for no reason. The seat can also tilt in the opposite direction the way the room rotates, which means it can look like you are upside down while you are actually right side up. These make me sick because my brain tries to process the disparity between what I am seeing and feeling, and it fails.

We went back to Oblivion, rode it, and then with 40 minutes left to closing, Steve decided to go on a log flume. He came back 30 minutes later, but because the park is so widespread, we could not get to any more rides. We got on the bus to the train station and began the journey home. Overall, it was a fantastic day, and this was probably my favorite park so far.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Weekend in Scotland

September 15 - September 19

I apologize for the 12-day absence of posts, but my workload decided to repeatedly murder my free time. After some not very careful counting, I think that it has been 5 days since I had at least 6 hours of sleep. 2 things: first I found out why I cannot upload the kite festival videos, and I cannot fix that, so do not expect those anytime soon. Second, Blogspot has revamped some things and one of the side effects is that I cannot seem to spatially organize the pictures, so they will be like a giant stack. Thanks, Blogspot. Anyway, this post is about my weekend in Scotland.

I did not get to sleep until very late Wednesday night, so getting up at 5 AM on Thursday morning to catch the early train kind of sucked (the train ride was 4 hours by the way). I sat down on the train and Professor McGinnis, our primary senior design adviser, came to talk to us about an upcoming proposal we had to do (we were not in any kind of trouble; he visited every group on the train). However, somehow between my sitting down and his coming over to talk to us, 45 minutes had passed (so you can scratch out that "immediately" if you so desire). I am going to wager that it was due to me sleeping and not a ripple effect from a time-space rift in another universe, but I'll let you decide which you want to believe. Anyway, I was nodding off for the next 90 minutes when I saw the beautiful landscape in one of my awake moments, and that woke me up. The was not much of the highlands on this train, but there were rolling hills... with sheep and endless fields... with sheep, and even lots of farmland... with sheep. Ironically, despite the sheep population, I got very few pictures of them. Here is the scenery from the train window.
After switching trains and riding for another hour, we arrived in Lanark, which is remarkably unremarkable town. I cannot think of one defining characteristic of it, which is a good thing we were not staying there because I might have died form boredom. We only had to walk through the town because we were trying to get to New Lanark. New Lanark was the site of Robert Owen's great social experiment in which he implemented all kinds of socialist concepts (unheard of at the time) into the town (free education, heath care, child care, care for the elderly, etc.) and watched as the town prospered, which he predicted. He was also a giant control freak and had many stringent rules about dress, behavior, etc. For the full story, Wikipedia Robert Owen and New Lanark. Anyway, here are some pictures of New Lanark to break up the monotony,
We did not dress her up out of disrespect; she was just so scary looking that we needed to cover her up.

We checked into our hostel, and then we immediately left the hostel for a tour of New Lanark. Now I was on the good tour, where the tour guide talked about the history of New Lanark, showed us different buildings, including Owen's classroom and the mills. The bad tour stayed in one room and talked about how people threw their stool out the windows (reportedly). After the tours, we had a presentation that I missed on account of illness. Apparently it was the same as the good tour so I did not feel bad.
We were given free time for the rest of the day, except there is nothing to do at night in either Lanark or New Lanark. Regardless, I needed food, so we went to the hotel restaurant, where I had pork and haggis sausages. According to Wikipedia, haggis is a very traditional Scottish food consisting of "sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours". Modern haggis is prepared in casings as opposed to stomachs, and the very porky taste of my dish indicates to me that it was a significant percent pork as opposed to haggis. Either way, there was haggis in my sausages, so I did consume haggis.
Mmm... lungs
After dinner, Steve, Michelle, and I went on a hike to see the Falls of Clyde, the waterfall that powers New Lanark. It was not a very long hike, but we did see some stunning scenery. However, the water in that river looks f*ing gross. I am not kidding; it looks like chocolate milk, and there was some pretty nasty looking foam in the river too (Steve thinks it was toxic). Anyway, we got to the top, saw the falls, headed back, and went to sleep after some studying.
90 feet of hydropower.
Close up of said 90 feet of hydropower.
The next morning, I found that there was a Scottish breakfast waiting for me downstairs (this happened many mornings).
In case you did not guess, I put all the beans to the side, where they remained abandoned for the rest of time.
We then experienced New Lanark one last time via a motorized ride through the daily life of Annie McLeod (fictitious name), a ten-year old girl that lived in New Lanark and worked in the mills. Excluding the fact that this was the fourth time we had learned all this (including class before Scotland), this ride was completely unnecessary. The ride did not even need to be a ride; you could have just walked through that section. The ride itself was one of the creepiest rides I have ever been on. It started out by establishing that the spirits of New Lanark were talking to you, and it became a slow dark ride through this little girl's life, and she could not seem to decide if she preferred this life or not. The creepy part of the ride is the end. You see a mirror in front of you and there is an infinite mirror effect going on where it looks like there are ghosts in the mirror going on to infinity, obviously representing the ghosts of New Lanark. Then they turn on a light over you cart so you appear in the mirror with them, as if to say, "now you are part of New Lanark too". In case you cannot think of anywhere that this concept has implemented used before, allow me to refresh you memory.
Heeeere's... Annie!
If you don't know what that picture is, ask your parents.

The ride had one redeeming feature; it let you off at the roof garden where you got some great views.
Afterward, we got on the bus and headed out. We got near the highlands, so the scenery on this ride was quite different, though I managed to sleep on this bus ride as well.
The then arrived at our next scholarly destination, the Glencoyne Distillery. Wait, what?
Yes that's right, we went to a distillery on a school trip. We were offered glasses of whiskey at 2 different points on the tour.  I do enjoy learning about how things are made and this tour was no exception. It did trouble a bit that I could find no relevance to any coursework we were doing until I found out that there was none; then I was okay with it. I got my parents a small bit of whiskey (that stuff is expensive).

We got back on the bus (which I slept on) and headed for the Falkirk Wheel, passing more lovely scenery. In case you cannot tell, I have a thing for scenery.
Ah, looks just like New Jersey.
The Falkirk Wheel is a badass boatlift that was used to substitute a series of 11 locks that connected 2 canals. The wheel uses about 2 kW of electric power to perform on half-revolution, which is the equivalent of boiling about 8 teakettles. It dies this by establishing equilibrium between the 2 gondolas, then uses power to start the wheel, then lets inertia carry it the rest of the way, and finally uses power to stop it. It is simply an engineering marvel. We got to ride the wheel in a boat, which ruled. Shown below is the wheel and some the pictures taken from the ground and the boat.
After the wheel, he got on the bus (zzzzz...) and went to Edinburgh. My camera was off for the rest of the night, so don't expect pictures until tomorrow. Anyway, we checked into the hostel and ate dinner. After dinner, I went to a pub with some friends called the Electric Circus. What. The. F*. I have never taken acid, but I imagine it makes the rest of the world look like this pub. The main room was dark with most lighting being either neon lights or black lights. No big deal. But oh wait; I need to go to the bathroom, so I go into the door that looks like it would lead to the bathroom and... ... ... where the hell am I? The hall was pitch black, and all I saw were doors of different colored light. I looked for the bathroom and got a little lost. I heard singing. What the hell. I went through the only non-lit door and wound up back at the bar. Err... okay. I'll take that. Turns out the bathrooms were nowhere near where I was looking. I was informed later that those rooms were "karaoke" rooms. Anyway, I had my fun and headed back. On the way back, we got a quick snack at McDonald's and continued on hoping we were- "Hey! Don't eat that!" Some dude just starts raging on McDonald's, Burger King, obese Americans, and arrogant Americans. A peer of mine was quite wasted and getting easily angered, so it became quite nerve-wrecking diffusing this situation between him and this arrogant, Anti-American Australian (Yes. That's right. Australian). Back in the room, I put my head down to sleep when what sounded a f*ing riot started in the streets right below my window. However, it was not a riot, it was just football fans chanting. REALLY LOUD. Europeans seem to like chanting.

In the morning, we had a 3.5-hour tour of Edinburgh. You read that right. Unfortunately, instead of being 3.5 hours wiser about Edinburgh, the information overload caused an information implosion, so I recall precisely nothing about that tour. However, I do have pictures of... uh... Edinburgh.
Puppy statue!
Another puppy statue!
After the tour, we had lunch and proceeded to the National Museum of Scotland. There we had a terrifying time-consuming assignment. We were to look at 3 specific exhibits and answer a ton of questions on them. This assignment took so long, that when we finished, it was 15 minutes before museum closing, so once again I don't have a whole lot for you. Sorry.
I ate a huge dinner because Yom Kippur started at Sundown... joy. I went out to a club that night (against my better judgment; I really should have been conserving energy). The club was called Sin, which prompted a few attempts to convince me to break my fast. I left 10 minutes later; I just was not feeling it for some reason. Bed.

I already felt kind of bad because of the fast, but the I find out we are touring Edinburgh Castle, which is two miles away up a step incline. Anyway, I actually did surprising well on the way up to the castle. Though I had already seen a castle (at Castle Park, Bristol) this was much more how I envisioned a castle. It was immense, labyrinthian, and fortified. There was a brief (30 minute) tour of the castle, in which we learned of its history and use, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was not surprised to learn it served as a defensive fort over the years, as it is ideally positioned at the top of the rock face. I give you Edinburgh Castle.
After the tour, we went and saw the soldiers' memorial (the Scots really know how to honor veterans), and then we saw the Crown Jewels. Man, they are... uh... overkill, I guess would be the best word for it.

The rest of the weekend was ours to do whatever we wanted, so Steve and I headed to Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, which is an amusement park. However, when we arrived in Blackpool, the weather was... uh... bad. It was about 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), which is not so bad... except that the wind was a constant 30 mph and it was raining moderately hard. Oh well. We braved the elements and went into the park, though with the rain, I got very few pictures. The first ride we went on was Grand National, a 75-year-old wooden roller coaster that honestly took both of us by surprise. It was really good. In fact, it would wind up being our favorite ride in Blackpool. Next was a 52-year-old wooden wild mouse coaster very tactically named Wild Mouse, which was also very enjoyable. By this point we were both soaked, but I had thermals on so it was okay. Steve, however, suffered. We then hit the grandfather of the park, Big Dipper. Big Dipper is 87 f*ing years old, and yes, it was also a great ride.
Next we went to Steeplechase, a coaster where you ride a horsey and race other people. I raced Steve, and using my inordinate amount of body-induced momentum, won. While the ride was slow and not very exciting, it was very fun to interact with someone on a ride. Next was Pepsi Max The Big One.
Marketing The Big One
This was arguably the tamest megacoaster that we had ever been on, and it was disappointing (though seeing the ocean from 200+ feet was pretty cool).

About now, the time had come to break the fast, so I went to a hot dog stand. I asked for a foot long and they said they were out, so I grudgingly got a regular one. It was a foot long. I don't know how long they think feet are over here but I am not sure I want to. Anyway, the next ride was another marketing ploy: Irn Bru Revolution. This was a launched coaster that dropped, looped, went up and came back backward. If you read my Thorpe post, you would know that backwards makes me sick. However, this was short enough that it was okay. I took a break after this while Steve did a second Steeplechase run. Then we went on the bobsled coaster, Avalanche. I couldn't help but yell, "Cool Runnings!" every 5 seconds. As my ultimate ride for the day, we went on some flying swings that were themed to missiles or planes or something like that. BIG MISTAKE. The very thin raindrops were like needles to the face for 2 and a half minutes. After that I was done. Steve, the trooper he is, went for one last ride on Grand National before we called it a day.

We walked along the coast looking for dinner/dessert. We would find both. We went into a small cafe for dinner, but for dessert, we found fudge and rock.
Rock in jar form.
Rock is like chewy rock candy, if that makes any sense. It is so good and energizing, that we named or senior design team after it: Blackpool Rock Engineering. I went to bed, but Steve went to look at the South pier for a while before returning.

The next morning was unremarkable except for the fact that it was STILL RAINING. WHAT THE F*! ITS BEEN RAINING FOR 30 HOURS STRAIGHT! Yep, exact same weather as yesterday, maybe even a little colder. We spent the morning riding the same rides we did yesterday (Steve defeated my mass on our second Steeplechase encounter). Then we went on a ride we didn't yesterday: Alice in Wonderland (based on Disney movie), a dark ride. We had the fortune of landing a car with only three empty seats. The fourth seat was occupied by a permanent decoration of the white rabbit (human sized). Cool. I want to sit next to the rabbit. It was only after my restraint was in that I realized no, I do not want to sit next to the rabbit. The rabbit was looking right at me, and looking at me very (for lack of a better word) rapist-like. This was all exacerbated by the fact that he wasn't wearing any pants. The ride was pure fluorescence and trippy stuff all around, as it should be. The only problem beside the fact that there was a sexual predator in our car (of a species known for baby-making) is that the ride was done to the music of "I have a Golden Ticket". Wrong movie. After the ride, we went to Grand National for one last hurrah (which it provided), and headed home. We had finally been defeated by the weather. We headed home and prepared for class tomorrow.