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Great Fairs and Theme Parks of Europe

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Louisiana fair.

Fairs and theme parks are a fantastic way to get the blood moving. For the squeamish, even the tamest of fairground rides can set your heart racing. For devotees, the fly posters have the same effect. Whether at a fun fair or a theme park, you'll be flung far, upside-down, and your body will produce huge surges of adrenalin and at the end of a day you're physically reeling and the smile won't leave your face.

Walibi Schtroumpf, France

Remember the Smurfs ('Ver are you all coming from?')? Those lovable/irritating (delete as appropriate) little blue creatures who used to brighten/ruin (more deleting required) your morning TV watching? Well, they're alive (ish) and well (sort of) in a theme park in the north-eastern corner of France. Near Metz, to be precise. So you can go along in person and worship/ throttle (you know what to do) to your hearts content.

Walibi Schtroumpf is one of the European 'Sixflags' sites which have theme parks in France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands (read about the original Sixflag location below). Situated north of Metz, towards the border with Luxembourg, the park is well signposted from the A4 autoroute (take the Semmecourt exit). It is also accessible by train, with its own stop, again from Metz.

There are a variety of rides which ensure that all age ranges are catered for. For example, there is a reasonably good log flume ride ('The Walligator'), but if that's too scary for little kids, there's also a smaller version ('Aquaschtroumpf'). Aside from the usual attractions (tea cups, carousel, monorail) none of which are exceptional, the following rides are the ones which are worth exploring:

  • Anaconda - the highest wooden roller coaster in Europe, with speeds of up to 110km/hr.

  • Gargamel's Revenge - a unique attraction which shoots riders vertically for 55 metres in 2.5 seconds, experiencing a force of 5G, before letting them freefall drop for a number of milliseconds.

  • Comet Space - one loop and a couple of corkscrews.

  • Odyssea (a raft ride) - a guaranteed soaking with some nice touches such as a pass through a waterfall - and some yucky ones like the bridge on which thousands of pieces of chewing gum have been stuck.

There are also a number of staged shows. Particularly good is Le Tresor du Pharaoh, an Indiana Jones-inspired story of adventure. There are the usual eating establishments around, serving crêpes, waffles, hotdogs, pizza, etc. And there are a few souvenir shops. Oh, and of course there are Smurfs wandering round, waving, having their photos taken.

Day entrance is, at the time of writing, 21.80 Euros for adults, 16.75 for 3-11 year-olds. If you plan to visit some other European sixflags sites during the same year, consider getting a season pass for 49 Euros.

Legoland, Denmark

This is not the place to go for white knuckle rides, but is great all round family fun for all ages.

We went late August when the holiday season tends to be over. You can get a season ticket at a reasonable price, and then nearly all the rides and attractions are free. There were enough gentle and exciting rides for our taste, and various food outlets on site. We went on three separate days and still didn't manage to see everything, probably because we chose to go back to some of our favourite rides. The queues weren't excessively long and there was plenty to entertain us while we were waiting. Of course, there are also lots of superb Lego models to see (large and small) and a 'workshop' where visitors can play with Lego. What we liked best were the themed areas with staff appropriately dressed, it was all very clean and no 'grockles' or 'innits'.

UK Researchers should note that there is also a Legoland in Windsor, Berkshire.

Wurstelprater, Vienna, Austria

Maybe one of the most famous, and oldest fun fairs in the world, the Wurstelprater (or 'Prater') park is located near the centre of Vienna and is accessible by underground (Ubahn 1, only three stations from St Stephan's Cathedral) or Tram 21 from Schwedenplatz - this tram continues on to the Exhibition Grounds and the Sports areas along the Danube.

The most outstanding feature sure is the famous Riesenrad, the giant wheel which hosted one of the key scenes in The Third Man. Built in the beginning of the 20th Century, it was heavily damaged during WWII, but rebuilt, and is still turning today.

The wheel gives some stunning views over the region, but be forewarned - while a ride on the wheel is included with admission to the parks, everything else must be paid for separately, including other rides, food, snacks, and various souvenirs. If you want to do other things, it's best to bring a little spare cash.

The rest of the Prater is, to be fair, not that outstanding. The roller coasters are not the most spectacular ones, the auto scooters have not changed for decades, like the fat in which they make langos (Hungarian tortilla-like speciality which is fried in oil like crisps, and eaten with lots of garlic) - but it is still worth a visit if you find yourself in Vienna.

One of the best gastronomic features is the Schweizerhaus, where not only the Viennese people go for Stelzen (roast pig legs) and one (or often more) pint(s) of Budvar in a shadowy garden. Great on hot summer evenings!

Efteling, Netherlands

Efteling theme park in the Netherlands has been in existence since 1952. New rides have been added during the years to keep it contemporary. It has won several awards for its overall appeal to a wide age group. The Park covers 72 hectares and is situated between Tilburg and Waalwijk, near Breda, close to the Belgian border. It is well signposted from Tilburg.

There are four main zones or lands in the Park:

  • Marerijk (Fairy Realm), where the attractions are based on story book characters

  • Anderrijk (Alternative Realm), where visitors will find things a bit out of the ordinary

  • Ruigrjik (Adventure Realm), where you'll find most of the coasters and white knuckle rides

  • Reizenrijk (Travel Realm), attractions based on journeys and travels around the world

But, of course, all most visitors are interested in are the Rides:

  • Python - This is a great looping coaster with a height restriction of 1.2 metres. The coaster is painted white and the carriages red, which gives it a very distinctive look. The initial climb is very high (29m), and seems to go on for a long time, increasing the sense of anticipation and fear. After the drop, the speed reaches 85km/hr, going straight into two tight loops, followed by two scary corkscrew twists. The whole ride is 750m long and takes just under two minutes. Good for roller coaster fanatics.

  • Pegasus - A typical old fashioned rattly wooden coaster. Doesn't go upside down and has no height restrictions. Good for people who remember the 1950s.

  • Halve Maen (Pirate Ship) - At one stage this ship was in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest swinging ship in the world. It reaches 25m high at its peak, and swooshes through horizontal at 54km/hr. Good for anyone with a strong stomach, though you are advised to sit on a far end, the best place if you don't want to get hit by matter coming from nauseated people's mouths..

  • Piranha (River raft) - Nicely staged with jungle drums and an Aztec temple. Well run river rapid ride, plenty of white water and crashing into waterfalls. Good for a guaranteed soaking.

  • Bobbaan (Bobsleigh) - Quite a long bobsleigh run; it takes two minutes to descend the 524m course, reaching speeds of 60km/hr. Good for pretending to be in the Olympics.

  • Panda Droom (Panda Vision) - One of the newest additions to Efteling. A 3-D film show with effects like a rippling snake under the seat, and a waft of wind from a walrus's tail. ( Similar to Disneyland's Honey I Shrunk the Audience). Followed by a large play area where kids can amuse themselves on interactive computer activities, or play on the climbing frames and slides. Designed in association with the World Wildlife Fund. Good for a reminder of serious environmental issues in a truly enjoyable way.

  • Pagoda - A circular room which rises gently to a height of 45m, revolves slowly and then descends. Good for a great view of the whole park. Do this ride early to assist orientation.

  • Doolhof maze - Well constructed maze with lots of interesting features - a bridge with water jets jumping over it, a telescope, a 'jail' to escape from. Good for getting lost in.

  • Vogelrok (Bird-rock) - Indoor, dark roller coaster with a height restriction of 1.2 metres. Doesn't go upside down but is pretty scary being in the dark. Good for brave kids.

  • Carnival festival - Animated sequence of stereotypes from around the world. Especially good are the Chinese/Japanese models, similar to Disney's 'It's a Small World' but without the annoying tune. Good for playing 'Spot the country'.

  • Droomvlug (Dream flight) - One of the best rides at Efteling. Suspended carriages take you over an elfin forest, an Arabian palace, a jungle scene. The attention to detail in each of these is meticulous, with delicate winged fairies, and magical sparkling lights. Relive those childhood dreams of being a fairy/sprite.

  • Villa Volta - An astounding and amazing sensation in this variation on the spooky swing/haunted house. It feels like you are spinning round, upside down, hanging from the ceiling, but you know it must be an illusion. One of the best practical applications of Einstein's Theory of Relativity: your body cannot tell the difference between you spinning around the room, or the room spinning around you. Good for kids who hate roller coasters but still like to be thrilled.

  • A close friend of mine, who never ever goes in any ride whatsoever, went in and came out with a four-day migraine. Enjoy!
  • Laavenlaaf (People of Laaf) - Carriages run on a track high above the ground, through the village of the people of Laaf, who are gnomes. There's the school where the children are working hard, the baker's windmill with someone caught on one of the sails, and the water wheel (similar to 'Squirrel Nutty' in Alton Towers). There are some great slides/ distorting mirrors/ stepping stones to play with in the village, making it great for younger children.

Efteling has a splendid website with several language options, including English. It gives opening times and prices, as well as information about the park and attractions.

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