Why spend the day before your final exam studying when you can go to an amusement park?
Okay, so there are lots and lots of reasons, but I ignored them all and headed off with a gang of Brits to Alton Towers, an English amusement park built on the grounds of an old baron's home. First just a pleasant, massive garden in which Victorians could preambulate, it expanded in the '80s into a good-sized pack of thrills that was #10 on a top ten amusement parks in the world list I've seen (though I don't trust it judging that it considered wooden roller coasters enjoyable rides, with which I must disagree as I like having my teeth uncracked). It may seem suprising as I'm a generally passive, quiet guy seeking comfort over turmoil, but I am a roller coaster nut. G-forces, high velocity on a smooth track, the wind in my face, the only thing between me and death being government and industry regulations... I can't get enough of 'em. What can I say? I'm an enigma wrapped in a mystery inside a Star Wars t-shirt.
To get the most out of our day, Andy (who set up this little adventure) decided our departure time at 6 AM (which, translated for the time it takes students to get around and decide what to do, meant we were off by 6:45). Having foolishly stayed up till 2 the morning before hanging out and writing and reading, I was mortified when my phone beeped the 5:28 alarm. But, the thought of parks energized me, and we were soon on our way. Besides, Hannah was still going despite being ill and there were others who had slept much less than I during the past few days, so I had nowhere to brag on my commitment to amusement parks.
Other people had had even worse nights, as they had chosen to sleep outdoors since it was so pretty (a terrible maneuver that they realized as they awoke cold and wet).
The drive up to the North was pleasant enough, with only a little traffic and lots of quaint scenery that still pleases my Colonial eyes. We played "Hypothetical Questions" all the way. It's my favorite time-passing game, and the rules are simple enough. First one person asks a hypothetical question (such as the classic, "If you could have any superpower, what would it be?") and everyone gives an answer (I believe ours were teleporation, time-stopping, flight, and super-strength). Then everyone votes on which was the best answer (but you can't vote for yourself), and the winner asks the next question. Ties are decided by rock-paper-scissors. Thusly, the game goes on ad nauseum till your imagination wears out.
We soon arrived at Alton Towers, stiff-legged and ready for adventure.
There were a few minutes left till the park opened, so we swapped sun cream ("sun tan lotion", as we Americans call it), rode the monorail from the car park (or "parking lot", it was the biggest one I've seen probably since being to the airport), and waited in the queue (which means "line"; we saw lots of them that day, though we were really pretty lucky getting onto rides quickly).
Once inside the park, I was struck by how nice it was. In comparison to American parks, I found it very clean and tightly managed, though the layout could've used some more connections between the different zones such as the futuristic X-Sector, Ug World, Forbidden Valley, and so forth. On the other hand, the lack of concrete gave the park much more green space, which added a great deal of beauty we just don't get in other parks I've been to.
The old manor house is in the background there, and holds a ride called "Hex", something like the Tower of Terror in Disney World. While it is room-spinning in more of an illusion instead of an elevator leaping up and down randomly, the build-up of a story of a witch's curse, a deadly fallen branch of an old oak, and the resulting madness and affixation with the paranormal was even cooler than the cobwebbed Jazz-age hotel. Even the house itself was cool enough to keep my attention, and I had to pull myself away to keep up with the gang as we hurried from one ride to the next.
Hex wasn't the first ride we did, though. We first hit the high-G rides in the X-Sector, starting with the terrifying plummet (but unfortunately short) of Oblivion. Here's Andy and Alec waiting at the gate, gazing in anticipation.
Even with its awesome build-up, Hex also wasn't the best ride we did. That title belongs to Air, which I believe was a unanimous vote among our crew. It is a ride in which one is restrained torso and feet, laid forward into a Superman position, and then flown through the, well, air. The ride definitely makes one understand why "flight" is such a common answer to the hypothetical question pertaining to superpowers.
Here's a staged photo of me laughing with American contempt at foreign "roller coasters". Though I was rather disappointed with the promises of Oblivion, the coasters in the park were quite good (especially as the lines were short), and Air is probably the most enjoyable roller coaster I've ever ridden.
If I had had my way, we probably would have skipped lunch and been on rides all day, but that is indeed sheer madness. (I even voted for it, rephrasing the famous Star Wars/Star Trek crossover game quote, complete with Changeling voice, "It's not time for eatin'; it's time for rolla-coasters!" that probably only seven people in the whole world will get. That's what happens when I'm running on three-and-a-half hours of sleep.) Fortunately, the others were more sensible, and we sat down to lunch overlooking the park's famous valley of gardens.
I had pasties, one Cornish and the other Lancashire (a sort of steaky sort of thing with peas and such; good, but not up to Penzance standards). More filling was the view and lounging around with everybody in a breather from the wildness of the morning.
Thinking back, the gardens were a very pleasant addition to the park. Although I can't scoff the carefully tended flowerbeds of Disney World, there is something exceedingly pleasant about riding a coaster that accelerates you to 100 kilometers per hour in less than three seconds and then being greeted with almost natural woods and plenty of Renaissance statues.
We spent the afternoon on the water rides, getting rained on (I was shocked: rain in England?!), and running through more coasters while the lines were short as all the sane people weren't standing out in the wet and cold. (Although some of us kept quite dry after Clarence seemingly magically scored some free plastic bags as ponchos.) Outside of the water rides, there were contraptions with heat lamps and blow dryers where people could go to get dry for two quid after getting splashed. Pay to come to the park to get wet, then pay to get dry. That's capitalism at its finest.
One of the roller coasters even had a river of blood! How cool is that?!
Eventually, the rides closed their gates, and we had to head for home. As I had an exam the following morning at 9:30, a sensible lad would've gone straight home and to bed. I, however, was long past sensible, so we hung out at Clarence's watching CSI and Lost whilst he cooked us curry. Mm, I'll sacrifice sleep for a good curry, which is not something I would've said nine months previous.
There're a lot more pictures from the others with cameras floating around. I'll have to get some copies before I head out, which is excitingly yet painfully soon.
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