Today we visited Efteling, a theme park in Holland about an hour's drive from The Hague.
After making our way through the grand entrance (the structure was really amazing!), we headed for the forest trail that took us through the tales of Hans Christian Anderson. There was a troll in a tree, a dragon perched protectively above a treasure chest, Rapunzel, the little mermaid, Rumpelstiltsken... Ellie observed with great excitement from the safety of Papa's shoulders.
If you take a look at the map on their website, you'll see the area of the park called the "Fairy Realm", and that's where we spent our time. Why? They might as well rename that section "Carousel Heaven", and if you know Ellie at all, you know there is no other place to be. This is the last weekend before the start of the busy season (when school is out), so the park was relatively calm. This allowed Ellie to ride the carousel over and over and over again. Sometimes, the controllers didn't even make all the kids get off, because there weren't too many waiting for a turn. There were two small carousels next to each other, a carousel of swings, and a butterfly carousel that went up and down over little hills in the round track. Just to give you an idea, Ellie and Mama rode the standard horse carousel twice in a row before trying out the swing carousel, which we then rode three times in a row. By then, Mama was feeling a bit green from all the spinning, but Ellie wanted the butterfly carousel, which we rode twice before Mama declared it unwise to continue...at which point Papa resumed carousel duty for another two rides on the horse carousel. And all this was after she'd ridden the horse carousel multiple times with Papa, a snail ride once and took a minor break for lunch.
We finished our visit with an ice cream cone with sprinkles (obviously)! Just recounting all this spinning is making me feel dizzy and green again, but Ellie had the time of her life! Baby Stephanie was, as usual, happy to be along for the ride (no, we didn't take her on all the carousels). These days she's happy if she can gum something, baby Bjorn included (or a handy water bottle).
My favorite park moment of the day was while we were eating lunch. Two clowns came marching through. The first was the grand marshall of the parade. Bringing up the rear was a clown playing marching tunes on his drum. The parade itself was made up of several tall grey geese, following their peppy leader wherever she went. If I worked at Efteling, I would so want that to be my job!
We couldn't have had nicer weather for our visit. It was sunny and warm but not hot. One of the nicest features of Efteling is the layout amidst all the green. They left so much of the forest intact, and there was abundant natural shade. The structures were all incredibly well-designed and visually pleasing. I know there are millions of Disney fans out there who will think I'm crazy, but I find Disney parks too visually overstimulating. This park didn't have that problem. Things weren't technicolor bright, and that was pleasant. The section we visited was delightfully child-sized without being too crowded or small for adults. It was great! Markus only recently learned about it, but I think our timing was perfect. Any younger and I think Ellie wouldn't have been willing to try out much or stay as long. As it was, I was amazed at how much she enjoyed all of the rides. I was most surprised by the swings, which spun rather quickly (ooooo, still dizzy thinking about it) and had her laughing with joy. You can see more pictures (as ever) over on the flickr sidebar. I need to go lay down now.