Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

I slept fairly well, considering how exhausted I was from the panic attack the night before. It still wasn't the most comfortable night's sleep since we were sleeping on the floor again (the resort's webpage also said nothing about that). We got up around 9:00, which meant that we missed the hotel's breakfast that was included in the room rate. Just as well, since I really didn't want to eat there anyway.

We made our way out to the lobby, where Kevin checked his email on the computer I had spotted the previous night. Of all the parks we had planned on visiting in Japan, Parque Espana was the one I was most excited about seeing, so I was excited to move on to fun and exciting things and leave the previous night behind me.

At 10:00, the hotel shuttle left for the Toba train station, and arrived just a few minutes later. I was really starving by this point since I hadn't eaten anything since the relatively small hamburger for lunch the previous day at Nagashima Spaland. So I stopped in a store in the train station and found a prepackaged sandwich that was two halves of a chicken katsu sandwich and half of an egg salad sandwich. I ate while we waited for the train, then jumped on board when it arrived.

The website I looked at to plan the Toba leg of the trip showed four train stops in between Ise (at the north) and Kashikojima (at the south)...Futami-no-ura, Toba, Ugata, and Shima-Isobe. When we got to the train station, we discovered that there are actually 18!! This was only one of many, many things about the website that very much exaggerated what was in the Toba area, and how far apart things were. The Ugata station was about 15 minutes away from the Toba station (as opposed to the 7 minutes the website said) and when we arrived, we easily found the bus stop for the park. Unlike at Nagashima Spaland, we quickly bought tickets for the bus well in advance of its arrival.

Kevin takes a ride on the lacy and frilly Parque Espana bus

The landscape of the Ugata and Shima area was lovely, with lots of lush rolling hills surrounding the park.

*insert coaster train here*

Parque Espana's covered main street

We arrived shortly before 11:00am, and found the crowds to be basically nonexistent. After buying our passport admission ticket, we headed up the covered main street of the park, and emerged into the Plaza de Espana replica.

We went for Bullfight Rollercoaster Matador first since it was right in the plaza, and there was no one in line in front of us. After waiting in the doorway for the train to arrive back in the station, we took our seats in the front of the train.

This was a really fun and unique coaster! It's all indoors, and you swoop all around in between large bullfighting capes. Then at one point, you stop and all these screens light up around you that look like they have shadows of spectators cheering for you. It was so wonderfully random! The coaster itself was decent...not the worst I've ridden, and it was very fun in the random way I love.

After the coaster, we took a photo with a frog park mascot, then walked toward the back of the park through the Valencia themed area.

The theming was so cute and quite accurate based on the parts of Spain I have seen. There was even a cute little church that seemed to serve no purpose other than being an actual, functional church! The first attraction we came to was the Bosque de Cuentos (Storybook Forest). We didn't understand anything that was going on along the path since all the narration was in Japanese, but it was fun anyway.

Leaving the Bosque de Cuentos, We walked around to the very back of the park and found Don Quixote's Magical Flight. I had spotted this ride online before arriving, and it looked like a Peter Pan's Flight knock-off, with the same ride system.

A scene from Don Quixote's Magical Flight

What we found was pretty much exactly that...a suspended pirate ship that floats around a big building, and goes through scenes that tell the story of Don Quixote. It was really cute, and just as well done as Peter Pan's Flight, in my opinion!

Leaving Don Quixote's Magical Flight, we went across the street and went for a ride on Adventure Lagoon. Beforehand, this seemed like it would be a Pirates of the Caribbean knock-off ride, but really it was much more random than that! You start off at the dock which is all the way across a large lagoon from the show building entrance. You pass some pirate guys outside the ride, then head inside for some show scenes. At one point, your boat floats past a large wall of screens showing a manatee type creature swimming around. Then at the end, your boat comes to a complete stop in a round room with waterfalls all around. Then, without moving the boat at all, the floor you are on tips forward and connects with a track that drops your boat outside at about a 35 degree angle. That was a very unexpected element, and one that obviously took a lot of engineering to make seamless and functional! This drop then deposits you back out into the lagoon you started in, and you pass some happy seals on your way back to the loading dock across the lagoon.

After Adventure Lagoon, we made our way over to Chockey's Mystery House, which was an attraction where we really had no idea what it was! When we entered, there was a mirror maze, a large rotating tunnel...

...and a huge kaleidoscope that you could walk inside! It was pretty fun, and there were lots of little things to play with and have fun!

Since we were done with everything in the northernmost part of the park (for the moment), we made our way up to the Sun Cave.

On a coaster board I used to frequent, a big deal was made about the Sun Cave and how cool it was, so I was really excited to see it in person! It was a really fun and random set of large escalators with flashing Christmas lights covering the ceiling in different patterns, which kept rhythm with the music. It was really interesting to have seen video of these escalators, and assumed that I would never get around to going there and seeing them in person...yet there I was! It was a pretty surreal moment, and another one of those "Oh yeah, don't forget, you're in JAPAN!" moments!

Emerging from the Sun Cave, we went into the Museo Castillo de Xavier, which was a very nice museum about the history and culture of Spain. Of all the random museums to visit in Japan...a Spain museum...I didn't even visit one of those when I was IN Spain! My favorite part was the air conditioning haha Aside from that, they had a cave full of cave paintings...

...a model of the Segovia aqueduct, a lot of clothing and artwork exhibits and lots of interactive videos. When we left the museum and reentered the burning heat that enveloped the rest of Parque Espana, we decided to get snow cones to keep cool.

I decided to make mine rainbow, so I put a little bit of every flavor in mine, while Kevin went with a mainly lemon snow cone.

Another great Engrish sign on the snow cone cart

We ate as we walked, and eventually found ourselves on Carmen Street, headed toward the front of the park. The next ride on the agenda was the eloquently named...

...Shining Luminous Castle Sparkling Carnival Ride. We sat down for a moment outside to finish our snow cones (mine by then was a lovely shade of brown since I had mixed all the colored syrups together!) then jumped on the ride. Now...I have ridden some pretty random rides in amusement parks...Rio Encantado at Parque de Atracciones de Madrid would be one...Astroliner at Dutch Wonderland would be another...but nothing, I repeat, nothing, compares to the sheer randomness that is the Shining Luminous Castle Sparkling Carnival Ride. First, you ride in large barrels ringed with lights. You see show scenes such as a queen on a throne that's covered in lights, a large fountain of lights with a huge pearl inside it, a wall covered in silk flowers with blinking lights in it, a stationary flamenco dancer with a strobe light on her, and a finale which is three mannequins in different poses, each one in a flamenco dress, that each turn about 45 degrees to the right and left, you guessed it...all completely covered in blinking lights!

Leaving Shining Luminous Castle Sparkling Carnival Ride, we had to pause for a moment and wonder...who thought up this ride? And when they designed it and showed it to someone else, who thought it would be a good idea to build it in the park? And once it was built, who was the manager that rode it and thought "This is a FANTASTIC ride! Leave it exactly as it is!"? One just has to wonder these things when encountering a ride this random. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the ride immensely, but it was much more so because I was laughing at the sheer randomness of it than actually enjoying it because it was a well rounded and executed ride! hahaha

Leaving the Blinking Wonder, we decided to go inside the Ice Castle attraction next door because it was still hot, and because I had seen pictures of them online and had wanted to go in one, but had never been to a park that had one. It was about $3 to enter, and that came with a temporary tattoo for your hand so you could go back in as many times as you wanted without having to pay again.

Blocks of ice with flowers in them inside the Ice Castle

It was an interesting little place...you passed through a few rooms that were cool, then you got to the one main room that was inside the freezer that the guide map said was 30 degrees below zero! It was extremely cold, but felt incredibly good in the heat!

I laid down on a ice bed they had, but when Kevin took a little too long to take a picture of me with both cameras, it got really uncomfortable really quickly! haha

When we left the Ice Castle...ahhh it felt so good to be so cooled down out in the heat. When I get around to opening my amusement park, it will definitely have an ice room! As we approached the main street area, we saw that a parade was making its way through the park, so we stopped briefly to watch it. Each float was themed to something Spanish, like flamenco, bullfighting, artwork and stuff. When it was time for the interactive part of the parade where it stops, the float that stopped in front of us was a wine making float, complete with dancing grapes and drunk acting Spaniards!

Kevin gets a drink of wine from a parade actor

Drunken grapes dancing around during the parade

Kevin doing the parade interaction dance

Kevin dancing around with the drunken grapes

The actors were dancing around, all acting drunk, then started pulling people out of the audience to participate. First they pulled Kevin, then when the guy went to pull me out of the audience, I said "No, I need to take photos of him!" in Spanish, since I could tell he was from Spain. But he insisted that I come out there with them, so I did, much to the delight of all the Japanese people around us! They tried to teach us some dance moves, but I wasn't paying attention enough to catch on to what they meant. So they had everyone dance around to the beat, but I was still more concerned with getting good photos than actually doing the little dance. Audience participation is NOT my thing at all, but I tried to be a good sport about it! I ended up with a few really funny photos of Kevin out of it though!

After dancing, we scooted back behind the rope and watched the rest of the parade go by. After it was done, we decided to go into the area of the park where Pyrenees is. One of the first rides we passed was Musical Circus, but it was in between shows and would have been over a 10 minute wait. We decided to go ahead and ride Pyrenees first, then come back for Musical Circus later.

Pyrenees had no line at all, so we both got front row seats. This is an extremely powerful and G-filled ride, even to the point of being a little uncomfortable in spots. A few times the Gs caused my legs to tingle and itch, but nothing too unpleasant. There is also a great bunny hill at the end, which adds airtime just like Fire Dragon has, only much closer to the ground. When we got off the ride, Kevin was looking a little green, so we sat down on the bench at the exit and waited until he felt better to keep walking.

Batalla de Alcazar

After Pyrenees, we took it easy for a moment and rode the shooting dark ride, Batalla de Alcazar (Battle for the Castle). This was another interesting ride, but didn't quite hold a candle to the other random masterpieces in the park!

Since Gran Monserrat was nearby, we decided to go ahead and ride it while we were in the area. This ride doesn't look like much, but it's very wild and fast once you're riding it. It was quite surprising, and Kevin said it was his favorite of the three coasters in the park. I'm not sure which one I would say was best...Pyrenees was a world class coaster, but Gran Monserrat was probably more fun, but Bullfight Rollercoaster Matador was just so wonderfully random...tough call on that one!

After those were done, we decided to go ahead and ride Musical Circus. There was no one else waiting when we arrived, so we had the whole indoor queue to ourselves for a while. This was a great ride, eventhough I only understood the words "amigo" and "arigato"! It is hands down the strangest ride system I have ever ridden in! The ride vehicle is circular, and when you start out, you are in a circular room. The vehicle turns and points you at different scenes around the room, all of which are full of happy little woodland animals. After a few minutes of the show, the entire floor drops down to a basement level of the building! Then the vehicle moves forward onto another platform that then raises back up to the second level of the building and into a completely different room with a completely different show!

The second room has some big-eyed freaky monster things, and again we had no idea what was going on or what they were saying. All we could tell was that they were menacing the cute little bunny that seemed to be the star of the show. From there, you drop down to the lower level again (which is all blue and the walls sort of look like a horizon, and there is creepy music playing), move forward again into the third show scene. This scene was just a 3D screen with some random, "unable to be followed if you don't speak Japanese" stuff on it. After rotating again, it drops down, moves forward then lifts back up into the finale scene. This scene is all the happy little animals again, and they are all singing some "amigo amigo" song, which is so funny because most of it is in Japanese except for a few random Spanish parts! This was a seriously odd yet extremely awesome ride. This ride system took some serious engineering to create, and there were tons of animatronics inside.

After Musical Circus, we were thinking about lunch, but decided to stop in the Alice in Wonderland attraction first. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but what we got was a walk through where you carried a magic wand and pointed it at stuff. Then when you pointed the wand at certain things, they would light up, play music or whatever. It was pretty fun, and definitely something I'm glad we did. I even got some funny video of us walking through it, pointing the wands at all kinds of random things just to see what would happen.

With our tummies grumbling at us, we went back to the main street area and decided to stop in Pizza la Roja for a slice of pizza for lunch. They didn't have an English menu, so I looked up the word for chicken in my Japanese dictionary, and the worker pointed out which one was chicken. The combo came with a Coke and a hash brown patty...not something that tends to go together, but ok! After we paid, the same girl came back out to the table and was like "chicken?" and pointing to the menu. I said yes, then she pointed at a completely different piece of pizza than what I had ordered. I have no idea what was on the original piece, but I'm glad she figured out that I wanted the chicken one!

When the food arrived, my pizza ended up being chicken, mushroom and seaweed! hahaha But really, it was quite good, so who cares if it had seaweed (or "sea vegetable" as they call it in Japan) on it! Kevin couldn't tell what was on his slice before he ordered it, but when it arrived, it was pepperoni, ham, mushroom, potato and corn pizza! hahah He seemed to enjoy his as well though, so we both chalked it up to a very unique Japanese pizza experience!

After lingering in the air conditioning over lunch, we rounded the corner and went inside Pierrot the Circus, which was a very large building with some rides inside. We couldn't quite make out what many of the rides were from their park map descriptions, but we did manage to make out "shooting ride" on a couple of them. We thought the entrance was through a restaurant, so we followed this group of girls into the restaurant and upstairs, assuming that they knew where they were going. Once we all got upstairs, it was just a seating area for the restaurant, and they turned around and came back down. So much for them knowing where they're going! It was also SO HOT inside that seating area...who would want to eat in a place where you are sweating to death??

Leaving the restaurant, we found the entrance through a very non-descript door on the other side of the little entrance hall. Inside, we didn't see a single other person besides the employees! We looked around a bit and it seemed to be primarily kiddie rides, including a bouncy inflatable, a Frog Hopper and a little fire truck ride that we weren't able to figure out. We spotted the shooting ride, so we headed up the stairs for a ride.

It was a suspended monorail type ride system, and all the vehicles were themed to some kind of little basket being carried around by an umbrella. The whole ride was just weird and trippy, and I remember remarking at one point that I think I'd had nightmares that looked like that! Eventhough it was strange, it was very difficult to hit the targets with your gun, so both of our scores were very low!

We paused for a moment to peruse the map and see what was left that we hadn't ridden. The Fiesta Train and Splash Montserrat were just about the only two rides we hadn't done (aside from some kiddie rides), so we walked back over toward Pyrenees.

We chose the Fiesta Train first since it was closer, and had just a few minutes of wait before the train arrived in the station.

This was just long enough for me to sprint over to Pyrenees and catch the only two "in motion" shots I got of it all day. The train was a nice little ride that took us all over the Fiesta Plaza area of the park.

When the train ride was over, we went over to Splash Montserrat, which was a fairly large looking log flume ride. When we arrived, I noticed the employees squeegeeing out each boat before the next group of riders sat down. How considerate of them, even if the boats don't get that wet! I thought this was a nice and relaxing ride, much like Jet Coaster at Nagashima Spaland had been the day before. We got a little wet, but not bad, and not nearly bad enough to merit squeegeeing out the boat afterwards hehe

With everything we'd wanted to ride already done, it was still before 3:30pm, and the park closed at 6:00pm. I still had a lot of battery power left on my camcorder, so I said that I wouldn't mind riding Don Quixote's Magical Flight and Adventure Lagoon again so I could tape them.

A fountain in the Plaza Mayor

This character cornered us in the Plaza Mayor and insisted that Kevin lose weight!

Then he insisted that Kevin shave!

Then, once he was done insulting Kevin, he proposed to me!

We wandered around the Plaza Mayor area of the park, even noting the location of one restaurant where we ate in the real Plaza Mayor in Spain. I also made a bathroom pit stop...thank heavens for handicapped toilets! hahaha We browsed some gift shops while we were in the area, but everything seemed very nice (and very expensive, like pearl jewelry) so we didn't buy anything. Kevin didn't particularly want to walk over to the back of the park again, so he opted to watch a show in a large amphitheater instead.

When I left him there, he was the only person in the entire theater waiting for the show! haha

I rode the Sun Cave back down to the lower northern area of the park, and rode Don Quixote first, then Adventure Lagoon again. Neither ride's video came out all that well since they are very dark, but they came out well enough to figure out what's going on. When I was at Adventure Lagoon, I was the only person anywhere to be seen, so I had the boat all to myself. The ride op started in on a long spiel in Japanese, but I just looked at her all confused and said I didn't speak Japanese. She started to laugh, then began to motion out what she needed to say...to stay seated, to hold onto the bar in front of me, and to watch my head when I got out of the boat. Of course, at the end of the ride, I nearly hit my head! Thank heavens I didn't!

My self portrait in the Sun Cave

After Adventure Lagoon, I rode up through the Sun Cave, pausing briefly to watch the entire light show as I passed. When I met back up with Kevin at the amphitheater, he said that the show was really cute, and that he was able to keep up with most of the story despite its being in Japanese. At this point, I had about 5 minutes of battery life left in my camera, so I said that I wanted to walk through the Ice Castle one more time to get video inside. So as we walked toward the entrance of the park, we ducked in for another trip through the freezing Ice Castle.

Directly across the street from the Ice Castle was a movie theater, which was the only one of the major attractions that we hadn't done. A movie was starting soon, so we went inside, assuming it was a film about Spain or something. What it ended up being was a cartoon about the mascots of the park, and an adventure they were having. It was all in Japanese, so thanks to the dark and comfy theater, I quickly lost track of the storyline since I was almost falling asleep. Upon examination of the board out front, it looked like every showing in the theater was different, with some being about Spain and others being about the park mascots.

With everything done that we wanted to do, it was nearing time for the park to close, so we decided to peruse a few final gift shops on the way out.

Howdy Pardner!

They had a bunch of little junky things like key chains and hats, but I don't like buying stuff like that since it just sits around and isn't useful. So I ended up buying two magnetic clips...one with Choquey, the little boy bunny looking mascot, and one with the female squirrel looking mascot who's name I am forgetting.

It was just about closing time when we finally decided that we were done, so we headed back out to the bus stop. I really really loved this park, and when pressed to decide, I am pretty sure that this is my favorite amusement park I've been to (Disney and Universal excluded, of course). Everything was just so well done, and the park was beautifully landscaped and themed. The coasters were all fantastic, and the dark ride collection was the absolute best of anywhere I have been! Everything was just so random, and more than that, it was random on a grand scale! Rides like Musical Circus and Shining Luminous Castle Sparkling Carnival Ride really took some time, effort and engineering expertise to make them that random! Whenever I encounter a park like this one, I can't help but be sad that it is on the other side of the world from me :-(

So, after a short wait, we caught a bus back to the Ugata station. We had mutually decided the previous night to make sure and stay out of the hotel until dinner time so we wouldn't be in the same food situation as the night before. We wandered around a bit outside of the Ugata station, but the streets were nearly deserted. We didn't find any businesses at all that were open, including restaurants. Defeated, we returned to the Ugata station. While there, we decided to scrap our plan for sightseeing near Toba since the whole area was just not what it was represented to be, and it would be really difficult to get between attractions. I wanted to see Meoto Iwa and the Futami Sea Paradise, but it would have taken a whole day to see those two! So we decided to leave early and go on to Osaka so we would have more time there.

Arriving in Toba, we went to the JR office and reserved two seats on a train the next morning to Nagoya, then a Shinkansen ticket from Nagoya to Osaka. I went back into the same store I'd gone in that morning and bought another one of the chicken and egg sandwich packs, as well as a honey and lemon sweet roll thing for dinner. Kevin and I very briefly discussed trying to walk back to the hotel, but quickly decided against that in favor of a cab ride. Good thing, as we would have never been able to find our way back to the hotel, and even if we had, it would have been a grueling uphill walk most of the way. Too bad we couldn't have called for the hotel shuttle, but since no one spoke English, we knew trying to call would be a lost cause.

When we pulled up in the cab, a lady came scurrying to the door and greeted us, and then the front desk guy we'd been dealing with arrived (in hind sight, they must have "assigned" him to us since he spoke just a little bit of English...any time we had to deal with anyone, it was this same guy that we dealt with). They immediately were saying "Food? Food?" and we kept vehemently saying "No, no food!" So then they would look confused, and muster a word like "Dinner?" and when we would again say "No, no dinner" and they would look confused again. I think eventually we said it enough times that they realized that, no, we really didn't want the food served to us again that night!

Before we even made it inside the building, the front desk guy was frantically telling us that he had found Kevin's wallet!! It turns out that he had called all of the train stations we had been in the day before, and had finally found it in the Ise-shi station, which is where we changed train lines to get to Toba. AMAZING...absolutely amazing that this guy would take the time to call around and try to find the wallet! And more than that, he then offered to drive us in the hotel shuttle up to Ise-shi station to retrieve the wallet. This was a good 45 minute drive away, and I couldn't believe that he was going to drop everything and drive us there!

I still had my sandwich with me (and I didn't want to eat it in the car...that would be very bad manners in Japan!) so I quickly ran the sandwich up to the room and stuck it in the mini bar. In the process, I accidentally knocked a bottle of whiskey out of its place, and couldn't get it back in. I was holding out hope that I wouldn't get charged for it! After stashing the sandwich, I quickly ran downstairs and got a grape Fanta, then ran back up the steps to the lobby. As soon as I was there, we all jumped into the van and were off on our unexpected field trip to Ise.

The man from the hotel didn't say a word the entire time we drove, but Kevin and I did chat quietly the whole time. When we arrived, it was raining, so we ran inside and followed the guy to the ticket window where the lost and found stuff was.

The man from Toba Grand Hotel who found Kevin's wallet

All Kevin had to do was show his passport, and the wallet was handed back over to him. And every bit of money and all the credit cards were still inside! Incredible! In the US, IF you got it back at all, it most likely wouldn't have the money in it! It's absolutely incredible how honest the majority of people seem to be in Japan. This was time #2 that Kevin chalked up to his "the lost item will be found" fortune from Sensoji temple.

With his wallet securely in hand, we got back into the van and began the rainy drive back to the hotel. When we arrived back, we really couldn't say thank you enough for the help the man had given us, but he really acted like it was nothing, and that he was happy to do it! If tipping wasn't insulting in Japan, this guy would have gotten a big tip from us!

When we got back to the room, I settled down and started to chow on my chicken and egg sandwich set. It was good, just like every cold chicken sandwich I had there. The dessert I'd gotten was interesting too. It looked like a big hoagie roll, but inside it had a ribbon of lemon cream and a ribbon of honey cream. It was great, but it was almost too big to finish. When I was done with my very late dinner, we both went to bed soon after.

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