Alton Towers is not much different from the last time we went, except there is now a new ride called Rita: The Queen Of Speed. Now, this seems an utterly bizarre name for a ride - I mean, "Rita"? Whenever I think of the name Rita, I think of Rita Lewis, the Deputy Head of my secondary school, an old-style school headmistress of the type they just don't make anymore. I think of a matronly woman in her late 50s, or early 60s. I certainly don't think of a fast, exciting thrill ride. Why not call it Doris, or Ethel, or some other name that no one under the age of 40 has nowadays? The only mitigating factor I can think of would be if "Rita" was an acronym: Really Intense Thrill Acceleration, or something. Sadly, this did not seem to be the case.
I cannot report to you about dear Rita, because we didn't get to go on her. The first day she was out of action the entire time we were at the park. The second day, we queued for over an hour, in which time she broke down twice. We eventually realised that even despite having queued that long, there was still at least 30 minutes of queue in front of us - for some reason, unlike most other queue lines at most theme parks, there were no signs up to give you an indication of how long the wait would be. Richard walked off into the Cross-Valley Path to try to stretch his legs, while I got the Skyride across to Air and Nemesis. As I looked down at Rita from the cable car, I discovered she had broken down for a third time (in 2 hours). Yeah. Someone needs to do some redesigning on that one, I think.
Oblivion, Air and Nemesis are still fantastic, btw, but I was alarmed to discover that I can now keep my arms in the air for the entire duration of Nemesis. In fact, there were parts of it where I honestly thought I could sit there eating my lunch (see the start of "Space Cowboys" if you don't get the reference). I believe that Nemesis is still supposed to be one of the most intense thrill rollercoasters in the world. So if I'm now finding it boring, what else is there? (Don't suggest motorcycling or parachuting - I like my thrills scary but utterly safe, thanks).
Conversation we had while trying to find somewhere that still had bottles of water for sale:
Me: "Why don't you ask if they have water in Zombie Bites?"
Richard: "Won't they just say 'Urrrrrrr...'?"
OK, maybe you had to be there.
Other news is that someone at Alton Towers actually paid attention to the Customer Feedback Form I filled in last year, suggesting that they needed to improve the catering for people who didn't want to eat McDonalds / KFC / Pizza Hut junk, or couldn't because of health problems or food allergies. This year there were multiple vendors of jacket potatoes with cheese or beans (vegan, if you ask for no butter), grilled chicken salads with just a light vinegarette dressing, nachos with rich vegetarian salsa, and optional cheese and/or jalapenos (vegan without cheese), and even a "95% fat free" tomato and basil pasta in the Towers Restaurant near the park entrance! I am fairly impressed. Healthy eating and vegan options in theme park catering, whatever next? Well next, they need to get some fruit juice on sale, so you have a choice of something other than fizzies and Ribena if you don't want to drink water all day - but at least you can easily bring juice with you, even if you're travelling from a long way away.
I suspect I will be thoroughly underwhelmed by the vegetarian provision at Walibi. Falafel pita and frites, if that.
Alton village catering
Do NOT eat food at the Lord Shrewsbury pub in Alton village! Worst meal I've paid for EVER!
Started inauspiciously with the waiter telling us they had a rush of orders and did we mind waiting? Of course, like everyone else in the pub, we said "no" - assuming that a "wait" for the food would be maybe 20 minutes or something like that. An hour later it turned up - main dish lukewarm, chips hot and greasy and undercooked. My "homemade tomato and herb pasta" was red, the colour of plum tomatoes, but it tasted of water and contained only 2 pieces of tomato skin and no actual tomatoes. The pasta had the shape of fusilli, but the consistency of semolina. My guess is that what happened is that someone overcooked fusilli pasta (which normally takes ~10 minutes from raw) for something like 25 minutes, until most of the fusilli pieces had disintegrated and some had started to turn to mush. It was... disgusting.
Even more disgusting was the fact that my salad garnish, supposed to be coming with a vegetarian dish, had tuna in it. This wasn't a simple misunderstanding of what vegetarians eat, either. The tuna was on a piece of lettuce at the bottom of the salad, and the rest of the vegetables had been arranged carefully on top to disguise it. Fortunately, I generally start eating salad with the lettuce, and I pulled that piece out before eating any of the bits that had touched it, but still... If I had a fish allergy like my mum, I would have spent the rest of the night vomiting. As it was, I just stopped eating anything and walked out. Unfortunately, we'd already paid for the "meal" when we ordered, and after getting up far earlier than I usually do and walking round a theme park all day, I just didn't have the energy to complain.
The absolute best bit was the fact that the "meal" finally turned up at 9pm - the time that all the other pubs in the village stop serving food. So we had no choice about going somewhere else. In the end I just went back to the B&B hungry, and begged the landlady to make me toast. She was somewhat disturbed by my request, until I explained what had happened. We then had a long conversation about everything that's wrong with the hospitality industry (principally, people going into it who don't actually like people) and previous guests from hell. I don't think I want her job.
The total opposite of this experience was the meal I had in the China Kitchen in Cheadle. We'd been there once before, in 2003, when we had otterylexa and a car with us. We hadn't previously bothered going outside Alton village for meals by ourselves because the public transport is... limited (one bus every 2 hours), but having been there by bus a few times now, we had enough familiarity with the routes to attempt it. I printed off the timetables from teh intarnet and discovered we could go up to Cheadle, have ~1h 20 min to eat a meal, and then get back to Alton without too much difficulty. It worked pretty well, and the meal was fantastic. You know it's a good meal when, in a fit of indecisiveness, you order too much food - and then eat it all anyway. The beancurd in black bean sauce somehow managed to be perfectly fried and crispy yet not greasy, and the vegetable noodles were so good I was even eating the vegetables I don't much care for. Richard had steak in black pepper sauce, which he describes in his typical cynical way as "inoffensive", but I should note that all of the meat and almost all the vegetables in the dish got eaten. (Richard is a small ewok with a small appetite, and doesn't usually finish a whole dish even when he likes it.)