Posted in Travel

Plopsaland – It’s Nicer Than It Sounds!

The next instalment about our half-term trip to France, Belgium and Luxembourg, focusing on the delightfully-named Belgian theme park Plopsaland

Entrance to Mayaland, part of Plopsaland
Getting ready for a bee’s eye view

“Plopsaland – it’s not just about toilets!”

As we tour this amusement park near the Belgian seaside town of De Panne, I’m trying to devise a slogan that will do it justice, unlike its name, which sounds less than alluring to the English speaker’s ear.

Sign in Flemish with French translation
Putting Flemish first

Plopsaland is defiantly Belgian. Its directional signs are all in Flemish, with a less prominent French translation. There is not a word of English in sight – but why should there be? The polyglots of Disneyland have given us English an inflated idea of the importance of our native tongue.

Model of Maya
Meet Maya

It seems Plopsaland doesn’t especially welcome the French speaker either. When I ask an attendant a question in French, he looks at me blankly, saying “Je ne parle pas Français”. A Belgian who doesn’t speak French? I didn’t know such a person existed.

To be fair, the pleasant young man on reception spoke perfect English. He apologised that only one of the park’s many zones was open, as it receives few visitors in February. Each zone is dedicated to a different Belgian cartoon, of which Maya is the only one I know, from an encounter during my teenage years in Germany, where she was known as Die Biene Maya  (Maya The Bee). I can still sing the theme tune. (I may not know Flemish, but I do speak fluent cartoon.) Fortunately, today’s open zone is Mayaland.

Giant strawberries overhead in Plopsaland
From a bee’s eye view

The entrance to Plopsaland is similar to Disneyland’s, a vast paved forecourt curving around you as if offering a welcoming embrace. Beyond the main gates lies Flanders’ equivalent to Disneyland’s Main Street, composed of eerily deserted Flemish merchants’ houses.

On the far side of the square is a heavily disguised industrial metal storage shed. It’s like a an aircraft hangar on acid, decked from floor to rafters with giant plants and flowers, scaled up to make us feel as if we are the same size as bees. Mushrooms dwarf the entrance, and just inside vast dusky strawberries hang tantalisingly above our heads. The hall is filled with flowers that have overdosed on plant food.

Waterlily boats in Plopsaland
By the light of the silvery moon

Laura’s eyes light up. She has spotted nestling among the floral forest seven or eight classic theme park rides, each with an added a dose of bee-appeal, and fit for children from toddler to 10 (Laura’s age).

Gordon and I take it in turns to accompany her on the rides. At The Dancing Tree, we sit in a massive hollowed log which swings, rocks and revolves in an arc. Strapped into waterlily boats, we weave a graceful figure-of-eight beneath three-metre bulrushes against the backdrop of a cloudless  midnight sky.  Harnessed into sturdy plastic seats, we ascend the Redwood of dandelion stems, reaching the ceiling, before plummeting, spinning, back to the floor.

Giant slide at Plopsaland
Please don’t change lanes

On Plopsaland’s answer to Disney’s Flying Dumbos, we soar aloft in flower cups, each huge bloom accompanied by a plump, smiling bee the size of a small dog. Now and again, we haul ourselves from one side of Mayaland to the other by way of a wood raft which is attached to a rope traversing the stream that divides the hall.

I climb the giant slide with trepidation. I still bear a scar on my wrist from too close an encounter with a Welsh helter-skelter a few years ago. At least this time I don’t inadvertently change lanes, as I did on the giant slide at Horseworld, when I became unexpectedly airborne half way through a steep drop.

The Dancing Log ride
Gordon and Laura take a spin on the log
Laura and giant grasshopper
Laura meets the giant grasshopper

Providing much-needed respite for the adults is a pleasant café, offering mass-produced Flemish dishes, from erstersoepe to flammekuche. The servings are on a scale with the flowers, and Laura is confronted there by the biggest crepe she has ever seen. Perhaps park policy is to provide extra ballast on the rides – or to plunge all the grown-ups into a post-prandial snooze, allowing the children longer to play undisturbed. While we’re dining, a seven foot grasshopper strolls around shaking small hands.

The advantage of visiting in February is that there are no queues, allowing us to ride non-stop all afternoon.

Giant dandelion ride
Enough to give any gardener nightmares: the giant dandelion ride

Finally, towards closing time, we pop into the shop to scoop up thew inevitable souvenirs: plastic play figures of Maya and friends for Laura and, in the absence of branded t-shirts,  for Laura’s younger cousin a small plastic lunch box featuring the name of the gnome after which we’ve discovered the place is named: Plop. Knowing his sense of humour, we are certain it will give him hours of pleasure.

As the gates are locked behind us, we stroll slowly out of the complex, lingering to take photos and storing the concepts in our memory for future recall. Laura and I lag considerably behind Gordon so are surprised when we get back to the van to discover he is not yet there. Then the penny drops.

“I bet I know where he is,” I tell Laura.

As I march her back to the toilet block at the entrance, we see Gordon emerging from the Gents.

“I thought so,” I tell Laura. “He’d gone for a Plop.”

Plastic box with the Gnome Plop on the lid
We wonder what Laura’s cousin will keep in this box

Like to read my previous posts about our February trip to France, Belgium and the Netherlands? Here you go! (Next instalment to follow soon)

Author:

Optimistic author, blogger, journalist, book reviewer and public speaker whose life revolves around books. Her first love is writing fiction, including the new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels (out 2017), short stories and essays inspired by her life in an English village. She also writes how-to books for authors and books about living with Type 1 diabetes. She is Author Advice Centre Editor and and UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Advice Centre blog, an ambassador for the children's reading charity Readathon, and an official speaker for the diabetes research charity JDRF.

8 thoughts on “Plopsaland – It’s Nicer Than It Sounds!

  1. Did you get Alka Seltzer antacid in the UK? “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is!”

    I need a translation for “Welsh helter-skelter,” please. 🙂

    1. Yes, I remember that ad, Laura! Don’t think we have it any more though. Amazing how these old ads get lodged forever in our brains…

      A helter-skelter is a traditional fairground attraction – a wooden tower that looks a bit like a lighthouse. It’s usually painted in red and yellow stripes. You grab a hessian sack or coconut mat the the foot of the stairs before you go up, and then at the top you get on a slide (or do you call it it a chute? that’s the Scottish word for it!) , which winds round the outside of the tower, and whizz down to the bottom. You have to keep your limbs tucked in and slide down it to avoid friction burns – or not, in my case! There are some pictures on this link – and the one I injured myself on was about the same vintage! We were visiting a wonderful antique fairground in Wales at the time – and the rides reflected the more relaxed attitude to health and safety in times past! http://www.joylandbooks.com/themagiceye/galleries/helterskelters.htm

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