Tag Archives: Disneyland

Early Days, 1955 Part Three – Disney, McDonald’s and La Résistance

1955 disney

“The people of McDonald’s need guidance. They need to be told that Europe is not Disneyland…. It should look like a normal European bistro and nothing to tell you from the outside that this is a McDonald’s except for a discreet golden arches sticker on each window and a steady stream of people with enormous asses going in and out of the front door.” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here Nor there

The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many.  My young children enjoyed it of course but I tired of the theme parks fairly quickly and looking back I would have to say that I liked EPCOT most of all and here in Walt’s own personal dream my favourite was the World Showcase.

Disney World Epcot

In 1955 Disney and McDonald’s almost got together when Ray Kroc wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.” The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

I am not sure just how big a set-back that was because since then McDonald’s has globalised and like a giant tsunami swept into every continent  in the World, the company has more than forty thousand restaurants in over a hundred countries, with two million employees and serving nearly seventy-five million people every day which is a staggering 7.5% of the World’s population – but perhaps some people go twice!

Although a lot of us deny ever dining there most of us secretly do.  Take the French for example.

The French are famously snooty and protectionist about all things Gallic and they didn’t take very kindly to Micky Mouse when plans were revealed to open a Disney theme park in Paris and the proposal was a subject of fierce debate and controversy.

I like France but the country has a massive unjustified superiority complex and the French are so up themselves about things like wine and food and language whilst they turn a blind eye to dog poop on the pavements in Paris, too much garlic in their food and Charles Aznavour as a cultural icon.

As Disney threatened, French intellectuals and conservative republican traditionalists denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney and argued that it would encourage in France an unhealthy American type of consumerism.  But they were powerless to stop it and it opened anyway in April 1992.  There was one final act of defiance in June of the same year when a group of French farmers blockaded Euro Disney in protest of farm policies supported at the time by the United States.

As heirs to the revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1968 French farmers in gilet jaune  need of course only the tiniest excuse to raise a barricade, shut down motorways and burn tractor tyres.  Booking a ferry ticket from Dover to Calais always includes that inherent risk.

Today the theme park, rebranded as Disneyland Paris, welcomes over fifteen million guests a year and half of these visitors are from France and that is more than 10% of the population of the country!

And this statistic raises another important issue.  The French boast that with over eighty million people a year they are the most visited country in Europe but it turns out that 10% of these visitors are going to Disneyland and think they are in the USA!

EPCOT France

After language the French get most uptight about food and for McDonald’s the battle for France was one of the most difficult.  The first outlet was opened in the Paris suburb of Créteil in 1972 and in 1999 a farmer turned environmental activist and anti-globalisation protester Jose Bové gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘drive-through’ when he vandalised a McDonald’s in the town of Millau in the south of France by driving a tractor into it.

jose-bove

At the time he was running for President and must have thought this would be popular with the French electorate but he was no match for Le Big Mac and this act of folly completely scuppered his chances. The French it seems didn’t want a modern day Asterix the Gaul swinging a battle axe heading up their government. The first round of the presidential election was held  and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, getting barely one percent of the total vote.

By then, the Gallic dam was well and truly breached, McDonald’s was expanding rapidly in the land of classic cuisine and fine dining and had three hundred more restaurants than when Bové began his futile campaign.  The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was even in the United States.  Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a sticky landslide of mayonnaise, milkshake and ketchup.

He spent a few weeks in jail but unbelievably went on to become a representative at the European Parliament.  Little wonder the people of the UK want to leave!

More evidence of French snobbery…

“Lots of people around the world are completely bemused by the fact that French people want a McDo at all. Many of us see gastronomy in France as something to be cherished and a visit to McDo is letting the side down and a slap in the face to the heritage of French cuisine.” – a patriotic French website

Even though the French still maintain that they despise the fast food chain an awful lot of people eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under the golden arches with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the population.  McDonald’s, or “McDo” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret.   In 2017 sales exceeded five billion euros.

That is more than it generates in the UK and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself and it has the most locations per capita in Europe and the fourth-highest rate in the world ( USA, Japan, China are the top three, the UK is seventh).  It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance which is probably why over eight million people visit the Museum every year, not to see the most famous painting in the World but to get a Big Mac and Large Fries!

Mona Lisa with Fries

Statistically (but questionably) France is the most visited country in the World but most likely because most people want to go to eat at McDonald’s.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria was restored to the status of sovereign independent state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties was, and hopefully always will be, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.

mcdonalds-france

Travels in Spain, The Alcazar of Segovia

Segovia Spain

“The finest sight in Castile, is how Segovians sweepingly define the first appearance of their city and I agree with them: there are few urban compositions on earth to equal the impact of Segovia….” – Jan Morris – ‘Spain’

After we had finished our drink in Ávila it was reluctantly time to leave.  We had liked it here but it was time to go and drive to our final destination, Segovia, about thirty miles away to the east.  This involved a drive along the line of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the central mountain range of the Iberian Peninsula which effectively splits Spain in two, north and south.

The approach to Segovia was truly wonderful and still some way out we could see a golden city on a convenient rocky outcrop rising majestically from the plain with a spectacular mountain backdrop and the Cathedral and the Alcázar reaching dramatically into the blue sky.

I was determined not to repeat the parking difficulties of Ávila but this plan went spectacularly wrong after I drove through the gates into the old city and tried to guess a way to the Plaza Mayor where our hotel was waiting for us.  We made a couple of circuits stopping here and there to consult an inadequate map and then by chance arrived at the main square where our path was blocked by one of those steel retractable bollards and my dramatic entrance raised the eyebrows of some nearby pedestrians.

Some men in a bar directed me to another entrance and this had a bollard in the down position and an intercom to request permission to enter.  There was no answer and I was nervous about driving across it in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘Caught on Camera’.  I could sense that a bus driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could.  Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course.

We were staying at the Sercotel Infanta Isabel and we had one of the best rooms on the second floor with a perfect view of the Plaza Mayor lined with cafés and bars and with the Cathedral directly opposite.

Segovia x 6

As it went dark it was nice to sit and watch the square melting from afternoon into evening with plenty of street activity.  There were lots of Segovians walking out in families and we joined them in the busy streets and looked for somewhere to eat.  We walked further than planned and ended up at the Aqueduct, which we were really saving until tomorrow so finding ourselves at the bottom of the town we walked back and by my choice found a little restaurant that turned out to be quite disappointing.

The next morning after breakfast we walked out into the sociable main square and followed a street adjacent to the Cathedral and walked in the direction of the Alcázar, which according to visitor statistics is the most visited castle in Spain.

The route took us through narrow streets, past craft shops and churches and eventually brought us out at the north of the city on the top of a rocky outcrop that was the location of the fortress that was begun in the twelfth century and was subsequently occupied by a succession of Castilian monarchs from Alfonso X to Phillip II and Charles III.

Alcazar Segovia

Segovia and the Spanish tourist board would have us believe that the Alcázar was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland and Disneyworld but there is no real evidence for this.  In fact it is more likely that the famous icon of the Disney empire was inspired principally by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and several picturesque French palaces, most notably Louis XIV’s Versailles although it is also quite possible that the Alcázar in Segovia may also have been an important influence.

We purchased tickets to visit the Alcázar and paid a little extra to climb to the top of the Torre de Juan II (total price €6 each).  The castle was busy with a coach full of Japanese tourists and several school visits so we had to try and arrange our journey through the rooms and exhibits to try and avoid the busy sections and the crowds.  After visiting the state rooms and the armouries we ended our visit with a climb of three hundred and twenty steps up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower where we were rewarded for our efforts with fabulous views over the city and the surrounding countryside.

It had taken most of the morning to visit the Alcázar and after we were finished we walked back to the Plaza Mayor for a drink and a tapas and selected a bar with tables in the sun and sat and enjoyed watching the residents of Segovia as they went about their business of the day in probably the same way that they have for a thousand years.  A walk around the square, a sit down, a chat, a walk around the square, a sit down, a chat and so on and so on.

It was hot now and we were enjoying the sun so when the bar owner pulled down the canopy for shade we moved on back into the side streets to find a photo opportunity of a medieval door that had inspired us from a description in a guide book that we had purchased at the castle.  With mission accomplished and pictures in the can we returned to the square and stopped at a different bar for more drink and more tapas and then left and walked in the opposite direction towards the Roman Aqueduct.

Segovia 02

Age of Innocence – Disney and McDonalds

Walt Disney (2)

The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many.

Read the full story…

 

EPCOT World Showcase – Norway

EPCOT Norway

At EPCOT the Norway Maelstrom ride is on water with the occasional splashes that leave a few damp patches on your summer clothes but Norway in January in the driving rain and penetrating drizzle is a much more authentic getting wet experience I can tell you!

We joined a handful of intrepid local people in brightly coloured ‘North Face’ kagools and sturdy hiking boots who were wandering along the coast line cinder path stopping occasionally for no apparent reason to stop and stare out into the grey nothingness of the North Sea as though searching the horizon for long lost Viking ancestors returning from a raiding expedition.

Read the full story…

Northern Spain – The City of Segovia

Aqueduct of Segovia

“Here were churches, castles, and medieval walls standing sharp in the evening light, but all dwarfed by that extraordinary phenomenon of masonry, the Roman aqueduct, which overshadowed the whole…’The Aqueduct’, said the farmer, pointing with his whip, in case by chance I had failed to notice it.” Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Midsummer Morning’

After arrival in Segovia we walked out into the sociable main square and followed a street adjacent to the Cathedral and walked in the direction of the Alcázar, which is said to be the most visited castle in Spain.  The route took us through narrow streets, past craft shops and churches and eventually brought us out at the north of the city on the top of a rocky outcrop that was the location of the fortress that was begun in the twelfth century and was subsequently occupied by a succession of Castilian monarchs from Alfonso X to Phillip II and Charles III.  In the nineteenth century it was destroyed by fire but was restored to its present magnificent status soon after.

Segovia and the Spanish tourist board would have us believe that the Alcázar was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland and Disneyworld but sadly for them there is no real evidence for this.  In fact it is more likely that the famous icon of the Disney empire was inspired principally by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and several picturesque French palaces, most notably Louis XIV’s Versailles although it remains slightly possible that the Alcázar in Segovia may also have been an important influence as well.

We purchased tickets to visit the Alcázar and paid a little extra to climb to the top of the Torre de Juan II (total price €6 each).  The castle was busy with a coach full of Japanese tourists and several school visits so we had to try and arrange our journey through the rooms and exhibits to try and avoid the busy sections and the crowds.  After visiting the state rooms and the armouries we ended our visit with a climb of three hundred and twenty steps up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower where we were rewarded for our efforts with fabulous views over the city and the surrounding countryside.

Alcazar of Segovia

It had taken most of the morning to visit the Alcázar and after we were finished we walked back to the Plaza Mayor for a drink and tapas and selected a bar with tables in the sun and sat and enjoyed watching the residents of Segovia as they went about their business of the day in probably the same way that they have for a thousand years.  A walk around the square, a sit down, a chat, a walk around the square, a sit down, a chat and so on and so on.

If the Alcázar isn’t enough for one city the Aqueduct is the most recognised and famous historical symbol of Segovia. It was built at the end of first to early second century AD by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometre from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town. This is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large, rough-hewn granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.

We liked the Aqueduct and looked all round it from every possible angle, it is one of those structures that make you appreciate just how brilliant the Romans were.  I never tire of visiting these ancient structures, I feel privileged to able to enjoy them and the sense of wonderment is never reduced no matter how many I see.

There was only one more thing to do in Segovia so after a refreshment break we went to the Cathedral to finish off the day.  The building was completed in 1577 and is regarded as the World’s last great Gothic Cathedral.  There was an admission charge again, which seems to becoming quite normal, so we paid the €3 and then entered what I suggest is quite possibly the coldest cathedral in Spain and probably all of Europe.  We were inappropriately dressed for sub-zero temperatures and although the cathedral was well worth the admission charge and the visit it was too cold to enjoy it so we sprinted around the naves and the chapels with rather indecent haste and were glad to come about again into the sunshine with only seconds to go before terminal hypothermia set in.

Later in the agreeable afternoon sunshine we needed to warm up so we ambled around the pretty little streets, bought some wine from a little shop near to the hotel and then went back to the room to drink it and look out from our balcony over the square at the late afternoon activity.  The Sercotel Infanta Isabel was a good hotel in an excellent location and we enjoyed the setting and the atmosphere as we drank our bottle of local Spanish wine and thoughts turned to dining arrangements for the evening.

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Around the World in Eighty Minutes – Part Five, Norway

epcot-norway-viking

The Land of the Vikings…

There is a lot more to Norway than men with beards and bloody axes but the Disney Website simply introduces Norway with the words “Welcome to the land of the Vikings!”

Whilst it suits Disney to retain the school boy image of them it actually becomes increasingly evident that Viking society was much more complex and popular conceptions of them are often in conflict with the truth that emerges from recent archaeology and modern research.

The traditional view of the Vikings as violent brutes and intrepid adventurers are part true and part fable but no one can be absolutely certain of the accurate ratio and popular representations of these men in horned helmets remain for now highly clichéd.  Disney of course had a Wooden Longboat (its gone now I understand) and a shop that inevitably sold Viking helmets based on the traditional image of the plundering Norsemen.

In Florida in October the sun was permanently shining and the Viking story was played out under blue skies but I visited Haugesund in Norway in January and this was a very bleak experience.  On one especially depressing morning with the city crippled under the weight of a leaden grey sky we set out in a northerly direction along the black granite coast towards Haugesund’s most famous visitor attraction, the Haroldshaugen Norges Riksmonument a couple of kilometres outside of the city.

At EPCOT the Norway Maelstrom ride is on water with the occasional splashes that leave a few damp patches on your summer clothes but Norway in January in the driving rain and penetrating drizzle is a much more authentic getting wet experience I can tell you!

We joined a handful of intrepid local people in brightly coloured ‘North Face’ kagools and sturdy hiking boots who were wandering along the coast line cinder path stopping occasionally for no apparent reason to stop and stare out into the grey nothingness of the North Sea as though searching the horizon for long lost Viking ancestors returning from a raiding expedition.

We found the monument and it struck me as a bit strange for an Anglo-Saxon to be visiting a memorial that commemorates the Viking Age and a starting off point for longships full of heathen bullies on their way across the North Sea to plunder and pillage a part of England where I now live.

Disney and the Real Thing:

Epcot - Norway   Haugesund Norway

Haraldshaugen

was erected during the millennial celebration of Norway’s unification into one kingdom under the rule of King Harald I and was unveiled on July 18th 1872 by Crown Prince Oscar to commemorate the one thousand year anniversary of the Battle of Hafrsfjord.  

Truthfully I found it a bit disappointing I have to say, a seventeen metre high granite obelisk surrounded by a memorial stones in a Stonehenge sort of way, next to an deserted car park, a closed visitor centre and an empty chained up vending machine but I’m sure I am being unfair because places such as these are not really meant to be visited on a cold, wet day in January.

We walked back along the same route and into the suburbs of the city which felt rather like a deciduous tree coping with winter; hanging on to life,existing, hibernating, waiting, watching and hoping for the first signs of Spring.  The people with hats pulled down low and pale complexions, weary streets, grass burned brown by frost and houses battered and besieged, paintwork picked bare by the frost and firmly closed to the outside world, a city beaten to the edge of submission by winter and still some way to go before it was all over.

By contrast, in Florida in October we wandered through Norway with the sun beating down and after the shops and the bakeries there was a water ride that took us back to a mythological version of Norway’s Viking days.

Norway Maelstrom Ride…

Boats passed through scenes of seafarers and Vikings and then through an enchanted swamp and was then forced backwards down a waterfall by angry trolls.  The boats floated rapidly past scenes of polar bears and living trees, before coming to a stop on the edge of another waterfall and after again rotating to a forward-facing position plunged down into the stormy North Sea.  It then passed dangerously close to an oil rig before coming to an abrupt end in a calm harbour and after that there was an obligatory film about the history and folklore of Norway.

I understand that the ride is soon to be closed down and later reopened as a new experience to exploit the popularity of the film ‘Frozen

I liked the Norway pavilion and I place it in third place after Mexico and Morocco.

Haugesund Norway

Read the full story of the Minnesota Vikings…

Around the World in Eighty Minutes – Part Four, Germany

germany world showcase 1

Continuing my comparison of EPCOT World Showcase with the real thing the next destination is Germany where, sad to say, EPCOT was my first visit to this country. Since this time however I have been to Bavaria, Friedrichshafen and to the Black Forest and although the Disney version is very picture book it seems to me that there is some creditable degree of accuracy in it.

EPCOT of course isn’t going to recreate the industrial cities of Dusseldorf or Frankfurt any more than it is likely to do Detroit in the US or Manchester in the UK but rather sets out to create the perfect German experience and describes it like this:

“The Germany Pavilion is a cultural area where Guests of all ages can experience the lively charm of a quaint German village….  Enter a charming cobblestone plaza designed after a 16th-century German town. A variety of shops, a clock tower and a fountain with a statue of St. George slaying a dragon lie within the castle walls. The oom-pah band music and elaborate German architecture make you feel like you’ve stepped right into the pages of folklore”

A busy market place is the centre piece of the cobblestoned German Pavilion where the architecture reflects a diverse cross section of regions, from the replica of the medieval castle to the fairy tale Bavarian style buildings and a clock tower that features a glockenspiel that chimes a Disney melody on the hour.  There is one part of the attraction where I can make a direct comparison because Das Kaufhaus in Disney is modelled on a real building in Freiburg which I visited in 2011 in the snow.

Freiburg Merchants Hall Münsterplatz  Das Kaufhaus

Disney’s version of Germany has pastel coloured buildings, carved balconies and timbered turrets and of all the places that I have visited in real Germany it reminded me most of Heidelberg where the market place was another of those German picture book town centres with half timbered medieval buildings painted in gay colours surrounding an immaculate cobbled square with a central fountain and statue.  On the northern side and facing the sun there were restaurants and cafés with pavement tables and chairs so we selected one and sat in shirtsleeves in a surprisingly strong February sun and we had a coffee and a beer and watched the World go by.

Heidelberg Germany  germany world showcase 2

In the Disney shops and restaurants the staff wear traditional German clothing and in Berchtesgaden in 2008 I found it interesting how real Bavarians people were quite prepared to wear traditional clothes in a completely unselfconscious way and at one point we saw a young lad of about fourteen in full lederhosen and braces, felt hat and cape and I wondered how difficult it might be to get a fourteen year old in England to walk around the streets dressed like that.  To be fair it wouldn’t be right to expect it because he would surely be beaten up within fifty metres of leaving the house.

Schiltach Germany

I have given this matter some thought and I have decided that, for today anyway, my favourite place in Germany is the village of Schiltach in the Black Forest which seems to me to represent faithfully everything I imagine Germany to be.  On a visit there we parked the car next to the river near the tanner’s quarter which is the oldest part of the town.  Here the timber framed buildings were built at the side of the Kinzig in the eighteenth century and were used by the tanners in the production of especially high quality leather goods, which the town was once famous for.

From the river to the Städle or Old Town where every building was half timbered with colourful facades and brightly painted wooden windows that created a fairy tale atmosphere.  If Disney needs inspiration then it should come here because there was simply nothing to spoil the picture book mood and character and in the pretty triangular market place at the heart of the town the fasnacht festival bunting hung high above the cobbled street and old town well, the merchant’s houses and the town hall with its striking Teutonic wall paintings.

Just behind the main street there was a warren of tiny crooked streets surrounded on all sides by the most picturesque half timbered buildings and it was almost possible to imagine that we had wandered into a secret fairy tale village of uneven cobbled streets, colourful houses and cottages and might at any moment meet Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel just as at EPCOT where you bump into Snow White.

Germany Epcot  Berchtesgaden Bavaria Germany

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland paris 01

When we had suggested a visit to Disneyland we hadn’t really appreciated just how far it was and it was a shock when the Satnav told us that it was about three hundred kilometres and a two and a half hour journey but there was no going back now because the girls were too excited about the visit to let them down.

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Segovia – the Alcazar, Walt Disney’s Castle (Perhaps?)

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I had a disturbed nights sleep full of wild dreams because I was still feeling a bit unusual and I hadn’t slept well now since the delightful room in Belmonte but we woke to another beautiful clear morning and a sunny Plaza Mayor that had been scrupilously swept and washed in the early hours of the morning.  After two cups of tea it was time to go to breakfast and as I selected clothes I realised that I had left my favourite blue linen holiday shirt in the hotel wardrobe in Ávila and as it wasn’t practical to go back for it this was a bad start to the day.

Read the full story…