Imagine two people at an art gallery, admiring a still-life painting.

Person One: "This is my favorite painting."

Person Two: "Why? It's just a bowl of fruit."

Person One: "It was stolen by the Nazis, recovered, nearly lost in a fire, restored, and now it's here for us to enjoy."

Person Two: "So?"

Person One: "Look at it! The subtle shading of the colors, the delicate play of light across the surface of the apple, the shading under the bowl, the exquisite brush strokes, the slightly skewed perspective that puts the entire thing into a surrealist genre while still being recognizable as realism... it's incredible."

Person Two: "It's a bowl of fruit."

With apologies to Dr King: I have been to the mountaintop.

The above fictional conversation is an analogy. 

Think about your biggest love/hobby/obsession. When you first got into it, you probably went a bit crazy and tried to experience it as full-on as possible. Later, after some experience, you settled down and appreciated the details.

For coaster enthusiasts, that beginning usually means seeking out the biggest, baddest coasters you can find. Adrenaline! Intensity! Craziness! You want all the things!

When you plan vacations, the must-do parks either have the latest, greatest coasters or they have the most coasters. Magic Mountain and Cedar Point are often high on the list of places to visit because they offer both quality and quantity of coaster experiences. But after many years of chasing the record-breakers, something inside you changes. Those rides are still awesome, but the love of adrenaline begins to take a back seat to the enjoyment of the overall experience of the ride. Subtleties become important. Nuance. History. And it doesn't just happen with the rides - it also happens with the parks. Where you once just looked at the coaster lineup when choosing parks to visit, you eventually begin to seek out parks that offer the best overall experience, the ones that feel special somehow. And once you've reached that point, I'd like to introduce you to the life-changing wonderland in Denmark known as Tivoli Gardens.

If I'm being honest with myself, I wouldn't have appreciated this place a few years ago. On paper, there's not much here to entice a coaster nut to visit. Only three coasters, and the fastest one goes just 48mph. I thank all the coaster gods that I didn't visit back then. I wasn't ready. But now that I've matured in my love of coasters, now that I can appreciate the subtleties, this place opened itself up to me like no place before it. 

The park itself is staggeringly beautiful. It's 175 years old as of this writing and still going strong. It's clearly an amusement park, but it's so much more than that. It's an icon. It's history. It's legendary. It has beer plumbing.

No, I'm not making that up. Tivoli Gardens has forty-odd restaurants in it, and I'm not talking about the burger/pizza/chicken strips joints at most parks, I'm talking about full-on restaurants with awesome food and wait staff and a wine list. Rather than have the ambience of the park spoiled with beer trucks making deliveries, the park opted to have huge underground tanks and the restaurants just tap into the beer plumbing. It's just one of the quirky little things that makes Tivoli special. But the main thing is the attention to detail and the over-the-top beauty of the place.

For example: lots of parks have bumper cars. A few parks put their bumper cars in a nice building. Tivoli upped the ante on that with a gorgeous building, themed cars, and custom tile work.

The bunny-shaped cars have eyes that light up.

Every park has toilets. Tivoli's are worth visiting, even if you don't need to.

Tivoli doesn't really do anything that other parks don't, they just do it better and with more class. The employees seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs, whether it's the lady at the ticket booth up front whose smile instantly brightens your day, the waitress from last night's restaurant who makes it a point to say hello to you when she sees you in the park the next day, or one of the guys (or gals) who drive Rutschebanen and will tell you without hesitation that it's their favorite coaster.

The whole park is just obscenely beautiful and I could go on and on and on about why their slogan "altid som aldrig før" (always like never before) is the most accurate park slogan of all time, but this is a coaster-specific site and I just used the phrase "the guys (or gals) who drive Rutschebanen" like you knew what I was talking about. I should probably get around to talking about the coaster.

Rutschebanen ("roller coaster") might remind you a bit of Disney's Matterhorn and that's no accident. Walt Disney used Tivoli Gardens as his inspiration for Disneyland. The mountain façade, however, is where the similarity ends. 

...and not just because of the goat.

Rutschebanen is the last remaining coaster built by the L.A.Thompson Scenic Railway company. In case you didn't catch the name, LaMarcus A. Thompson is the guy who basically invented the modern roller coaster. He even got the patent.

So right off the bat, you've got something special here. The coaster was built in 1914, before the invention of those underside wheels called 'upstops' that keep the trains from flying off the track. In other words, these trains can totally fly off the track if they go too fast. To keep this from happening, each train has a driver who sits in the middle of the train and operates a brake lever.

Kurt says that this is his favorite coaster. I don't think you want to argue with him about that.

I visited the park with European Coaster Club and we got a tour of the ride led by Jakob, one of the drivers. He said that if you should feel that the train is taking a corner on two wheels, that's because it is. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. Once in awhile, you can actually feel and hear the wheels coming back down onto the track after a turn(!)

We also heard about when the Nazis planted bombs on the ride (seriously, as if we need any more reasons to hate Nazis!). The ride re-opened about a month later. So the Nazis cut the electricity so it couldn't get up the hill. The park installed a hand crank at the top and hired some burly guys to operate it. Patrons would get out at the bottom of the lift hill, then climb the hill while the burly men cranked the train up to the top. Then the passengers would hop back in and enjoy the ride. This is the coaster that refused to die.

But even the most interesting historical tidbits can't make the ride a good one. Luckily, Rutschebanen delivers on that front, too. It's not a white-knuckle, intense ride by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn't have to be. In the same way that Tivoli itself transcends its lack of a stellar coaster lineup, Rutschebanen makes up for its lack of intensity with an overabundance of sheer joy. The coaster will bring a smile to your face, whether it's your first ride or your thousandth. Every one of the drivers I talked to said that this is their favorite coaster and that's even after 'having' to ride it hundreds of times per week. It just doesn't get old. 

Maybe it's the polar bears?

The whole thing is just so unique - from the cow, goat, and polar bears along the path to the cars that rock from side-to-side when you get in (and all during the ride!)... the variation in rides depending on who's driving...

Gotta love the driver's hat. the genuine terror when you just know that the driver is going to be knocked unconscious by that tunnel. 

It's all more than the sum of its parts and it's one of those things that simply can't be described in words, pictures, or video. Rutschebanen, and Tivoli Gardens itself, must be experienced to be fully appreciated. And if you're still in that "adrenaline junkie" phase, where a park's worth is measured in coasters and a coaster's worth is measured in statistics, then please, please, please wait awhile before you head to Denmark, lest you play out the art museum analogy at the top of this article.

We've all been Person Two. There's no shame in that. But when Person Two matures into Person One and can appreciate this park and this coaster on another level, then magic happens. It's so much more than just a bowl of fruit.

Postscript: I really hesitate to put this video here, because it only shows the physics of the ride. As stated in the article, this ride is a 'whole package' experience and a video that only shows the layout is not going to do the ride justice in any way. It does, however, let you see the layout - which is impossible to show in other ways because of the ride being partially hidden in the mountain. Enjoy.