Dealing with ornithoscelidaphobia (aka, the most irrational fear ever)

My sister and I in Florida, circa 2005. This dinosaur didn’t move, so I was alright.

I have this completely illegitimate fear of dinosaurs.

Yes, you read that right. Dinosaurs. Those things that have been dead for, oh, I don’t know, 65 million years.

I blame my parents.

It all started after my parents took my brothers and sister and I to a dinosaur museum/theme park that featured moving animatronic dinosaurs, scary, dark lighting, and rooms filled with growls and rumbles. I think they thought it would be enjoyable. After all, we loved “The Land Before Time”.

They were wrong.

My five-year-old self was terrified. I was young, but I’d like to think that I understood the dinosaurs wouldn’t  actually hurt me, but the set-up was so realistic that I barely made it out of the lobby. And once I was out of the lobby, I immediately returned (it was the only well-lit room). And I’m pretty sure the first room was only the herbivores. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened had I been confronted by T-Rex.

“Jurassic Park” also could have contributed to this fear. Before watching that movie, dinosaurs were the lovable creatures who were just trying to stay alive and find their moms.

Anyway, fast-forward thirteen years. My mom, sister and I are boarding the dinosaur ride at Disney World. Being 18, a fresh high school graduate months away from leaving the nest and embarking on the new adventure called ‘college’, I thought my dinosaur fears were behind me.

They were not.

I spent the majority of the ride with my head buried in my mom’s shoulder. I’m pretty sure I only saw about 50 percent of it, but I’m 100 percent sure that what I did see cemented my fear of dinosaurs (even if they were neon-colored, flashy ones). It was actually rather embarrassing to exit the ride and check out the photo wall (I didn’t realize a photo was even taken, what with all the flashing lights and roars. And the fact that my main view was of my mom’s back) just to see a picture of you (and your sister, btw) cowering with mom sitting in the middle, laughing.

It was not flattering.

During the same vacation, I had another terrifying, death-flashing-before-my-eyes encounter with dinosaurs, though the terror wasn’t entirely dinosaur-related. It all went down in Universal Studios on the Jurassic Park ride — one of those boat rides where you float around for a bit before being pulled to a top of a huge hill, making a big splash when you reach the bottom. I was getting on as a single rider (in a family of six, waiting in line so you all get on the same train takes three times as long) and was paired with a family of four: mother, father, and two young children (probably around 8 and 11 years old). I was sitting on the outside of the boat with one little kid next to me. His mom sat next to him, then the other kid, and then the father.

Now, the family was probably really nice. The mom attempted to strike up a conversation, but as soon as the ride started I began to panic.

You see, the family was rather large. As in the big-boned kind of large. When the ride attendant put the safety bar down (and it was just a bar) it barely moved. I kept yanking on it, trying to get it to go a bit further down, before looking over and realizing it was already digging in to the father’s stomach.

This would not be good.

There was nothing holding me in to the stupid little boat. The bar left enough space on the end that I could have easily gotten out without any problems. In fact, my sister probably could have sat on my lap and we would have still been comfortable. I kept thinking the attendant would notice and let me catch the next ride, but once we were seated and the bar was “down” he gave the signal and we were off.

The entire time the boat took its little tour through the jungle, rode its way into the science lab that was being attacked by raptors, and was almost was eaten by T-Rex, dinosaurs were the least of my worries. Instead, a movie played over and over again in my head of the next day’s news broadcast with a video of the boat going down and me sliding out the side and falling to my death.

I had quite the imagination.

Anyway, in an effort to protect myself, I slowly slide my way to the center of the boat. By the time we reached the highest point and started to go down, I had pushed the poor little boy so close against his mother that he could barely raise his arms as he fell. Also, an entire person could have fit on the bench next to me, even though the ride was only built to seat five. And I had wrapped my arms completely around the bar, just in case I did slide out.

In the end, nothing dramatic happened. I barely came out of seat, and certainly didn’t come close to flying off the boat. Actually, the complete lack of movement made my actions that much more embarrassing.

When I exited the ride I did find my mom and sister doubled-over in laughter at the photo of me, with my death-grip on the bar and eyes wide with terror, squashing this poor little kid into his mom. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a souvenir picture they considered buying.

We left quickly.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about all this recently because there have been these dinosaur posters popping up all over Ghent advertising the theater show “Walking With Dinosaurs” that will be coming to the Brussels Expo in December. It looks pretty impressive, but I’m not sure if it’s worth spending 35 euros to spend the entire program with my head buried in Joery’s shoulder.

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My Weekend in a Castle

That’s right. I slept in a castle.

The Château-ferme de Laval to be precise.

Ok, so it’s more like a big manor than your typical fairy-tale castle, but in Dutch the name of the building is the Kasteel van Laval so for all intents and purposes, it’s a castle.

The manor is divided into five different vacation houses, which can be rented out individually or the entire manor can be rented for big groups (I think it sleeps 40 people in total). The grounds include a big community lounge area with a kitchen area, though the individual buildings have their own kitchens and lounges. There’s also a playground for children and swimming pool/jacuzzi combo (something I have never seen before) and a small sauna (it fits three people comfortably).

And it’s smack-dab in the middle of no where, which is actually a bit refreshing.

The manor itself has no internet access (which shocked me… I guess that illustrates how plugged in I actually am. I didn’t realize places without WI-FI existed) and is surrounded by farmland. But it’s a beautiful area with a ton of nature trails and other outdoor activities.

Joery and I made the three-hour drive to Laval, which is in the French-speaking Walloon region, a few weekends ago. A group of Joery’s friends, I think from his high school years, try to get together each year for a weekend getaway to the Ardennes, a region in Belgium marked by rolling hills, forests, and beauty. There’s about 30 of us in the group (including spouses and children), so the manor was perfect.

Originally, Joery and I had this gorgeous room in the cellar of the tower. It had a relatively low ceiling with exposed beams, white-washed stone walls, two narrow slits for windows and a sturdy wooden bed tucked into the corner. It was great. Until I found a spider.

Now, first it was just one of those thin little spiders with the tiny body and fragile legs that doesn’t really seem like it could really hurt you but you just don’t want to take any chances. That spooked me a little, but I was able to push forward, unpacked our bed linens and helped Joery start dressing the bed. That is, until I went to grab the pillows from a chair in the corner and I saw it.

Tucked into the bottom of a locked door (there were two in the room, I assume used for storage purposes) was a huge (ok, it was probably the size of a half-dollar) spider with a thick black torso and long defined black legs. I hate these spiders. They are thick and fast and look like they can really do some damage and because they are so thick you can hear the crrrrruuuuuunnnnch when you squish them (which, I’m ashamed to say, I tend to do. Mostly in a fit of panicky lunges and the waving of a shoe. I really wish I could be the type of person to gently pick up a spider and let it back into the wild, but I’m not. We have to accept it and move on).

So, while I’m perched on a chair in the middle of the room, Joery bravely took his shoe and squished the spider.

I wish that could have been the end of it.

Rather, I made Joery do a full-on spider check while I observed from my rather safe perch. Things were going rather well until he swept the curtain away from the window (the window right next to the bed) and… five more thick, black, aggressive (I know, I’m projecting) spiders were found. And, because one or two were in crevices in the wall where Joery couldn’t reach, we had to move.

While gathering our things, I also found a spider dangling from the ceiling which, had it touched me, I believe would have led to cardiac arrest. Joery swooped in and saved the day again, but you should have seen how fast I darted up the stairs with all of the luggage. I also wanted to take a picture of the space, but I was too afraid to re-enter. After all, Joery had just massacred a family of spiders. Who knows what kind of revenge the rest were plotting. Or how many were waiting to come out from behind the locked doors as soon as we shut off the lights. I didn’t have enough towels to plug the space at the bottom of the doors and still be able to dry off after a shower.

To put this in perspective, this whole event went down around 1:00 in the morning, since we had first had a couple of drinks in the main lounge before lugging our stuff to our room. I’m really happy to have a boyfriend so tolerant of my neuroses. And I’m actually pretty proud that I didn’t have Joery check to make sure no spiders hitched a ride to our new, spider-free room in our bags. It’s all about restraint, people.

Our new room was equally beautiful and two floors above the spider-infested cellar.*

Anyway, aside from the shaky start, the rest of the weekend was great. I learned how to play the Settlers of Catan board game (and even won the first time, to the chagrin of my competitors), I went on a hike in a beautiful forest, got to go in a pool and a jacuzzi simultaneously, I saw a cow run for the first time in real life (I’m such a city girl), and I enjoyed a relaxing weekend with good friends, strong drinks, and good food. I also befriended the cutest brother and sister duo (ages 3 and 5, I think) who taught me “verstoppertje” (hide and seek) and gave me a lovely makeover with a Hello Kitty make-up kit (at one point the little boy was just hitting my face with an eyeliner pencil. Black lines/dots everywhere. And when he finished, he stepped back, reviewed his work and said, “viola, nu ben je mooi” — Voila, now you are pretty.).

It was a great weekend.

Joery and I about to drive home.

*I’m exaggerating. I don’t think the prevalence of spiders had anything to do with the cleanliness or state of the manor. It was actually a really lovely place and everything was top-notch. I would recommend it in a heartbeat. It’s just an old cellar in an old (16th century, I think) building, so spiders should be expected. I just, apparently, can’t handle it.