There are few things less pleasant than having to be at the airport at 4:25 am. Nonetheless, everyone from the European Coaster Club was bright and cheerful despite the ungodly hour; the prospect of several days of non stop theme parks awaited, and for most people that was apparently worth getting up for. I like my amusement parks as much as the next person, but I'm not convinced that any park is worth suffering London Heathrow before five in the morning. However, on this occasion, I was overruled.
The flight to Spain was to be my first experience of Iberia, the national airline of that country. The cabin crew did their little bit for international relations by announcing everything in both English and Spanish, but it was to no avail; both languages were utterly incomprehensible through the thick and rapid fire Castilian accent. About the only thing we were able to determine from the crew was that photographs on board are considered a security risk, and it is doubtful that we would have even learned this were it not for our fearless leader attempting to commit that heinous crime. If anyone can shed any light as to why a photo of over thirty members of a tour group on board a MD-87 constitutes the aforementioned danger it'd be great to hear from you; it's not like there are not a few million highly dangerous photographs online already. Nonsense aside, the flight landed early, and due to very efficient baggage handling by the staff at Barcelona's airport we were congregating in the Arrivals hall less than half an hour later.
Irish people are well used to (and occasionally frustrated by) the sheer number of Spanish teenagers that populate our country during the summer months to learn English. Thus it came as a considerable surprise to me to discover that our coach driver was possibly the only one of his countrymen to have never done such a thing, and in fact spoke not one word of the first language of the majority of his passengers. One dutch club member had just about enough Spanish to act as an interpreter for the rest of us, and it was through him that we learned that our journey to Tibidabo would occupy approximately one hour.
8th September 2003
The location of Tibidabo, on the side of a mountain, gave rise to yet more amusement. The engine of our coach was insufficient to manage more than a slow crawl up the side of the mountain, engine screaming; we achieved a top speed of no more than ten miles per hour, the slowest journey that us coaster enthusiasts were likely to make this week. Steeper terrain would likely have proven a complete roadblock. Nevertheless we still managed to arrive at the park before opening time, giving us a bit of leeway to explore a Basilica nearby.
It was to a certain extent inevitable that the majority of the mob would make a beeline towards the sole coaster in the park. With the better part of the day in front of us the more patient among us decided to forego the inevitable queue that would likely only be present while thirty people moved through the same low capacity ride simultaneously. Instead, therefore, my feet took me to a classic ride that is quite possibly unique to the hills above Barcelona, namely Aviò. The picture across is the actual ride, rather than a montage from a computerised flight simulator. In short, a model aircraft that can seat eight people has been attached to a steel beam which can rotate freely. The propeller at the front of the plane is used to accelerate and brake the ride. The experience was really cool for the scenery alone, if not exactly an extreme thrill ride.
The next attraction was another unique ride, which looked at first appearance like a Fabbri Booster. Closer inspection indicated that this could not be for several reasons, chief of which was its obvious vintage. Dating from the early part of the twentieth century, Talaia is a large arm with a basket on each end that can hold passengers. The arm rotates at a glacial speed, affording passengers ample time to admire the scenery of the city below, while at the same time wondering if the eighty plus year old ride is going to collapse from under them. The chief benefit of riding proved to be the birds eye view of the single coaster below, and, critically, the mostly empty queue area in front of it.
Montaña Rusa (#204) is a small ride along the lines of a Schwarzkopf wildcat, albeit by a local builder whose name has been lost to time. Its appearance and indeed its condition belies its age, with the four seater cars traversing the course with a grace that many more modern coasters lack. It was a little bit worrying to see three car on course simultaneously on a ride with no visible block brake system or anti-rollbacks. Having said that, the ride arguably predates modern computer systems, and it has run safely for over forty years, so it is probably okay at this point. The ride was sufficiently good that I went back to it on several occasions during the course of the day.
Previous visitors to the park had advised us that the star attraction was in fact a walk-through by the name of the Krüeger Hotel. This was only my second serious walk-through attraction following on from the one at Indiana Beach earlier this year, but my brain decided for me that this would be the same. This was, in a word, wrong. One subtle alteration made all the difference, namely the presence of live actors. It was a pity that my Spanish wasn't a little better, but even still I was able to pick up enough to really enjoy the experience. It remains an open question as to whether the hotel in Hannover shares anything other than the name; the web site seems to suggest the answer is no. Pity!
There was an utterly unexpected gem hidden towards the front of the park in the guise of a small museum; the Museu d'Autòmates. As the name might suggest, this featured a collection of working models of many of the park rides, as well as many classic slot machines which would have operated in the past. The model of Montaña Rusa was one I particularly liked; I've never seen such a detailed working model of a coaster anywhere else. The park could easily have made a killing by putting a kit version of this model on sale; they would likely have had at least thirty purchases that day.
We managed to hit a number of minor rides in the run up to lunch. The Panoràmic vintage ferris wheel would have been utterly missable were it not for Tibidabo's unique location, which made for a spectacular view. The Crash Cars dodgems were indeed utterly missable, thanks to far too many cars in a very limited space. The Aeromàgic suspended monorail would likely have proved tedious were it not for two indoor dark ride sections, one of which featured a neat surprise that it'd be wrong for me to spoil here. My first magic carpet since childhood, Aladino, was an amusing diversion if not a ride that would ever be my favourite. Finally, we made our way over to what we thought was the Mina d'Or, but boarded the wrong ride (only in Spain!) and found ourselves travelling up the mountain on the Transmòbil, which dumped us out conveniently beside some shops selling food.
Writing incessantly about chosen meals is never going to attract much of an audience. Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me not to drop into a brief digression about fast food, specifically fast food that is hard to get wrong. The process of cooking a hot dog is typically speaking simple; it is removed from its packet, dumped in boiling water for a few minutes, and served. Alternatively, it may be put in the microwave for a few minutes. In either case, the result is typically satisfactory if perhaps not worthy of a michelin star. The good people at Tibidabo do not appear to have grasped this culinary skill, serving me up what was without question the most revolting hot dog I have ever had the misfortune to bite into. One third of it was my limit, and it seemed prudent to give up early rather than run the risk of involuntary regurgitation later.
Potential food poisoning aside, however, lunch did give rise to the first really interesting experience of the trip. Several tables full of tourists watched in amusement as a gentleman in a red t-shirt, presumably a park employee, attacked the locking mechanism on a vending machine with a high speed drill. One can only assume that he was attempting to repair the offending machinery, but the idea of a blackguard attempting a break-in in broad daylight became (and remained) the source of considerable merriment for the duration of the day.
Our "food" abandoned, we made our way back into the park, emerging almost immediately beside the fastest wave swinger I've ever seen. Diavolo was running at a phenomenal rate, making it very easy to kick the sides of the trees as we flew past. The speed and consequential airtime coupled with lousy food left me feeling just a little unsettled afterwards, making it prudent to do something gentle for a few minutes. The Castell Mistérios fun house fit that bill beautifully. It was very dark indeed in there, making the stunts all the more entertaining!
We finally got round to riding the powered coaster, the Tibidabo Express. About ninety percent of this ride was great fun, but it was marred by a horribly vicious turn taken in complete darkness. On my first ride I had no idea it was coming and practically crushed the poor child in the seat beside me. On the second circuit I did my best to brace, but it didn't do any good; once again I was thrown sideways with considerable force. Were this turn to be removed (or at least banked properly) the ride would be one of the better powered coasters out there, but as it stands? In a word, no.
At this point we made our way back over to Mina D'Or. We found the correct ride this time, and it turned out to be a Log Flume. After careful observation, in which we determined that the riders didn't get too wet, we boarded. I enjoyed the ride overall; I got splashed slightly but not enough to worry about, and in the baking Spanish heat I was dry in less than ten minutes anyway. Though there was nothing else in the park that particularly grabbed me, there was ample time remaining so I elected to do the only other major attraction I'd not been on, namely the Carroussel.
There was plenty of time for reriding, and in due course I'd had my fill with the better part of an hour to go before the coach departed. Along with several other people I took the lift up to the viewing level of the Basilica tower, followed by several sets of stairs to the absolute top. The view from here was spectacular, and I was able to take a number of photographs of the park capturing the magnificent Barcelona sky line in the background.
8th September 2003
Four of us wound up at a buffet in central Salou that was quite frighteningly cheap. It raised a rather curious question; would it in fact be cheaper to fly here and eat than to eat a similar meal at home in Dublin? There certainly wouldn't have been much in it. At any rate, it would have been sensible for us to go back to the hotel to sleep following our meal. Lewis decided to do just that, but Garry and Chris elected to join me in a late night expedition into Port Aventura in order to score a quick ride on Dragon Khan (#205). It was already 10:15pm, but this wasn't a problem; the park was open until midnight.
While Tibidabo was small, Port Aventura hit the other extreme, occupying a ridiculously large area of land. We determined that our coaster of choice was actually a twenty minute walk from the park entrance. We arrived to encounter the first so-called Six Flags Moment of the trip; we were informed that we were not allowed to wait for a front row seat; rather that an entire train should be loaded at a time. In the end it didn't matter as the ride barrier gates had closed and we got a front seat in anyway, however this is something to remember; Universal Port Aventura assigns seating on coasters. Oh dear.
At any rate, our first ride proved to be very good. It wasn't a top ten ride by any means, but it was still significantly better than quite a few of the multi-inversion rides I've been on, predominantly due to the smooth motion of the train but also due to the pacing; there was no moments of excessive nausea such as the horrible barrel rolls on that monstrosity in Thorpe Park. It was also interesting to see no seat belts on the ride, unlike so many other B&M creations.
We were about half way back in the train for our second ride, and it was here that things went wrong. Lightning flashed across the sky as the train ascended the lift hill, and moments later the heavens opened in a fashion only possible in the Mediterranean. Rather than a gentle downpour, we were struck by rain heavy enough to be painful. The coaster was immediately shut down for safety reasons, but it was too late for us; we had already crested the lift. The next minute or so was quite frankly a horrible experience, being lashed seemingly from every side. One one level it might have been funny, and no doubt it is for anyone reading this report, but at the time we just couldn't wait for the torture to end. The only saving grace was the on-ride photo, which showed me with my eyes shut, Chris with his arms protecting his face, and Garry with his head down. It didn't do any good, though; we were all utterly drenched, and worse yet, none of us had any money to buy the photo for posterity!
The weather conditions put a nail in the coffin of any further coaster riding for the night, so we struggled back to the front of the park and to the warmth of our hotel.