Meeting up with the European Coaster Club for the 2005 Coaster Rhapsody trip proved to be a somewhat more complicated experience than on previous such trips. The chief problem was the starting location; Andrew and I were on holiday with our parents in the west of Ireland, necessitating a flight from the well known aviation hub, Kerry International Airport. This is served by just two airlines, Aer Arann and the well known budget airline that forbids its staff to charge their mobile phones in work. Neither airline provided a direct service to Hungary, meaning that the easiest option by far was an overnight in London before meeting the group at the airport. Unfortunately, there is more than one airport in London, and the airlines in question served different ones.
It seems only fair to spare the reader the incredible complexity of attempting to travel between London Stansted and London Heathrow in a week after terrorists decided to take out their aggression on the local public transport system. Numerous enquiries from the staff at Stansted proved utterly worthless; each operator only knew the status of their own particular service and nobody could tell me what was going on with the underground system. In the end I decided to swallow my pride and invest in a bus service, with a price tag approaching twice that of the international flights from Kerry. This was supplemented by a Taxi at the destination point instead of another bus, even though the distance was relatively short; we were simply too tired to wait any longer.
We met up with Olof and Olov for a meal in the Chinese restaurant in the hotel, during which I received an exceptionally amusing and uncannily accurate fortune cookie. It read, "A young man will cause you much trouble this week." Indeed.
I passed the flight from Heathrow by reading almost a third of the latest Harry Potter book, an impulse acquisition in the airport against my better judgement. At £13.99, it ran to something approaching twice the price I might have paid at home a week later, but with the anticipated coach journeys I decided it would be worth it. The chief difficulty in the immediate term would be to negotiate the sharing of the aforementioned prose with my younger brother, though he is happily reading it as I write this narrative after a long day in the park. Correction: he has fallen asleep while reading it after a long day in the park!
Potential tourists to Budapest should be aware that the passport control queue at the airport is horrendously slow. It took us more than half an hour to clear it, thanks to less than half the desks being staffed.
16th July 2005
This park was known as Vidámpark at the time of this visit.
Our coaches dropped us off about fifteen minutes walk from Holnemvolt Park for reasons best known to the drivers. We were advised that they could not get any closer, but this was in direct conflict with evidence from our own eyes showing numerous such vehicles driving down the main road in front of the park. It wasn't a big problem however, as the walk was very pleasant. The route traversed some public gardens, and passed a number of elaborately decorated buildings. It was suggested that we all return to the coaches on our own for 8:00pm, though this was quickly ridiculed due to the complexity of the route. A better alternative, meeting in front of the park at 7:45pm, was soon arranged.
The star attraction at Holnemvolt Park is the Hullámvasút (#494), a scenic railway coaster dating from 1922. The park was kind enough to allow us to take over one of the two operational trains entirely for a few rides. I managed two rides initially in two different locations in the middle of the train.
One can never forget Schwarzkopf coasters. The one here, Looping Star (#495), has had a turbulent history, with stays at Dreamland in England and Loudoun Castle in Scotland. The situation is particularly complicated because a newer Schwarzkopf ride, a "Silverarrow" model, also ran at Dreamland under the name Looping Star. The difference is in the ride layout; on the Silverarrow model the loop is located diagonal to the main body of the ride, whereas it is in pride of place on the front of the regular Looping Star model. It goes without saying that only a coaster enthusiast (and one who should get a life at that) would ever care about such trivia, but this is after all a coaster enthusiasts web page! Once again I was able to get in two rides, the second due to an empty seat in the last of our dedicated trains.
The park manager then brought us into a small museum located under the Hullámvasút station charting the history of the park. The text was unfortunately all in Magyar, though we were able to look at various interesting photographs of the park throughout the years. The chief engineer, with the aid of an interpreter, gave us an interesting history of the ride with a number of obscure pieces of trivia. I was taking rapid fire notes in shorthand and was not able to catch everything, but some of the points I did catch were:
The ride was built in 1922, and opened to the public in 1926.
The ride is 17 metres high, with a 980 metre length.
The on board brakemen sit in seats adapted from trucks.
The brakes in use now are not the original ones.
When the talk was finished, the park manager enquired if we would like to ride some more. The response, a resounding yes, led to me getting two more rides in on a rather good historically interesting coaster.
At this stage, armed as we were with ride ticket books, it was time to break up into small groups and explore the park. The first ride I made it to was the Viharvasút, or "Storm Train". This turned out to be a very strange and not particularly impressive dark ride. We were all non-plussed by what we had just experienced, as there was no discernable plot to the sparse scenery we had just travelled through. Rather better was the Kukomotív (#496) kiddie coaster, which was clearly installed with the coaster enthusiast in mind. The reason? A large billboard in the middle of the ride area listing the manufacturer as "Daniel Pinfari".
None of us particularly wanted to know how old the Panorámakerék ferris wheel was. Suffice it to say that I have never before seen a wheel which has individual plastic seats for every rider that resemble those found in a school classroom. Like the London Eye, this wheel never stops, rotating at a slow but constant speed. One circuit was all that was allowed per ride, but the speed was low enough to allow all the photography we could possibly have wanted.
The final coaster type ride in the park was a powered coaster, the Família Expressz. This model cannot be listed as one of Pinfari's finer designs, as it is both noisy and not particularly comfortable. It was moderately entertaining for us as we were riding one person per car and consequentially sliding from side to side, but overall it wasn't anything I would make an effort to go back for.
In September 2003, Tibidabo in Spain set a new record for the most revolting hot dog in the known universe. This award must now be presented instead to Holnemvolt Park, for producing something which looked and tasted like something best suited for feeding to pigs. It was, however, just about the only choice for food in the park, so I ate against my better judgment. It did solve a hunger issue that had been annoying me all afternoon, but that is about the only positive thing I can say for it.
One of the most entertaining attractions in the park was the Elvarázsolt kastély fun house. This contained several amusing tricks I had never seen before, at least one of which was positively hilarious but would probably not qualify for insurance cover in other countries. I'll say no more!
After the strange dark ride earlier in the day we were not expecting much from the Szellemvasút ghost train. This turned out to be a good thing, because we would almost certainly have been disappointed if we had. Andrew and I made the unspoken decision at that point not to bother with the third dark ride, the Barlangvasút. Chris commented later that this had been up to the standard of the other two, making me not sorry we had chosen to omit it.
Throughout my many park visits I have somehow managed to avoid ever riding a whip ride, but Kanyargó allowed me to make good that omission. The attraction looked like a relic from yesteryear, with an rather noisy drive system, but the motion was still very good fun.
I wasn't overly enthusiastic about riding the Vadvízi utazás log flume, as it appeared to have plexiglas shields to deflect the water splash back into the boat which created it, thereby resulting in absolutely soaked passengers. Closer inspection however revealed that these had been located so as to prevent one splash hitting another boat, and as it turned out we hardly got wet at all.
One of the nicest things about travelling to far flung theme parks is when one occasionally comes across something truly unique. Lézer Dodzsem was one such attraction. Built by Barbieri of Italy, this on the surface looks like a normal set of Dodgems. It has been supplemented however by an odd scoring system. There are two colours of car, and each scores points by driving over circles of that colour that appear in the track for brief periods. A large scoreboard keeps track of individual car results as well as which team is in the lead. The competitive aspect serves to defeat the purpose of traditional dodgems and wasn't a great addition in my view, though it still had excellent novelty value and is something that could be developed to be more interesting.
Another unique attraction in Holnemvolt Park is the Mesecsónak story boat ride. This consists of a slow boat journey through very narrow caves with very low ceilings. There is basically no clearance; riders putting their arms outside of the boat can brush them off both walls simultaneously. The low speed allows misbehaving riders to stop the boat altogether and, if desired, reverse it. Despite the best efforts of a certain ECC member to accelerate his vehicle to ramming speed we were only bumped slowly, as we had increased our speed to match!
I managed to burn myself while getting into the Go-kart ride, as the surface near the engine was very hot indeed. With that hurdle overcome, however, I was able to run a solid race, preventing anyone from overtaking me. Andrew managed to win his race too, though in this situation it was more due to Olof colliding with a sign and losing a lot of time.
The most boring machine in the Huss Rides catalogue is without question the Condor, an attraction which looks magnificent but is sorely lacking in terms of ride quality. The manufacturers seem to have done something about this with Ikarusz, which qualified as the first time I had ever managed a decent ride on a Condor.
The park had told us that their Körhinta carousel was of historical interest, so we made sure to try it out. The horses were the first I'd ever seen to be angled perpendicular to the direction of motion, and rather than rise and fall they were mounted on springs. This allowed a quite incredible degree of rocking, so much so that I came very close to falling out due to carelessness!