In June 2018, groups from major coaster clubs travelled to Japan, Scandinavia, and the United States. Other enthusiasts travelled to China, Korea, and Taiwan. Megan and I boarded a flight to Azerbaijan, where we met up with our friends Bruno and Anita for a week of slightly crazy adventures in the Caucasus region.
3rd June 2018
Narimanov Park is one of a number of public parks in the centre of Baku. Those who would prefer not to deal with the somewhat flexible local driving standard can take the metro to the adjacent Nariman Narimanov station for the bargain price of 0.20 manat (~€0.10); there is also plenty of on-street parking available. Most of the attractions within are geared at children, though all ages are welcome; today we saw around two dozen elderly men playing board games and dominos at picnic tables in the south-eastern corner of the park.
Children Roller Coaster (#2426) is a standard layout Big Apple that probably didn't originate from a western manufacturer. The lead car features a creature of indeterminate species that I'd have called a snake were it not for the fact that it has feet; it features a blue cape, horizontal teardrop nostrils, and a pursed lips expression that bears more than a little resemblance to the one Megan adopts after I've repeated a particularly bad joke. The car I climbed into wobbled alarmingly as I took my seat, but this had no effect on the ride quality which was absolutely fine. There was a nice bonus, too; a lack of functional brakes in the station resulted in a dramatic moment of airtime on laps two and three. Tickets cost one manat (~€0.50).
The park has an antique Giant Wheel with a boxy car design I've not seen elsewhere. Each contained two benches upholstered with red leather, as well as a small table on one side. There was no air conditioning, but four ceiling fans pushed through air from the outside to keep the inside cool. The only real catch was the presence of trees on all sides stretching to around three quarters of the total height, meaning that there was very little to see from on board.
3rd June 2018
Koala Park is walking distance from Ganclik metro station, though we decided it was easier to get there by car. We were lucky with parking in that we managed to snag a space next to the entrance; were I planning the same journey again I'd probably take a cab. The recommended method of booking as of this writing is the Taxify phone app, which has a set fare for time and distance that is charged automatically to a credit card, obviating any need for cash or negotiation with drivers. The total cost is very cheap by western standards, making it an affordable option even for the solo traveller. Local SIM cards are available at the airport for those without affordable data roaming.
Readers should be aware that everything in the park (including the restaurant) has to be paid using a special smart card, which has a minimum top up value of 20 manat (~€10). This covers ten cycles on the Family Coaster (#2427), rather more than the average enthusiast is likely to want, but perfectly adequate for our group of four as we each got two rides. As with our first stop there was no braking in the station, though the friction between the wheels and track was evidently higher as the airtime moments were considerably less striking. The back seat had a slight edge over the front for me, as in that location there was a there was a brief moment of weightlessness on the main drop.
The park is home to a number of sculpted models of varying quality. The best by some margin is the park mascot, a four foot high smiling koala with dungarees and a multicoloured striped shirt that catches the eye without being overdone. At the other end of the scale are a number of characters licensed from The Simpsons that look like they were put together by primary school children. They are recognisable for what they are supposed to be, though their haphazard presentation is not something likely to impress Matt Groening.
3rd June 2018
One of the challenges inherent to planning coaster trips off the beaten track is a paucity of information on parks. RCDB had an entry for Planet Quba that listed it as part of the Rixos Quba Resort, and that was essentially all there was online beyond a Facebook page that had no useful information. In the days before our trip I used Google Translate to send a message there asking about opening hours, and learned that it would be operational from 15:00 to 23:00 on the day we planned to visit. The person who replied to me didn't mention a key fact; the park is part of a gated resort that is only accessible to those with confirmed bookings.
We were unaware of this, and ended up driving past the entrance on our journey to the park coordinates. It was only after a few minutes that we realised that the unmarked gate we'd passed earlier must have been our target. We arrived back there to find two dour security guards who spoke no English, but none was necessary; their body language made it clear that they were not inclined to grant us access to the site without paperwork that we didn't have. We were eventually allowed to pass after I showed the message from the hotel on my phone, though we were lucky; anyone attempting to retrace our steps should definitely make a resort booking. As with any top quality hotel there are plenty of other facilities available, making it a good option for a short (or even a long) break.
The park consists of a dozen machines from SBF Rides that have been installed on the side of a hill. Most sit within small man-made valleys, with walls painted in alternating shades of red, green, yellow, and blue. These bright colours make the place look far better than it otherwise would, and the presentation has been spruced up further with the addition of statues from Shrek, the Smurfs, and local fairytales. It was interesting to see signage printed in English only, indicating that the target audience is most definitely not local. I discovered later that the cost for a one night stay is broadly comparable to the average weekly salary in the area, though it is still a small fraction of what one would pay for an equivalent calibre facility in an urban centre.
The rides are paid for using a rechargeable card, with prices ranging between two manat (~€1) and five manat (~€2.50). The prices are only shown on a sheet at the ticket office, presumably for ease of alteration. The Magic Mouse was out of service today, with one of its four cars stuck in a mid-course block brake, but we were able to ride the Doggy Dog (#2428), our third Big Apple (and third different animal type) of the day. This model had a huge canine figurehead, but was otherwise largely forgettable as braking on the drop bled off almost all of the speed.
We spent quite a bit of time walking around, but ended up with only one other hit – the imaginatively named Dark Ride. This was a fairly spartan affair with light up effects appearing every few seconds. Bruno commented that the park had probably ordered a ride with precisely eight scenes, and that is exactly what they got. Megan's favourite moment involved the appearance of brooms at head height, perhaps to sweep the cobwebs away, though I'd argue that the most surprising was the appearance of a nude female body that rotated as our car passed, revealing a large cavity where the chest should have been.