Travel Note

7th June 2018

A few weeks ago it became apparent that we'd planned our Caucasus trip a fortnight too early to visit Tsitsinatela on the west coast of Georgia. Writing to the park through Google Translate earned a sympathetic response but no miracles, and any prospect of success was written off subsequently when I found photographs on Facebook showing a Big Apple train in pieces, presumably for annual safety checks. Missing a kiddie coaster was no big deal, though the loss of one of the world's only Pinfari inverted coasters was a significant embuggerance, not least because we had a non-refundable hotel booking in the area that we had little choice but to write off.

In the interests of compensating for the loss we spent some quality time with satellite imagery in the greater Tbilisi area, and our efforts turned up four previously unknown Big Apples that slotted neatly into our itinerary. The additional finds meant that an incredible 61% of the coasters on our trip were of the ubiquitous stacked figure eight design; this truly is a ridiculous hobby.

 

Mushtaidi Park

7th June 2018

Mushtaidi Park is a substantial public garden in downtown Tbilisi that dates from the mid-nineteenth century. It is located directly adjacent to the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, home to the Georgian national rugby and football teams. Also nearby is the State Silk Museum, which we'd almost certainly have stopped at given more time. The park is around ten minutes walk from the Station Square metro station through a busy street market selling all manner of things; I don't think I've ever seen washing powder sold by the scoop before.

Mushtaidi

We had no opening hours to work with, so decided that the best bet was to turn up around 10:30am and hope for the best. This proved to be almost perfect; we had enough time to take photos without people getting in the way, and had just finished that process when we saw what was almost certainly a morning briefing from the boss. All of the operators today were men approaching retirement age, some probably from the wrong side. They were enthusiastic and friendly however, making for a definite improvement over the dour teenagers that populate so many parks around the world.

In due course we had our swipe card and our two laps on Brokomela (#2432), a standard layout Wacky Worm memorable chiefly for the almost complete lack of undulations on the top level of track. There were no manufacturer markings that we could see, though I've subsequently discovered four coasters on RCDB with the same incorrectly spelled name; it seems likely that most if not all of them were produced by the same company, which I'm guessing to be Turkish. The operator was apparently amused at our enthusiastic photography, commenting "Facebook later!" which I rather suspect to have been the full extent of his English.

We took a few minutes for the Giant Wheel, though the real star of the park was Argo, a pirate ship with slatted wooden benches and an arc of rotation that very clearly exceeded the horizontal. My stomach would not have responded well to this, leaving me little choice but to hold the bags while everyone else gave it a go. Megan described the ride as the most intense of its type that she'd experienced, with long seconds of floating on each ascent made all the more thrilling by a restraint design that didn't close fully. The ride was certainly fun to watch; perhaps if I'm in the area again I'll take some dramamine and give it a go.

 

Shumbaland

7th June 2018

Shumbaland is located in Vake Park, a large public garden located next to the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium and the headquarters of the Georgian Football Federation. The park is around two kilometres from Delisi metro station, though readers planning that route should be aware that the walk is mostly uphill. We were blissfully unaware of this fact due to the lack of elevation data for Tbilisi in Google Earth, and as a result we were treated to an unexpected and not entirely welcome workout in thirty degree heat. Local taxis are cheap; those retracing our steps would be well advised to use one.

Shumbaland

The place consists of a job lot of family rides from Italian manufacturer SBF Rides, most of which have been surrounded by three foot high fences built from oversized colouring pencils. The bright colours are supplemented by lifesize models of happy children and hand-painted imagery featuring characters as diverse as the Smurfs and Angry Birds. There are several characters that appear multiple times within the place; my personal favourite was a smiling hippopotamus with a comedy pot-belly, a broad grin, and nostrils that were at least twelve inches apart.

Light rain began to fall just as we arrived, and though all rides remained operational we lost no time in ticking off Doggy Dog (#2433). As ever with this design the figurehead on the train looked great while completely obscuring the view in the first few cars. I could just about see around the ears from the front seat; anyone smaller wouldn't have had a chance. We enjoyed a total of three laps.

 

Mtatsminda Park

7th June 2018

Mtatsminda Park is a substantial theme park with almost thirty rides found on the top of a mountain overlooking Tbilisi. The place features elaborate theming in a setting that is hard to argue with, making it far and away the best looking park in Georgia and a contender for the best in the wider Caucasus. Unfortunately however the guest experience is ruined by staff who know even less about customer service than I know about hair products; we didn't see so much as a single smile from any of the operators we interacted with throughout our visit, and that frostiness was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. (Those after a comfort break should be aware that the park facilities are chargeable, perhaps explaining why I spotted one guest making judicious use of a convenient tree.)

American Mountains (#2434) is a three inversion sit down coaster from Beijing Shibaolai Amusement Equipment that is essentially equivalent to many of the Arrow and Vekoma installations from the eighties. Unlike the vast majority of Chinese designs the imaginatively named "Single Loop Double Spiral Roller Coaster" has seen moderate success internationally; as of this writing there are installations in Cuba, Iraq, Mexico, and Myanmar. This particular version premiered in 2012, shortly after the park was returned to its owner following a dispute over political activities. It has been installed at the highest point in the park, and as a result can be seen from all over the city. It looks good up close too, at least to those without recent experience of similar knock-off rides.

Mtatsminda

It wasn't a massive surprise to be told that I couldn't wear my secured glasses, and though this policy frustrates me immensely I've come to realise that it's an inevitability on big coasters in locations where glasses straps are not commonplace. As such I took my seat without particular comment and pulled down on my overhead restraint. This, it turned out, was a tactical error; the ride operator practically screamed at me for doing what is entirely normal in amusement parks around the world. He then proceeded to unlock the entire train before coming back to close the harness himself, applying his entire weight to push it down as far as it would go (which, as it turned out, was a good six inches clear of my stomach despite the top of the bar weighing heavily on my shoulders). His entire body language during this process made it very clear that he would rather be elsewhere, and honestly I was pretty much on the same page as I was already in moderate discomfort even before the dispatch button had been hit.

Fortunately the ride was nowhere near as dreadful as it might have been. There were a handful of moderate bumps as the train worked its way around the course, but they were considerably less severe than those experienced at Parque Bicentenario. I didn't feel any inclination to ride a second time without my glasses, but I'd have joined the group if others had wanted to, which is about as glowing an endorsement as I'm ever likely to give a SBL product. As we disembarked a loud recording insisted that we should go look at our on-ride photograph in both the local patois and english; ours showed us braced for an impact that I'm glad to report never came.

It took us a while to find the Mine Express (#2435), as it wasn't clearly indicated on the park map, but in due course we got to the right place. Once again I was instructed to remove my glasses, which left me fuming; one doubts that the forces on even the most aggressive Wacky Worm would be capable of removing eyewear. The storm clouds in my face on hearing this instruction were likely sufficient to call down a wide variety of ancient Egyptian curses upon the nameless operator who showed as much emotion in his face as a dead starfish, and while he was only doing his job it was clearly evident that he'd never had any training on how to communicate negatives in a positive way. The only good part of the experience was that the ride had seats large enough for Megan and I to sit in the same row; otherwise, it was a tick that we were happy to move on from after two laps.

The one stand-out attraction in the park is Ghost Castle, a substantial tracked dark ride. The design has an unusual layout with two vertical ascents and two outdoor sections, one on each side of the main show building. It also includes a single storey outdoor descent that is speed limited using a chain mechanism. The scenery is uniformly high quality, and comprises traditional scares (graveyard, skeletons, witches, et al) with elaborate visuals that I've not seen elsewhere, not least what we termed the "Dracula Rape Scene" (visible at 2:35 in this lights-on video). Capacity is kept high with two car trains with cages; readers are advised to go for the front if possible because the view in the back is somewhat restricted.

Ghost Castle

I got yelled at one last time right after disembarking for attempting to take a photograph of the vehicle I'd just climbed out of. Leaving the park suddenly seemed like a wonderful idea, and thus we headed towards the Funicular Railway to escape back to the city. Information online had suggested that we could use a Tbilisi metro card for this, but it turned out that this was no longer accurate; we needed instead to pay using the park's own swipe card. The three lari per person (~€1) felt like one last foxtrot yankee from a visit that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It was a relief as our car began to trundle down the mountain.

 

Rose Revolution Park

7th June 2018

Rose Revolution Park is about a kilometre away from the Akhmeteli Theatre metro station, and getting there is very straight forward; just turn left on the road to the right hand side of the station exit and walk north-east for around ten minutes. We found the entrance gate locked on our first attempt to visit just before lunch time, but there was a sign indicating that the place would be open today from 4:00pm until late. We decided that we were too tired to make the journey on foot more than once, so we hailed a taxi after a relaxed dinner of Traditional Georgian Cuisine.

The park has a dozen different rides, all but one of which are aimed at children. The exception is Space Gun, a full size double inverter ship that towers over everything else in the area, and though we did see this running at one point a close up photo revealed only one occupied seat. As ever we made our way directly to the the coaster, a SBF-built Happy Train (#2436) that was being operated today with an enthusiast-friendly one lap programme. With that done, we caught our usual selection of photos and headed for the exit.