We decided against getting lunch in the city; instead, we took the Metro and bus back to the airport and checked in for a two hour domestic hop to Rostov-on-Don. The flight touched down almost twenty miles north-east of the airport location recorded in my GPS, and while that didn't matter very much for an arrival it could have been disastrous (not to mention embarrassing) if we'd booked a one-way rental car in the other direction. Those planning their own trips to Russia are encouraged to double check that they have airports in the right place, as quite a few have moved in recent years.
19th August 2019
Russia is far too big to do a serious coaster trip without hiring a car, and though this might seem daunting to some readers it really shouldn't be. For the most part drivers are courteous and forgiving; when we found ourselves in the wrong lane from time to time we had no trouble merging back to where we were supposed to be. Traffic can be heavy, especially in the cities, but those accustomed to driving in major urban centers should have no difficulties. Foreign driving licenses are only valid in Russia when accompanied by an International Driving Permit; you should be able to obtain one of these from your local motoring organisation.
Those of a heavy-footed disposition should bear in mind that there are speed cameras everywhere. Fixed cameras can be seen on lampposts throughout the country, and though many of these have warnings painted in the road there are a sizeable number that don't. We also spotted dozens of portable cameras on tripods, in most cases with an unmarked police car parked nearby. These too often had advanced warnings, but they were very easy to miss. It is probably best to stay within the limits, but if you do get caught a typical high speed travel permit will cost ₽500 (~€7.08) plus an administration fee levied by your car rental agency. The charge includes a complimentary digital photo which you can keep as a memento of your trip.
In addition to speed enforcement readers will likely encounter at least a few police checkpoints. We saw several on each day of our trip, and we were stopped at three of them over the two week period. The officers will generally speak no English whatsoever, but this shouldn't be a major problem; show your passport, your migration card, your IDP, and the car license document (a pink card) then wait patiently, and in due course you should be sent on your way. At one stop I was asked to get out of the car, then ten seconds after I did (with no words exchanged) I was told I could go; I suspect this to have been a quick sobriety test.
Western car rental brands are not widely represented in Russia at present, and the local operators have daily distance limits that are not calculated to please coaster enthusiasts on a mission. Hertz withdrew from the market in 2017 following the bankruptcy of their local partner, and though they were supposed to return there has been no recent news on that front. The lack of competition outside of the major tourist destinations is evident from the fact that almost all rental offices operate from 9:00am-9:00pm regardless of flight schedules; out of hours service is not available at any price. As of this writing the choices are:
One additional point to be aware of is that most Russian airports do not have signage for rental car return, so be sure to ask ahead of time. At Sochi (AER) we spent ages trying to figure out where to go before giving up and parking in the short term lot. The staff told us that we were supposed to use gate four of long term parking, and charged us ₽250 (~€3.55) to move the car on our behalf. At Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO) we were instructed to use rows 28 through 31 of the short term car park opposite Terminal D. At Samara (KUF) the correct location was the fifteen minute drop-off area directly in front of the airport building, despite signage indicating that unattended vehicles would be towed.
19th August 2019
Revolution Park (Парк Революции) is a forty-two acre municipal garden adjacent to Teatralnaya Square (Театральная площадь) in the centre of Rostov-on-Don. The area was first designated for recreational use in the early part of the twentieth century when it stood at the edge of Nakhichevan-on-Don, a much smaller city subsumed into its larger neighbour in 1928. Since then it has seen a number of major overhauls, most recently at the turn of the millennium when the north-eastern corner of the site was filled out with nineteen different amusement rides and an oversized Rubik's Cube.
There is no shortage of on-street parking in the vicinity of the main entrance, priced at ₽35 (~€0.50) per hour. Payment can be made either at a machine (credit card only), via SMS (local phones only), or via a mobile app for Apple devices (Russian language only, despite what the description says). In all cases you will need the four digit code for the specific space you're in, as well as the registration number of your vehicle. Enforcement of parking regulations is automatic using APNR cameras; it took me quite a while to figure out how to pay, yet the ticket still showed my exact arrival time.
The various attractions are officially open from 10:00-21:45 seven days per week, though these times can vary depending on weather conditions and crowd levels. On this Monday morning there were operators with lanyard badges milling around even before the designated start, but the lady running the cash desk had apparently slept in, meaning that we couldn't actually buy tickets until 10:22. As things turned out this didn't matter very much, as we had to wait for the early morning dew to dry off before we could ride either of the coasters.
Typhoon (#2754) is one of the earliest examples of a SBF Cyclon Coaster, a virtually indistinguishable copy of the Z40 Zyklon introduced by Pinfari in the seventies. Thirteen examples of the type have been built as of this writing, and they can be found all over the world; thus far I've only made it to two versions in Brazil and England. This installation was overdue for some paint, but despite its somewhat tired appearance it was running very well; there were no bumps anywhere on the course, and the final brake engaged smoothly, bringing our car to a controlled stop. I particularly liked the way that the ride was surrounded on all sides by trees.
We had a lot more trouble getting our tick on the Caterpillar (#2755), a standard model Wacky Worm. On our first attempt we were told "not now", which we incorrectly assumed to be due to wet brakes. After brief discussion we decided that out best bet was to head to the other nearby parks and return when done. The operator was no more enthusiastic two hours later, pushing us to use our tickets on the bigger coaster, but in the end our persistence paid off. We've since realised that the problem may well have been an artificially low weight limit; signage at the ride entrance quotes a maximum of seventy kilograms per seat, a figure precluding virtually all adult males.
19th August 2019
Our second stop was at Friendship Park (Парк Дружбы), a thirteen acre facility built on former wasteland adjacent to the Temple of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in the north-eastern corner of Rostov-on-Don. The gate of the amusement area was open, but it was quickly evident that the rides were not; virtually all were blocked off with crime scene tape. The first missed credit of the trip thus became Roller Coaster, a standard model Zamperla 80STD. An English-speaking member of staff was able to tell us that the rides had been closed for over a month, but that they were expected to reopen in September. It was only later that I realised that he never specified which year.
Our third stop at Gorky Park (Центральный парк культуры и отдыха имени Горького) was also a write-off, albeit for a different reason; the cashier was unwilling to sell us tickets for the F1-themed SBF Double Coaster because it was apparently "for children only". I suspect that the real reason for the refusal might have been the cost of starting up and cycling the coaster for just two people; there were only a handful of other guests in the park for our visit, and friends of ours who called by on a busy weekend were given no trouble.
19th August 2019
Tale Park (Парке Сказка) is a children's park located in the south-western corner of Rostov-on-Don. Unaccompanied adults stand out like priests in a lingerie department, and indeed we were identified within minutes of arrival by a member of management. Initial questioning of our intentions metamorphosed into bewilderment followed by obvious enthusiasm when our new friend discovered that he had foreign visitors in his midst. He wouldn't allow us to pay for anything despite our protestations, giving us our first real taste of Russian hospitality; we thanked him by writing down a few links for enthusiast web sites.
Gold Mine Coaster (#2756) is a non-spinning figure eight Mine Train from SBF Rides, identical to manyotherversionsI'veriddenovertheyears. It is one of the older known examples of the type, having been manufactured in June 2008, though it has been maintained in factory condition. I didn't think to count the number of laps, but it was an awful lot; the ride lasted several minutes. The other attraction of interest was Labyrinth of Fear (Лабиринт Страха), a haunted dark ride also manufactured by SBF. The theming inside was considerably better than I expected, with a variety of detailed scenes, not least one which would earn a PG-13 rating.
19th August 2019
Google Maps gave us a number of different options for our journey from Rostov-on-Don to Yeysk. The fastest by some margin was a dog-leg south along the M4 motorway as far as Kushchyovskaya, which was quoted at two and three quarter hours. This estimate proved fairly accurate; though we lost some time in a tailback for a toll booth the journey was still considerably quicker (if somewhat less scenic) than the more direct route along the Taganrog Bay coast.
19th August 2019
Poddubnogo (Поддубного) is a public park named after Ivan Maximovich Poddubny (1871-1940), a professional wrestler famous for having lost just two matches over a career spanning almost four decades. His life story was chronicled in a 2014 movie that was generally well received, though there have been suggestions that the producers took liberties with historical fact in order to better glorify the motherland, a controversy that led to it being banned in the Ukraine. The Champion of Champions was buried in the park, and his tomb stands adjacent to a substantial museum with more than two thousand exhibits and historical artefacts.
The park is also home to a wide variety of amusement rides. Many of these clearly date from Soviet times, including an antique Funny Slide (Веселые Горка), a full size Chair Swing, and a delightfully haphazard Pirate Ship that looks to have seen better decades. Others have been retired from travelling fairs, including Avalanche (Лавица), a trailer-mounted Miami with English-language titles on its backflash. The newest machines look to be of Chinese origin; we spotted a knock-off Disk-O and a Rockin' Tug with theming packages that looked more than a little familiar. We had intended to visit the Room of Fear (Kомната Cтраха), a haunted walkthrough with an elaborate wooden ship on its facade, but managed to forget about it entirely in the excitement of the first Pax coaster of the trip.
Rodeo (#2757) is one of two surviving examples of the Pax Rodeo, a production design that saw four installations in Russia and a fifth in Kazakhstan around the turn of the millennium. The layout is as near as matters identical to the smallest member of the Wild Train family; the key difference is in the theming package, which eschews the manufacturer's usual bandaged locomotive in favour of a bright orange train with the figurehead of a bull on its lead car. The ₽150 (~€2.13) ride was fine, though very much in family coaster territory; a gentle float over the first drop represented the only obvious airtime, and there was no perceptible different between front and back. At the end of each two lap cycle the train made it about half way up the lift before rolling back to a smooth stop.
One slight curiosity of the installation is a narrow turnstile on the exit ramp. It seems likely that this was originally the ride entrance, as it serves as a convenient test mechanism to prevent overweight riders from passing. Today it also prevented some young children from exiting, as it required some serious force to move; fortunately we were there to help.
VAP Amusement Park
19th August 2019
The final stop for the day was at VAP Amusement Park, a collection of family rides located in the northern part of Yeysk adjacent to the seaport. Earlier bad weather had flooded the official parking lot and much of the surrounding area, but after circling for a few minutes we managed to improvise our own space a few minutes walk from the rides.
Our target coaster was labelled in cursive print that the inimitable Duane Marden interpreted as Underwater Shooting Range. This appellation, as hilarious as it was, was sadly wrong; correcting a single misplaced character gave us the rather more prosaic Underwater World (#2758), which fit the whale-themed train rather better. Research has since revealed that the ride, a copy of the ubiquitous Wacky Worm, was a production model design produced at the nearby Yeysk Attraction Plant. The layout was the usual one, but there were some distinct differences in the design, not least a visible descent of about a foot at the apex of the lift hill and clear banking on the turns. The lap bar restraints were quite loose, which made for a great ride, albeit one not ideal for misbehaving children!
19th August 2019
It took us almost four hours to cover the distance to our overnight hotel in Krasnodar, and we were pretty tired by the time we got there. Unfortunately it wasn't possible to put the car directly into the underground garage. Staff required that we check in first, and once that was done it was necessary to complete additional paperwork for parking access. Filling it out took several minutes, and required the car license, the driving license and IDP of the person doing the parking, and signatures in triplicate. I'll never complain about Irish bureaucracy again.