After sightseeing, we went back to the hotel for a non-Russian lunch (you want to know how hungry I was by this point? I don’t really care for bacon, and I ordered penne carbonara. I ate the whole thing). Then it was off to the train station for the journey north to Saint Petersburg. We took a high speed train, which was quite a comfortable way to go. I was actually really looking forward to this part of the trip, thinking it’d be an opportunity to enjoy the rural scenery of this country, especially after Moscow’s grayness.
What greeted my eyes was a fence.
The train ride lasted four hours. This same fence continued unbroken almost the entire time.
This probably seems like an insignificant observation, but think about that. That’s roughly 450 miles of the same fence. It wasn’t even a nice fence. It was made of metal, bent into some diamond pattern and painted green and yellow except for the parts where rust relentlessly chipped away the color with its dark brown coarseness. Four hundred miles of that plus a thick bank of evergreens that lined the track on both sides for most of the way meant that it wasn’t long before I dozed off.
We stepped off the train in Saint Petersburg to the kind of pomp and circumstance that can only be achieved with blasted out speakers in a country rich in stoic nationalism and military tradition. Our steps were perhaps a little too lively for the somber chorus and fiercely proud orchestral recording unabashedly bellowing around us, but there were credits at stake.
We had a little over 24 hours in Saint Petersburg. In the interest of maximizing time, we’d decided to hit our first park that night instead of the following day, as originally intended. We were tired and we’d be lucky to get even an hour and a half there at best, which for a popular park with three credits on a beautiful evening was pushing it, but we decided to go for it anyway. This, of course, meant that it took the better part of a decade to process our passports upon hotel check-in and the metro station decided to play hide and seek with us, but eventually we found ourselves at the entrance to Divo Ostrov.
A brief note here—the photos in this post are a mix of those taken that evening and those taken when we returned for a photo session the following afternoon; hence, the amount of daylight will vary. Or maybe they were all taken in one evening because this was Saint Petersburg in the summer, which means the sun is a near constant presence. Whatever. Believe what you wanna believe.
Now that’s a pretty font for the park’s logo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that one before; have you?
Hmmmm. I’ve also never seen that before.
Actually, that is a much nicer, more civilized way of stating my thoughts at the time I first laid my eyes on this. I first saw the long, horizontal maroon arm jutting high over the trees as we walked in. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was puzzling—I mean, by this point in the game I’ve experienced a lot of flat rides and can typically name their manufacturer upon just a cursory glance because I read coaster sites for fun and not Cosmopolitan like other girls my age (I’ll take plum colored B&M track sightings over plum colored nail polish, thank you, oh and speaking of which Banshee OMG I think I am in love), but here was something that I couldn’t even tell was a ride at all. I mean, its color and stature obviously signify that it was meant to be attention grabbing, but it’s so tall and what rides out there are actually that tall and maybe this is a work in progress? Like maybe it’s a
There’s a rocket. There’s a rocket attached by strings. There are people in that rocket. It’s rotating around the tower and that is so high up andOMFGIT’SNOWINVERTINGANDOHSWEETJESUSWHATISTHISTHINGIWANTTORIDETHISROCKETNOW and no, that’s not what you think it means; I don’t read Cosmopolitan, remember?
Ladies and gentlemen…oh, who am I kidding. Gentlemen, let me introduce you to the Funtime Rocket. This is one of only a tiny handful in the world.
But that’s all I’m gonna tell you because this place closes in an hour and we have three credits to get. You’ll just have to stick it out through them like I did, stealing glances over your shoulder every few minutes and hoping there’d be enough time to ride it.
Obviously, this completely, utterly, pointless, profoundly stupid piece of shit by S&S takes precedence.
Look, S&S, I like you. You’ve come up with some really excellent rides in the past. But this? What happened? Did you all sit around at a meeting, fiddling with your phones so that when someone said “Hey guys, why don’t we build a Screaming Squirrel cuz we’re good at beyond vertical drops, but I just don’t think the present models are gimmicky enough. Why don’t we add trim brakes to the inverted portions and in order to prevent too much in the way of thrills, let’s also slow down the lead-up into the second drop, which, remember, will also have trim brakes so the train hits the final brakes that immediately follow the trim brakes on the second drop at barely a crawl!” you all just went with it so that you could keep Facebooking and playing Bejeweled Blitz?
I can just see it now:
“Also, guys, let’s not make those trains too comfortable. Wouldn’t want to make all those long, dull seconds of hangtime any less excruciating on the shoulders than they have to be!”
“Uh huh, sure…omg, Vanessa and Drew finally went FBO, guys!”
I don’t know what I find more offensive: That this ride even exists in the first place or that Divo Ostrov would be one of the few parks in this world gullible enough to buy one.
Moving swiftly along. Here was another ride I hadn’t seen before—it was similar to a Zamperla Hawk, except that individual seats freely inverted.
This, too—three sling shot rides, and all three were operating. Hey, other parks of the world who can’t even run all sides of their drop towers despite hour long queues! How about that? (Okay, fine, so none of them were operating in this photo. This was taken after a huge rainstorm. Trust me, they had all three going the night before and they needed it, given the queue).
I never got to ride either.
This bad boy was whistling my name.
It was moved here from Kure Portopialand in 2004. Unfortunately, its name did not survive the move, so what was once Andalusia Railroad is now the uproariously unimaginative Big Roller Coaster. But I was confident. Whatever its name lacked in character would surely be made up by a coaster whose trains rushed along the track with a whirr that crisply cut through the evening air, a whirr whose shrillness shrieked of power, force and all the other things synonymous with the great Herr Achterbahn.
It was going to be good. I could feel it. I could feel it like I could have reached out to feel this track because this is not America and people don’t need high chainlink fences splattered with signs to warn them of the obvious.
(No airgates in there, either.)
Thank goodness for this Southern pride here; I was starting to feel a little concerned that apparently I was supposed to rely on my own common sense in this country. Nothing like some guns and a Confederate flag to remind me that I can sue when I refuse to take responsibility for my actions that I consciously made by my own choice. God bless Amurrrricuh.
So a veterinarian once tried to scare me by saying the giant growth on my dog’s shoulder could cut into his jugular. I stopped worrying about that after I got a second opinion. Then I rode this and I thought about it again.
Can someone please explain to me why a roller coaster that doesn’t go upside down has accordion restraints?
Does this track maneuver look like a laterals fest of awesome? Oh, it sure is! If, of course, we replace “awesome” with “horrible” and “laterals fest” with “section that attempted very convincingly to induce whiplash and slice my jugular.”
What a shame. To be honest, though, it wouldn’t have been great even if the restraints were reasonable. It really is one of those proverbial “bark is worse than its bite” type of rides, in that its mighty whirr tries to shield the fact that it is largely an uninteresting, lackluster experience. No forces whatsoever, apart from those of pain felt by the nerves in your neck. The section pictured above and the first drop were particularly unpleasant.
This horse has the right idea: brace and grit. Neigh, I shall not be riding again.
Alright, Whirlwind. This is yours for the taking. This is like a gymnastics competition where the top competitor has faltered (and the first competitor was disqualified for having the cojones to even call herself a gymnast at all). The door is wide open.
For our viewers at home, today Whirlwind has selected for its floor exercise music a lovely piece entitled “whierrrwhierrrwhierrrwhierrrKERCHLUNK.”
“Well, Tim, Whirlwind is predictable. She’s not flashy. She’s not going to blow you away by her gymnastics.”
“True, Elfi, but what she does have is consistency. Even if you know hers is not by any stretch the most difficult routine out there, it’s done fairly well. Sure, difficulty counts, but so does execution. She might not have the showy acrobatics, but she has clean lines.
“She’s a veteran and confident out there. You have to remember that in her heyday, this was big gymnastics and her style was, at one point in time, groundbreaking. The fact that she’s still competing today says something for someone of her age.”
“I’ll give you that, Tim. And for someone of her age, Whirlwind is still quite the photogenic one.”
“Now, she just has to put this last tumbling pass to her feet…”
The judges have spoken…and holy bumper cars Batman, the Vekoma Whirlwind is the best coaster in the park!
The crowd goes wild.
By that point, it was 10:50. The park closed at 11. We’d accomplished our goal credit-wise, but I still had my eye on that Funtime Rocket. I’d been looking back at it all night and I wanted to ride precisely because it looked fucking terrifying. I’m 99.9% sure the others had had it and were ready to go, but either I make really good puppy dog eyes or my curiosity was contagious because Richard and Tal decided to go for it with me. We bought our tickets, hoping they wouldn’t close the line at exactly 11—given the ride’s mere ten-person capacity, there were still at least five or six rides ahead of ours. They didn’t and I am so thankful because a thunderstorm dampened (literally) any hope of it opening the following day during the hour when we came back for photos.
We stood in line, craning our necks to watch it in action. Every time the rocket rose, three red rings at its rear would illuminate and flash as it began to slowly rotate around the tower. It gained height and speed before beginning the inversion series, which was accompanied by a chorus of screams each cycle. I didn’t blame them. I couldn’t believe how high off the ground it was and how it just seemed suspended by nearly nothing.
Well, turns out that was true at one stage.
And yes, that one was this exact one we were about to ride.
I didn’t know that at the time. Richard mentioned that such an incident had happened, but he believed at the time it occurred on an installation at a different park.
It didn’t matter. The seeds of sheer, abject terror had been sown. Our turn finally came and we somehow managed to get the front row, even though we weren’t first in line. Richard flippantly mentioned something about the cables directly in front of us (which weren’t the ones that had snapped, so I’m sure those were due any day now and we might as well have a front row seat for it). Needless to say, it wasn’t what I needed to hear as the rocket began its ascent.
We rose, higher and higher. The rocket very slowly began its first circuit around the tower, gradually picking up speed. It wasn’t long before we were at full height and velocity, the trees far, far below. Most rides were closed by this point and a dusky quiet had settled over the park.
Well, it was quiet at ground level.
Folks, there are flat rides that are fun and then there are those of the Holy Shit variety.
This was the latter.
The wind up there smacked us with gale force. All other sensory input ceased for a few seconds because nothing else existed except the rushing in my ears. My knuckles instinctively whitened and a few things gradually began to register. My teeth were violently chattering. My skin was a terrain of goose bumps with a forest of hairs standing on end. My eyes narrowed and dried, the wind ripping moisture from their corners.
I mean, shit. I was a couple hundred feet in the air, suspended on a tiny little seat that might threaten to blow off this rocket at any second into the black leafy abyss.
Richard was unimpressed. I mean, sure, rightly so, because obviously this wasn’t a precarious enough situation.
So we tilted.
Sometimes I reach across and hold Richard’s hand on rides. Not so much here. I mean, I knew it was coming and I still wrapped my legs around the underside of the seat and gripped even tighter to the restraint’s handles.
The inversions were taken slowly, but it wasn’t so much being completely upside down as the initial tilt into each one that really amplified that unbelievably unsettling sense of vulnerability. Heights don’t frighten me. Falling does. Feeling my whole body tip into that headfirst direction tapped into that innate fear; moreover, doing so from a sideways angle heightened a sense of uncontrollability about the whole thing because I couldn’t see where my head was pointing. Do all of that amidst the deafening whoosh of the wind in the eerie twilight of midnight in the Russian summer, and it was almost surreal.
The rocket came to a slow stop and we hung in the air for a few moments. Immediately adjacent, the spokes of the Ferris wheel popped with color every few seconds as the calm and quiet of the slow descent eroded the potency of what had just happened.
It registered as we walked away. Seriously, that was scary. Holy shit fuck dandelions, that was scary. And that made it brilliant.
And you know what? Sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to lack courage. Let’s face it. We tend to become immune to the scare factor after years of partaking in this hobby. When something like this comes along, I welcome it. It’s good to feel genuine fear from these things every now and then. That’s why they’re built, after all. Well, fear and fun. This was both.
Then nervousness of a different kind set in because we realized the metros stopped running at 12:30 and it was well past midnight by this point. We made it, but since ten hours had elapsed since lunch, there still remained the fun of finding some semblance of dinner.
I was more than a little apprehensive when we found an all night buffet serving Russian food nearby our hotel, but I pushed it aside because it was the only thing open and I did the unthinkable: I tried Russian mystery meatballs. I mean, I only ate enough to quell the pain in my stomach, but I still did it. A Funtime Rocket AND Russian mystery meat? Talk about testing one’s limits.
Semi-satiated, we left the buffet around 12:45. Even though I was beyond exhausted, I couldn’t help but marvel how there was still light in the sky :)