Italy Introduction

My Nikon popped its clogs at Fiabilandia.

Standing in line for the powered dragon boat ride (yes, you read that right), I was engaged in my usual paparazzi efforts towards completely and totally normal and definitely not at all weird amusement park photography subjects like the dragon’s cable attachment to its powered rail strip, pagoda themed bathrooms and ducks. Or at least I was attempting it.

“She’s getting old,” I mourned to Richard. “It’s doing this more and more often. I go to hit the shutter button and nothing happens. Or I have to press it down really hard.” I sighed and looked down at my battered purple Nikon S220, the camera that had loyally endured my every park visit, sightseeing adventure and canine friendly excursion since 2010.



Poor old girl no doubt had the scars to prove it.

We discussed the prospect of getting me a new camera. I balked at the thought of the expense, although I couldn’t deny I was ready for an upgrade. The Nikon’s photo quality was laughable compared to what was out there now; looking at my photos next to Richard’s Canon G15 stock was almost an embarrassment. But despite all that, I was determined to stick it out. I have a difficult time parting with things that aren’t fully flatlined. Case in point: my car back in the States is a 1999 Dodge Neon. The gas gauge doesn’t work, the speedometer doesn’t work, the odometer doesn’t work, and sometimes the dashboard acts like it’s being controlled by a lighting jockey at a nightclub, but dammit, it still runs and takes me from point A to point B. When it comes to phones, I only converted to the cult of Apple a month ago. Prior to that I was using a flip phone with the Cingular logo on it that would have hit the ten year mark this December if its message delivery speed hadn’t started rivaling that of the Pony Express. My point here is that I do not upgrade until I absolutely, positively have to, and the matter of the Nikon would be no different. “I’m going to use this camera until it just completely and utterly fails,” I declared to Richard.



Twenty minutes later, this happened.

I had just photographed a sign displaying Fiabilandia’s admission prices. I turned off the camera, then quickly turned it back on because something else had caught my eye. I aimed it toward the subject, glanced at the screen and then peeked above my sunglasses to make sure what I was seeing wasn’t just the obfuscation caused by darkened lenses smudged with greasy, sunscreeny fingerprints.

It wasn’t.

Considering we weren’t even halfway through the trip, I felt deflated. Yet I can’t say it was all that upsetting. Part of that stemmed from knowing I had a fallback in Richard’s camera, but mostly it was because I knew the Nikon was going to expire sooner or later. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen literally twenty minutes after I said I wasn’t going to relinquish it until it happened. Somehow it felt poetic and oddly satisfying.



Now, to be honest, the camera still worked to an extent. As you can see, I farted around with it on the bus and concluded that it still took photographs. And the screen did flash back to life intermittently, but it never lasted more than a couple of photos before the gray bars returned. The most I could make out on the screen were vague shadows like you sometimes see on a snowy television screen. All things considered, though, I was shooting blindly, and that was a big enough fail that it might as well have been a total fail.

And so, for the first time in five years, I was doing a coaster trip cameraless. If I wanted a particular photo, I had to pester Richard. I felt divested, out of my element (except for the pestering Richard part, because that is something in which I am very, very well practiced). It was going to take some getting used to.



But then I guess whenever you’re in a new country, there are things that take getting used to. For example, I assumed Italy would be a modern country where squat toilets didn’t exist and jet bridges at airports did exist. I was wrong on both accounts. There were sex shops on every corner, the shower head was always located in the center of the tub, it was perfectly normal to see bambinas to go topless at water parks and the Italians have this freakish fixation on bidets, though it’s not nearly as fanatical as their obsession with smoking.

Quirks and idiosyncrasies aside, however, the most unusual component of this trip was that it was a far different kind of coaster tour than what I’m used to. Usually Richard and I travel by ourselves or join a few others to make a four or five person band of roving credit whores. Italy, by contrast, was an organized tour put on by the European Coaster Club. The only club trip I’d ever done before was the 2012 China trip with Theme Park Review (yeah, yeah, I know) and I had such a superb time that I couldn’t wait for another opportunity to join a club trip. The problem with dating someone who has over 2000 credits to his name, however, is that club trips often follow the trails he has already traveled. These trips aren’t cheap, so I don’t blame Richard for wanting to allocate his resources toward novelty instead, especially when what’s new for him is almost always new for me, too. When the ECC announced its Italy trip, though, his ears perked up; when the itinerary was released, Richard realized there were new credits for him at nearly all the parks. I didn’t need any convincing—it would all be new to me, not to mention I was thrilled at the prospect of two weeks in the land of cheese and pizza and pasta—so we quickly secured our spots.


Photo by Justin Garvanovic,

Photo by Justin Garvanovic,

Club trips have an entirely different atmosphere than personal trips, and the crux of it lies in the camaraderie that’s shared by many people not only uniting over a common passion (and a rather unusual one at that), but being in close proximity with each other for all the in between times. Italy was two weeks where over 40 of us experienced coasters, parks, meals, traveling and downtime together, and the bonds and friendships that inevitably formed during those times were what made the trip fun and meaningful. It was never just about the coasters. It was about things like the collective groan that went up every time our bus driver got lost (which happened so frequently as to almost negate the benefit of not having to do the driving ourselves, particularly during the debacle that was Etnaland). Or having our mortality dangled in front of us as we careened down a Naples highway at three times the speed limit at the not-always-gripping-the-wheel hands of a giddy taxi driver whose discussion topic of choice was philosophy and whose driving music of choice was Beethoven blasted at eardrum crushing levels.



Or when we were stranded at a rest stop for three hours and passed the time by trying to get trucks to honk at us the way children do when they’re making mischief in the back of the school bus.



Or when this guy showed up.



But when it was about the coasters, the other thing about group trips is that there’s so much more you can get away with. We got closed coasters to open, we used our safety in numbers to deflect judgment when we shamelessly paraded ourselves onto yet another Brucomela, our combined energy spirited us on to seek additional credits that might otherwise have been sacrificed in the name of common sense (read:sleep), and on one occasion we fairly well induced cardiac arrest in the passengers of a Rimini public bus when a frenzied holler to “GET OFF THE BUS THERE’S A COASTER!” had us bolting off to a serendipitously spotted bonus credit.

And what’s to be said about these Italian coasters?

Katun; Mirabilandia

Katun; Mirabilandia

There were, of course, highlights. 


Mirage Rosso; Zoosafari Fasanolandia

Mirage Rosso; Zoosafari Fasanolandia



Darkmare; Cinecitta World

Darkmare; Cinecitta World

Unsung heroes.


Raptor; Gardaland

Raptor; Gardaland



Pendolo; Ai Pioppi

Pendolo; Ai Pioppi

The just plain WTF.


Freestyle; Cavallino Matto

Freestyle; Cavallino Matto

And I fell in love with a Togo standup. (Go ahead. Leave. Never trust my opinions again. Go on.)


The tour began in Milan’s “our bathrooms smell worse than a truck stop” Linate Airport and ended at the commonsensically retarded Naples Airport. The interval consisted of a zigzagging route that took in Lake Garda, Venice, Rimini, Pisa, Rome, Bari, and Catania, visiting every significant park along the way…



…as well as some major cultural sites.

Owing to my dearly departed Nikon, most of the photos in the reports to follow will be Richard’s, but he’s a far better photographer than I am, anyway.  

The first trip report is Movieland Park and I…well, guys, I kind of got carried away. Like really, really carried away. Australian readers, I apologize. I was so excited when I came home from Italy that I just wanted to dig right into the trip reports, and what began as a “I’ll just quick get the first one up” turned into something much longer than quick. I will be picking up Australia again next and then I might alternate between the two or do a few consecutively from one country and then a few more from the other. Of course, there’s still that trip to Mexico and Costa Rica we did in April…the Japan trip we did in October…if you have a preference for what I cover after the next Australia installment, let me know.

But in the meantime, Movieland is up and ready to be shared. It really did turn into a big, glorious mess but you know what? Sometimes, even when you have a plan, messes still happen. 

I think that’s appropriate for a trip where the chief engineer of Zamperla’s roller coaster department himself admitted to us the Volare was a “big mistake.”