My decision to visit Poland today grew out of what is probably best described as a personal crisis that hit me a few weeks ago. The immediate aftermath was a trip to Germany, but my zest for adventure, and more importantly the availability of cheap flights, made me contemplate trying something different. A quick glance at coaster-count.com showed that nobody from that site had ever ventured to Poland, so I figured why not be the first?
Ryanair and Aer Lingus both fly to a variety of Polish airports from Dublin, many of which I can't pronounce, and most of which I can't spell. I'm sure Bydgoszcz and Szczecin are lovely places, and maybe I'll visit them some day if the local tourist offices organise an infusion of vowels to ease pronunciation for ignorant foreigners. The wide flight schedule might in theory have allowed several options for a same day return, but the only one I could find involved flying in to Krakow and out of Katowice. Given that the two cities are only about an hour apart (think Orlando and Tampa) the scheduled nine and a half hours between my two flights seemed to be ample to visit both Rabkoland and Śląskie Wesołe Miasteczko.
Unfortunately, things began to go wrong even before my flight had taken off from Dublin Airport. Late baggage handlers (so what else is new) ensured my flight was half an hour behind schedule. On landing, the passport control queue took a painful twenty minutes. The rental car company took another half hour, and then an attempt to grab a quick snack turned into a twenty minute detour into the bank to get change; it seemed that the majority of polish retailers do not accept the fifty zloty note (approximately €20). By the time I made it to my rental car it was a full hour after my projected worst case scenario time, and I was, well, mildly annoyed.
It was at this stage that the torrential downpour began. As I eased my way out onto the motorway en route to Rabkoland, I began to wonder if this day would prove a complete write off; my time allocation was going to be considerably less than planned, and even with that roller coasters don't often run in the rain. To add to the fun, the traffic was barely moving at all, due to a combination of major roadworks and spectacularly bad weather. Twenty five minutes, six kilometers, and four inches of rain later I'd had enough; I reprogrammed the satnav for Śląskie Wesołe Miasteczko and headed there instead. Even that journey took a full hour longer than the computer predicted; future tourists should beware that driving times in this part of the world should be taken with a large portion of bigos.
Śląskie Wesołe Miasteczko
9th August 2008
The first challenge for Śląskie Wesołe Miasteczko was to figure out where to park my car. Luck finally took pity on me, as I spotted a suitable location immediately. This turned out to be a paid site, but at five zloty for the first hour and two for subsequent hours it wasn't about to break the bank. The main entrance was no more than two minutes walk from the parking. Park admission costs five zloty, but the minimum purchase is a twenty five zloty magnetic card which can be recharged within the park. Individual rides cost anywhere from three to nine zloty apiece.
The rain was still thundering down as I entered the park, and perhaps unsurprisingly the place was largely deserted. The small number of guests and just about all the staff were congregated around the various food stalls, jabbering away at considerable volume in high velocity Polish. There was a large amount of standing water covering most of the footpaths, and though I was dressed for rain I'd have done better with wellington boots. Be that as it may, a lap of the park took the better part of an hour during which I ascertained that the only currently operational rides were the several sets of bumper cars.
At long last the sky began to brighten up, and the rain eased to a gentle sprinkle. Deciding that it was now or never, I stalked up onto the still deserted platform for Cyklon (#1233) and made myself conspicuous. Moments later three staff members appeared out of hiding in a nearby pay box. Two of them headed towards the load and unload platforms, but the third made his way to the bottom of the lift hill where he applied a considerable amount of grease to the bottom of the lift hill. Eventually he appeared to be satisfied, and my first experience of a Kolejka Górska began. Though basically a carnival coaster the ride ran very smoothly, and the braking at the end was very gentle, though to be fair that was probably due to wet friction pads rather than design!
I'd previously ridden the Tic-Tac Tornado at its previous home, and I wasn't particularly enamoured of it then. One can only assume that something was done to it in its move, as the newly repainted ride was actually very enjoyable. The lift hill still takes far too long, but good things come to those who wait, and so it was here. Curiously the staff were absolutely insistent that I hold onto the bar in the front of my car, going as far as to stop the ride on the lift hill to remind me of this regulation. Might they have had a restraint failure or something?
The Blizzard (#1234) had a sign on it indicating a special promotional deal where all passengers would get two circuits of the track. It was impossible not to wonder if there was a reason for this, especially given the unpleasant lurch made by the train as it squeaked its way out of the station. I'm pleased to say that my theory proved to be wrong; while the ride wasn't worth a second lap it wasn't a particular imposition to repeat.
The Mini Roller Coaster (#1235) was an interesting alternative to the ubiquitous kiddie coasters one sees everywhere. Consisting of a single albeit relatively large oval this ride began with an intentional rollback allowing the train to pick up enough speed to make it over the highest point of the track, somewhere around ten feet high. The speed the oval was taken at was quite surprising, though perhaps the operator may have been running it faster given his audience. After about six laps the train began to slow, just as a water effect came on to douse riders. Fortunately I saw it just in time to put my hood up!
The final coaster of the day was formerly found on the fair circuit in the Netherlands, and indeed it still carries a considerable amount of signage from that period. One doubts that a huge number of poles can read Dutch, but those that can will know how to behave on the Funny Mouse (#1236). Adults should be aware that this ride is one of smaller models, but it was just about possible to shoehorn myself in after crossing my legs.
The park is home to a pair of dark rides, both of which fit broadly into the haunted house category. Oddly enough they both share a completely identical track layout and ride mechanism, making me wonder if park management got a cheap deal on dark ride mechanisms. The theming and interior on each ride is different, however, and both would rate pretty close to the top of the pile when compared to other fairground-level attractions. The only other ride I tried today was the ferris wheel, allowing me to indulge my passion for photography. By the time I'd disembarked the weather had closed back in, making me decide to call it a day.
9th August 2008
Satnav pronunciations of foreign place names range from the moderately amusing to the downright hilarious. I'd like to nominate Garmin's rendition of Katowice Pyrzowice as the new champion in this regard.