Our morning began with another long drive, this time to the east of the country and the city of Го́мель, a Cyrillic name that transliterates into Gomel, Homiel, Homel, or Homyel depending on which sign you read. As with our journey yesterday the roads were excellent, and the disciplined local driving standard made the three and a half hour journey relaxing if somewhat tedious. Our destination was just thirty kilometers from the borders with Ukraine and Russia, though both were off-limits to us today thanks to our visa-free entry to Belarus. (Adventurous travellers should note that foreign nationals have previously been refused permission to cross from Belarus to Russia by road; trains and/or air travel is likely a better choice.)
We caught our first glimpse of our target when we were about five hundred metres away as a sixteen car Ferris Wheel appeared on the horizon. It wasn't moving, and that caused a brief moment of consternation that lasted until we got closer and saw lots of people milling around. Moments later we parked our rental alongside a bright red and apparently functional Lada (one of many in this part of the world) and walked the short distance into the park. Our entrance point was a small unassuming gate right next to Speedy Coaster (#2342), a standard Zamperla model with a three foot wide manufacturer logo taking pride of place on its otherwise spartan fascia. Most of the remaining space was taken up by the ride name in bright red capital letters on a white background, repeated both in the local patois (Веселые Горкй) and English. A blurred and faded photograph of a similar coaster with red track (most likely Circus Coaster) was visible behind the text on the right hand side.
In a refreshing change from the large corporates there was no loose article policy at all, as evidenced by several passengers taking on-ride selfies with their mobile phones. With that in mind I decided that it would be worth sitting in the front for the best shots, while my less obsessive companions headed for the back in the hope of a more exciting ride. In the lead car the only really memorable part of the experience was a dramatic and impressive lurch about half way up the lift hill, possibly due to a missing anti-rollback dog; aside from that the ride was exactly as expected. That being said, the tracking was smooth by Zamperla standards, fully justifying the BYN 3.50 (~€1.80) ticket price. We subsequently returned for a second cycle on our way out of the park, allowing me to confirm that the forces experienced in the back seat were essentially indistinguishable from those up front.
The rest of the park was bright and colourful, and the vast majority of the attractions looked brand new. Zamperla appeared to have supplied much of the hardware, though we spotted a few other brands in the mix as well as a couple of rides that looked to be of local provenance. It was particularly interesting to see what looked very much like a vintage American Tilt-a-Whirl with seashell-themed cars (albeit of the luminous pink and yellow variety, rather more dramatic than anything I've personally seen on a beach). Sadly it was out of action today, though it's only fair to note that it was the only significant ride under maintenance; operators were rotating between everything else. In the end the only other attraction we decided to try was the Giant Wheel, priced at BYN 3.00 (~€1.60) per person. The cars were fully enclosed, and though they did have on-board air conditioning the unit in our car had been deactivated with a key. The temperature was warmer than we'd have preferred, but manageable, and a generous minute long pause at the top gave us more than enough time to capture all the photographs we wanted.
Children's Park Rechytsa
4th July 2017
Our second planned stop for the day was at a riverside boardwalk in the town of Rechytsa, home to a Wiegand-built alpine coaster. Our expectations were not particularly high given that the approach road was across perfectly flat terrain, but we figured that it was worth a quick look. We were briefly cheered when silver-coloured track came into view, but moments later it became apparent that Alpine Hills was out of service. The condition of the signage in the station suggested rather strongly that the advertised technical fault had been ongoing for some time, an impression reinforced by the various weeds growing through the track.
The ride currently holds the dubious honour of being the shortest of its type anywhere in the world, and given that, it was a pity to miss out. Its track is just 274 metres from start to finish, less than that of most Wild Mice and just seven percent of the length of of the world's longest installation at Naturlandia in Andorra. The height differential looked comparable to that of a standard model Galaxi. Though I've not been able to find on-ride footage online it seems likely that the total duration including lift hill would be no more than thirty seconds, an impression reinforced by the fact that it was possible to capture virtually the entire layout in a single photograph from beside the brake run.
We thought about braving a local cafe next to the nearby Bumper Boats, but nothing looked particularly appealing and the lack of any translation meant that ordering would have required guesswork (and possibly gastroenteritis). On that basis we decided to cut our losses and returned to our car for the drive to our next destination.
Ski Complex Mazyr
4th July 2017
The drive to Ski Complex Mazyr took us around ninety minutes, and a good portion of the road passed along the edge of the Polesie State Radioecological Reserve, an area of Belarus rendered uninhabitable by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. From the main road the area looked like any other forest but for the occasional radiation hazard signs; it was difficult to imagine that the area was once home to 22,000 people who had to leave virtually all of their worldly possessions behind at just a few hours notice.
We parked our car opposite the main gate of the complex and walked in. Signage indicated that we were within the published opening hours, but the only sign of activity we could see was someone doing gardening; there were no other staff members in sight, and certainly no guests. We quickly concluded that this was going to be another write-off, but we had plenty of spare time and thus walked over to the Alpine Coaster where we spent perhaps twenty minutes taking photographs of the visible portions of the layout. There were distance signs along the track, and we noticed as we walked past them that the reverse sides, rather than being blank as one might have expected, were labelled in German. We concluded that the owners had turned the original signs round after the initial installation, perhaps due to an unforeseen shortage of polyglots in the area.
In due course we'd had our fill, and we were on our way back to the car when we were approached by a local in a black bomber jacket with a singularly impressive selection of tattoos. He spoke no English at all, but after some gesticulation it became apparent that he was a ride operator and could start things up for us if we were interested. Needless to say we were, and he indicated using sign language that we should wait for a few minutes. Soon after another person turned up with the requisite key. Our new friend took a sled down the track himself, presumably to check for overhanging branches, and, apparently satisfied, beckoned for us to come forward.
We'd already seen the first hundred metres of track, which looked no different to that of any other Wiegand-built alpine coaster. However, it was the portion that we hadn't seen that was worthy of note, consisting of some sharp turns of the sort more typically associated with Brandauer installations, along with two powerful airtime moments. It felt very much like there was no speed governance in our sled at all, and as a result the sharp curve at the end of the course was ridiculously powerful. There was about five metres of rail left when I realised it was time to brake, and though a sharp yank of the levers did what it was supposed to the air briefly became thick with the smell of burning rubber. Though it goes against everything I believe in I decided to apply the brakes a few seconds earlier for laps two and three in the interests of not having our sled catch fire.