Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

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Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby coasterer » Tue Feb 28, 2017 8:11 am

I’ll be spending the next month in the Middle East for work! SO! Trip report!

I wanted to create a space to share some of my experiences and park reports. I’ll be in Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, with convenient layovers I managed to finagle in Abu Dhabi on the way in, and Istanbul on the way out. There isn’t that much in the Levant, in terms of big, good rides, but I do plan to hit up a few of the [relatively] larger parks, as well as Nefeskesen at Vialand on the way out. Unfortunately, the spinner at Habtoorland has been SBNO for a while now due to Lebanon’s decreased tourism numbers, which is a shame.

Abu Dhabi -

Abu Dhabi is a wonderful city for those of you who love a little barrenness/rubble/construction/shabbiness mixed in with your landmarks of ungodly affluence. Unfinished sidewalks and barren patches of desert connect one monumental entertainment complex to another, inconveniently spread out just far enough to put a gaudy and unfinished apartment complex in between them.

I was here for a day in 2011, 6 years ago, right when Formula Rossa was new. I was super excited to be able to get back to the park now that they’ve added Flying Aces.

I actually didn’t even make it downtown - the airport is rather close to Yas Island, and as I had less than 24 hours and I’d seen the city before, I opted to just camp out there. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera in my checked bag, so I have just a couple pictures from my phone, and mostly words.

I got in late, after midnight, buzzed from drinks on the plane and chatting it up pleasantly with the swarm of Pakistanis that were clearing immigration at the same time. Really, I was just happy to be back out of the country, especially in a place where they use the butt sprays - God’s gift to man. I stayed at a really nice and surprisingly affordable hotel within walking distance of Ferrari World (although walking is hardly a thing here). Regardless, I got a combo ticket from the hotel at a substantial discount, and made the 40 minute or so trek out to Yas Waterworld in time for a 10 am opening, which is important because you have to beat all the people. And by people, I mean person. Literally, 1 person. As the morning went on, a few others found their way to the park, but for the most part, the place was beyond dead. Like, staff to guest ratio was 4:1.

This was actually convenient though because I was on somewhat of a tight schedule. My flight out was at 5:00 and I needed to get over to Ferrari World too.

The park is just incredible. The theming is impeccable, all Sinbad-y and exotic. And the way the structures weave around and through each other is just remarkable. It’s enough to have no idea what the staircase you start climbing is going to lead to. Which is fun, albeit, horribly exhausting when you choose wrong.

Speaking of stairs, there were a lot of them. I’d already walked quite a bit to get there, and I often found myself out of breath at the top of each slide. Getting old, I suppose. Some of those things were high! I did a full lap of the park in under an hour, probably climbing up some 40,000 flights of steps (just a guess), mounting each oeak progressively more laboriously as the morning went on - and then I cherry picked a few slides for repeats. Despite some areas of construction, the place looked spectacular. The staff was incredibly friendly. In fact, everyone here was incredibly friendly. The UAE is something like 90% immigrant workers, many from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Philippines - and it was a lot of fun talking to everyone, at least so I could delay the descent long enough to catch my breath. I’m fairly well-traveled, and if I haven’t been to a place I probably know someone who was just there - so conversation came very naturally and was quite enjoyable. For most of them, just to know that you've heard of their home country meant a lot.

Some of these slides were aggressive! Man, between all the walking up the mountains of stairs, and tumbling back down in typhoon-ic, waterboarding-levels of pummel-your-body-and-drown-yourself intensity, my body was taking quite the beating. In fact, as I write this, it feels like my calves are about to detach themselves from my legs entirely.

The floor-drop loop slide was new for me, and made me squeal like a little girl. And the 6-person raft coaster-esque slide (master blaster?) was a first as well, perched up high on a giant Rok nest from Sinbad’s voyages. I very much enjoyed it.

Bandit Bomber was actually quite fun. The water cannons don’t work anymore, unfortunately, but it is quite a pleasant little float through and around the slides and stairways. The restraint was very open, which was fun, and it felt very long, despite being not very long at all in actuality.

Around 11:30, an hour and a half after opening, I booked it out of there having completed everything I wanted to and given myself a nice leisurely lap in the lazy river. And by booked it out of there, I mean contorted my face into a grimacy smile when told the easiest way to get to Ferrari World was a short walk across the [barren desert] intervening area as the shuttle could take a while, and slowly made my way towards the giant red building an age away.

At this point, my legs were practically shaking with exhaustion, but I put on my big boy pants and made the 10-15 minute walk to Ferrari World. It is remarkable how standard “luxury vehicle parking garage” is, and yet how foreign of a concept “fully paved roads and intact sidewalks” seemed to be.

Ferrari World is absolutely enormous, and it was cool to see the new coasters adding quite a bit more chaos to the inside of the building. It is enough to get lost in there. The new shuttle was testing. It looks great, rising through the middle of the building. I made a beeline for Flying Aces, all giddy and excited.

The queue is stunning. But it’s very long, and by now my legs felt like logs, my knees incapable of deep bending, and a lovely blister had developed on one of my feet. As I hobbled through, I was blown away by the completely immersive theming. I was blown away, each time I walked through it. Which was four times. Oh boy, legs, you can do it.

Oh man here we are. At long last. The lift hill is laughter-inducing fast. The seats are very comfortable, and the restraints very freeing. The thigh-crushing SkyRush models have been rectified, and the first drop just disappears from under you. The briefest third-world-bus-ride of a rattle awaits you at the bottom of the first drop on the back outside seats, but the rest is pretty smooth. And the giant non-inverting loop tosses you up directly into the blazing sun. Literally, the sun is right there, causing your vision to be a fiery white hole of non-existence right when you’re tossed into the roll. It was totally disorienting every time. Very cool, if you’re into that sort of thing - blindness.

The airtime was ample without being hallmark level, and the layout was quite long and very enjoyable. It does meander a tiny bit (kind of like ispeed does in my opinion - some of the layout just seems very unfocused and all over the place), but the forces are for the most part enough to keep you laughing and happy, with several good ejector pops and twistiness, and the PERFECT rolling inversion at the very end. Just scoops you right into it. Like your whole body just says “take me”. I think though, there were a few spots of 'wasted space', or areas that could be a tad more interesting. Which I don't love.

It’s right around Maverick level for me - not as intense as Sky Rush per se, but definitely a lot more rideable. The length and more relaxed pace makes it very enjoyable without being an effort, with just enough extreme intensity and moments of disorienting uniqueness to stand out. I put it below Goliath (Walabi), Megalite, Skyrush, Millennium Force, Atlantis Adventure, and Storm Runner, on par with Maverick, and better than all of the Superman models, I305, Volcano, Xcelerator, and iSpeed.

I rode it three times in a row all in the back (the front always had a line), and liked it more and more each time. Although at this point, the length of the queue line became quite the obstacle. I was seriously considering detaching my legs at the knees and using them as canes to drag myself forward - ‘must… ride… Flying Aces… again”.

The most interesting thing about having Flying Aces in the park, is that Formula Rossa is somewhat exposed. Back in 2011, Formula Rossa was able to make such an impression on me in its singularity and uniqueness - The launch was just stunning, and the experience of the whole thing was very impressive. Now with Flying Aces, Formula Rossa feels much more like a one trick pony. I didn’t have the best seat - second to last row, so I also didn’t have the advantage of the extra height of the tiered seating, which left the experience to be very underwhelming compared to what I remembered. The launch didn’t feel as out of control, the hill didn’t have as much insane airtime as I remembered, the rest of the layout was very dull - I don’t know. There’s something about having Flying Aces as a reference point that really deflates the Formula Rossa experience. One lap was enough for me as the line was building, and honestly I’d rather spend my limited time over at Flying Aces. Assuming I could make it back there. I rolled myself back across the park one final time, and took one final lap before dragging my exhausted, beaten, broken body out of the park and into a cab for the airport.

Everything was wonderful. Next, Lebanon.
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Walking past Ferrari World on the way to Yas Waterworld. This thing is great. Definitely worth the trek
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The first half is truly great. The second half can meander a tad, but it's all redeemed by that lazy roll at the end.
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Thar she blows. Old faithful
Last edited by coasterer on Sun Apr 09, 2017 11:17 am.
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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby SharkTums » Tue Feb 28, 2017 11:46 am

Really great TR, thanks for sharing. I get that it's hot in the UAE but I'm always surprised by their lack of sidewalks in easy walking places! Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your adventures in the Middle East.

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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby LeoBruz199 » Tue Feb 28, 2017 12:24 pm

SharkTums wrote:Really great TR, thanks for sharing. I get that it's hot in the UAE but I'm always surprised by their lack of sidewalks in easy walking places! Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your adventures in the Middle East.


Oh, Elissa, you ain't seen nothing yet. :lmao:
Wait until you come to Saudi Arabia. Sidewalks here in Jeddah are pretty much non-existant!
(Except for the seaside and a few places here and there)
And those that are there have really messy patches of vegetation on them, which makes them pretty much useless.
:mike:

Anyhow, this TR looks great! I wish the UAE wasn't as expensive as it is, so I could head down there more often!
Oh well, I guess I won't be riding any coasters any time soon... Within the next 10 minutes anyways. :airtime: :airtimer:

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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby ytterbiumanalyst » Tue Feb 28, 2017 6:46 pm

A month in the Middle East sounds amazing. Best business trip ever!
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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby thrillerman1 » Tue Feb 28, 2017 10:04 pm

Oh man I've really missed your updates. I'm so glad to see you're back and posting more crazy adventures in the Middle East. Please keep sharing!!! Still waiting for the "hands in the air" jump photo for this TR.

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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby PKI Jizzman » Thu Mar 02, 2017 6:27 am

thrillerman1 wrote:Oh man I've really missed your updates. I'm so glad to see you're back and posting more crazy adventures in the Middle East. Please keep sharing!!! Still waiting for the "hands in the air" jump photo for this TR.


Agreed! Appreciate the post. Both parks look stellar and can't wait to real more.
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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby coasterer » Sun Mar 19, 2017 12:44 am

Thanks for the nice comments guys!

Lebanon

My wife and I work for an NGO that sends volunteer teams all over the world. Typically, my work consists of doing big picture logistics, trip set up, and internal administrative processes. Every once in a while, however, we get to go check in on teams and see how they’re doing. So the actual ‘work’ part of this business trip was pretty ‘non-worky’ by most standards. Also, conveniently enough, my wife and I were able to take some time off before, and add some time in Lebanon to what was originally going to be a Jordan-Israel trip.

We have a really great friend there in Lebanon that we got to see, working for an NGO near the Syrian border, teaching English in the camps. Happily enough, a couple more good friends surprised us while we were there, and the 5 of us rented a car and saw just about everything.

Lebanon is amazing. It’s got an enormous wealth of geographic and historical diversity in a tiny area. It has a rich history and culture, the food is great, the people are incredibly generous and well-educated, the conversation is always top notch with anyone, the country is very well-developed and unabashedly Western, and the whole experience can be had without seeing another tourist outside of Beirut. In the span of a single day, we could go from 2000 year old coastal ports with clear blue Mediterranean water and bustling Arabian souks, to snow capped peaks, deep gorges and crashing waterfalls. There were mountain villages and sea castles, spectacular Roman ruins and glimmering Shiite mosques. Not to mention the Bekaa Valley vineyards and the free tastings, and the warm hospitality of Lebanon’s bulging Syrian refugee population, and the political discussions with strangers over shisha and tea.

At times we were literally the only people in some of these spectacularly preserved sites. We didn’t see another Western tourist outside of Beirut.

In terms of coasters however, the landscape is preeeetty bleak. The country doesn’t have much more than a handful of small funfair-esque parks. As previously mentioned the spinner at Habtoorland has been SBNO for quite some time now, unfortunately. I remember stumbling across that coaster mentioned somewhere in the journals of Richard Bannister, and it has always stayed with me for its dramatic location perched on the Lebanese mountains (at the time I had very little concept for what Lebanon was, just knew I’d likely never get there). I had half a plan to check out the park and see if I could get any good pictures, but we had a busy 10 days and the thought slipped my mind.

This makes the largest coaster currently in operation a Galaxy model, located at Dream Park in Jounieh, about 10km up the road from Beirut. It’s perched on a hill and offers decent views of the Mediterranean below, but the park itself is nothing to write home about. They also have a wacky worm and a powered coaster. We were kind of told the park was closed and wouldn’t be open til later in the evening, but with a little persistence, they let us in and sent us for a lap without problem. I’ve found in my travels that rarely will a coaster stay closed for long in a developing country if you just stand there for a while with money in your hand and refuse to leave.

We passed a few other parks around the country, but nothing more than a few wacky worms, none of which we rode. There were a few parks/fairs that aren’t currently listed on rcdb - one north of Zakhle, and one southwest of Zakhle near the Cedars on the road to Jezzine. And there’s a park down south, just north of Tyre with another credit, as well as a funfair in East Beirut.

Lebanon set a veeeerry high standard for our time in the Middle East. You could pretty much drive around with your eyes closed, shout “Roman ruins!”, and only be wrong as to whether they were Phoenician or Umayyad ruins instead. Baalbek itself was one of the more spectacular sites I’ve ever seen, and what was more, we had the place pretty much to ourselves, and could climb on just about anything without consequence. Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre, were all worth a look, and we were literally the only people at Aanjar, making for quite a memorable time. There are some gorgeous towns in the mountains - Jezzine, Tannourine, Bcharre, and the Bekaa Valley is an awesome little secluded world unto its own. And Beirut’s cafe culture is just fantastic. Seeing fully covered women smoke hookah along with their morning coffee really sets the tone for the whole day. The only thing we didn’t really make it to was Tripoli up north.

We had an amazing time, and would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a little grittier, more visceral, and less-traveled corner of the Middle East.

We’re in Jordan now and I’ll try and post about our time here soon-ish!
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The grand mosque in the center of Beirut. I'm a sucker for big mosques.
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My wife and I on the shore near Byblos - you might be able to make out Beirut on the horizon
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Byblos - an old Phoenician port city
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Old town in Tyre
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Cliffside village - Jezzine overlooking the valley. There was an impressive waterfall at the drop off too, but it was hard to get a good picture of it due to the angle.
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On the road - headed off into the mountains for an alleged "food festival on ice"
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"Souk el akel" or roughly, "food market" is a weekly event, typically held in Beirut but this week on tour up in the mountains. It was the middle of nowhere, it was freezing, music was bumping and fires were blazing - and this was one of the best steak and cheese sandwiches I've ever had.
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Lebanon is almost entirely mountains. There's barely a flat spot of land in the whole country.
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At the port in Tyre, near the Christian quarter
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The Mediterranean from out here was just stunning. The water was beautiful
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Another Phoenician port city, in the bustling souk - in Sidon
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Our friend Hannah, the one that lives here, has been trying to get out to this gorge slash sinkhole slash waterfall for ever, but the roads have always been closed due to snow. I honestly don't even know the name of it. But it was one of the most surreal places I've ever been
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The famous Cedars of Lebanon. This tree is 1500 years old
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There's a story here. One of our friends that came and surprised us is part Lebanese, and had a great great grandfather that was somewhat famous in this town. We asked this old man, the first person we asked, if he knew him - "Ferris Karam", and he ended up taking us to this memorial that was donated by a Ferris Karam. A long day and a few odd instances later, we eventually came to found out that this was actually a different Ferris Karam who was actually a famous Christian artist in the country, lived in Jezzine, and invited us into his house and chatted with us for a while, completely taken aback that we weren't actually looking for him, but someone 100 years ago with the same name.
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That's our friend Hannah on the left, who lives here, and our friend Geena (who surprised us along with her husband, Tommy) on the right - Geena is the one with Lebanese heritage
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This is a small part of Baalbek, up in the Bekaa Valley, one of the most spectacular sites I've ever seen. I'm not easily blown away, but this place was awesome
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My wife on the corner of the Temple of Bacchus. The Temple of Jupiter that I was standing on to get this shot has the largest columns ever constructed, and BASE PLATFORM some dozen meters tall. Man, I love me some good monolithic architecture.
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Baalbek with the columns at the Temple of Jupiter in the background
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The ruins at Anjar. We were literally the only people there.
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These double high slender Ummayad arches were spectacular
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And now for the park. Dream Park
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Located in the hills above Juneiah, some 10 km north of Beirut
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They had a Galaxy and a worm. They opened exclusively for us, the official opening time being about 10 hours later that night haha.
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Tommy and I getting tickets THRILLED TO BE HERE
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The Galaxy was actually pleasantly smooth.
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I love a ride with a view. "Doura" appeared to be the Arabic translation for "Credit Whore"
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Good friends ride wacky worms with you in abandoned parks in other countries
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And per request. This trip report wouldn't be complete without a jumping shot
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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby Arthur_Seaton » Sun Mar 19, 2017 1:05 am

Wow, these reports are amazing — fantastic writing. And Lebanon looks incredible!

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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby ytterbiumanalyst » Sun Mar 19, 2017 4:44 am

Wow, that is incredible. Vacation of a lifetime right there, and this is only one stop on the trip. I've always wanted to go to the Middle East--such history. The only thing that's stopped me is the violence. So awesome that your organization would give you a path to visit these cool places.
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Re: Photo TR - A month in the Middle East

Postby itsgee » Sun Mar 19, 2017 5:18 am

Glad you had fun here! Lebanon is really an underrated country, you would have loved Habtoorland if it was still operating. For me Freij Entertainment in Dora is slightly better than Dream park maybe because it has more thrills and constantly changing the rides. Make sure to visit the lady of Lebanon Harissa on your next trip if you haven't already. Great report!

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