There is no question that there were some amusement parks on our 2011 Scandinavia trip schedule that we were more excited to visit than others. The first on the shorter list of parks we were most looking forward to was Särkänniemi in Tampere. We had gone there in 2004 with few expectations but had a delightful day. Hence the day we were to visit Särkänniemi was one I was most looking forward to. Sadly, the weather wouldn't cooperate; it was drizzling (or sometimes worse) and chilly for much of the day.
Once again, the park was in the same town as the hotel, so we didn't have to get up terribly early. However, we did have to pack up. Moreover, since we were going to take an overnight ferry that evening and wouldn't have access to our bags, we also had to pack up a "day bag". The ACE bag we'd been given as part of the trip was useful for this purpose; it was portable but had enough room for a change of clothes and my toiletries.
A short bus trip took us to the park, which was right in town. We were ushered into a building that held an aquarium and planetarium, not your usual amusement park attractions, to be welcomed by the park PR agent who gave us a short talk about the history of the park. She was surprised and impressed at the size of our group.
We had early riding opportunities on the park's two most significant roller coasters. First up was Tornado, which had been there when Janna and I had visited in 2004. It was an "inverted" coaster, with a train riding underneath the track executing a few loops. It was unusual in that it was made by a company called Intamin; between Särkänniemi and a ride in Spain, they had only made those two. Särkänniemi's version had some unique features, including a bit of track that threaded its own loop and an inversion taken while passing through the station. One of the trains was also a shockingly bright color of orange. I remembered liking it, but also remembered that the Spanish ride had been far less inspiring. Fortunately, it was as good as I remembered and other people on the tour liked it too.
The other coaster was an unusual one, new to us, called MotoGee. It was themed after motorcycle racing, and the seats were configured like we were riding a motorbike. There were also many sound effects and other forms of theming, but these didn't interest me so much as the coaster itself. It was a form of coaster I hadn't yet encountered, so though it looked like it was modest in the thrills department I was eager to ride.
One of the problems the ride designers had to solve was how to keep riders restrained while seated upright on motorcycle-style seats. They used a pad that came up behind the back to do so, a surprisingly comfortable solution. It also meant that riders of all sizes could be accommodated, something often not true of the more unusual coaster styles.
The layout was pretty small and compact. Beginning with a launch, the cars made an upward, turning climb to the high point of the ride. From there the course was a mostly shallow descent with 180 degree turns to retain the oval layout and mild twists between. The launch was probably the best part of the ride; the rest was denouement. Nevertheless it was quite fun. We rode several times before moving on to the rest of the park, which was beginning to open.
Our first destination was a coaster with the odd name of Trombi. It was a variety called a "Volare" by the manufacturer and generically known as a Flying Coaster. Riders are suspended in a face-down position on a very compact layout with a couple of inversions and a lot of sharp curves. Having ridden several of these before we were not really looking forward to it; the odd cage-like cars of Volares are notorious for being uncomfortable to ride. In fact, one of the women in line called it a "flying mammogram".
There was a delay before it opened; they cited technical difficulties. We might have moved on to other things and come back to it later but it had begun to drizzle so we just waited at a nearby shelter for a while. Fortunately our wait was not too long. Janna refused to ride. Chris and Mike rode it for the "credit" and I don't believe either had ridden a Volare anyway. If so, they probably got a better experience than they were expecting, as I found it not as bad as the others I'd ridden. Nevertheless, the most interesting part of the ride might have been the clever spiral lift mechanism.
Before moving on to other coasters we took rides on a few flats in the area. One, called Aikamotto (or "Time Clock"), was similar to a ride called Flying Carpet that until a few years ago ran at my local park, Kennywood. I missed it quite a bit, so I wanted to ride this one if I could. The ride consists of a platform that rises and falls in a circle, but all the while keeping the platform--and hence the riders--upright. It can generate a lot of forces, especially upward ones while it's near the top of the swing, which is probably why I like it so much. It was nice to ride such a ride again.
Nearby was a ride much more extreme, called Take Off. It had a platform that tilted high in the air while the riders were spun on two axes simultaneously. It was another of those rides on the trip that I was reluctant to ride due to its extreme spinning nature, but felt obligated to because it was new to me. In the end my desire to try new rides won out, but I can't say I enjoyed it too much. It also gave me a headache for an hour or two afterwards. Perhaps I just need to give up riding crazy spinning rides altogether.
Our next ride was much gentler, "Vauhimato", which I saw billed in English as both "Speedy Snake" and "Whirly Worm". It was a very small kiddie ride, which we were somewhat embarrassed to be on and relieved when we were done. The things we do for "coaster credits"!
Continuing on the trend of gentle rides, we next went to an outdoor garden boat ride called Taikajoki. It was a pretty unremarkable example of its type, most notable for the semi-psychedelic cartoon posters spread through its course. However we got a memorable ride nonetheless when our boat, obviously with too many adults in it, hit bottom at one point and came to a halt. We were able to get it moving again with some difficulty.
Also nearby was a dark ride attraction called Torni Orlochlessin ("The Tower of Orlochless"). We were a bit surprised to see what looked like a minimal line, but a sign indicating a 30 minute wait. It turned out that most of that wait was inside, and so invisible to us, but fortunately it wasn't really a full 30 minutes. I recalled the ride being pretty goofy, with a dorky-looking hero interacting with a variety of odd creatures, but pretty well-done. This time I found it not as charmingly goofy, and a bit cheesier than I recalled. The creatures were also surprisingly disturbing for a child-oriented ride, including a baby with tentacle eyes and something that looked like an animated ball of phlegm.
One mild attraction that intrigued me somewhat but we never tried was a simple circular ride with vehicles that looked a bit like swamp boats, with big propellers behind the riders. They would pedal to make the propellers run, though I think this was entirely cosmetic and the ride was motorized. I'm sure it wasn't thrilling, but I hadn't seen anything like it before, so naturally it drew my attention.
Returning to riding coasters, we went to one that had been closed due to rain earlier, Jet Star. It's a small steel coaster dating to around the 70's. It used to be a very common variety but is rather rare now, superseded by later models. However it's still an enjoyable ride and I was glad to get a chance to ride it. It focuses on speedy turns and helixes, not ordinarily my favorite style of ride, but it was fun. One oddity about it is that the original tandem-seating trains were replaced by strange cars with three individual seats in a row. Three is an unusual number of seats because amusement park visitors visit more often in even numbers than in threes, so often a seat gets wasted.
The final coaster at Särkänniemi was an oddity called Half-Pipe. It's a very basic ride, just a back and forth U-shaped shuttle. The skateboard-like shuttle alternately climbs the vertical sides of the U several times. To this is added the touch of minor spinning of the seats. It's one of those rides that is right on the borderline between being a roller coaster and something else. I count it as a coaster but do feel it's a dubious credit. At least it's fun. If not for the need to climb a lot of stairs to get onto the ride I might have ridden it more often.
The area of the park Half Pipe was in was somewhat off to the side from the rest, and more wooded. This gave that section a more laid-back feel than the other sections of the park. There was a petting zoo here, but more interesting yet was the little enclosure of farm animals in the midst of the park's rapids ride. It's an element of theming unlike just about any other rapids ride anywhere! However there wasn't much there to keep us, so we didn't linger, especially as it was beginning to rain again.
We took refuge in one of Särkänniemi's main landmarks, its very tall observation tower. Not only did it have a great view of the park itself, the surrounding countryside was spectacular. It was unfortunately obscured by the clouds and rain--which was heavy enough that we could see the drops falling by us--or else we could have seen the town of Nokia.
Many other people must have had the same idea about getting out of the rain, as the observation deck was quite crowded. One group seemed to be drinking champagne. If not for the rain I don't think we would have remained in the tower as long as we did, but there wasn't much point in returning to the park until it was over, or at least had let up somewhat.
There was a café in the observation tower, but it was crowded so I got no more than water there (to help with my headache). There was also an expensive restaurant on the top level, but we skipped this too. Thus when the rain finally let up and looked like it would stay away for a while, the first thing we did was go to look for someplace to eat. My first choice would have been a stand that I'd eaten at in 2004. It had been a large outdoor grill where they served a dish called "lohipyttipanu", a mixture of salmon, potatoes, vegetables, and spices that I'd really liked. Unfortunately it wasn't there any more. Perhaps the rain kept them from doing outdoor grilling, but I saw no evidence of any place to get lohipyttipanu at all on the map. Missing it was probably the biggest disappointment of the day for me.
Instead we went to a cafe called Särkkä. I had a herring dish with rice and carrots, plus a salad and some crispbreads. The rice was bland but the carrots were surprisingly good. Strangely, the pepper in the shakers was also very tasty, and coarse ground. In my experience, the grind in a lot of European countries is very fine, so this was a bit of a surprise.
Once done with lunch, we did a variety of miscellaneous attractions. First was a nearby ride called Hurricane. Riders sit on a long platform, which is lifted by two arms. They can operate out of phase, meaning the platform can be tilted at sharp angles and also can rock freely. Though it looks good, it's not really that exciting of a ride.
More interesting was the fun house, Metkula. This one was a large open two-story building with no set path to walk through. Instead the attractions within could be sampled in any order at will. All in all, though, it wasn't a very impressive fun house compared to some others on the trip. None of the stunts were particularly physical. The best of the lot was the tilted room, which was quite disorienting. Also fun were some periscopes, which we could point toward various attractions outside or toward each other.
On the way to a ride at the very tip of the peninsula the park was on we ran into a showing of Peter Pan on a little stage to the side in progress. Janna mentioned she'd seen Captain Hook in costume having a smoke earlier. We decided to watch for a bit, though I'm pretty sure Mike was somewhat impatient just to ride. It was interesting to see in a different language. We came back later to see the end of the performance; overall it must have taken a good half hour.
The ride we took in between was called Tyrsky. It is a shuttle ride, in some ways similar to Half Pipe, but powered throughout so it "officially" doesn't count as a coaster, though it has a coaster-like hump in the middle. The seats face outward and have a back restraint much like MotoGee. During the ride the entire platform spins slowly as well. It was similar to a ride at Kings Island, Chris's home park, but he claimed it was more fun than the one there. I too enjoyed it more than I expected to, but the best part of the tip of the peninsula is the view back toward the rest of the park.
Tyrsky had replaced a ride I remembered from 2004, a unique kind of tilting carousel, called Huvimaja-Karuselli. Thinking it was completely gone I was disappointed until I had seen it in a different location from the observation tower. We walked up to the upper part of the park to ride it next. It was not quite as interesting as I remembered it being, and ran a short cycle as well. Still, as something of a novelty to me, I was glad to try it again, and glad they hadn't removed it entirely.
Time was running out on the day all too fast. We all took another Tornado ride--Janna and I riding in front, which had a great view but not as good a ride--before splitting from Mike. He wanted to ride more, while we wanted to do a few other final activities. One thing I did was to get popcorn, perhaps because I still regretted missing the "Mr. Bobcorn" the day before. This prevented me from getting ice cream at that time, but I did so before leaving, so I can provide an ice cream report from Särkänniemi. The cone I had wasn't particularly memorable, but the popcorn ice cream Janna tried was more interesting. It's not something we'd need to get again, but I didn't hate it either, and it certainly was distinctive.
Särkänniemi has some unusual attractions for an amusement park: an aquarium, a planetarium, and a dolphinarium. In 2004 we'd missed all three, and I wanted to make sure not to make that mistake again. In the end we got to visit the first two but didn't have time to see the dolphinarium, which was the most crowded anyway.
We began with the aquarium, which was on two levels. The upper level wasn't so impressive, but the lower level was more elaborate. I was glad to see that they included both freshwater and saltwater fish. Saltwater fish are flashier, but I have a real fondness for tropical freshwater fish. They also had a display of native fish, in an outdoor pool with a large window facing indoors. One of these fish had a bent nose, causing us to dub it the "Kevin Bacon fish" (the official name of the fish was Sterlet). Perhaps even weirder was the "longhorn cowfish".
Midway through our tour of the aquarium there was a "thunderstorm demo". The lights dimmed and there was a simulation of lightning and thunder. I don't know what the point of it was; as far as I could tell the fish didn't behave any differently.
As for the planetarium, located on the second floor of the same building, there wasn't much to see. The main component was a theater, but we didn't have time to see a show. We just looked at some pictures, giant globes representing the planets, and left.
It was about 5 by the point we finished, but it had begun to rain again. I noticed that the operators were well prepared for the rain, with slickers and boots. Our bus was due to leave at 5:30, so there wasn't much to do but sit around under shelter. Janna got a bag of fresh pea pods to go. It was something I knew she'd been looking forward to and it didn't disappoint.
I enjoyed our second visit to Särkänniemi, but it wasn't quite the same as the first. Then it had been unexpectedly charming. Perhaps my reset expectations were a bit too much, or perhaps the poor weather interfered, but somehow it didn't strike me in quite the same way. However, I still did enjoy Tornado, and MotoGee was pretty fun. The Peter Pan episode was one of those unexpected moments that make a trip memorable, and I was glad to finally see the aquarium and planetarium. But I would have been less eager to return to the park had my first visit been like this one. All in all I found myself having liked Linnanmäki better than the first time and Särkänniemi not quite as much.
We had to leave the park somewhat early because we had the overnight ferry to Sweden to catch. In spite of my preparations in the morning I discovered I'd made one crucial mistake; I hadn't brought any of my power adapters in my day bag. This meant that I had to be a bit more sparing of batteries than I might have been otherwise.
The ship departed from the city of Turku, which I didn't get to see much of. It was run by the Viking line, one of two major ferry companies serving the area. In 2004 we'd taken the alternative, Silja, so I was eager to compare. We'd had the impression that Silja was slightly higher quality than Viking; and after having been on both, I'd say that is more or less true.
One way this trip was better was the cabin. It was about the same size and configuration (four bunks) but this time we had a view out the porthole; on our prior trip to economize we'd taken windowless rooms below the car deck!
After settling in we got back together with Chris and Mike to explore the ship, but not without some amusing difficulties. There wasn't a real phone in the room, just an intercom system. They called us up but we couldn't figure out how to pick up. In trying to do so we accidentally called the emergency number.
We got together anyway and went to the outer deck. It was odd to walk against the direction of motion of the ship; it was moving surprisingly fast so that as one walked forward, the shoreline slipped away much more quickly than it should have.
As we left Finnish waters, we saw them take the Finnish flag down. The Viking company must be Swedish, as they placed the Finnish flag rather unceremoniously in a box.
There were plenty of places we could eat; we opted for the simplest, the "Sky Bar" just off the back deck. I had a beer (Finland's own Lapin Kulta), a "French hot dog", and chips. The French hot dog was a hot dog in a baguette with a garlic mayonnaise sauce. Chris and Mike had chili calzones, which looked more or less like filled pitas. Janna got a "skinka and ost" baguette (ham and cheese), which came in a plastic container. This turned out not to be quite enough, so after a little more time spent outside we got some nuts (and some more beer). It was good we did so when we did, because the bar seemed to stop serving food shortly thereafter. I was surprised since it couldn't have been more than about an hour since we'd departed.
We wandered several other parts of the ship before turning in. We made an obligatory trip through the duty free shop, but it's not really our thing. We spent more time on the entertainment and restaurant level. We first saw a Japanese piano player in a bar, attended by a pretty raucous crowd of more Japanese men. We didn't linger here, though, but went to a larger stage area, where they had their "marquee show". This consisted of a very poor magician, followed by a crooner band, "The JB Band featuring Eddie Thunderbird". It was more entertaining to make fun of the show than to watch it, though the band at least seemed competent, unlike the magician.
Having to get up very early the next morning, we didn't want to stay up too late (I had the impression some other members of our tour may have stayed up all night). Though the room was cramped--I had to sleep on a bottom bunk--and in the engine noise zone, I had no trouble sleeping.
This post is one in a series. For the other installments, see: