This post is part of an ongoing series about a trip we took to Spain to ride roller coasters. Here are the previous installments:
I was very excited about the next day of our trip, on which we were going to visit one of the most intriguing and unique parks anywhere, Tibidabo. I had purposefully avoided trying to research the park so I could be surprised by what I encountered (I had made the mistake on prior trips of knowing too much in advance) but I knew enough to realize that I was bound to have a delightful experience.
That morning I set the alarm for 8, a relatively late wake-up time by the standards of the trip to that point. It was the first hotel we'd be staying two nights at, which made the getting ready easier since we didn't have to pack everything up. The only possible drawback was that we were not entirely sure if they were going to change our towels (they did).
The breakfast selection was fairly standard for that trip. I had far more to eat than I ever would at home, including fresh orange juice, manchego cheese, sausage, cold cuts, some mushrooms and a hard boiled egg. On my second round I tried something that looked a bit like a cold quiche, which I didn't care much for. I also had a rice crisp with chocolate. I was excited to see cava (a Spanish form of Champagne) available, the one place where I had some, but it wasn't really very good.
The rigors of the trip had taken their toll, and we wanted to visit a pharmacy to get some medications. We ran out of time before we had to board the bus, but I did see one near the hotel that we could hopefully visit later. Pharmacies in Spain were easy to spot as they were always indicated by a green neon cross sign.
The lobby was too crowded to hold all the people waiting for the bus to leave. We stood out on the street instead, which like many of Europe's streets was little more than an alley. We all had to squeeze to let a cab through at one point, but there was little other traffic. This gave me an opportunity to observe some interesting trees in planters by the hotel door. They were similar to the "circus trees" of Gilroy Gardens in California, with several tree trunks twisted together in a spiral pattern.
The street was far too narrow for the bus to come down, so when all was ready, we marched back to the square to catch it there. Our group got behind because Chris T wasn't yet ready and hadn't come down. We would have missed the bus instead of leaving him behind, but fortunately it didn't come to that. He appeared in a few moments, and by running we were able to catch our bus.
Our trip began along a major street of the city. We were told we passed by a Gaudi-designed house, but by the time I heard this it was too late. Soon we were climbing up toward Tibidabo, which is atop a high hill above the city. At times the road looked pretty rural though we weren't far from the city. The view down to the city showed how hazy the air was. It was a frustratingly slow trip, especially when we got stuck behind a cement truck. Our coach would undoubtedly have taken the hill slowly but the cement truck was even slower.
We passed above what looked like an observatory and came about even with a large tower that looked like it had a lot of cell phone antennas. I think it also had an observation tower (and there was some talk of going up in it later in the day, though we eventually decided not to). The cement truck finally took a different turn but we were unable to make anything of it, as we soon ran into construction that took the road down to direction of traffic at a time. This was about even with the lowest level of the park, so we were able to some of the rides directly to our left.
We switchbacked the rest of the way up the hill to the upper level of Tibidabo. There was a roundabout at the top. The park entrance was on one part of the roundabout, a church was on another. The roundabout was so tight that the coaches had a hard time getting around it and blocked other traffic. We ultimately parked in front of the church and were let out.
From the start I liked the park a lot. It had a sign out front with the word "Welcome" in many languages. The entire park was built on 6 levels on the hillside; we started at the top. An elevator, on top of some walking paths and stairways, would take us to the other levels (there was a rumor that there was also some kind of car ride that could be used to traverse the levels, but apparently it had been taken out). They weren't quite ready for us, so we just stood around for a while near a souvenir shop. We got to see one of the park's signature attractions warming up. It was a plane on an arm that would go around in a circle. At the far end it was over the hillside making it seem very high above the ground and the city. It was one of the things we were definitely eager to ride. (I'd later buy a T-shirt with a depiction of this plane.)
There was only one coaster at the park, Montaña Rusa, and I got the impression it was relatively new. We had some extra time to ride the ride before it opened to the rest of the public. It had an odd entrance. We walked through a kind of cave, and found an elliptical helical ramp taking us up to the station. Janna and I decided to ride the front first, seeing that it didn't have a very long line. As we entered the station we were given our wristbands for the day. The station got more crowded after we'd entered, and they were having trouble filling all the seats, perhaps because the line for the back jammed things up. The front seat line also got considerably longer, we felt wise for having gotten in it as quickly as we did.
We got on the ride within a few trainloads (I believe they were running one train at the time; later they'd run two). On some exclusive ride times people would bring out their camcorders and cameras and film on-ride, something that is often not permitted (though such restrictions are usually laxer in Europe than America anyway). I was tempted to do so but decided not to. However, if there was one coaster I should have filmed it was this one, as it had a spectacular view of Barcelona and the sea as it went over the first drop. The drop wasn't otherwise all that thrilling, but it was remarkable for the scenery alone. There were a few snaky turns, a helical turnaround on the opposite side of the station with some high G's, then a hill that passed right by the station-with no significant airtime, unfortunately-before a final helix.
Though not really thrilling, Montaña Rusa was a fun coaster that we enjoyed quite a bit. We rode once more (this time in the back), but after that decided we didn't need any more rides. There were many things we wanted to do at the park, some which we knew would be difficult to get on in a fairly limited amount of time.
We began by exploring the rest of that level. The first ride we came upon was a log flume called La Mina d'Or. We got in line for this, hoping to knock it off quickly. However though they were running boats through, they weren't yet loading them. We could tell we were going to lose time on other more important attractions, so we skipped it. Unfortunately we never got back to it. It looked pretty modest, but I would still have enjoyed riding.
Instead we headed on to a more intriguing ride with the odd name of Pndøl. It resembled a type of ride known in the US as a Skyscraper, a very tall boom that swings riders around in a giant vertical circle while flipping them randomly. Upon closer inspection we saw this resemblance was deceptive. Pndøl never swung all the way around. Instead, the car was released to drop at the end of an arm like a giant swing. Once we figured out just what the ride did, it began to look pretty intimidating. The prospect of the first drop frightened even me a little bit, at least in part because the tower really shook when riders were first released.
Pndøl had really low capacity, such that we had a 15 minute wait even though there were only a few people in front of us. There were signs indicating expected waits in 15 minute intervals placed mere yards from each other. Clearly it was a good idea to get in line as early as we could!
Once our turn came to ride, the operator made a mark on our wristband. This was used to track our rides, since we were only permitted two per day (though we didn't think we'd have a chance to come back for a second). There were two sides to load, with two seats apiece. Janna and I loaded on the side facing away from the bulk of the park.
The boarding apparatus had to get out of the way since we'd be swinging down very quickly once the ride began. It was reminiscent of a similar type of ride called a "Skycoaster" seen at many US parks. The floor moved off to our right after we'd gotten seated and restrained, which gave me the illusion that we were moving left. We were then lifted up, in some ways as scary as the subsequent drop. I could see the arm in front of us as we moved past vertical. There was a tongue of metal holding us up, and I could see it begin to retract before we were dropped.
The first drop was indeed thrilling, but the ride went on longer than it really needed to be afterwards. As far as I could tell tere was no brake to bring it to a stop, so it had to swing back and forth for a long time before it settled to a stop. It pulled some heavy G's early in the ride, forcing my butt into the seat and making it hurt. Too late I realized I should have supported myself on a foot bar, which might have taken some weight off. The effect was strong enough that my butt hurt somewhat for several days afterwards.
We had to wait a while for everybody in our group to ride. While waiting, some girls came up and charmingly asked Chris T what the ride was like. It was fun to hear them try to communicate with each other through the language difference. I also thought it odd they chose Chris to talk to, as he was probably the most grizzled-looking of anybody there. Though Chris described the ride favorably I don't think the girls eventually decided not to ride after all.
We were pretty much finished with what we wanted to ride on that level of the park so we headed back to the elevator. As we did so we passed by many attractions that I'd ignored on the way toward the coaster, to the point that I'd forgotten they were there. My initial impression of the lowest level had been that it was pretty empty, but this was clearly not the case. Perhaps it helped that there were some kids just beginning to ride some of the rides. We saw that the pirate ride had guns to shoot water onto the midway with. Chris T, in his inimitable way, exclaimed "Bring it on!" In spite of this plethora of attractions, most were not really worth riding for us, particularly since lunchtime was approaching.
We waited to take the elevator back up to the top level of the park, where the lunch was to be served. Though the park was quite attractive, the elevator waiting area felt very sterile, just a concrete enclosure. The elevator itself was also not all that roomy--on a later ride we were cramped because a woman was bringing a stroller on. The elevator operator was dressed in a costume, kind of a combination of a bellhop, a clown, and a mime. He had a megaphone which distorted his voice in a goofy way. He joked with people, in both Spanish and English.
Lunch was supposed to be in a kind of modest-looking restaurant with some outdoor seating. We stood around for a while but were then told that it would be about 15 minutes later than originally scheduled. We went to the platform where the plane ride was to see if we could get a ride on it before eating. However the line looked to be about 45 minutes long (it was a low-capacity ride) so we just stood on the platform for a while and looked out over the city.
We were eventually led to a different picnic area, a larger shelter with more tables, next to what appeared to be an administrative building, though it could have been where their catering was prepared. It had the advantage of being further from a smelly construction area, and had better shade.
Shortly after we sat down I saw some people bringing back beers and an alcoholic lemon drink called Damm Limon from the stand we'd been waiting near before. I decided to give the lemon drink a try. There was a drinks counter outside, but I was surprised to find that I had to go inside to get the Damm Limon. I had to wait through a bit of a line, since people were getting meals, and I didn't think I could cut in front of them. Tim was behind me, and dropped a bunch of change when he tried to pay. The cashier came out from behind the register to help him pick it up.
They brought out complimentary beer anyway--something I wouldn't have expected from a US park--but I was glad to try the lemon drink as something a bit more unique. It was not something I would feel the need to drink again but was interesting for one drink. The drawback of the alcoholic drinks was that it led to a headache later, probably exacerbated by the hot, dry weather.
Food service was a bit slow but I felt in no hurry. The first dish was a kind of cannelloni in a creamy sauce served in a foil container. The sauce filled the container almost to the top. It was probably not very good for me, and was it may well have just been frozen dinners popped into an oven, but I found myself liking it a lot.
The main course was a choice (that we had made via email a couple of days before the trip) between salmon or pork. I got the salmon and Janna got the pork, so I got to try both. There were bones in my salmon steak but it was otherwise good. The pork was served in the form of ribs, and was also pretty good. For dessert we were served a kind of mousse cake.
After lunch we tried to devise a strategy to see the rest of the park. Our initial thought was to go back to the bottom and work our way up. However, more of the interesting rides that we hadn't yet ridden were at the top of the park, so we decided to stay on the upper levels instead. There was an interesting-looking suspended monorail ride nearby (with the unwieldy name of El Magatzem de les Bruixes i els Bruixots, though none of us ever attempted to call it that), so that became our first target. There had been some question about whether it was running and how to get to it through the intervening construction area. Eventually seeing it operating and people riding, we knew that there clearly must be a way to get there, but had trouble finding it. We walked down a stairway hoping to find our way there, but wound up on level 4 instead of level 5. We looked for a different way up that would take us one level up rather than two, but only came to a dead end.
On this level, under a roof that must have served as the floor for the next higher level (or perhaps the airplane ride's platform) there was an area with several attractions. One was clearly a walk through haunted house called Hotel Krüeger. We could just see the entrance, which did look a bit like a hotel doorway though the roof above made it a bit odd. However as intriguing as it looked, it had a long line so we decided to skip it.
We did get back to level 5, but still without having found a way to the monorail. We instead stopped to try their mirror maze, called Miramiralls. Most such mazes just consist of paths through vertical panes of glass. Miramiralls was far more interesting, less a maze than a walk-through dark attraction themed around mirrors. They clearly wanted to maintain it at a high quality, as when we entered we were given thin plastic gloves before going in so that we wouldn't get fingerprints on the glass (I saved mine as a kind of odd souvenir). The clarity of the mirrors sometimes made me even have trouble seeing which way to go at corners. At various points there were places to pause to view special effects, such as a frog changing to a prince. Many of the effects had sayings, some inspirational, associated with them; such as one that said to look up to see the stars (which were painted on the ceiling).
In the middle of the attraction was a room with many trick mirrors. There were a lot of kids who got in the way, but otherwise the mirrors were better than most. One had a ghostly skeleton on it, silhouetted over our reflections. The best of all made it look like we had very big feet. On the way out we went through an "infinity room", with parallel mirrors reflecting many copies of each of us.
Next to the mirror maze was another interesting attraction called Museu d'Autómats. I'd seen a sign for it early on and had for a moment been confused into thinking it might have something to do with an automat food service station. Though this would have been somewhat interesting in its own right (I got a kick out of the automat I'd once seen in a Dutch theme park--it looked like it was right out of the 50's), the real thing was much more interesting, a collection of automata. When planning our trip I'd seen a reference to such a museum in Madrid, but hadn't been able to find out more about it. The Madrid museum would have been much more impressive, but I was glad to see this one.
Many of the machines harkened back to old-style entertainment, such as automated fortune tellers and simulated vaudeville acts, some rather racist in nature. I wandered through these, activating these as I felt the interest. However, more interesting to me personally were the many models of amusement park rides, mostly ones at the park. There was even a full model of the park near the back of the room (lacking the new roller coaster, however). Some of the rides depicted were classics such as a "circle swing" (a set of rocket-like cars suspended from cables, moving in a circle around a central axis). Of course there was a model of the park's plane ride. There was also a funicular, a ski lift, and an older wood roller coaster, which I believe was called "El Inferno". It was a typical small model coaster, an oval layout with no major drops, just small dips. At first it didn't seem to work but soon we figured out why. The control systems would not allow any machine to be operated too frequently, perhaps as a preservation measure. One had to wait for a light on the control box to turn green before the button would operate the machine.
After this we finally found our way to the monorail ride. The secret was a not-very-obvious stairway we had to walk down from the top level. We took one ride then and another later because we wound up liking it a lot. I couldn't quite tell what the theming was supposed to represent. The vehicles looked something like flying carpets. There were two TV screens in the queue room. I couldn't quite get the story, but it seemed like there was a guy who had slept like Rip Van Winkle at a control console of some sort. The TV monitor in front of the console depicted things that to me seemed totally random, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
As for the ride itself, it combined indoor and outdoor parts, beginning with a turn over the hill with a spectacular view of the city. A later outdoor section in the back passed by some apparently residential houses with tile roofs. The turns in this section looked oddly angular.
The entrance to the indoor part was through a kind of tunnel opening flanked by figures of suns and perhaps a moon with faces. I vaguely recall seeing icons like this at other parks but never figured out if there was any connection. Inside there seemed to be a kind of mad scientist or wizard lab. There were vials of chemicals lit from underneath, a kaballah, and a guy dressed as a wizard. Not everything made sense, such as when we heard the unexplained sound of coughing. At one point there was an annoying strobe light. Toward the end of the ride we came to a stop before the loading platform. A guy suddenly jumped out and made a funny noise at us, startling us all, but particularly Janna who was in the front left seat, closest to him. It got a really good laugh from all of us.
Back up at the top level, we decided it was time to try the plane ride, called Avió. There was still a long wait--ultimately about 45 minutes--but at least we didn't have to worry about missing lunch this time.
While we waited I observed the ride. I hadn't realized it until that point, but the airplane was truly powered by its own propeller. They ran the engine faster to get it to move, then slowed down so it would naturally brake itself. Each ride consisted of 3 circuits, with the last half of the last one being pretty slow as the operator attempted to make sure it was parked well.
After our long wait, we were directed up a set of steps into the cabin to board. It was cozy, almost like a miniature real cabin for an old-style plane. The door opened and closed automatically. The platform supporting the plane was dropped away and we were sent off. This was probably the most unnerving part of the ride, as we now depended only on the cantilever support. The rest of the ride, though high above the city, wasn't really as scary as I thought it would be. I felt a bit safer in the enclosed cabin than I had expected.
Another interesting-looking ride on the top level was one called Talaia (though as usual we didn't refer to any of these rides by name-this one we just called the "bucket ride"). Superficially it resembled Pndøl, but it was a slower, more scenic ride, which is not to say it wasn't scary. Riders stood in large buckets--with no restraint whatsoever--and were lifted high above the midway (and even higher above the city). It was something like a stand-up Ferris wheel, but with just two cars to load. Seeing no particular line we decided to give it a try. It wasn't really that thrilling of a ride; we just went up to the top, stayed there for a while (while they loaded the other bucket) and went back down. The strangest and scariest part of the ride was how the bucket would sway when it started and stopped.
Our scheduled time at the park was beginning to run low, but none of us but Tim was willing to leave the park yet. Fortunately our tour was not moving on to another city that night, so we didn't have to take the coach if we were willing to use public transportation to get back to the hotel. We decided we'd spend a couple more hours at the park and make our own way back. Tim would ride back on the coach and take our souvenirs with him.
Since we'd walked outside the park to bring our souvenirs to the coach, we decided it was a good time to look inside the nearby cathedral. We saw an array of LED "candles" that were apparently there for devotional reasons. I noticed here, and at the Madrid cathedral too, that the lights were usually on steadily, but every so often they'd blink off and back on rapidly. Sometimes this happened abruptly for several candles in a row. I couldn't quite figure out why they did this. In another area there was monk music playing; I presume it was piped in.
Upon returning to the park we took another ride on the suspended monorail. We were fortunate enough to catch it at a time when the line was short; as we were returning to the station we saw it had suddenly filled with kids. Our wait would have been much longer. However that was the last short line we saw that day. Though we'd stayed late we weren't able to take much advantage of it.
In fact, we only experienced one more attraction. We had to sacrifice several others if not for the long lines. The first victim was the "powered coaster" named Tibidabo Express. Though I don't consider these "real" roller coasters (because they are not solely powered by gravity) and they don't provide a lot of traditional coaster sensations, they are a lot of fun to ride and I was sorry to miss this one. We also visited Hotel Krüger but found it to have a worse line than ever, and had to give it a miss. I would have liked to ride the flume too, but we figured it wasn't even worth bothering to check the line.
The one attraction we did get to try was a walk-through called Castell Misteriós, which unlike everything else had no line to speak of. There was a guy at the queue entrance who sprayed us with some water, apparently as a courtesy to cool us off, not to be obnoxious.
Things began with some moving steps, a common fun house trick. They were disconcertingly fast and though I knew the secret of how to get up them cleanly, I wasn't able to do so because they were too fast for me. There were also some door knockers that moved on their own. At one point there were suspended boxing bags, which Chris M tried to push into us. Otherwise I remember little of this attraction, as if often the case for dark rides and fun houses.
Still thinking that we might find something we could ride without too long a wait, we began to walk back up toward the upper levels of the park. Janna had read in advance of some kind of vehicle besides the elevator that went up and down the levels. She had been eager to try them, but they were not there. On the way up we encountered a ride with the cute name of "Tchu Tchu Tren" but it was for kids only. Janna was disappointed; she'd been intrigued by the ride for a long time. We also passed by a ride of some sort called Globus. I don't remember precisely what it was but liked the name. I also recall a building labeled "Bar" but am not sure if that meant alcoholic drinks were served there.
It was about 6:25 by the time we left, stopping just once more to get some water at a shop called Tibidolç to get some water. Our extra time at the park had unfortunately not given us a chance to try too many more attractions, but we still felt it was worth it, just to have more time to experience the gestalt of the park.
Since we had to make our way back to the hotel we had to first get to the metro. There was no stop nearby, so we had to get to the base of the hill Tibidabo was on first. Our first step was a funicular that cost 4 Euros. If we'd had a park ticket, we might have gotten a complimentary ride but because of ACE's special arrangements with the park we'd just been let in without tickets.
The funicular was similar to the one we'd ridden the day before. Compared to the Pittsburgh inclines I was used to, it was on a shallow slope. The trees sometimes brushed right by the windows. We were let off about halfway down the hill, where there was a tram stop to take us the rest of the way to the bottom. Something about the neighborhood, perhaps the restaurant across the street, gave me a kind of "California" feel.
There was a tram waiting but it was full by the time we reached it. Somebody came up and said that there was a bus leaving just then that would get us to the bottom of the hill 10 minutes faster. We still opted for the tram though, as a more unique form of ride. Waiting for it also gave us a chance to see the interesting way in which it was operated. It was powered by an overhead cable, and we were surprised to see a guy flip it from one side of the train to the other by hand to reverse the train's direction. There were two trams that ran in opposite directions; when our turn came to ride down, we saw the same bushy-bearded driver who'd been driving the tram that left before ours returning.
The tram cost 2.70 Euros to ride. It ran rather slowly, making a gear grinding sound all the way down the curving road. However the car itself had a very nice wooden interior. It let us off at a plaza that we saw was named JFK. On our corner was a building with a remarkable building with a cupola; I think it was called Cupola la Rotonda.
As we were approaching the Metro station, Janna noticed that she didn't have our camera case with her. This wasn't as bad as it could have been-at least the camera was still with us-but we would have lost at least one battery and a spare memory cartridge, which would have seriously curtailed our ability to take photos through the rest of the trip. With little hope, we ran back to where the tram was to see if we'd dropped it on the bench there. It had fortunately not yet left. We tried to speak to the driver, but of course he couldn't understand us. However, when I used a hand signal to try to outline the camera case's dimensions, he exclaimed "La Funda!" and promptly produced the case, much to our relief.
We took the L7 subway line back to La Rambla. The seats were very well padded and the air conditioning was very good, making for a fairly comfortable ride. Along La Rambla we saw some more performers. One guy played with rubber balls, kicking them like soccer balls and balancing them on his head.
On the corner of two side streets near our hotel was a sports store called Decathlon. Chris T was interested in going in, possibly to look for jerseys, so we all went in with him. It was a huge store with several floors full of merchandise. The aisles felt rather cramped (and there were plenty of people to make it feel worse) and it was hard to find anything. My clearest memory of the place was the distinct smell of sneaker rubber. We visited two levels before just giving up and leaving.
Due to our continuing ailments from the weather and the walking, we made a stop at the pharmacy. We just managed to make it before it closed, but the woman at the counter was very friendly and helpful in spite of this.
Though we had a Rick Steve book that we could have used to find a place to eat, we decided to just try a place we'd seen one of our tourmates eating the night before, a restaurant called the Attic. A woman outside indicated we could get seated right away (I believe she'd even called up on a cell phone to verify this), so we walked up the stairway, lit by very orange lighting. However when we got to the desk the man there said we'd have a half hour wait. Upset at having been fooled, we decided to just leave and took the elevator back down.
We wound up at a place called Santa Anna that we'd also seen the night before. We were given a seat right away at "table 2". I ordered a wine called Vina Sol Sec. Janna wanted to get a cheese salad, but could not for some reason; I no longer remember why. I ordered a Mediterranean salad, and decided rather than a main dish to get a few smaller items, in the spirit of tapas.
The salad was quite big. The tabouli that came with it was a bit different from what I was used to. It had no parsley, and tasted much more like mint than lemon. However it was just as likely that the versions I've had are less authentic. The dish came with corn, several types of greens, and a lot of olives. There was a lot of hummus, and I was given some extra bread sticks because my salad had been served late. I still managed to eat it all.
In addition to the salad I orderd a plate of brie with anchovies, which was itself rather filling. Janna may have had a piece or two. I also ordered a plate of padron peppers, which were much like the peppers served at one of our favorite local restaurants, though some were hotter. This dish too was very large.
I'm not sure what other people had. Philip may have tried jamón Iberico. I do know he had it at least once that trip. One or two other people may have had pizzas.
After our meal we returned to the hotel. Instead of going up, we stayed in the lobby for a while. Our main goal was to make sure of the plans for the next day. There had been rumors that the tour leaders were thinking of leaving an hour earlier than scheduled the next day. This would have disrupted our plans, which included some early morning tourism, and we couldn't imagine how they thought they could make sure everybody got the word. Fortunately we confirmed with one of the organizers that they had given up the early departure plans, and we got up to our room at 11:45.