One of the great things about traveling with kids is that you quite often get to see local attractions that most tourists don’t bother with. When we were in Russia, we spent one whole day visiting the Divo Ostrov amusement park just outside of St. Petersburg. While bumper cars may not be as “must see” on the guidebook trail as, say, the Hermitage, from my ten year old daughters’ point of view there was no comparison.
Besides just having a fun day, we also learned a bit about the local culture. I had been marveling at Russian women’s ability to stride along in 4 inch heels but was really amazed when I saw they don't even take them off when chasing their toddlers through the park. That is serious commitment to fashion. Clearly my trekking sandals were completely declasse. Mostly though I was just grateful that my girls had each other so I was exempt from the truly scary rides like the mile high swings. To the complete despair of my kids I now find even Ferris wheels too edgy. Fortunately, they are in that sweet spot where they are old enough to go on the rides themselves but young enough to still want me to watch them.
So after that Best Day Ever at Divo Ostrov it was a complete no brainer to add the Ulan Baatar amusement park to our international list. Taking a leisurely walk from our hotel down to the edge of town we passed by acres of the scruffy, unmowed and neglected “Children’s Park” where clearly no children had frolicked in many a year. Despite the entrance sign saying the park opened at 10 am, there were no signs of movement at noon. However we and about two other families were free to wander about while they leisurely started winding up the rides. If this was what it was like in high season, how many tickets could they be selling during the subzero winter season?
Have you ever been in an amusement park while they are still testing out the equipment? It is a fifty/fifty whether you are more relieved they are actually checking them or horrified that they are clearly held together with duct tape and sealing wax. Fortunately for my peace of mind, both the big, big roller coaster and the giant Ferris wheel seemed to be permanently out of commission. That left only about 3 or 4 creaky rides that were above toddler age. Even that was confusing because - at one ticket per ride - we had to figure out which ride we wanted to go on, return to the central ticket kiosk and ascertain from the long list of mongolian script which ride we were buying a ticket for. Each ride had a different price and there were no helpful pictures to tell which was which! We finally just decided to point to the more expensive tickets and hope for the best which seemed to work.
Wandering around the nearly empty park with weeds pushing up between the cracks with the occasional ride whining in the background was an eerie experience. I’m not sure not having to wait in line was compensation enough. Though it was bright daylight, it still had the spooky feel of a soon to be horror movie.
All became sunshine and light though when we got to the artificial lake with the huge swan boats. Naturally, every amusement park, even nearly defunct ones in Outer Mongolia, needs to come equipped with a Disney castle.