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Telegraph: Fairground Fun in Tbilisi

Christopher Walker wins £200 for his vision of old Tbilisi from the high vantage point of a rickety basket on a rusty Ferris wheel


“I was wandering about old Tbilisi, trying to find my way to the funicular. Inevitably I got lost in the maze of tumbledown houses and narrow streets, though they were all so beautiful in their dereliction that I didn’t mind. Eventually I spiralled around to the funicular station, and happily paid the three lari (90p) to be lifted up the hill,” Walker writes.

I didn’t know about Mtatsminda Park until I saw its amusements advertised on the side of the funicular cabin. The list of attractions was handsome: a log flume, an old-time carousel, a ghost train and myriad rides with names like “Extreme Bike” and “Monster Drop” that all involved throwing you around like a rag doll, but in a fun way. It all looked so fascinating and appealing that it was a shame practically everything was either shuttered up or cloaked under massive blue tarpaulins.

The roller coaster was running, however, judging by the screams. After a short search I found the ticket booth and asked the woman the price of a single ride. “Five lari,” she said, which sounded reasonable.

“Five lari one ticket, minimum four tickets.” Wondering if I really wanted to ride four times, I handed her 20 lari. She looked confused and repeated the bit about the four tickets. Then it clicked: there needed to be four people for the ride, and I was alone. The last party, the one I’d heard screaming, had left, and then I noticed that the three male attendants in red park uniforms were going on a cigarette break themselves. I took my money back from the platinum blond in the kiosk; she shrugged and blew out a plume of cigarette smoke by way of a goodbye.

I did manage to go for a ride on the Ferris wheel, though. The views over Tbilisi were magnificent, and I could even see by the glowing lights of the stadium that  Dinamo Tbilisi were playing.

But the ride itself was too much for me and I felt my legs wobbling when I got off. The wheel moved at a glacial pace and the mechanism that turned it had never been oiled, so for the whole 15-minute revolution it squealed and groaned like an arthritic Transformer.

I had a clear vision at one stage of the basket breaking free, falling to the ground, and then rolling all the way down the hill. I suppose that would have saved me the three lari spent on a return ticket on the train.