08.01.2013 - 10.01.2013 -21 °C
We got to Harbin late at night so we got up the next day with the whole day ahead of us. What was the first thing we did? We walked to Walmart (yes, there is a Walmart Supercentre in one of China's most northernest cities). We needed to to find me another layer of pants since it was -21 degrees out during the day and would be -35 that night when we planned to go to the ice festival. Luckily we found some snowpants and also some scarves in a market we wandered into. The weather was actually not as bad as we anticipates, probably because we were wearing almost every layer of clothing we had brought. Even still, we were expecting not to be able to walk outside for 5 minutes without freezing and that wasn't the case. The locals must have been laughing at us (especially me) with out scarves wrapped around our heads so barely any skin was showing but hey, it beats frostbite!
We caught a cab to the Ice Festival and we were on our way to the highlight of our trip. Really, our entire trip to China stemmed from this experience so we were really hoping it lived up to our expectations. We met a Chinese father and daughter in the cab (cab drivers like to pick up extra fares and they still make you pay full price, scammers). The little girl's name was Cindy and she was very cute practicing her English with us and writing on the frosty window pane. We pulled up to the festival and even from the outside we could tell it would be amazing. Once inside we were floored by what was around us. Massive castles, slides, sculptures - basically a whole city built entirely out of ice. We were surprised by the grandness of it all and the fact that everything was lit up was even more beautiful. Now we knew why they charged $50 to get in! We acted like little kids climbing the buildings and sliding down the ice slides. There were many older Chinese people doing the same and it was really fun to see everyone was just laughing and enjoying themselves. George barrelled his way down many of the slides while I took a more "oh my goodness I need to slow down" approach. The Chinese are not known for their safety precautions, particularly on one massive slide that was basically a louge where people were lying down on small sleds going a thousand miles an hour. Even George did not attempt that one.
We're bundled up and ready to take on the frigid cold
The ice festival deserves another picture. It was just that amazing
We stayed out for an hour (hey, in -35 that's a miracle) and went into a warming station for some hot chocolate. Then we satyed out for another hour and a half when we decided to call it a night and say goodbye to the ice festival. When all was said and done, that will rank in the top five of the most amazing experiences we've had and was the highlight of our trip. That night we went to a Russian restaurant for the best meal we've had on our trip - a nice hearty Russian stew. Harbin is very close to Russia and has a lot of Russian influence, which you can see in the architecture and the general feel of the city. It definitely is a very unique combination of Chinese and Russian.
You can see Janet trying to slow herself down on the slide. She needs a little more recklessness
The next day in Harbin our first stop was St. Sofia Church, the first Russian church in Harbin. We also stumbled upon Stalin Park (you gotta love the name), a winter wonderland full of skating rinks, ice slides, ice dune buggies, and tubing all on a frozen river. These people know how to make the best of their cold weather! If it was -35 at home we'd be under extreme weather alerts and told not to leave our homes. Instead we bundled up and had the most fun we've had in a long time going tubing. Basically we were slding down a huge hill of ice on inner tubes. I couldn't stop screaming! I believe the best part was when George reached the bottom of the hill and climbed out of his tube not seeing the couple in the tube bhind him hurdling toward him. The took him out at the legs like a bowling ball! Although he probably hurt the poor little Chinese people more then they hurt him since he toppled right over them. Haha! The Chinese men at the top of the hill in charge of the ride seemed to get a kick out of booting my tube over the edge to make me go faster. I think they were playing the "let's see how loud the little Western girl can scream" game. All in all a great time.
Ah, to act like a kid again. It's amazing what fun could be had just by sliding down a hill
We spent the rest of our time in Harbin walking down the pedestrian street and going in and out of shops to get warm. Although there were ample popsicle stands everywhere and everyone was actually buying them! Perhaps hot chocolate/coffee stands would be more appropriate? We had a great time in Harbin and were definitely so glad we went there. The cold was not as much of an issue as expected and was actually a fun part of the experience. Our last stop is back to Beijing, where we would spend our final day in China. We will also find out if we'll get our missing bag back. Fingers crossed!