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Too Cold to Handle: Harbin

Ice ice baby

sunny -29 °C

We arrived at Harbin Airport early evening and stepping off the plane we got a teeny insight into the cold we would experience over the next few days - our breath met the freezing air in huge puffs of steam, the novelty soon wearing off. We got a public bus transfer into the city centre and were treated to glimpses of illuminated ice sculptures along the way and when we got off the bus at our stop, we were instantly drawn to a lovely pedestrianised street that had a canopy of lights and music playing. It turned out our hostel was just off this street, so, after dumping our bags we headed out to find some food and to explore a bit.

The street is called Zhongyang Street and it was decorated with small ice sculptures and lined with buildings that had an obvious western influence - very different to any street I’ve seen in China thus far. The twinkling lights and jolly music made it seem rather Christmassy, it was great. By the time we had eaten (some fairly grim fish dumplings recommended by the hostel owners) and strolled around, we were really starting to feel the cold but arriving at night set the tone for a great stay in Harbin.

The second day was the absolute highlight. Waking up to a comfortable -29 degrees Celsius, we donned several layers, heat patches and heated insoles and set off for the bus. We had meant to go to the Snow Exhibition but ended up at the Ice and Snow festival which was utterly breathtaking. We arrived during the day and stayed until well past sunset, darting amongst the huge ice sculptures to the coffee houses to keep warm, as minutes after stepping out, our eyelashes would be frozen and gloves were not doing the trick. The sculptures we saw were unimaginably huge and detailed and after dark they were lit up with bright light patterns. We both absolutely loved it. Later on, we went to a great little restaurant for dinner in a backstreet off Zhongyang Street which was some of the best Chinese food I’ve had for a long time.

The downside was that doing the Ice Festival first, nothing else that we saw could compare. The following day we went to the Snow Exhibition which was a snow carving competition with some huge and intricate carvings but the Exhibition was much smaller and the atmosphere not as lively. After sunset, we went to have a look at Zhaolin Park, which has an Ice Lantern Festival, and again, although it was really very beautiful, it paled in comparison to the previous day. We tried out another restaurant recommended by the hostel but had a bit of a nightmare, they barely had anything left on the menu, but the one dish they did have arrived at our table before we had even finished ordering and as we were contemplating leaving... it was tasty but the experience left us feeling rather exasperated with the day as a whole.

On our final day, we went to St Sophia’s Square which has a small, old Russian church standing in the middle of it. It looked very quaint, like it belonged in toy town, standing in the centre of such a huge space. We went inside as it is now a picture museum about the development of Harbin. Some of the photos were interesting but I was mostly surprised by how tiny the church was inside! By the time we left, it was time for us to head back towards Harbin Airport and onwards towards Tokyo. The ice festival was more magical than I could have ever imagined or that I could ever describe but I was definitely ready for warmer climates.

Posted by amysblog 03:30 Archived in China Tagged snow travel city ice china harbin tefl

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