Alright, tundra might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but Harbin was still pretty cold. Two of our good friends, Bell and Matt, decided that they were going on a weekend getaway to Harbin, China a few weeks ago. I could not have told you very much about Harbin when I agreed to go along, except that I knew that this city was the host of the annual Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Well, I can’t tell you all that much more about Harbin after having traveled there, but the trip was still great. On Friday night, we boarded a plane after having sat in the Pudong International Airport for many hours. We had a direct flight to Harbin, which is significantly closer to Russia than Shanghai. I was invigorated by the cold once we stepped off of the plane. Although I frequently find myself complaining about the cold, damp weather in Shanghai, this was a dry, more ‘real’ kind of cold. It made me think of winter in the midwest, and that filled me with glee. We had arranged a cab, and arrived at our hotel with no problems. The hotel had overbooked, so we had to share our room with some of our good friends who were homeless for one night.
We realized on our way to the hotel that the St. Sophia Cathedral was right down the road. On Saturday morning, we decided that this would be a great place to start our tour of Harbin, so we walked there. In the morning sun, it was actually quite pleasant outside.
There is a steel structure in the square outside of St. Sophia’s. I am sure this is a likeness of some famous structure, but I was not able to figure out what it was.
Above and below are some pictures of the St. Sophia Cathedral. This was a Russian Orthodox church, as is apparent by the sweet way it looks.
The inside was a little bit disappointing. Tickets to enter were 20 RMB, but as I frequently tell myself, “I may never see this place again, so I HAVE to go inside.” The cathedral had been closed down when the People’s Republic of China took power, because it was Catholic. The cathedral has since been turned into a museum. The museum had some neat pictures, but all of the writing was in Chinese or Russian. The ceiling was cool, but the rest of the interior was basic, so I was a little bummed as I was expecting some sort of elaborate cathedral.
After exploring St. Sophia, we all got a cup of coffee (8 in our little party) and we decided to go to the snow sculpture park. Now, before setting off, we had no idea what or where any of these snow/ice/lantern/festivals were, but we did know that there were several locations and we were supposed to see them all. Matt knew that the area was by the river, so we decided to walk at least that far. The Songhua river was frozen solid, and there were all kinds of activities happening out on the ice. We came upon a huge ice slide that many and more Chinese people were sledding down, and a steady stream of people walking across the river to the other side, which is where we needed to go. I was all in favor walking across the river ourselves, but we decided to take a cable car across. This ended up being a great idea, because we could see the snow sculptures from the air, and so we knew where to go.
On our way to the Sun Island Scenic Area (the snow sculpture park), we found some good photo opportunities.
The Sun Island Scenic Area turned out to be a sort of Disneyland winter/Chinese/Russian park. There were several different areas that you had to pay to enter. We opted to only pay for the snow sculptures, but were very confused when trying to decide where we were supposed to go. The ticket price was expensive, and I must say if I had to do it again I would leave the Sun Island area out entirely. That being said, there were some pretty sweet things made out of snow.
The first was a maze. Made out of snow! A snow maze! It was not particularly difficult, especially for those of us who may have decided to climb on top of the walls instead of trying to navigate in between them (Angela). It was still good fun though.
There were also countless snow sculptures. Here is an example of what those looked like. Above is Angela and the dinosaur. Below is Canadian Kat being eaten by what I can only assume is King Kong.
One of the highlights of the snow sculpture park was the ice arena that had all sorts of interesting ice bicycles, sleds and other vehicles. See below.
This of course prompted a recreation of the Winter Olympics pictured below; USA versus Canada.
I am proud to say Angela brought home the gold on this one.
After having looked all around the snow park, we decided it was time to find some dinner. This time, we did walk across the river, pictured above. I did not like the loud thunder like sounds I heard beneath the ice as we walked across it. On the opposite bank, we came upon an area with all sorts of games, slides and even a pool cut out in the ice for polar plunging. Now, the Chinese men who were doing this particular polar plunge were far more hardcore than any other I have ever witness (which is none). To my knowledge, doing the polar plunge involves sitting in a hot tub, running and jumping into a body of water in the winter, and then returning to the hot tub. In Harbin, these Chinese dudes stripped down naked, put on a swim suite, jumped into the water, swam around, got out, toweled off, got naked again, and then dressed. At no point was hot water involved. They encouraged us to try, but we all passed.
After dinner and a stop back at the hotel, we called for a taxi ride to the Snow and Ice World. Now, my standards were low after the snow sculpture park. Not that I didn’t appreciate the snow sculptures, or the work that went into them, but once I saw ten of them, I was kind of over it. However, the Ice and Snow World was awesome. We saw it the minute we crossed the river. It looked like the Emerald City, and filled us all with a juvenile wonder. The Ice and Snow World had huge buildings made entirely out of blocks of ice, and lit up with pretty lights. What’s not to love?
Here is the Colosseum, build out of ice and colored yellow. Two great combinations. And below is a picture of Angela and I in front of the Colosseum. Who knew it was actually in China all along? I sure didn’t.
And here is Brussels Square, made also out of ice! I thought the blue was a nice choice. I took the picture below to prove that these buildings were in fact all made out of ice.
One of the structures was actually a huge castle that you could CLIMB. Once at the top, we had a beautiful view of the park. Everything lit up is ice.
There were all sorts of ice slides that you could slide down. All of them had huge lines, and being adults, Angela and I passed on them all. Except for the biggest one. After seeing the view pictured above, the only civilized way down was to take the slide. So Angela and I did just that. We waited in line, pushed children out of our way, and slid down the slide. Now, I watched a whole bunch of people go painfully slow down this slide, so I waited until I couldn’t see anybody before I went down. I also decided to squat and go down on my feet, because going down on my butt would simply be unacceptably slow. Going down on my feet turned out to be so fast that I actually got a little uncomfortable, until I realized that there was still a pileup of slow people near the bottom of the slide, slowly (and lamely) inching their way down. I hit what I think may have been a Russian woman who was unfortunately in the back of the pileup. After complaining loudly to all of my friends about how slowly the people were going in front of me, I learned that the person in the front was one of my friends and coworkers, which made me feel bad about myself.
On our way home from the Ice and Snow World, not two blocks from our hotel we stumbled onto an incredible pedestrian street.
We decided to go out, and found a really nice Italian restaurant that we all agreed would be classy even in Shanghai. We had a great time, a good meal and some drinks.
On our way home from the airport, we decided to do something that none of us had done. We rode the Maglev. This train takes you from the airport to downtown Shanghai in 8 minutes. We topped out at around 267 miles per hour. It was a rush.
All for now.