HARBIN SNOW & ICE FESTIVAL: Jan 2009
Brrrr..... “Ladies and Gentlemen... we are now landing at Harbin Airport... the outside temperature is minus 26 degrees Celsius (that’s minus 15 for you Fahrenheit people) and thus starts our weekend...
Well, yes there are plenty of places around the globe with temperatures like this, but we personally haven’t experienced them. That first breath of cold air hurts the lungs! Harbin is located in northern China - actually not too far north according to latitude but gets the cold air blowing down from Siberia.
About 30 total - teachers and families are traveling together and after some flight delays leave for Harbin. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour flight and we arrive about midnight. Running for a taxi in the arctic air, and holding our hands over our mouth - we have never breathed -26°C air - we all head for the hotels. Our hotel is a typical Chinese 2-3 star - run down but it has warm rooms, hot water, unbelievable hard beds and clean sheets!
Saturday shows bright sunshine and of course, cold temperatures. With many layers we bundle up to explore - there’s a park nearby with a “Disney” ice sculpture theme. The Chinese seem to really enjoy the Disney characters - we see Minnie and Mickey in many places around China. I find it hard to keep my feet from feeling like blocks of ice! It’s wonderful to wander into a snack shop at the park and warm up with a mug of something that sort of resembles hot chocolate - we think that it was a combination of corn syrup, soy milk and Ovaltine! The ice sculptures are lovely and hard to believe that they are made of ice. The fence around the park is all ice - with cut outs of the typical Mickey Mouse ears. The kids love the ice slides but they’re bumpy and cold.
Lunch takes us some of us to a local Russian restaurant and we’re lucky that one of our teachers reads/speaks Russian and can decipher the menu for us. We load up on carbs (french fries, garlic bread, mashed potatoes, and soup) and some take a ‘medicinal’ shot of vodka to warm up the insides. Our Colombian teacher is suffering in the cold... After lunch we wander down to the frozen river where there is a flurry of activity - horse drawn sleighs, ice skating, hockey, dog sleds, picture taking and can you believe it - frozen fruit on a stick - choose from small apples, bananas, strawberries... - with no need for a freezer - but who wants to eat that cold stuff when you’re trying to keep warm???? Then it’s back to the hotel to rest and warm up before checking out the night time Ice Festival.
The Ice Festival leaves us speechless - it’s virtually a small city made entirely of ice with colored lights inside the ice blocks. The pictures show the beauty, but just can’t convey how cold it was! (somewhere around minus 28-30 celsius) Billy used the outside toilet and remarked that he had never seen frozen urine before! On the way there, our Colombian teacher wonders why there is “paper” on the inside of the van windows - of course, we all howl with laughter as we tell him that the inside of the van windows are frosted. Our camera worked fine to take pictures (kept inside Billy’s coat until a photo op arose) but many others froze and one of our friend’s mobile phone’s screen froze. When we returned to the hotel to watch the movies that we took with our camera the sound wouldn’t play until the next morning when it had warmed up enough for the speakers to vibrate.
Back inside the warm van, we head to the hotel and enjoy the Pizza Hut across the street. (Yes, China has Pizza Hut, McDonalds and KFC everywhere.)
Sunday sees us off to the Snow Sculptures and again we are wowed. Huge, multi story sculptures of anything that imagination, shovels and some tools will allow - from the full size “Polar Express Train” to the largest “Father Christmas” in the world. It’s fascinating to watch the sculptors at work making something appear out of nothing.
It’s straight from the Snow Sculptures to the airport and back to Nanjing. A bustling, busy, wonderful weekend. Oh, and I almost forgot about the Chinese airline attendants leading the plane in stretching exercises during flight- what a hoot!
Photo Gallery: click each to see a larger image.
Five story tall Buddha made of snow.
After waiting 45 minutes you can ride an ice toboggan at a cold, breath-taking speed. Talk about a wind chill!
Tour of the "Polar Express" snow sculpture and listen to the crunch of the newly fallen snow under our feet.
Busy activities on the frozen river on a bright, clear cold day.