<A> A frozen wonder, the ice city of Harbin

Written by Jan 14, 2006 02:01
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How difficult is to imagine a feeling that you have never experienced before…yes, maybe some friends had explained you something about the cold in their countries, and you have read many times that in such north places of China is freezing cold, something around -20 and -30ºC to be exact ( -3ºF /-20ºF).
And obviously you understand that means really cold…but how much cold? How to imagine such a cold temperature if you have never seen so low numbers in the weather report in your country?

Sky jacket, Sky pants, thermal underwear, one t-shirt, two layers, a big sweater, 2 pairs of sky socks, sky boots, two scarf, a warm hut and ear warmers, that should be enough for a girl coming from a small island in the warm and humid Mediterranean see, or at least I was wishing it when coming out from the 13 hours train that connects Beijing with the ice city of Harbin.

But don’t think that it was just me because I come from Spain, all my friends from Belgium and New York were as warm dressed as I was!
I think Harbin people had a really funny time seeing us walk through the streets as living snowmen. They were so surprised to see us wearing so many clothes, as we were to see a lot of girls walking with high heeled-shoes and just one pair of tight pants. It’s just incredible how your body can get used to such extreme temperatures when you are born in them…
Coming out from the train station we realized that it was really cold, but considering our warm clothes we were feeling really comfortable at the moment…we even thought that maybe we we’re over-warm dressed! But what we could know then is that in the winter of Harbin doesn’t matter how many clothes you are wearing, because after a 2 hours walk on the ice, the cold can go through everything, through all kind of snow boots, through the warmest globs, and begin to freeze your extremities as if you were completely nude.
But don’t be afraid, the problem has a really easy solution: good clothes and a cup of coffee every two hours inside a warm Russian-style cafeteria!

Normally I travel on a budget that allows me to do two or three trips a month, but when choosing the hotel to stay this time, I really didn’t mind to pay as we would pay in any European country for a hotel room…I just wanted to make sure that after a freezing day we could go into a really warm and comfortable bed, take a hot shower to defrost our toes, and choosing a place close to all the places we were interested in.
That’s why without a doubt I chose the Gloria Inn Harbin…maybe it was expensive (500RMB per room in the high season) and the rooms weren’t as nice as I was expecting, but it was really warm inside, it had a good breakfast buffet, and its location is unique!!! I really would recommend this place to people travelling there in winter to see the ice and snow world.
Right in front of the flood monument, it’s north façade it’s just 10 meters from the iced Songhua river, where all kind of ice games are displayed.
Its west façade marks the beginning of the Zhongyang street, the main and most beautiful street in the whole city that leads you throw Daoliqu district to Santa Sophia’s Russian church. As I already said, its location worth the stay at this hotel!

As we just have two full days to visit all the places we wanted, we decided to start with the snow attractions that day, and leave the Russian city and the tiger park to the next morning.
That night I couldn’t stop dreaming with ice, snow and amazing glowing constructions just made of ice…it was a frozen wonder! Something that I had never seen before, and that probably that was also the last time that I would see such amazing ice sculptures.

Harbin has three main places to see snow and ice sculptures, two in Sun Island, and another in a park in the city.
The oldest, and maybe most charming because of its city location, is the one in Zhaolin Park, two blocks right from our hotel. It’s the favourite by the locals, something that I really do not understand, because walking trough this park after having been in the Sun Island ones, is like going to a town fair after coming from Disneyland.
The other two and most amazing places are in Sun Island.
After having played in the iced “playground” and taking a 50 RMB horse ice ride from our side of the river we reached the island, the home of the Ice Sculpture Fair during the day (80RMB entrance fee), and the Ice and Snow World during night time (100RMB).

The Ice Sculpture Fair had hundreds of sculptures made from snow, from human size teddy bears to huge Russian churches and constructions. It even had a frozen restaurant!!! With ice-made chairs and tables…just amazing for my warm-island born eyes!

But also just too cold for our frozen toes! But the best part was still to come…the Ice and Snow World opened its doors, or better said, opened it huge iced archway at 5 pm.
Actually we wanted to stay the whole day in the island, in order not to come back again at night to see the other park, but it was a really bad idea…because finally we went back to the warm hotel before going to the night park…it was just too cold to stay there until its opening.

So after having a nice boiling coffee, at 6pm we took our taxi to Harbin main attraction, The Ice and Snow Lantern World!!! We five opened our eyes as kids in front of the biggest candy ever, it was just stunning!
The Big Ben from London, The Triumph Arch from France, the Great Wall from China, even the Cinderella Castle from the Fair Land…every monument pretty in real size built!!! And all was brightening and plenty with colours.

But even the simplest block of ice was so pure, so clear, so transparent, so perfect…
It was a petty that our feet just hold an hour and a half on the iced floor, so many times of freezing and defrosting in one day was too much for them.

After a warm and caloric pizza in the PizzaHut in front of the hotel, I took the best ever warm shower in my life! Mmmmm…and slept as a baby until our alarm clock rang to wake us up from our over-warmed beds.

Our first stop on Sunday was the Dongbei Hu Linyuan, in other words, the Siberian tiger park situated in Songbeizin District, 30 minutes away by taxi. We needed to take a bigger van, because we were five, and payed 50RMB each way.
I already knew that I wouldn’t enjoy the visit, but the others, especially Caroline and Chris, were really excited about the idea of seeing tigers in a much nicer and bigger place than a regular zoo.
Actually the mission of the park is the study, the breeding and the future liberation of the animals…but I couldn't really understand such a place! Yes, they wanted to liberate the tigers, but at the same time they allowed buses plenty with tourist go inside their living spaces, and selled them chickens to feed the tigers…I think that makes tigers associate food with buses and humans, and it can be really dangerous when they make them free. So at least in my opinion, that’s definitely not the best way to manage a breeding centre.
In any case, the others were amazed and stunned with the tigers and enjoyed the morning a lot!

I left the park with a really sad feeling…but nothing that a nice walk through the Russian building and the spectacular Santa Sophia Church couldn’t solve.
Maybe if we would be in Russia, and we would see Santa Sophia we wouldn’t say anything spectacular about it, if we compared it with another bigger or more beautiful constructions…but we were in China, not in Russia! And find in the middle of a Chinese city that church was just unforgettable.

Also the facades of hundreds of buildings were built in western style. I think the mixture of Chinese and Russian culture is what makes the city so special. At least the downtown is not like the one in any other Chinese cities I’ve visited, all them with that standard communist way of buildings. Here in Harbin and despite of the cold, you can feel a warm and special charm, the charm of the mix of Chinese, russian and western cultures.

Between the hundreds of chinese, russian and american restaurants we chosed the USAbucks cafeteria, in the main street, to have lunch on Sunday. It has really nice coffees to warm you up, but I will never forget their Hamburgers...jajajaj! They served us ham inside a burger bread, and of course, what's a ham-burger then?

Lying down in the hard-sleeper bed in the train back Beijing, I was thinking in the nature, the cutting wind, the cold and how hard and aggressive it can be. I was thinking in the old lady selling raisin in the middle of the street, with her round and red cheeks and her chapped lips…I was thinking in how nice was our weekend being there with appropriate clothes and staying in a nice hotel, but how terrible it must be if you cannot afford a warm jacket, a good face cream, or a hot shower every day.

Definitely I’m not made to live in such extreme climate conditions, but I will never forget the feeling of the -30ºC we reached, I will never forget how easily your face hurts and I will never forget that warm shower…the best warm shower ever!
Now I am able to understand what “cold” really means.

 More Harbin Travel Reviews
1. Harbin on Ice MISHEN from NZ Jan 11, 2006 06:01
2. The Light They’ve Chipped Out from the River MISHEN from NZ Sep 2, 2005 12:09
3. Yabuli -skiing DAVIDHOH from MY Jan 21, 2005 08:01
Comments (2)


Jan 18, 2006 09:11 Reply

WOCCA said:

Very interesting & well written review ..



Jan 16, 2006 00:22 Reply

RITA said:

I lived even north of Harbin, I understand well how you might feel of the extremely cold in that area. Your great depiction reminds me of just... everything. As for as i remember, the coldest ever day in my hometown is -40C.

Thanks for sharing!

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