Harbin the Ice City - Part 1

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December 27th 2011
Published: December 27th 2011
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This Christmas holiday, we decided we would do a bit of exploring within China as the Chinese don't have holidays so it is much more comfortable to tour around. Seeing as Ian only has a short Christmas holiday, we are away for 5 days - we have ventured 3 hours by plane, north of Shanghai, to Harbin in Heilongjiang Province. Harbin is very near the Russian border and is world famous for the Snow and Ice Festival held every year in January and February. Fortunately, we have been lucky in in that the festival opened in the past few days and construction is well under way of many of the ice sculptures - and quite a few are finished!

After a quiet Christmas day at home, we set off yesterday morning and arrived here late afternoon. Our roving expert in all things travel (aka Ian!) got us all prepared with every item of clothing going from Decathlon! As you will see from our photos, we are layered up with ski trousers, 2 ski coats, hats, 2 pairs of gloves and several under layers which are keeping us warm. Last night we decided to have a quick venture out of our hotel which is perfectly centrally positioned at the top of the Main Street. We wrapped up warm but didn't have our thermal leggings on and suffered a bit! We had chilly legs and also chilly cheeks and eyes! Everything else was well covered so we learned from that this morning and wore our ski trousers, although Mr Warm braved it with thermals and jeans!

Last night we ate at the hotel for ease, and the children had fun playing a game of darts in the hotel pub - aptly named the Red Lion Pub! It was empty except for us and a lone Russian man! After a reasonably hearty breakfast, we headed for an explore this morning and had much more success than we had expected! We wandered all the way along Main Street - where we had had to abandon part way due to the cold last night - and reached the lake at the end. A very frozen lake, I might add, covered in heaps of different ways to cross it. We were offered rather sad looking alsaltians pulling kitchen chairs welded onto a metal tray; horseback ride; horses pulling a carriage; snow ski or ice skates! We had been warned about the price of this though and didn't go for any.

We spotted an ice castle which looked interesting and wanted to climb up for a look. Ian got annoyed with the people who worked there as they wanted us to buy a ticket. I managed to get him to agree to pay the 20RMB price for one adult and a child free, then he had to pay for me too as they would only allow one adult per child. He was rather pleasantly amazed as we reached the top to find it wasn't just a castle to climb up and down, but the very famous ice slide! I have to say, this was THE big thing Sophie had been looking forward to! A little scary though for us girls to climb onto a basic metal toboggan with a bit of a rope on and speed down. Ian and William apparently were laughing at our squealing but I have to say I have not been so terrified for a long time! There was no clue as to how we would stop at the bottom until we thankfully hit a patch of snow/sand! After this, the kids spotted a snow slide which was even higher and of course we had to go on this one too. This time, it was each man for himself on a rubber ring! Ian went first to show us how it was done and to take pics, then Will, then the screaming girls again!

We were exhausted after all this excitement and headed for the cute Russian cafe we had been recommended by friends earlier for a warm drink. At this point, our camera battery had been substantially depleted - something I had read about is caused by the cold - so we have returned for a warming up rest at the hotel before we set out on the next adventure to Polarland! We are hoping for beluga whales and sea lions, but who knows!

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