Feeling hot this summer? I hope this cools you down!
Chinese New Year is never a good time to take a holiday in China. Millions of people want to go home to celebrate the festival with their family and millions of others go traveling because this is pretty much the only time in the year when everyone gets a whole week off… As a result, it’s really hard to get bus tickets at the date you want; trains are overcrowded, hotels are either fully booked or unreasonably expensive, and every single place of interest in China is overrun by tourists… TIC! =This Is China!
So we should have known what to expect when Becky and I amazingly secured 2 train tickets to the northern city of Harbin… On top of facing freezing temperatures (around -30 C.) we knew we’d be sharing the city and the Ice Festival (Ice World) with many other people on holidays. I had gone to Harbin to experience the Ice Festival a couple of years ago but I didn't remember it to be so busy. And I didn't think hundreds of thousands of people would be willing to freeze their toes, hands, butts and faces
off on their annual holiday… Well, I was wrong! The place was swarming with people from all around China (mostly people from the south who, just like me, were mesmerized by the ice buildings and the magical lights at night!).
We still had a great time! As usual Becky and I went for long walks in spite of the sharp cold and we managed to get away from the crowds around major attractions. We spent 5 very relaxing days in Harbin, enjoying great food (good meat and dumplings, hotpots and Russian bread!), enjoying spectacular views of the Ice Festival (stunning ice statues!) and having so much fun, skating, sliding, falling on ice… Harbin is winter paradise for kids, and a very singular destination for grown-ups. I hope you enjoy our pictures in Chinese fairyland! Once again pictures are worth a thousand words.
What I liked about Harbin:
- The ice sculptures (very unique, very amazing!)
- The lights at night inside the ice sculptures + edifices
- Walking on the frozen snow (and the sound it makes)+ crossing the large frozen river on foot
- The food: hot pot + dumplings +
meat (sausages + barbecued pork) + ice-cream + bread
- The architecture (Russian style). Harbin is not the usual Chinese city with its high rises.
- Saint Sophia Cathedral and the pigeons: feels like Russia!
- The exhibit of pictures on old Harbin inside the cathedral. It’s amazing how fast things have changed in China!
- Sleeping in at the hotel every morning…
- The sweet tang hu lu
(caramelized fruit on a stick)
- How quiet it could get on the island, on the other side of the river
What I didn't like:
- The crowds (so many tourists!). I have never felt more like an ant ever before in my life.
- That people from out of town must pay more than twice as much as the locals to visit the ice festival. No kidding!
- How restaurants raised their prices for the holiday.
- How hotels raised their prices (for the holiday but this is true everywhere in China, not just Harbin). A few years ago I used to stay in okay places for 80RMB, now it costs at least 220rmb to stay in an average
- Taxi drivers and hotel staff weren't the friendliest in Harbin (bad luck I guess). Surprisingly for me they seemed very quick to judge and not shy to express criticism against the French… (can’t blame them, right?) As usual I tried small talk with a lot of people in Harbin but every time it ended in confrontation. First of all, I was told that my Chinese wasn't good at all… (good enough to understand your point of view, jackass!) then I was told completely out of the blue that Sophie Marceau (who was a guest of honor at the Chinese New Year CCTV Gala) was too old to wear the dress she chose for the show… (her dress was nothing but elegant). I was told by different people that the French always mingled in foreign countries’ affairs… that our Presidents were all womanizers… (and?!...) A taxi driver asked my girlfriend if I had taken her to France. As she said I hadn't yet (but we will go next year!), the guy pretty much told him that I was not to be trusted! After not even 2 minutes in the car! I was so angry! Let’s just say
that sadly I didn't make any friend in Harbin.
- Having men standing just behind our seats in the train (crowded train!), eating sausage with their mouth open and burping on top of my head the whole way back to Beijing! Seriously!
After 8 months on the road through Central Asia, it’s going to take some time for me to readjust to life in China. Everything here is so different! But that’s partly why I chose to be here in the first place. Welcome back, Jeremy!
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