Sunday, January 31, 2016

"The cold never bothered me anyway..." Harbin 2016

We had heard about the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival and wanted to go but with the extreme subzero temperatures it took some preparing. It is the largest ice and snow festival in the world, and it was started in 1963 and only lasts 1 month. The city is surrounded my exhibits that are featuring huge ice castles and ornate snow sculptures. The large castles are actually blocks of ice taken from a river and are sometimes decorated with neon lights. Throughout the city there are sleigh rides, ice skating, bobsleds, and even tubes pulled behind a huge ATV. It was definitely a winter wonderland.

The cold was the most difficult thing about Harbin. Every day it was around -20 degrees below zero. (Celsius) It took us about 30 minutes each time we left the hotel to get suited up and we each wore about 10 layers each. We put hand warmers in our pockets, and wore multiple hats, scarves, socks. We even had to wear a pollution mask to keep the warm air on our faces. Our eyelashes froze and it was SO cold our phones would freeze and the battery would drain within 1 hour of it being exposed. The cold weather actually comes from the Siberian sea, and we are only 300 miles away from Russia so the city is kind of decorated in Russian architecture which was fun to see with all the Chinese writing.

I found this 10 minute YouTube video amazing on the process of what it takes to make the sculptures. Especially since the whole trip we kept asking eachother, "HOW DO THEY DO THIS?!"

We decided early on that we didn't want to bring Samantha with us. Poor thing would've turned into a popsicle. She stayed with our ever trusting Ayi while we braved the cold for the weekend. We left on a Friday and came back on a Sunday. When we first got there we toured the city and rode tubes down an ice slide. We also got to go through a park that included many ice sculptures. The next morning we woke up to our window which was frozen shut. 

The next morning we woke up early and headed to the snow sculpture park. This was actually my favorite part of the trip. The sculptures are so ornate and detailed. It amazed us how when sculpting the snow doesn't just crumble into pieces. It was fun to see the workers chiseling away to make HUGE castles and sculptures of snow. They were so massive, and these pictures truly don't do it justice.  Try and look at the people below to get a true sense of how tall these things are. It was truly one of the most mind-blowing things I have ever seen. We went down a slide made entirely of ice with sleds (I rolled at the bottom.) 

That is me at the bottom! 

That night we headed to the Ice and Snow World which is the biggest exhibit of the event. This is where the large neon castles of ice were located. They also had lots of snow activities for everyone to participate in like sledding, tubing, skating, slides and snowshoeing. You were able to walk into the ice castles and slide down the ice slides out in front of each one. We had to go inside a few times to thaw out but the castles were just incredible. I was looking for Elsa everywhere, but I only found the blue mosque from Istanbul. 

The food of choice at the festival was frozen candied fruit on skewers. We didn't try one but they sure looked interesting. 

We stumbled upon ice cream that was laid out on the street. No need for a freezer because...well you get the idea. 

That night we slept GOOD and it was nice to finally be in the warmth. The last day in Harbin we went to the St. Sophia Church which is the largest Orthodox church in China. It is protected by the PRC. It was cool to see such religion being visited by local Chinese people and seeing them learn about Jesus. 

That night we headed back to the warmth of Shanghai, (A very less frigid, 30 degrees ABOVE 0). For the record, it took about 3 days to completely thaw out.  Harbin was amazing and I know I fought going because I really hate to be cold but the views are so stunning you forget about how cold you are. It was definitely one of my favorite places I have visited in China.