Uuuuuugggh! My body hurts. Standing in line and shuffling along over snow and ice all day yesterday was hard on the body. Getting up and heading to breakfast was a slow and possibly comical procedure. Lots of moans and groans.
The Songhua River cuts through Harbin. It freezes over every winter and supplies the giant blocks of ice they use in the creation of Snow and Ice World that we visited last night. The process for how they harvest the ice from the river is pretty cool.
Yesterday was ice world, today was snow. Most of the festival takes place on Sun Island which is on the Songhua River. The snow aspect is all snow sculptures in a section next to the ice festival. I took about fifty pictures. Some of the sculptures were the size of a large building. Others were only about ten feet tall. Here were some of our favorites.
Aiyun really liked the last one of the giant woman. Her face looked real to her. You can also see the large blocks ready for sculpting on the ground behind her.
This one made me think of Moira because of the three small cartoon-like characters in it. Love you Pnut.
After the sculptures we hit the polar park next door which has polar bears and penguins. Aiyun had seen a video of the penguins walking around and was excited to see them. She loves the way they waddle. "So cute!!"
We headed back into the city away from Sun Island with a goal of a Russian meal for lunch. Aiyun is big on rating and reviews, so after some study she picked the top rated restaurant called Europa. It ended up not being Russian, but a much broader European restaurant. It didn't disappoint. Actually, it sort of turned into a meal that you might expect to eat in the states. I knew we weren't leaving this place as soon as they brought out the hot tea for us before we ordered.
It was freakin blue. Only winners get blue slushies in my world. We were eating here. The menu was very western, so I ended up picking dinner for us. A reversal of how we usually operate. Caesar salad, New Zealand Smoked Lamb Chips, Mexican Pork Ribs, and sautéed asparagus. New Zealand and Mexico!?!? It was a classy joint. I'm sure it's generally packed, but we were just there at a weird time (about 2:30). So good.
After lunch we visited a Russian Orthodox Church just a few blocks away from where we ate. Saint Sofias was built in 1907. Harbin at the time was about one third Russian. This coincided with the completion of the trans-Siberian railway that connected all the way down into China at Harbin.
The church had been closed multiple times during upheaval and the Cultural Revolution. It was restored and turned into a museum in 1997. Now Sofia square is a popular tourist spot in Harbin. The number one activity is the photography of young girls in extravagant gowns. This was similar to our experience in Xian. There were at least 50 young ladies looking for the perfect photo op today while we were there. There are several dress, makeup, and hair shops surrounding the square where they get prepared before its photo shoots all over the place.
Next stop. Let's go play on the river. Seriously. ON the river.
The steps here would normally end at the waters edge. Out in the river there are tons of activities to do. Horse sleigh rides. Get pulled behind any number of motorized vehicles on a thing. Head around a track on a snowmobile, four wheeler, or go cart. Ride a modified bicycle with skis. Eat so many different things. Use a small whip to spin a top. Ice skate. Look down through the ice at giant cracks (a bit scary). Fly a lighted kite.
We arrived and Aiyun wanted to get a ride so we first opted for a horse drawn sleigh ride.
We tried for a picture with the horse but it was a little jumpy. He was cranky. I don't blame him in cold like this.
Next we hopped on a snowmobile for a quick spin.
The fingers on my right hand got super cold because of the wind driving this thing around, but we had a lot of fun almost tipping it over on one corner. Immediate thought was there's no way something like this would fly in the states.
We had enough of riding after the snowmobile. We meandered on the river and just took in the sights. This one immediately made me think of Ted. I seem to recall him putting our kids in an inner tube and pulling them around behjnd his truck in a parking lot after a big snow. Hooky-bobbin?
I can't stress enough this was ON the river. Aiyun purchased traction devices for our boots. They worked well. At times it was a bit freaky to see the ice lit up from underneath with giant cracks showing.
At this point we had taken in the river experience and were contemplating what to do next. It was only about 6:30, so we opted to go back to Ice World. Why not? It was super cool and we missed out on a couple of things there yesterday. Today was the official opening ceremony so it might be packed, but we decided to just go for it.
Good choice. After the opening ceremony was over the place emptied out and the insanely long lines disappeared. We made a straight line for the Ferris Wheel. What would have been a five out investment yesterday was less than an hour this time.
The view from on top was amazing.
We meandered our way across the the park thinking the line for the big slide might also be much shorter. It was nonexistent. After the slide the park was in shutdown mode. It was pretty cool walking back towards the exit with nearly nobody around. We did find a nice lady that was willing to take our picture under one of the bridges.
The exit was swarming with taxi drivers. They're like vultures looking to prey on foreigners. They'll charge you a ton for a ride. Thankfully we're both adept at using APPs on the phone to summon a car at a fixed price.
THAT was a full (and fun) day. We made it back to the hotel room and crashed around midnight. For those wondering, yes Schmelmo the world traveler can now check off Harbin as well.