After spending our morning at Siberian Tiger Park (read the post Lions, and Tigers and… Ligers?), we ate a late lunch and then prepared ourselves to head back out into the cold for what we considered the “main event.” The famous snow and ice festival that happens in Harbin, China each year was the only real draw to this God forsaken-ly cold land. The festival began in 1963 and took a brief hiatus during the Cultural Revolution before starting back up again in the year I was born, 1985. It is now the largest snow and ice festival in the world. Harbin, after all, has been nicknamed “The Ice City” due to its geographical location- sitting even further north than some parts of the Russian border.
The four of us (Joyce, Matt, Trent and I) bundled back up (imagine Randy from A Christmas Story… “I can’t put my arms down!”) before heading back out into the cold. Joyce, with her amazing Chinese, snagged a taxi driver to take us to the festival and in fact, charmed him so much, that he told her that he would be waiting for us (in the blistering cold) outside the festival when we were ready to leave. We waited in a long line of cars before he took a little detour and dropped us off at the front.
We went into a tent to buy our tickets which cost 300 yuan a person (around 45-50 USD). We could have left earlier in the day to get discounted prices, but “Snow and Ice World” is really only worth visiting at night, as that is when everything is lit up.
After we bought our tickets, we emerged into another world made only of ice and snow. It was magical. All of the displays were lit up in beautiful, bright lights. There were castles and pagodas and towers all made of ice blocks with colored lights. We were surrounded by ice sculptures making up all sorts of imaginative things. It was breathtaking (well, that and the fact that it was -17 degrees Fahrenheit outside).
The four of us wandered around, slipping and sliding along the icy paths, and taking in the sights around us. We went in and out of igloos, we sat on top of sculpted horses, we stuck our faces into ice-Eskimo cut-outs. Trent had to walk like a robot to keep from falling and at times, we would take turns pulling him along.
There were kaleidoscopes you could look through that reflected all the brilliant colors, and there was a large chandelier and a series of mirrors that did the same. There were colors everywhere you looked!
We went down ice slides, Trent and I went together, laughing as people wiped-out at the bottom. Some people even tried “surfing” down the slides… not us! Only later, as we continued to make our way around the park, did we realize that those were just wimpy little slides. The BIG slides were made out of snow and you got to tube down them. Initially we thought this looked like a good idea… but after inching along in a never-ending line of people, huddled closely together for warmth, we decided it wasn’t worth the 40 minute to an hour-long wait (Plus, I’m from Minnesota… which might as well be Russia; I’ve gone sledding a time or two). Instead, we made the brilliant choice to go inside to try to warm up our frozen fingers and toes and to indulge in some hot cocoa and popcorn. The building was packed (no surprise there) with others trying to do the same. We were so thankful that Joyce brought hand and foot warmers that we had been keeping in our mittens and our boots; I can’t imagine we would have lasted very long without them!
After we sat for a little while, we headed out to finish making our loop around the park. It really is huge! There were many other snow and ice sculptures as we went differing greatly in size and style. Unfortunately, the sculptures that had been entered into the contest were partitioned off and we couldn’t got inside for a closer look. Bummer!
I’m still not even sure that we saw everything! Even with our little break in the warmth, we were freezing. We spent another hour or so walking around looking at everything before deciding to head home. One of our last stops took us to the edge of the park and as we went up the stairs, it gave us a great view of the festival!
Then we headed out. It took a bit of back-and-forth between us and the cab driver before we found each other again, but we were successful (only thanks to Joyce’s Chinese-speaking abilities).
The one thing left on our bucket list for the evening was finding a Harbin beer to enjoy together. We could have had one at the festival, but, as they often do, they jacked up the prices so high! In hindsight, maybe it would have been worth it anyways as we struck out that evening. It was too late and there wasn’t much open around our hotel. We did stumble upon a cool Russian souvenir shop but eventually we called it quits and turned in for the night. What a cool day!