Harbin, or “I can’t feel my toes” land

So today was the big day: we were on our way to Harbin for the Ice and Snow Festival. Our wake up call was at 8 AM; we met up at 9:30 AM to take the train to Harbin. Again, the train only waits for 2 minutes at each stop, so getting on the train was slightly more rushed than last time. Our seats this time were also more cramped: there was a lot more people going to Harbin than last time.

The trip took again around 2 hours. Getting off the train, I was met a blast of freezing cold air and I instantly knew that the cold here was going to be a total different animal than the previous two cities. To quote Anthony Bourdain, who in his show No Reservations went to Harbin in the dead of winter, “it [was] so @#$&*@ cold.” I couldn’t feel my toes while standing at the platform, although when we started moving I warmed up considerably.

Exiting the train was an ordeal in itself: much of the ground out and around the train station is tiled, and in the dead of winter these tiles become slippery death traps of doom. So if you ever decided to take the train to Harbin in the dead of winter, careful leaving the station.

We got to our bus and head for lunch. Lunch was quite good and hearty, less oily than the last night’s dinner.

 

Lunch time

Also, if you happen to be traveling with us in the month of your birthday, you get a delicious surprise at one of the meals.

 

Happy Birthday!

After filling ourselves up on food, we headed to our hotel to change into warmer clothes. Since this is the on-season in Harbin, all of the 5-star hotels are full up already, so we stayed in an older, but centrally located, hotel. The rooms weren’t as nice as those in Shenyang and Changchun; it was definitely showing wear. But the room, thankfully, wasn’t as stuffy as the ones in Shenyang and Changchun.

After changing into snowboarding pants, my super warm down coat, and two pairs of socks, I was ready for the ice festival.

 

Me, shivering to my toes

The festival was a half hour drive from the hotel. Once there, I bundled myself up in my scarf and extra wool coat, and ventured out into the -20°C weather.

I have to tell you, in the 2 hours I was there, my eyelashes and scarf froze. I couldn’t feel my toes for an amount of time, even though I put hand warmers in my shoes (I think they actually froze). Our guide’s hands froze in her mittens; I gave her a pair of hand warmers later to warm herself up. My hand survived because I had put hand warmers in my gloves, but my right thumb was colder than it should be.

 

The centerpiece of the festival

Ice Sculptures

The ice was beautiful, and there were ice slides to go on! My guide and I went on 4 of these slides; it’s a lot of fun and everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves despite the freezing cold weather.

 

Ice Slide

Getting back on the bus, I felt my face defrosting but my skin felt very dry. Our local guide Nancy advised us that if we ever feel our skin get dry and itchy to not put warm water on the area as it would cause welts. Instead, use lotion or lip balm to moisturize it.

We had dinner that I found to be good enough, although by that time I was pretty tired from the festival and didn’t have much of an appetite.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was approaching 9 PM. The next day’s wake up call is again at 8 AM. This time we’re going to the snow part of the festival.

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