Wanderlust Wendy

Icy Winter Wonderland in Harbin, China

Every winter, I see the famous Harbin Snow and Ice Festival on my social media timeline from friends living in China. I am not one for crowded tourist attractions, and never quite feel the crowd is worth whatever amazing thing one is meant to see. Yet, when my friend Jen asked if I want to check out Harbin for the weekend, I agreed. Don’t knock it until you try it, right?

Harbin was COLD. The temperature averaged round 5°F/-15°C, with windchill of approx. 0°F/-20°C. I was basically a giant marshmallow the entire weekend. But with proper layering and the aid of heat packs, it was manageable. I’ve never been in a subzero environment quite like this before, and ironically, one of the big things to do is eating ice cream sticks. The beauty? That thing never melts, and you can take your time nibble at it. You kinda have to, because it’s so damn cold.

Jen and I walked down Central Street, had our ice cream, then took the cable car across the frozen river. The river becomes a giant icy playground in the winter. Activities of all sorts took place. You simply couldn’t help but want to smile! It’s a good time in a winter wonderland! We walked on the frozen river as well, just to say we did it.

But, the real deal Winter Wonderland took place when we visited the Snow and Ice Festival. Prior to visiting, we saw some BBC coverage and was looking forward to witnessing the giant ice sculptures in person. This absolutely was the case where seeing in person leaves you in absolute awe. There is no way watching video footage can allow you to imagine that combination of cold, grandeur, and beauty.

We were lucky with the air gods and pollution was pretty low that day. We arrive just before sunset and thus were able to catch the sculptures in the daylight. As the sun was setting, the rays reflected on the ice in a magical way. The ice castles were life-size, and you can go up to get a wonderful view. There were ice and snow slides, and Chinese tourists from parts of the country where snow is rare, lined up for hours to experience the joy of sledding.

At nightfall, the structures lit up in a myriad of colors. I felt very much as though I was in the icy version of Disney World. The crowd began to really pack in as the lights shined brighter. I recommend going at sunset to get a variety of sculptures, but also to avoid the crowd.

The next day, as if we didn’t have enough of the ice, we visited the Ice Bar in the Shangri-La. When in Harbin, drink out of ice shot glasses!

Before we left, we wandered upon St. Sophia’s Cathedral. This Russian-inspired architecture beauty was one of my favorite non-ice related visits. The mixed cultural vibe makes Harbin a fascinating destination.

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