Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ice and Snow World

The following night we got tickets to the Ice and Snow World across the river. We bought them at the hotel and it included a tour bus that picked us up at the front door. It seemed a bit pricey, but I'm not really sure, but the tour was full so it seemed like the way to go. Anyways this was the big thing we had been planning to see so it didn't really matter. The parking lot to this place was filled with buses; it was quite a contrast to the empty tourist sites we went to in Datong. At first the place didn't seem very big but it kept on going and going. We had about 4 hours to roam around, which was pretty long to be out in the cold (it was somewhere in the vicinity of -15˚F). We covered almost ever inch of the park, found an ice maze, several ice slides, a ski slope, a hot air balloon, some kinda of cheesy performance with robot backhoes, a party yurt, ice skating bikes, white yaks, and we somehow even ended up walking through the back end of the place. Our scarfs became frozen stiff and we had frost on our eye lashes and hair, so we dipped into a little cabin coffee shop to warm up. When we returned to the bus we found the whole group waiting for us but they just laughed as we got on board. All in all the sculptures where pretty impressive and we had a good time, but man was it hard keeping my camera batteries warm all night.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wandering Around Harbin

Transferring trains in Beijing, we arrived in Harbin about 17 hours after we left Datong. The negative degree weather wasn't as fierce as I expected but don't get me wrong it was pretty dag-on cold. After resting at the hotel a bit we went out wondering for a while. We found "Central Street" (中英大街), a popular shopping/touristy street, and walked around there a bit. It dead ends at the Songhua River (松花江), which is completely frozen over this time of year. There was a giant ice slide from the street down to the river, people were scooting around on these ice skate chairs, and there were horse carriages taking people across to the other side. I couldn't believe how frozen everything was. Spit, throw up, trash – it would all just freeze to the ground, preserved there until it thaws in the spring. In the days following we discovered one of the bomb shelters that had been turned into an underground shopping mall, encompassing six blocks or something like that. We also bought ice cream off the street because it the outside temperature was colder then a freezer anyways; In fact, the beer was normally warm because its kept inside to keep from freezing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Yungang Grottoes (云冈石窟)

The next day our train left at 2:00 pm so we got up real early and decided to ride a cab out to Yungang Grottoes to save time. We actually arrived before it officially opened (8:00 am) so we walked around the visitor center for about 10 min before we could go in. This place has a massive visitor center and the park area is huge too, not sure what it's all for but we just went to the grottoes part. They were still at least pretty authentic looking despite all the new touristy stuff surrounding them. morning was definitely the time to go, the light shines right onto the cliff side. Again there was hardly anyone there so we had no problem peaking into every cave. We even saw peacocks in one of them! I was pretty thrilled about that. But then we hurried on back to the train station taking the local bus line that ends at the parks gate. Next stop Harbin.