Harbin Ice and Snow Festival Day 1

Trip Start Jan 02, 2013
1
17
70
Trip End Mar 17, 2013


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Where I stayed
Gfour Holiday Hotel Harbin
Read my review - 2/5 stars

Flag of China  , Heilongjiang,
Thursday, January 24, 2013




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I got up and headed down for breakfast. The elevator took a long time to get to my floor. I got in and pushed the button. The doors closed. And nothing happened. After a while, the doors opened again. Then the process repeated - doors close, pause, doors open, pause. This happened six or eight times over the next three or four minutes. It doesn't exactly instill trust in their elevator.  And I'm on the 8th floor.

After a longer trip than expected, I made it to breakfast. It was a buffet. Most of the items were running low and they didn't seem to be replenishing anything. There were only a few labels and they were in Chinese. I picked a few things and sat down. The only available table was a table for 10. I put down my plate and then went to look for chopsticks. When I came back someone had taken my seat. There were nine others that they could have taken without bothering anyone but they take mine.

I went back for a second trip. There was someone cooking eggs. I think that she was indicating I could go get ingredients for an omelet. I looked where she was pointing but there were none of the usual omelet ingredients. In fact, there was little that I could positively identify. I went with just a plain egg. She poured about three-quarters of an inch of oil into the saute pan and cracked my egg into it. I had expected a fried egg but what I was getting was a deep-fried egg.

After a very unsatisfying breakfast I headed back to my room. The Internet was working a bit better than it had in the evening so I checked my e-mail and sent a few replies. That should have taken under five minutes but it took almost three hours.

I went to the front desk and asked if there was anyone who spoke English. I was pointed to someone with a desk on the other side of the lobby. I went to talk to him. I asked if they had a map of the neighborhood. Well, it turns out I already had the only map they provide. Naturally, it is entirely in Chinese and it only covers a few blocks square and doesn't include most of the Ice and Snow Festival venues.

I mentioned my problems with the Internet. Instead of accepting the criticism I was told that no, the Internet speed is just fine. He proceeded to show me a couple sites that he uses that appeared in what he considered an acceptable amount of time. In response, I showed him one of the sites I use. Or at least I tried to. It eventually timed out and displayed an error message. His solution - don't use that site. Well, I made the decision to put my travel itineraries online about two years ago. It's a bit late for his input to influence that decision. The motto, the customer is always right, hasn't made it to Harbin yet.

There is a desk in the lobby staffed by a couple people who set up trips to some of the venues for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival as well as some other local attractions. I purchased a ticket to the Sun Island Scenic Area venue. I was overcharged for my ticket.I pointed that out to them and they kept insisting that I was wrong and that everything I had seen online was old information, in spite of the fact that the information is updated every year as they steadily increase the prices. I paid, or rather overpaid, for the trip and waited a while until a group of us were given a ride over to the site.

The site is quite large. Most people seemed to have maps but none were provided to my group. It turns out, you can follow a long loop through the site and arrive back at the entrance. I did just that over the next three hours.

There are dozens of snow sculptures at the Sun Island Scenic Area site. The ice sculptures are at other locations. The snow sculptures range in size from ones just eight or ten feet in every dimension that a single person could have created to monstrous pieces forty feet high that stretch for a couple hundred yards.  I ran around in the cold checking out the sculptures and taking pictures.

At one point a bunch of people in furry costumes showed up in front of one of the large structures.  They then started dancing to Gangnam Style.  Very strange.  My camera started screwing up as they were performing and shut itself off.  I thought it was due to the cold and, in a way, it was.  Even though the battery indicator showed I had nearly half of the battery capacity left that apparently wasn't enough.  Things were fine after I put in fresh batteries.

When I completed the loop it was getting too dark to take pictures.  All of the sculptures seemed to be lit and I assumed the lights would be coming on soon but I had had enough of the cold.  The wind was picking up and it was in the vicinity of 0F and dropping fast.  I decided to call it a day. 

I tried to get a taxi.  As far as I could tell, the various quotes were 200 ($33), 100 ($17) and 80 ($13) yuan.  I was really confused by the 80 yuan quote.  He was holding out his thumb and forefinger the way many Europeans would indicate two.  I later found out that they have a local way of counting to ten on their fingers and that here that indicates eight.

I was sure the taxi should be something under 20 yuan ($3.50) and, not wanting to encourage thievery, I decided to look into a bus.  I met a couple from Burma.  They both spoke English and one of them spoke Chinese.  We walked toward the exit together and came across a bus.  It had a number in the corner of the windshield and looked like a city bus to me.  My Chinese-speaking new Burmese friend was able to verify that it was going downtown.  We squeezed on, the doors closed and we were off.

The three of us were on the stairs and I was plastered against the door of the bus.  The fare should have been two yuan each (about 35 cents) but the driver never requested any money.  We got our ride downtown and got off.

It turns out, we were pretty close to my hotel.  I said goodbye and headed off.  I thought that finding the hotel would be easy but I wound up wandering around for easily an hour before I eventually found it.  It should be easier next time.

I warmed up in my room for a while before heading to a place called Big Pizza in a nearby hotel.  When I went in I discovered a mixed Chinese and Italian buffet, which was mostly labeled and which included a little pizza.  I decided to go with it.  Nobody tried to seat me or interact with me at all, really.  I grabbed a plate, filled it up and started eating.  When I decided I had had enough I hunted for someone that looked like a cashier to take my money.  They showed me the price on a calculator and I paid them.  Then they handed me utensils.  Apparently, you're supposed to pay first.

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