China 2012, Part 2: Harbin
When the story last left off, it was 4:30 AM and I had just woken up in our hostel in Harbin. Unfortunately, the front door was locked and the hostel staff wouldn't be on duty until just before 7, so I had to waste some time on the internet. When the door opened I went off in search of a McDonald's for breakfast. On the way I discovered that one of the streets adjacent to the hostel had been transformed into a huge market selling breakfast, fruit, vegetables, fresh meat and fish, clothing, etc. etc. On my way back from McDonald's I saw they were already packing up, so I bought some chinese style breakfast for Barbara and delivered it to our bed.
We then headed of to Stalin Park, basically a strip of green on the bank of the Songhua river. It is full of delightful plant sculptures (unfortunately I can't upload photos to Google Plus via my current internet connection but I hope to add some when I return), flowers and so on. We also took a cruise on the river on a dragon-shaped boat. After strolling through the park for quite a while we arrived at the beginning of Zhongyang street, which is Harbin's main pedestrian street with fancy clothing boutiques, restaurants and so on. We traversed the entire length of the street, stopping along the way at a Russian restaurant where we had some nice stew and at H&M to buy a new t-shirt for Barbara.
Afterwards we headed over to St. Sophia Cathedral, which looked quite nice from the outside and had a terribly boring collection of photographs inside. In this area we also went into several mobile phone shops in hopes of getting a new cable for my Star A5000 phone, but none of them had a suitable cable. Eventually I got a charger for the battery instead, so now I can at least use my phone again, if somewhat less conveniently than before.
To end the day we headed to the train station to buy some train tickets to Shenyang, but after a long wait in line we discovered it is absolutely impossible to buy train tickets without a passport, even if you know the number of the passport. (I had my ID card with me, which would have been good enough, but Barbara had neither.) After another excruciating wait in the taxi queue we got back to the hostel exhausted, and once again I fell asleep very early.
The next day we got up early together and went to the market street for Chinese breakfast. I had some baozi (stuffed buns) and fried chicken. We then took a taxi to the Siberian Tiger Park, which I now consider the highlight of our visit to Harbin. We were driven through a large areal full of tigers (there was also one area with lions), many of which came up to the bus in hopes of food, and at the end there was a winding pedestrian bridge in an especially crowded area. The living conditions were less than ideal of course but they are still very impressive animals, even cute in a way (I was just barely able to supress the urge to pet them). Just before the exit there were some individual cages for other great cats such as cheetah, liger and leopard.
After that we headed to the Sun River Island Park which was quite large with various attractions, many of which also involved animals. There were some tame deer which I got to pet, an island full of squirrels, an artificial waterfall, and so on. We spent quite some time there, unfortunately taking no pictures as the battery of the camera had expired at the end of the Tiger Park, and eventually took the cable car over the river to get back to the other side.
We ended the day with some more wandering through the streets, going for dinner at a place called "Jiaozi Garden". Jiaozi are a kind of Chinese ravioli so we had some of those, along with my favourite Chinese dish, fried eggs and tomato.
On our last day in Harbin (I was still getting up around 5 AM), I finally found the best thing to have for breakfast on the street, a pancake with minced meat. We went to the Harbin Synagogue, which was a terrible waste of them, and then to the train station. Unfortunately by this point the only tickets available for the D-Train (Dongche, the fastest train available in most areas) were standing room only. We ate lunch at a Chinese noodle place, wasted time by having ice cream at KFC, and then spent a rather uncomfortable 4 hours on the train without a seat.