Off to Harbin via the main Beijing station!!! Fortunately we had Eric with us and he helped us navigate a system that even he thought was complicated!. We went to two counters then a security check. After feeling as though we had been in a rugby scrum we arrived in a huge waiting room and could only imagine what it was going to be like trying to get on the train. We were saved by the guy in the red “trump style” baseball cap. Eric explained that these guys take your bags and get you to the train before the real action starts! All this for 4 dollars and it worked really well.
The train was comfortable; people friendly and about 8 hours later we arrived in Harbin. Pretty flat countryside punctuated by the occasional mountain and large cities with apartment blocks and power plants. Met by our guide David-no booking at hotel but no worries with him there- could have been a problem but we ended up in a huge self-contained apartment. Went to local restaurant David recommended good food- no English and disinterested staff. However the interest increased when a large group came in – offered us cigarettes (no booze unfortunately) and took our photos-literally we appear to be the only euros in the village :-))). Saw the ice festival off in the distance-excited by the anticipation of things to come.