Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Maho Beach St. Maarten (Airport Beach)

Maho Beach was the only thing I wanted to accomplish while visiting St. Maarten because it is one of the most unique beaches in the world. There's nothing particularly amazing about the sand or the water (although both are surprisingly great and an added bonus). For Maho, it's all about location. And that location is basically on the runway.

Watching the planes fly just barely overhead is a lot of fun. And trying to time a picture of the moving plane behind you while not looking at it is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. But luckily there are quite a few small planes landing and taking off to give you practice.

But the most fun is when the big jets take off.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy SXM Day!

No, not S and M. SXM. It stands for St. Maarten. And today was his day.

So first, some history. Because nobody I asked knew what St. Maarten's Day was celebrating (independence? just a holiday because our island is great? the day Columbus discovered the island? - that last one turns out to be true, but not why the holiday exists) and I thought it was interesting when I looked it up. St. Maarten was an actual person - Martin of Tours (Tours is a city in France, and therefore probably not pronounced how I'm saying it). Anyway, Columbus saw this island on November 11, 1493 (although he never actually landed on it - he really just saw it and claimed it for Spain) and since it was St. Martin's Day (yeah, the holiday already existed in 1493), he named the island St. Martin. And it stuck, even though the Spanish didn't colonize it until after the Dutch and French did. The Dutch spell Martin differently, hence, Sint Maarten.

Anyways, the government forced all retail businesses to close, which they didn't tell us until yesterday at 4:48pm. I was planning on working all day because we had five ships in town. It was supposed to be a very busy day and it was the main reason I flew down this week as opposed to later in the month. But this was what our store looked like today:

The cops drove down Front Street every 5 to 10 minutes to make sure every store stayed closed. They even shut down a lady selling handmade crafts from a table in an alley! I was very frustrated that we couldn't open, but there was definitely nothing I could do about it. So I went on an adventure.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Birthday #34

Today was my birthday!! Yay!

I worked for the first part of the day. In the early afternoon, I decided to go for a run. Because it's my birthday and I felt like running. Also because we learned that our scale has been off by 5 pounds and I fixed it last night so now I want to lose 5 pounds to get back to where I thought I was.

I ran for about 6 miles, from our apartment down through the rambles across the bow bridge down the mall all the way to the pond and gapstow bridge. And back up the east side and around the reservoir. I wanted to go to places that might have pretty colors for Fall. I found some.

The rambles (just south of the castle and above the lake) were ridiculous. Every direction you turned was picturesque.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

110 Seconds in Asia

It only took six months, but we finally made a video from our trip to Asia. We took all our footage and edited it down to just 1 second per day. Check it out:

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Paint Valentine Poem for Isa

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival Guide

This is one of the most unique and awesome things we have ever done. Definitely make plans to be in northern China in January.

Harbin Ice and Snow World

This festival, along with the lantern festival (Yi Peng) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was the main reason we came to Asia. So we had very high expectations. And our expectations were smashed. So cool. Here's a video of just one part of the festival: Ice and Snow World.

I'll try to make this guide simple and concise, because there is a LOT of info to digest.

What: Largest collection of ice and snow sculptures in the world, both in size and quantity.

When: January 5 through the end of February, although these things aren't built in a day, so you can see construction beforehand and various sculptures and buildings/castles are done in December and (weather permitting) last through March. But to be safe, go in January when everything is new and the tourists haven't broken everything yet.

Where: Here's where it gets complicated. The Ice and Snow "Festival" is a collection of lots of ice sculptures and structures strewn all over Harbin, the Songhua River, and Sun Island. Here is a map showing the top five attractions during the Ice and Snow Festival:

Harbin Map
Click the map to enlarge it.
Ok, so your hotel is going to be somewhere near Zhongyang Street downtown (if it's not, switch it so it is). From your hotel, you should be able to walk to everything downtown. You'll need to take a bus or a taxi over to Sun Island though. A taxi will cost 30-50 yuan, depending on your negotiating skills. The bus is 2 yuan and it's a straight shot from the Flood Control Monument to Ice and Snow World or the Snow Expo.

Buses to Ice and Snow World: 88, 118, and 336
Buses to Snow Sculpture Art Expo: 29, 54, 85, 88 and 346

On the Harbin side, you can catch these buses from the main bus station on Youyi Street, a block up Zhongyang from the Flood Control Monument, in between Zhongyang and Zhaolin Park. They go every 10-15 minutes.

Note. This is Bus 88:

Harbin Buses are Packed

You can walk between Ice and Snow World and the Snow Sculpture Art Expo, but keep in mind that it's -25 degrees, so that's a long time to be exposed. A taxi between the two parks is 30 yuan (ish) because they know you're stuck so they charge more.

Which location is which?

Ice and Snow World

The main attraction that you've seen in pictures and the only thing that could make a sane person venture into -25 degree weather on purpose is Ice and Snow World. That's what the video above is. Go at night, since you'll get to see all the lights.

Ice and Snow World Structures

Ice and Snow World Structures

Ice and Snow World Towers

There are also free shows included in your admission price.

Ice and Snow World Dance Show

Ice and Snow World Culture Show

Snow Sculpture Art Expo

Whereas most of the other parks and exhibits focus mainly on ice sculptures, this park is almost entirely snow sculptures. Some are small (like 10'x10' cubes), but others are massive.

Snow Sculpture Art Expo

Snow Sculpture Art Expo Mammoth and Tigers

There are a few sculptures they let you interact with, but most of them are roped off to just look at.

Snow Sculpture Art Expo Christmas House

Snow Sculpture Art Expo Bears

Snow Sculpture Art Expo Love

Snow Sculpture Art Expo Sunset

Zhaolin Park (aka Ice Lanterns)

This is a relatively smaller park, but it's right in the center of town so it's so much easier to access. Zhaolin Park has been the location of the annual ice lantern sculpture festival for over 40 years. This has more intricate ice sculptures than any of the other parks and it was far less crowded when we went.

Zhaolin Park Entrance

Brian in Zhaolin Park

Zhaolin Park Ice Maze

Brisa in Zhaolin Park

Songhua River (aka Winter Wonderland)

We didn't see an actual name for this area, so we nicknamed it the Songhua River Winter Wonderland. This is an area about the size of a carnival staked out ON the Songhua River. (Read: It's slippery because you're on ice.) It's a chaotic fun mess of random rides and attractions, just like an American carnival, except they're all on ice.

Songhua River

Songhua River Ski Chairs

This is probably better experienced in a 30-second video. So here:

Zhongyang Street

This is the main street in town, and restaurants and shopping abound. Throughout the street, you can find various ice sculptures and interactive ice/snow displays (like an ice maze!).

Zhongyang Street Ice Sculptures

Zhongyang Street Ice Sculptures

How much is everything?

Zhongyang Street is completely free. (Yay!)

Songhua River is free to walk around, but you have to pay for each attraction (10-30 yuan, they've got a few slides, a banana boat pulled by a tractor, chairs on skis to rent, bumper bikes and cars, etc).

Zhaolin Park is 150 yuan (about US$25, I think this is slightly overpriced, but still worth seeing.)

Snow Art Expo is 240 yuan (about US$40, pretty dang cool. Mostly worth the price.)

Ice and Snow World is 300 yuan for night, which is any time after noon. (US$50 each, and worth every penny.)

So if you do all five, you're looking at a minimum $115 USD per person.

What should I wear?

Everything you own. It's cold. Think of the coldest you've ever been and then think how much colder you would have been if you were naked and completely exposed. It's a little colder than that.

Wear layers. Lots of layers. Here's what we wore:

Are there any places to get warm?

Yes. You can only stay outside for about 2 hours at a time before you need to come inside and defrost. Harbin knows that so they've provided warming stations in most touristy areas.

Ice and Snow World has the most heated buildings and rest areas, and they also have the free shows to attend which give you some entertainment while you thaw out.

The Snow Sculpture Art Expo is really spread out, so watch the map and plan accordingly.

Zhaolin Park only has one building we found, and although it was warmer than outside, we're pretty sure it was still below freezing inside. It's amenities were the worst of the three parks, but it's the smallest too so you don't need as much time to see everything.

Zhongyang Street has shops all along it for warmth.

The Songhua River has no amenities or buildings, but you're only a block from Zhongyang Street.

Anything else?

Probably, but I can't think of anything right now. Ask me in the comments below or on any of the YouTube videos on my channel and I'll tell you anything you want to know.


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