The freezing northeast of China has been on my list of places to go since I first moved to China. A friend of mine who I trained together had mentioned the Ice Festival in Harbin during one of our conversations. I had always wanted to go to an ice festival, but never lived anywhere close to one. Since I now lived in China I had the perfect opportunity to visit one. It just took me three years to get there. Flying to Harbin is a lot more expensive than flying to Southeast Asia from Guangzhou. I made the firm decision this year that no matter the cost I would go and visit Harbin.

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Fortunately I had some time in January to go, and my friend Brianne also had time and a desire to go see the Ice Festival. We decided to go in mid-January and spend the weekend there.

We both flew up on a Friday. We got there late in the afternoon. The first thing I experienced in Harbin was the freezing temperatures there. The next thing I discovered was that night fell early in Harbin. By 5:00 in the afternoon the sun had set. Brianne and I felt that it was much later than it actually was.

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We took a taxi to our hostel and experienced the weird traffic and roads of Harbin. At major intersections in the city they had at least five lanes and a stoplight that went in a circle. It was confusing to say the least to us. Once we got to the hostel and checked in we decided to go explore the area around us.

The exploration proved to be cold. We were cold on the walk and had to walk through a shopping center to warm up a bit. We also went to a hot pot restaurant to help warm up as well. Afterwards we went back to the hostel for the night.

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The next day we woke up and decided to head downtown to see some of the Russian architecture in the city. We first went to see Saint Sophia Cathedral and walk around the square there. Saint Sophia was magnificent and was quite distinctly Russian.

While there we saw one of the candied fruit stands and decided to try it. These candied fruits are all over Harbin and was one of the recommended snacks to have in the city. We both chose the one that had a lot of strawberries and what we thought were blueberries. The strawberries were wonderful and tasty. The blueberries turned out not to be blueberries; we’re still not sure what they were but we both agree they had a strange taste. The candied part was really sweet and hard. It was an experience and the strawberries were good.

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As we were eating the strawberries we went to Zhongyang Pedestrian Street. The street has a large collection of Russian-style architecture. Right now during the Ice Festival there are a lot of related stalls and ice sculptures along the street. It was nice to walk down it. It was also nice to pop into random stores and enjoy the heat in those buildings.

From Zhongyang we went towards the river. The river is frozen over and you can walk on it. I’ve never walked on a frozen river and wanted to try it out. I basically learned the importance of shuffling on it. It was fun and neat, but the wind from the river was so blistering cold that it hurt a bit. Brianne and I decided to go and get something to eat and have a hot drink. We found this neat little café to relax and warm up a bit.

From there we wanted to go to Sun Island where the main parts of the Ice Festival were, but we weren’t sure how to get there. Brianne had seen a bridge that went across the river and thought it might be a good bet. It turned out that this bridge has been converted from a rail bridge into a pedestrian bridge. That was really neat to see. Unfortunately, the bridge bypasses Sun Island and goes all away across the river onto the other side. Brianne and I felt defeated by this and decided that we would figure it out later that night and do it the next day. For the rest of the day we would go and experience the Ice Lantern Art Show.

That was really neat. At night the ice sculptures and structures are beautifully lit. It was an amazing sight and experience. Some of the ice sculptures were really intricate and beautiful. Some were strange and modern. Others were just creepy—like the Alien ice sculpture. I also enjoyed getting to sit on an ice throne. It was such a neat experience.

After having figured out how to get to Sun Island, we went on the bus that went straight there from the metro. Once we got to the island we had to search for both sites for the festival. Eventually following the crowds, using smartphones, and logic we found our way to the Snow Sculpture exposition. That was neat Place. Some of the snow sculptures were really impressive in intricacy and in scale. Some of them were simply enormous. That was a sight to be seen. They even had a building reminiscent of an old Chinese general store.

The last stop of the festival had us going to the Ice and Snow World. This took some ingenuity to find, but we got there and enjoyed it. We were able to experience it during the day and in the early evening. Because of that we saw stark differences between what the ice city looks like as just ice and when it was lit up. Again here the scale of the ice city was huge. Some structures were as tall as mid-rise buildings. There were also many neat ice sculptures here. One of the coolest things there was a planet made up of ice spheres suspended from wire cables. It was such an awesome thing to see.

As it was getting colder we decided to head back to the hostel and have dinner.

The next day we just relaxed at the hostel before we needed to head towards to the airport. It was a fun trip. And I was able to cross off another thing on my list of places to visit!

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