Harbin Part 2

Trip Start Feb 27, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Heilongjiang,
Thursday, January 16, 2014

The first thing to do on our Harbin agenda was to go to the Siberian Tigers Park. It's an open range type zoo with Siberian tigers and other big cats from all over the world.  We got to drive in a mini bus filled with other tourists and we drove into the enclosures.  The tigers were amazingly tame and placid, walking up against the bus, as if not noticing the 30 tourists yelling and taking pictures. I have never been that close before to animals like that, and it was quite thrilling.  These tigers are massive, beautiful creatures and to be touching distance away from them was certainly spine-tingling. It was a little unnerving at times to see African lions roaming around in the snow---quite obviously not their natural habitat.  I wonder if they're suffering there, how they are treated, and how they have adapted to living so close to Siberia.
There were also ligers (Napolean Dynamite was right, they are awesome!) with their mane like a lion, but stripes like a tiger, and some black panthers, which looked to be shivering in a tree.  Some of the tigers were kept in incredibly small enclosures; some were one to a pen, some shared with a friend or two.  I much preferred seeing the animals wandering freely around the large spaces rather than those in small concrete boxes. 

We were able to walk around on raised walkways so that we could take more time, and see different tigers.  Though we weren't as close to the tigers as we were before, it was also a great way to view the tigers, as we had no time limit, and no competition for spots to see the tigers from other tourists.

St Sophia’s Church is an old Russian church in the centre of Harbin, which was built in 1907.  From the outside, it is clear it is a favourite with a large flock of birds, which was pretty striking to watch when the birds took off.   It was certainly obvious to even me, an architectural novice, that the Church was of Russian heritage, as the style is so different to the Chinese style building.  Inside, it doesn’t appear to be restored; the paint is peeling off the walls and the lighting is very dim.  I found that to be quite stunning, as I am used to seeing most attractions to be kept immaculately restored and painted, so it was quite refreshing to see a Church that was 'aging gracefully’.  The Church housed pictures of Harbin in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, which was really interesting to see.  As with most cities in China, Harbin seems to have developed rapidly.

In the early evening, we travelled to the International Ice and Snow Festival. To see this festival was the whole reason why we had travelled to Harbin, and I was super excited.  We were fully equipped, ready for the challenge of the cold at night.  We had gone to the shops and bought all the heating pads we could find.  Ones for soles of the feet, ones for gloves, for stomachs and backs, ones to keep in your pockets to squeeze.   At night, the lights in the ice sculptures are bright and colourful, showing artistic ice versions of everything from the Taj Mahal to the Roman Colosseum. This exhibition was honestly one of my favourite things I have ever visited. I was just so amazed by the skill and workmanship required to build these huge structures. The Ice Castle there was over 26 meters high, and standing in front of it, as it changed colours and had rainbow effects, it was almost hard to believe that it was real. There was a Disney castle, a Medieval-style castle, and some Chinese pagodas there as well. Some of the larger castles that were able to be entered were super slipperly where they had not laid carpet, so we were very carefully skating on those sections.  They had made some slides going off the castles, too, so we had a lot of fun sitting down and sliding away, though it was the coldest slide I had ever sat on. My friends and I spent 4 hours there walking around, and at some points, going inside for a hot chocolate to warm up. The cold really drains the energy from camera batteries and phones very quickly, so we were warming them up at every opportunity. We found that the power was evaporating too quickly, so when we were inside, we took the heating pads we had bought and stuck them on our phones and cameras. That seemed to do the trick!
It was freezing there; the thermometer said it was -33 degrees Celsius, which is certainly the coldest temperature that I have ever been in. My legs were numb, I had to look down to check that they were still there, it was so cold. It was definitely worth the pain, though, as I was completely enchanted by these ice sculptures.  Later in the night, some music was put on and some dancers entertained us on the stage, so we danced along too, to help warm ourselves up a little, and just for the fun of it.
There is not much more I can write about the festival, I think the pictures speak for themselves. Being at the ice festival is one of the highlights of my Harbin trip, and I am so glad that I travelled all the way there to see it.
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Aunty Kate on

Stunning photos Amy. The sculptures look amazing - and so real!!

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