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Winter travels around China – Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

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Over the christmas period in 2011, with a few friends, I travelled from Beijing to Harbin which is located in southern Heilongjiang Province.  Harbin receives cold winter wind from Siberia. The average temperature in summer is 21.2 °C, and –16.8 °C in winter. Annual lows of -35 °C are not uncommon!!!

We stayed at the Ffour Holiday Hotel which was small and clean and near the Songhua River which flows through both Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces.

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We arrived to minus 22 degrees and had organised a local tour guide and drive (Joe) who was fabulous.  He had a love of the Aussie band ACDC and he sang ‘dirty deeds’  and other songs to us whilst in the warmth of his car.

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To prepare for our travels to Harbin, we each bought ‘puffy jackets’, two sets of gloves, thick socks, beanies, facial masks, thermal leggins and tops, then proper snow outer clothing…AND hot pads to put into our trousers, gloves and tops…and I was still cold walking the streets!!  We did a walk at dusk (4pm in Harbin) along Central Street, and as Harbin is known as Eastern Moscow, the street is floored with square pavers according to a Russian engineers design.

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We visited Saint Sophia Cathedral which was a former Russian Orthodox church located in the central district of Daoli.  A spectacular cathedral build in 1907 after the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway which was completed in 1903.

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The Cathedral was expanded and renovated from 1923 and completed some nine years later. It stands just over 53 metres and its main structure is laid out like a cross with the main hall topped with a huge green tipped dome. Under the bright sun, the church and the square area it lies on is said to look quite like the Red Square in Moscow.

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Our next stop was the Songhua River and some of my friends did a little bit of skating.  There was also horse and carts and dog and cart rides available on the river and a long ice slide for the more adventurous (i.e. those not afraid of having a numb backside).  Me, being an animal lover, was very happy to see the dogs keeping their bottoms warm on little rugs on the ice.

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The main reason we travelled to cold Harbin was to see the famous Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.  We made the decision to go to the Ice Show in the evening to enjoy the lights and were really happy we did.  Again a ‘bit’ cold but worth it.

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This annual festival commenced in 1963 and every year has a different theme.  The sculptures at the 2011 festival were inspired by fairy tales. Folkloric castles, icy pagodas, and oriental palaces are scattered over 603,000 square meters of frosty terrain.

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Officially the festival starts on January 5 every year but you can go earlier to avoid the crowds.

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Swing saws are used to carve the ice into blocks, taken from the frozen surface of the Songhua River. Chisels, ice picks and various types of saws are then used by ice sculptors to carve out large scaled ice sculptures, and worked on all day and night prior to the commencement of the festival.

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The next morning we went to the Snow Sculpture Festival which is located on Sun Island; a recreational area on the opposite side of the Songhua River and features an expo of enormous snow sculptures.

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