Harbin is a unique city with an assortment of culture, religion, architecture and a turbulent history of war and revolution. The province borders Russia and after the development of the Chinese Eastern Railway in the late 1800’s a flood of Russian immigrants followed and left a distinct impression of the city which is still visible today within the culture and architecture. Russian Orthodox Churches and Russian chocolate shops are dotted around town. Saint Sophia’s is the largest and most impressive of the churches while and my guesthouse was actually a converted church as well.
Another important point that I need to mention was the temperature while I visited here. The average temperature ranged from negative 13 during the day to negative 25 in the evening, so it was pretty damn cold. The reason I braved these ridiculous temperatures was to visit the annual Snow and Ice Festival.
There are at least 3 different venues hosting snow and ice sculptures around town and there are even a few sculptures through the main street. You can climb on some of the ice sculptures, slide down them and even fly down by Zipline. The detail in the snow sculptures was amazing and the some of the sculptures were multiple stories high. To get to the main venue you could walk across a huge frozen river to what normally is an island. The ice here is so thick that the river becomes a road and cars drive over it during the winter months.
It was all great to see but it was extremely cold, whenever I was outside my feet felt like they were frozen although I was wearing two thick pairs of socks and hiking boots. My hands stung from the cold when I would take them out of my pockets for just for a minute to take a photo with my gloves still on and when you first step outside it would even hurt to breath as the air was so cold.
Despite the cold one night we ventured out to celebrate my birthday. I was with a group of American guys and one English guy that were staying at the same guesthouse. After playing some drinking games with beer that ended up costing only 38 cent a can, we hit up a Russian nightclub, drunk some Vodka (Russian of course. Although it was Russian nightclub there were only a few actual Russians, the place was dominated by local Chinese. It was a good night out and a great way to spend my last night in freezing cold Harbin.