|After an uneventful flight two weary people arrived after a 17 hour flight in Harb0in, China. It was snowing. The temperature has risen to -5 C. Comfortable. We were very grateful to be met by Sam, a charming young man and Harvey our driver for our stay.
We were delighted to see what was termed a 'little' multicolored ice sculpture of an onion domed church. We watched and spotted a blue and green archway at an intersection.
It was a 40km. drive into the city. At the city's entrance another 'little' sculpture of a fort greeted us. The walls were yellow blocks 5 feet high. Another onion domed church was on the other side. We stopped to take pics. It was close to midnight when we arrived at the St. Sophia Ibis Hotel. We registered and settled in.
Breakfast was a Chinese buffet with some western foods thrown in. We enjoyed rice porridge, veggie fried rice, steamed cabbage, sliced long beans, seaweed, egg drop soup, bean sprouts, bean curd filled dumplings, steamed white and cornmeal rolls and green tea.
At 10.30a on the 8th Jan. Sam picked us up. Outside on the street people were sweeping snow off the street with Asian fan-shaped brooms. Others were shovelling piles of snow into trucks. It was a mild winter wonderland with snow still falling in big soft flakes.
Harvey drove across the Songa River stopping at Sun Island. Sam bought our tickets and showed us to the entrance telling us to go straight and turn left to the lake. He gave us 1 1/2 hours to explore. But which left turn. The snow sculptures were beautiful. At the frozen lake we found a 30m high Taj Mahal. Beside it was another 30 - 40 m high 80 - 90 m wide sculpture including a lady blowing a flute. There was also a tubing slide on it in high demand. At the end of the lake we found a ice block red-lanterned tearoom and stopped for a hot cup of tea. After we made our way back through more sculptures to the car. We had been gone 2 hours and Sam was getting worried.
From here we went to the Siberian Tiger Park. Sam took us in and together we took the tiger painted bus tour through the park were over 1000 tigers roam free. Mostly they seemed to be white Siberian tigers crossed with Bengal tigers....half white, half orange and striped. Later we walked the overhead walkway above cages of tigers. There we saw large Siberian tigers...white and being fed by tourists...we declined. We saw a jaguar, a black panther wearing his dusky brown winter coat, a liger...a cross between a tiger and a lion (scruffy brown winter-coated lions had prowled freely in an enclosure we drove through.). We saw a black puma, a shy leopard and some young tigers.
Lunch was next. A pork, potato and onion hot pot we shared with Sam and Harvey. Cocoons baked and cramy were sampled along with pickled garlic. A seaweed, long bean, carrot and napa cabbage mixture cooked in garlic, ginger, and soy sauce was delicious. Gord tried a warm Snow beer.
By now it was after 4p. Harvey now drove to the Ice and Light Festival. As we neared, our excitement mounted! Soon we could see green and red lighted trees 'planted' for the festival. Sam gave us a brief history as we walked across the parking lot. He bought us tickets, told us were to meet and took us to the entrance. We went in alone. And what a spectacular vista! Church-themed sculptures in pinks, reds, blues, greens, oranges, yellows and purples were everywhere! Some were huge, others small. Some changed color, some didn't. Turquoise bridges with white undersides attracted us. Finely sculpted smaller sculptures of horses, fish, butterflies, dragons etc. lined walks. The temple of Heaven attracted us and behind it we found another snowpark filled with snow sculptures. Staircases of glass-like ice cubes took us from one level to another. A train chugged through. A reindeer (Rudolph ?), horses and sled dogs pulled visitors in fur-lined sleighs. Our 1 1/2 hours became 2 as we wandered through the magical wonderland snapping pictures. When we found ourselves by the exit, we left and easily found Sam. We declined a warming cup of tea. We'd been over long.
Two sleepy people were driven back through the city to the hotel. We were shown were to get some noodle soups or possibly spring rolls and left at the hotel with a promise to see us tomorrow at the same time. After a short rest we walked a slippery block to a restaurant specializing in beef noodle soup. With the help of a German fellow married to a Chinese lady we ordered 2 bowls of soup. We walked back and collapsed into our bed for a good night's sleep.