It has been many years ago I heard about the Winter Festival of Harbin, and when the opportunity to visit presented itself, I jumped on it. After visiting some of the other parks and the Songhua river, I walk from the Snow Sculpture Art Expo to the west, towards the main venue of the festival. After the extreme cold of the night, I now feel warm inside, and even have to open my jacket to let in some fresh air. When I reach the entrance, I am happy to find few people, and I can enter immediately after buying my ticket. I am thrilled: this is supposedly the highlight of the festival. There still is some time before sunset, so I can see what this expo has on offer even before the lights will be switched on.
Before my eyes, the winter wonderland takes shape. Fantasy castles, with pointy spires, with gates and windows, but without trapped princesses asking for help, tower high above me, all built of transparent blocks of ice. There is an iglo building, which turns out to be a bar with liquors inside. I walk past ice sculptures, past a huge ice drum with circles, past some snow sculptures, to sturdy towers. They could be towers from the Great Wall, but then, the wall itself is missing. One of the towers can be climbed, but there is a long line; and it is only when I realize that people are not waiting to climb the tower, but to climb to the slide where they can whizz down, that I walk up to what is a great vantage point. From here, you can appreciate the magnitude of this park, and the enormous size of the ice buildings.
Down on earth again, the sun is setting, and the last rays are piercing trough delicate ice sculptures in a closed off section, part of a competition. Flags indicate the origin of the sculptors: most are either Chinese or Russian. Now, the lights are switched on, and the park takes on a fairy tale character. Bright yellow, blue, purple, green, white, red: the colours change, each one giving a building a different appearance. A Christmas tree, with ever changing colours. A giant snow Buddha, claimed to be the largest such sculpture in the world. There are many more people now, and when I go up the tower again for the viewpoint, the going is slow. But the views fantastic: below me, black shadows move between the giant, brightly coloured ice structures, looking like a giant candy world. A candy world made of ice.
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