Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Venturing to the Ice City

If you haven't noticed, it's cold outside! No, not just cold, frigid, bitter. Chicago has been hit by a cold snap, and I for one am not thrilled about it. But I solace the fact that I don't live somewhere like Harbin, China--better known as the Ice City.

The name alone tells it all--this place is cold. In fact, it can reach as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. I can honestly say I am happy I live in Chicago, a place where the average monthly high in January is not 9 degrees. And yet this city appears to have some interesting quarks that even the sanest person would venture to see. One being the International Ice and Snow Festival held every January since 1985. The sculptures are created using a range of technology, from modern lasers to traditional ice lanterns. Other activities other than touring the sculptures include alpine skiing and winter swimming, as well as ice lantern exhibitions.

Apart from the ice festival, there is plenty more to see in Harbin. It is a city known for its architecture--a mix of Russian and European. There is a free museum where one can view all the various styles--Zhong Yang Street. It houses one of the main business areas, as well as showcases the international focus of the city. Baroque and Byzantine buildings, Russian bakeries, French fashion houses, American eateries and Japanese restaurants line the street. Fiest your eyes.

The local cuisine is largely Russian influenced, especially their bread--lie ba. Their sausages are worth trying as they have more of a European flavor than other Chinese sausages.

Yes, the cold definitely makes this city less than desirable to visit. But given the chance--and the right outerwear--one may find Harbin a pleasant destination. Plus, their summers are fairly warm, so if the cold is really that much of a deterant, head there in early August for their music festival.

Sure, the cold is rough. But if I had architecture and ice like Harbin, I'd be outside a lot more--well, maybe only a couple extra minutes.

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