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This walk includes popular areas in the Harbin city centre, a walk across the frozen Songhua River, and the "Snow Expo" snow sculpture venue. The track distance includes a return gondola ride across the river.
Carved stone information tablets in the city streets disclose the following:
"With construction on the Middle East Railway at the beginning of the 20'th Century, Harbin grew rapidly and became an important city in the Far East. Then there were nearly 300,000 foreigners from more than 20 countries working and living in Harbin, and Harbin was referred to as "Moscow of the East", and "Small Paris in the East". However, in January 2019, only several other foreigners were seen at Harbin over a three day period.
Walking along the river prominade and seeing the playfull activites out on the river ice reveals the winter spirit of Harbin.
Walking across the river ice to the north Bank gives a taste of arctic outdoor conditions, expecially if windy. One should be properly dressed, with heat packs ready to deploy promptly at first signs of discomfort. There is a warm gondola station with toilets constantly in sight on the north bank, and there are usually other people nearby during the daylight crossing.
The snow sculpture venue ("Snow Expo") is amazing and the hours before sunset provide the best light angles for photography. New competition enties are always being prepared throughout the seaason, while the older ones slowly decline from the elements.
The return gondola is recommended for views of Harbin and the south bank river activity around dusk, while the city is illuminating.
It's easiest to view the Wikiloc track using the "Open Street" or "Open Cycle" Maps, available in Wikiloc. The default Google Map doesn't work in China or is not properly geo-referenced (apparently an unresolved issue between Google and China). There is also a Heliongjiang Province free Wikiloc map download, which facilitates navigation and the recording of new Wikilocs in the Province.
Easy taxi drop-off at this location. The square is an iconic landmark for Harbin City visitors, with an old European charm, and also has Japanese and Russian architectural influences.
Sophia Church, established in 1907, is representative of Byzantine church architecture in China. The associated New Synagogue (Jewish New Hall) was established in 1918 and is the biggest Synagogue in China. There was a significant Jewish population in Harbin from the end of the 19'th Century to the middle of the 20'th Century. In 1997 the Government of Harbin City repaired the Church for its protection and restored its historical features. At the end of 2018 the interior of Sophia Church was again closed for renovations.
In the SE corner of Sophia Square, the Church entrance area (closed for renovation - Jan 2019) and an old "Russian Store" is located here.
An interesting museum with free entry. Art post cards for sale. Mao is also on prominent display in the Museum.
Delicious inexpensive local treat. One is good for a meal.
A prominent one-level historical building is the top station for escalator access to an underground mall. This is a welcome warm up in winter, and the underground mall extends all the way to the main pedestrian thoroughfare of Harbin, emerging back to street level right beside a popular and reasonably-priced coffee shop and bakery.
Zhongyingdajie Street is pedestrian-only, very busy and interesting, with lots of historic architecture, a busy book shop (Mandarin titles only) with a Japanese restauraunt on 2'nd level, ice sculptures, a popular Russian Restaturant, and many Russian shops. Renowned Harbin sausage and ice cream can be found.
"The Modern" is a popular Russian restaurant with large dining rooms on three levels. Reservations are not taken, if its full can put your name on the waiting list.
There is a popular bookshop across the Street from the Russian Restauraunt (Mandarin titles only), and a Japanese restauraunt on the second level of the bookshop.
After dark the pedestrian street is illuminated and busy; so its interesting to return this way after dark.
Ice and snow sculptures. Civic monuments. Illuminated after dark.
Track follows a broad promenade along the top of the river bank. Townspeople enjoy lots of fun winter activities here.
We walked across the frozen river and returned at dusk on the gondola. The gondola didn't cost much more than a return taxi fare, and was more scenic and interesting.
The river crossing has many broad patches of clear black ice, where one can see deep down into the river. However, at the end of December (2018) the ice was at least 1/2 meter thick and supported large trucks. Many walk across to visit the snow sculpture venue on the north side.
The river crossing should be prepared for as if for an arctic trek, even if its only a short distance with a warm gondola station constantly in sight on the north bank. This requires adequate clothing, hat, gloves, ear protection, and heat-pad backup.
Broad walking paths and roads lead to the snow sculpture venue. Little of no car traffic.
There is an entrance fee at peak season. It's best to go in late afternoon to get the best sunlight angles on the snow sculptures.
WC location. There is also a WC at the upper level of the North Bank Gondola Station, and there may be others in the area.
A bit farther to the North is the first major snow sculpture, a scale replica of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. That is the place where the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Emperors worshiped heaven and prayed for a good harvest.
A very impressive, massive snow art undertaking. The light in the two hours before sunset was ideal for photos. The snow field in front of the sculpture is a very popular play area.
Boarding the gondola at dusk for return to downtown Harbin. Toilets on 2nd floor (departure level).
Good views from the gondola of the evening activities along the south river ice, and the city beginning its night illuminations.
The gondola off-loads into a warm shopping complex with food options and Russian stores.
This route retrurns after dark along the south bank river prominade, to the pedestrian street for dinner at the Russian Restauraunt (no wait for seating on the day). The saved track was cut short due to mobile phone camera freeze-up, and cold-shortened battery life.