Breakfast at SongBei Shangrila International Hotel
We were at the breakfast dining room at about 8am and there were already many people having their meal. We met the other members of our tour group, they had came down for breakfast at 7 am. Even even after one hour of eating they were still going strong.
It was an international buffet breakfast and the spread was fantastic. Counters after counters carrying all types of food, from Chinese to Italian to Japanese, cooked meat, cold cuts to crepe, waffles and ice cream. At that instant we knew that even after our third morning in this hotel we would not be tired of the food.
Harbin Brewery Museum ( 哈尔滨啤酒博物馆 )
Our first sightseeing destination after breakfast was Harbin Brewery Museum (哈尔滨啤酒博物馆) which was located about 32 km south of the city. Harbin Brewery was founded in 1900 in Harbin and was China’s fourth largest brewery.
It was a relieve when our tour guides told us that in Harbin City the coldness would not be as “freezing” as that of Snow Town or JingPo Lake. All this meant we could wear lesser layers when going outdoor. We were only too glad to stop wearing the ugly looking snow boots and in came our nice looking Timberland winter boots.
Our bus did not bring us directly to the door of the museum as the carpark was at a lower ground. Stepping out of the bus and into the “hot” sunlight we were still “stunned” by the cold air on our faces. Quickly we walked up the steps and walked across a huge promenade to get into a pretty modern-full-of-glass building which was the museum.
The entry ticket into the museum (which was included in our tour cost) was ¥60 per person. The ticket coveredva guided museum walk around, a 5D-sensory show and a cup of beer.
The museum was spread over two levels. The first room on the ground level was a train station, it had a waiting area and a life-size steam engine train. In the train was an onboard cafe with fake customers (mannequins) drinking beer.
After the train exhibit was a mock-up of Harbin famous “Zhong Yang Street”. This streets had the look of the olden days. We would be visiting Zhong Yang street at a later part in the day and were curious how the modern day Zhong Yang Street would be like?
The next exhibit was a mockup of the brewery room/process with horses bringing in the raw materials. We had visited brewer exhibit in Hokkaido before so were familiar with the process so we did not spend much time in this room.
The exhibits on the upper level were not so interesting and we skipped through them very quickly. We were ushered into a small cinema to watch a “beer” making/information show with some special effects (chair rocking, air and wind blowing about). Nothing fascinating at all.
The last stop in the museum was a huge bar where we were invited to take a small glass of alcohol, it did not like beer. The drink was included in the price of the entrance tickets. Yat Thong and I were not keen on alcohol so we left us untouched.
For lunch our guides told us we would be eating our meal at a special place. We went into an “old” restaurant that was not actually very old but “make believe” old. The interior of the restaurant looked quaint. The seats were circular bench with a round table in the center.
Our group were led into a private room that looked “old” too. It was decorated here and there with old newspaper. It also had a big round table and a circular bench. On the table was a rotatable center piece with three submerged big metal woks. The woks were covered by wooden lids and steam could be seen escaping through the gaps between the woks and their lids.
A staff came in with several plates of food (assorted vegetable, buns and meat) and placed them on the table Another female staff came in to stir the food in the metal woks. When all the food were ready we were invited to start our lunch.
On the table were metal mugs for our drink. The mugs were full of dents and “corrosion” spots. Our guides explained that these “mugs” were intentionally created this way to imitate the “oldness” of this place. Somehow we just did not feel comfortable drinking from these old “cups” so we opted for paper cups.
Saint Sophia Cathedral
After lunch was time for more Harbin sightseeings. The next destination was Saint Sophia Cathedral, then the famous Zhong Yang Street and finally the Flood Control Monument of SongHua River. All three were located near to each other.
On the way to Saint Sophia Cathedral we had the opportunity to see Harbin City up close in daylight. Seven days ago we skirted the city and went to Volga Manor in the outskirt, then it was Kabuli, Snow Town and MuDanJiang. Last evening we were back to Harbin but it was already after sunset when we reached the city so we did not get a proper look of the places we passed.
“Bus-ing” into the main part of city, we passed many interesting buildings with “very non chinese” architecture. Since Harbin was once a Russian outpost we supposed the building design had Russian influence.
Saint Sophia Cathedral was another Russian influence architecture and it was indeed beautiful. It had green roofs with gold crosses. The brown brick fascade brightened up when the sun rays hit onto it, making it more stunning. The cathedral was undergoing renovation so it was closed to visitors. Luckily the building was big and tall so it was not badly covered by the construction boarding that circled it.
We left the cathedral before the sky darkened and missed its lightup. Anyway Yat Thong and I had extended our stay in Harbin for three more days/nights so we planned to see Saint Sophia Cathedral again on one of the nights.
Zhong Yang Jia (中央大街)
Zhong Yang Jia was a well known road in Harbin City. “Zhong Yang” meant “Central” and Jia meant “Street”, so it was most likely the main street. Our guide told us that each cobble stone of Zhong Yang Street was a feet deep. It had to be that thick to weather the heavy usage of the road.
In the present day, Zhong Yang Street was no longer accessable to vehicle, it was a pedestrian walk. The street was about 1.2 km from one end to the other. Along the street were plentiful of ice carving exhibits, shops, cafes and restaurants. It was a very “happening” street and even though the weather was extremely cold many visitors and locals were braving the freezing temperature and strolling up/down the street.
Of all the stuffs to eat our guide suggested chestnut icecream. The “best” store was located at the intersection of the “Sixth Street” and Zhong Yang Street. Each stick of icecream costed ¥5 which was a reasonable price. There were a mass of people crowding at the small opening of the ice cream store. So to get the icecream we had to push our way to the front, in China nobody bothered to queue up so if we were too “Singaporean” and polite we would get “NO” icecream. Taste-wise the icecream was averagely nice
Flood Control Monument
A the end of Zhong Yang Street (the end that was nearer to Song Hua River) we crossed a huge road using a big underpass and came up on the other side of the road. It was a huge park next to the river, this was Stalin Park. In the park was huge monument with lots of lightings.
For many years before embankments were built, SongHua river overflowed and killed many people. When the flood was finally controlled, a monument was built in 1958 in remembrance of the victory of flood control and the many deaths that occured before that.
Along the side of the river was a wide promenade and as we strolled down the walkway we passed many snow and ice sculptures. Some were small, others were big, some were nicely done while other looked “uninterpretable”. We walked down the promenade for about 2 km before we hopped onto our bus to go for dinner and then back to our hotel (SongBei Shangrila International Hotel) for the second night.