Australia, here we come!

Australia, here we come!

Tonight, we’re getting on a plane to Sydney and then we’ll travel around Australia. Here is what our trip will look like:

Our 3 week Australia itinerary

  • 4 days in Sydney with a day trip to the Blue Mountains (if the weather is good)
  • 2 days in Adelaide
  • 1 day drive to Cape Jervis
  • 3 days on Kangaroo Island
  • 4 days road trip to Melbourne with a stop at Grampians National Park and a drive along the Great Ocean Road
  • 2 days in Melbourne
  • 4 days in the Red Center to see King’s Canyon, Uluru and Kata Tjuta
  • 2 more days in Melbourne

On the map you can see what distances we’ll cover:

That means this blog won’t be updated for a while but lots of pictures and more details will come when we get back ๐Ÿ™‚

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year

In China, everyone is getting ready for Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. From what I understand it’s the most important holiday here, typically celebrated with family. The celebrations start on New Year’s Eve with a family dinner and fireworks at midnight. Then, every day has different meanings and traditions. My coworker told me the noisiest day is when the God of Wealth is celebrated because everyone wants to make sure they get money by lighting fireworks.

When the new year starts is determined by the lunar calendar, so it’s a bit different every year. Last year it was at the end of January and this year the new year starts February 16. Every year has a zodiac animal assigned to it, there are 12 of them: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Right now we are still in the year of the rooster. From all the decorations it’s hard to miss what will be next.

Fun fact: It’s bad luck when it’s your zodiac year. To avoid this bad luck, all dogs (people born in 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970 …) should wear something red all year, for example red underwear.

Only the first 3 days of the new year are National Holidays but according to the government working day calendar companies close for 7 days: From the day before the New Year to the 6th day of the New Year. 3 days are holiday, 2 days are from the weekend and the remaining 2 days have to be made up by working the Sunday before and the Saturday after the festival.

The traditional gift people give each other are are hรณngbฤos: red envelopes or red packets with money in them. Even WeChat has a red packet function.

According to my colleague, red packets are given from the older to the younger generation and it’s really only for children. Looks like I won’t get any presents then.

What we did in Harbin besides the Ice and Snow Festival

What we did in Harbin besides the Ice and Snow Festival

While we really only came to Harbin for the amazing snow and ice sculptures, our tour also took us to some other places.

Siberian Tiger Park

The Tiger Park is home to several hundred tigers, some lions, ligers and also white tigers. The animals mostly walk around the park freely and seem to have quite a bit of space (at least compared to a zoo). There are two ways to see the tigers. First, we got on a big bus and drove through the huge park, seeing tigers as we went. To keep their hunting instincts alive, live animals, like sheep and chickens are fed to the tigers. We saw lots of feathers and a couple chickens being snatched away. Also, there is a caged in walkway, where you can both see and feed the tigers. We stuck with the chunks of meat though.

Songhua River

The Songhua River is where the ice for the sculptures comes from. We were told that the ice is several meters thick. We went there for the “Winter Swimming” performance, where crazy locals actually jump into the water. It was -25 degrees outside! You can also do all sorts of winter activities on the river like dog sledding or ice skating, some people even drive their cars on the ice.

Central Street

Our hotel was at the entrance of Harbin’s Central Street and we walked along there during both day and night. It’s a pretty street with some cool buildings and of course lots of shops. Because it’s Harbin, there are also some snow and ice sculpture lining the street.

St. Sophia Cathedral

The St. Sophia Cathedral is a 100 year old Russian Orthodox church in Harbin. It is now a museum for architecture and art and a good place to warm up in between the sights.

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

The main reason to travel to Harbin is of course the Ice and Snow Festival. It opens every year from the end of December to the end of February. There is no way I would voluntarily go somewhere so cold if there wasn’t something really impressive to see and we were not disappointed. While my phone stayed in my pocket the entire trip Thorben sacrificed the warmth of his fingers to take some amazing pictures.

Snow Sculptures at Sun Island

During the day we headed to Sun Island to see the huge snow sculptures. Those black dots in the pictures are people, that’s how big the sculptures are ๐Ÿ™‚

Ice sculptures at the Ice and Snow World

The highlight of the trip were the massive, lit up ice sculptures. We got to the Ice and Snow world just as the sun set and the lights went on. I didn’t expect them to be so big, you could even walk up many of them. The sculptures were so impressive, I almost forgot it was -25 degrees ๐Ÿ™‚ Words don’t really do it justice, so see for yourself:

Harbin preparation

Harbin preparation

Yesterday we got back from a weekend in Harbin to see the Ice and Snow Festival. The pictures I had seen made it look like a really cool experience, so it was another to do on our long travel list. We booked a group tour through a German travel agency in Shanghai. My thinking was: A bit of German efficiency and having a warm bus waiting really can’t hurt in the winter.

After watching the weather forecast I was a bit terrified:

The average temperature we had was around -25 degrees. The high during the day was -20 and the lowest -30 at night. That’s definitely be the coldest I’ve ever experienced.

Of course I am a well prepared German and used Christmas to stock up on stuff to keep me warm. Here is what I packed for 2 days:

  • 2 sets of long ski underwear
  • 1 sweater
  • 2 fleeces (with hood)
  • 1 light down jacket (with hood)
  • 1 winter coat (with hood)
  • 1 pair fleece pants
  • 1 pair of insulated snow/ski pants
  • 1 pair of liner gloves
  • 1 pair of thick snow gloves
  • 1 hat
  • 1 scarf
  • 2 pairs of knee high ski socks
  • 2 pairs of thick wool socks
  • 1 pair of snow/winter boots
  • 2 pollution face masks
  • 1 full face mask
  • Warming insoles to stick onto socks
  • Portable hand warmers

With all of that I wore 5 layers on top (undershirt, sweater, fleece, light down jacket, winter jacket) and 3 on the bottom (long underwear, fleece pants, snow pants). Thorben had similar layers, so we looked like this the whole time:

The MVP of the trip were definitely the self warming insoles you can stick onto your socks. I had them on each day for over 9 hours and they were still warm when I removed them. My feet were always the warmest part and never got cold. Same with my head, but that was probably due to the 4-5 layers I had on ๐Ÿ™‚ Overall we didn’t get too cold and also no frostbites, so if I ever go back to temperatures like this- same packing list.

Pictures of the trip will follow as soon as Thorben uploads and sorts through them. It was just too cold to take off the gloves and take pictures with our phones.

 

Crochet charity

Crochet charity

I learned about a crochet charity here in Shanghai through a WeChat group. Clara, the founder, is organizing events where volunteers crochet hats or other items from recycled (sorry: upcycled) wool. They then sell the results and donate the profit to an organization that supports orphans.

Since I have been traumatized in elementary school when I was forced to crochet (and I have two left hands), I am no help when it comes to making the hats. Luckily, Clara is also building a platform to sell the hats and needed some pictures.

I volunteered to be one of the photographers and also did my best to smile with different hats on my head. It was a fun Sunday!

Fun Fact: No Chinese man would ever wear a green hat, since that is the sign that his wife cheated on him.