Harbin ice festival a feast of fancy, lights

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HARBIN, China (AP) — Fairy tale palaces, towering pagodas, and even an Egyptian Sphynx — all carved from ice — are among the sights at this year’s Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which opened Tuesday in northern China.

The annual event, now in its 26th year, pulls crowds from across China and even a few visitors from overseas, drawn to the unique visions of an international roster of sculptors who illuminate their creations with multicolored electric lights encased in the translucent ice.

Tuesday night’s opening ceremony featured a fireworks display, lighting up the sky above the festival’s main site on Sun Island alongside the frozen Songhua River running to the north of Harbin, a metropolis as far north as Toronto that styles itself China’s “ice city.”

Past festival themes have included the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, while perennial motifs include famous Chinese tourist sites such as Beijing’s Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. Tired of looking at the sculptures? Take a ride on the ice slide, but be sure to get out of the way quick as other thrill seekers zip down on you from behind.

Other hazards include elbow-to-elbow crowds at popular times of the night and intense cold temperatures that dipped to 3 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius) on Tuesday amid light snow.

Away from the festival, Harbin also features varied architecture pointing to its close Russian historical links, dumplings and other tasty northern Chinese eats, and the prospect of skiing at Yuquan, about 65 kilometers from the city, and China’s premier Yabuli resort, 200 kilometers (120 miles) to the east.