Residents of Uppsala in eastern Sweden have plowed into the town's first Ice Festival (Isfestivalen) with great enthusiasm, and with a few more days of sub-zero entertainment to come there's still plenty of winter wonder to enjoy.
Sten Bernhardsson, Uppsala's Cultural Director, suggests visitors and residents alike "seize the opportunity and enjoy the cultural city of Uppsala in the winter."
The grand opening of the new Ice Festival certainly made this an easy task.
If the frosty transformation of City Park wasn't enough to entice people out of their homes, free cinnamon buns, hot chocolate and coffee were on hand to warm the fingers and the soul. During the festival's opening weekend, residents and visitors swarmed to the park and its surroundings to see what was in store.
Ice sculptors from all over Sweden came to chip away at their trade in City Park, creating masterpieces from massive ice-blocks, cut from the Torne River in Northern Sweden.
These two-metre high sculptures, ranging from the traditional art subjects (from a human bust to a busty human) to the extremely abstract (“A Star is Born Through a Space Shell") are all lit up at night so they can be admired around the clock.
Visitors could also watch the artists at work, many of whom contribute to Sweden's famous Ice Hotel near Kiruna in northern Sweden. For onlookers curious enough to break the ice, some artists even fielded questions as they worked.
“What happens if you make a mistake?” is the most common inquiry, according to Västervik artist Benny Ekman.
“I don't make mistakes.”
The opening of the festival also coincided with the great Viking Run (vikingarännet) – an annual 80 kilometre marathon on ice skates which follows a thousand year old transportation route from Viking times.
Around 2,500 racers dashed across the frozen waters linking Uppsala and Stockholm this year, the winners crossing the finishing line in 2 hours 51 minutes. Quite a way to spend a winter afternoon.
For the youngsters, the Swan Pond by the iconic pink Uppsala Castle is once again open for free ice skating, restoring a tradition from the nineteenth century.
The festival's opening weekend featured teams from Uppsala and Västerås universities facing off in a game of bandy, a popular winter sport in Sweden perhaps best described as football on ice skates. The second weekend of the festival will afford visitors the chance to witness ice-skating demonstrations on Swan Pond.
And with temperatures remaining well below freezing in Uppsala this week, the sculptures are in no danger of melting before they are taken down when the festival closes on Sunday, February 20th.