3A Real Ice Palace (The St. Paul Winter Carnival)
The Fantasy Location:
Ice palaces litter the popular media, from various video games to that one James Bond movie with the invisible car to the residence of the White Witch of Narnia.
The AC is surprisingly shitty.
In reality, however, such structures are more or less impossible to build. The logistics of the process would be insane, and unless you live in a South Pole level climate you'd soon wake up to find that the leak in your roof is the roof.
The Real Thing:
St. Paul Almanac
If this were held in the Southwest, that entire thing would be made of crystal meth.
Try not to focus on the yellow spots.
Or, you could go to St. Paul, Minnesota, a city that builds a new ice palace every damned year.
While Minnesota serves an important role as the chamber pot that prevents Canada from spilling all over the U.S., you might think the state traditionally features fairly little to be impressed by. You'd be wrong. Every now and then, the proud people of St. Paul roll up their sleeves and produce the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, complete with a palace made of huge blocks of ice. Here are some awesome 360-degree panoramas of the project by photographer Ed Fink:
The festival was started as a way of getting back at a reporter who described the city as "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation" in 1885. Therefore, it has its roots firmly set in the healthy, time-honored American tradition of right back at you, you bastard.
"This isn't a frozen hellscape. See? We have ice castles!"
Over the years, the town has built an elaborate mythology around the festival, complete with enough heroes, villains and magical happenstances to make most fantasy novels -- and some religions -- pale in comparison. The whole thing revolves around two elemental regents and their houses called the Royal Family (of ice) and the Vulcan Krewe (of fire). According to legend, the festival exists to appease them and thus enable the transition to summer.
There were also some ice peasants, because of course.
And where there are kings, there must be castles. That is why, each and every year, the townspeople painstakingly construct an elaborate palace for their royalty to cavort in. The beautifully lit buildings are expertly put together from ice blocks from nearby lakes. When the palace is finished, it plays the central stage to the numerous ice-themed happenings throughout the festival. Oh, and they vary the design most every year, because it would just be too easy otherwise.
This thing is held together by the frozen corpses of ice serfs.
The festival has continued without interruption since 1946 and continues to house some of the most spectacular works of ice art and architecture the Canadian jet stream has to offer. And after it is over, the palace is dismantled, as if it had never been there. Until it's time to do it all over again.
Minnesota Historical Society
We're not sure if the guy in the middle is thrown in the air by the crowd or catapulted from the tower by the Winter King.
2The Gargantuan Cave of Wonders (Majlis al Jinn)
The Fantasy Location:
The Cave of Wonders from Aladdin is a vast, magical cave hidden deep in the desert. It contains illusions of great riches and an unassuming old lamp that would probably look a lot more decent if you gave it a little rub.
Of course, what makes it something that exists in a Disney cartoon instead of real life is the sheer scale of the thing -- you can see the tiny Aladdin scaling the cave.
The Real Thing:
"Oh God, I suddenly have to poop."
Majlis al Jinn, translating to "The meeting place of the Jinn," is the ninth largest cave in the world. Like its fairy tale counterpart, it is accessible only through a tiny opening in the desert above. It is also commodious enough to accommodate a whole magical treasure, or an entire graveyard of jumbo jets. What we're saying is it's big.
Gatis Pavils, Wondermondo
Really, really, really big.
Seriously. That tiny speck in the middle is a man.
Although regrettably lacking in sentient giant cat heads, the entrance of Majlis al Jinn more than makes up for it by not having any sissy stairs or, for that matter, footholds. The only ways in or out are tiny holes on the roof, some 400 to 500 feet from the floor. You are only allowed to climb down via rope if you are an experienced spelunker or easily duped by shifty-looking Grand Viziers.
You're also required to have a minimum of two musical numbers memorized.
And while you're down there, the standard magical cave rules apply: Don't touch anything. The reason for this, however, is less fairy gold and more common sense: Due to the cave's spectacular drop, masses of dead animals have found their final resting place in the belly of this beast.