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Iceland: Of rarefied vistas

Freezing temperatures, luscious coastlines and a host of natural attractions make Iceland a glorious vacation destination – but, being home to nature’s vagaries, Iceland isn’t for the faint-hearted

Iceland conjures images of frozen wilderness, still glaciers, surreal Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and an expedition-like environment. On the hindsight, it must also be said that Iceland is not for everyone – at least not for the faint-hearted. Iceland is and forever will be for those who travel in search of experiences that defy stereotypes. Iceland is an all-season destination and every season offers its own secrets, discovered by those who dare to venture into the lesser-known.

Iceland has earned the epithet of 'The Land of Fire and Ice', courtesy the geological presence of awe-inspiring glaciers and some of the planet's most active volcanoes. Here, the ethereal play of mother nature's light and darkness, characterised by long summer days (24-hour sunshine), are compensated by short winter days with barely a few hours of sunshine.

The Icelandic coastline is all of 4,970 km and the country's exclusive 200 nautical-miles special economic zone makes it feasible to drive along the island's mesmerising coastal route. Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, soaring to 2,119 m (6,852 ft) above sea level, is a favourite with visitors.

The sense of space and freedom will baffle you, especially with 80 per cent of Iceland being uninhabited. There are countless fjords and glaciers, and the landscape is conspicuous by waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes and one-of-a-kind lava fields. The most intriguing aspect of Iceland's landmass is that it is growing by 5 cm every year.

Of History & Landscapes

The Icelandic language, which dates back to ancient times, has bred a rich literary legacy. Did you know that in terms of per capita book publishing, Icelandic authors publish infinitely more books than any other country? What is more, for contemporary connoisseurs of culture, Iceland's music scene is booming, their film industry is at par with the best of the world and Icelandic design is gradually evolving on the world scene.

Not many are aware that Iceland is also one of the safest countries in the world. Here, the crime rate is low and when it comes to medical care, Iceland is simply the best. However, a word of caution – be careful of nature's vagaries, especially while travelling, since the weather can change dramatically in minutes. While Iceland is beautiful, it can also be unsympathetic and unpredictable.

Another thing to bear in mind is that it is extremely important to let someone know about your travelling schedule well in advance. To facilitate hassle-free travel through Iceland, you can shoot your travel plan to and also ensure that you leave a plan behind with your local host. Most travellers to Iceland are armed with maps, a compass and GPS, which can be particularly useful in secluded areas.

For ice climbing and hiking on glaciers, Iceland offers 4,500 sq m of glacial terrain. Glacial climbing is a year-round phenomenon and the Sólheimajökull and Svínafellsjökull neighbourhoods are much preferred by visitors. Day trips are also available from Reykjavík. An increasing number of visitors to Iceland also opt for driving expeditions.

While in Iceland, the first thing on your mind should be to save the Emergency number, 112. There is also a very helpful mobile application, the 112 Iceland app, that makes it possible for local authorities to locate you if there is trouble.

Northern Lights & Photography

The magnificent Aurora Borealis draws inspiration from the Roman goddess of Dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name Boreas, for the northerly wind. Every year, from September to April, Iceland is abuzz with activity for this one-of-a-kind light show.

Northern Lights is a natural phenomenon and it occurs when the sun's rays intermingle with the Earth's atmosphere in the magnetic field. This causes energy to be released, which leads to unusual luminous green stripes being cast on the sky above.

On clear wintry nights, visitors are offered trips to view this spectacle. Although there is no guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights during your trip to Iceland, there are higher chances of sightings in locales that are away from populated areas. In the Icelandic countryside, there are hotels that offer Northern Lights wake-up service call.

As far as photography equipment is concerned, most nature photographers make it a point to carry a tripod and a cable release, to escape the anxiety of 'Shaken Photo' syndrome. Unfortunately, if you don't come with a cable release, it would be wise to set your self-timer on two or ten seconds shutter delay.

Veteran photographers are unanimous in their opinion that there just isn't any single setting that will guarantee a great shoot. With manual options, you can experiment with combinations and exposures. Past photography experts to Iceland believe that if the ISO setting hovers between 800-3200, the Aperture between f/2.8-f/5.6, and the Shutter speed between 15 seconds to 30 seconds, one can rest assured of a good capture.

Gastronomic delights

Iceland's wilderness is such that it supports the cultivation of vegetables; and, since there is no paucity of fresh water, a variety of fish-based menus are ready to offer a truly sumptuous gastronomic experience.

Today, Iceland is a name to reckon with in Europe's gastronomy landscape with exciting new recipes, which the outside world can't stop devouring. Icelandic chefs conjure mouth-watering delicacies and have, over the past few decades, been very innovative with the use of traditional ingredients. Needless to say, they draw inspiration from the now established Nordic Cuisine, where seasonal ingredients are the most sought after culinary custom.

For the Icelandic folk, staple food comprises freshly caught fish. Some of the world's biggest fishing grounds are located close to the coast of Iceland. Fishing has been the cornerstone of Iceland's economy for centuries and continues to be the lifeline of this amazing nation. No wonder that the streets of Reykjavik and the countryside are choc-a-bloc with speciality fishing restaurants.

Iceland is also famed for its lamb. It is a most common sight in rural Iceland to witness herds of sheep grazing in the open countryside. Icelandic lambs are in huge demand worldwide and praised by celebrity chefs globally.

The street food scene in Iceland is pretty upbeat and Iceland's signature snack is the Pylsa (hot dog). Just utter, 'Eina Med Ollu', to a roadside vendor and you will be served hot dog audaciously topped with crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet mustard and Icelandic Remoulade sauce.

For those who dare to experiment with native culinary traditions, traditional Icelandic menu is easily available. Icelandic folk still savour age-old recipes like smoked fish, fermented sharks and pickled Ram's testicles.

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