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If you're looking for a vacation that is different, not just suntanning on a beach or skiing down a mountain, consider Iceland, the Land of Extremes.

Iceland is the home of some of the most beautifully breathtaking sights in the world. From glaciers to geysers to volcanoes to lava fields, Iceland may be a dream come true for any traveler looking for something very different yet extremely beautiful and memorable.

Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean to the east of Norway and the Faeroe Islands and to the west of Greenland. It is called the Land of Fire and Ice.

Reykjavik, which is on the southwest coast, is the capital of Iceland. The name means "bay of smoke." The reason for this is that the first settlers arrived there, steam was rising from a hot spring. Reykjavik is a city with museums, government buildings, and the University of Iceland. There are restaurants and evening entertainment. It is the most populated city on the island.

The inner part of the country is virtually uninhabitable with its lava fields and icecaps. Volcanoes cover 12 percent of the island, and 11 percent of the island is covered by lava and lava fields. There are geysers that regularly spurt boiling water 100 feet into the air. It is quite mountainous. There is more geothermal energy in Iceland than anywhere else in the world. In fact, more than 30 percent of Iceland's energy comes from geothermal sources. This land of wonders is only 21 percent habitable. Yet, as unwelcoming as all of this might sound, the beauty it provides the traveler is incomparable and worthy of investigation.

Iceland has cool summers and mild winters. The average temperature in summer is 54 to 64 degrees. The average winter temperature ranges from 20 to 31 degrees. From the end of May until the beginning of August there are nearly 24 hours of perpetual daylight; there are 24 hours of perpetual darkness from mid November until the end of January. The Northern Lights can often be seen in the fall and early winter.

Icelandic is the national language and hasn't changed much since it was spoken by the Norse. English and Danish are widely spoken and understood, also. There is a 99% literacy rate.

In Iceland, surnames aren't used often. A man's last name would be his father's first name with "sson" after it. A woman's last name would be her mother's first name with "dottir" added to the end. This is the reason Icelandic phone books are listed alphabetically by first names!

Iceland's famous foods are also unusual. The national food in Iceland is skyr. It is made from non-homogenized milk and tastes something like yogurt. It's eaten for breakfast and dessert. Fish is very popular, as well as most meats. Some unusual delicacies include ram's testicles pickled in whey (hrutspungur), sheep's head (complete with the eyes) cut in two and boiled (svio), sheep blood pudding packed in suet and sewn up in the diaphragm or stomach of a lamb (bloomor), puffin (tastes like calves liver), whale steaks, seal meat, and whale blubber. Little food is wasted in Iceland.

There is freedom of religion in Iceland. A specific amount of money is deducted from the income tax of people over 16, and is given to the cemeteries and churches. If a person does not belong to a church, the money is given to the University of Iceland instead.

Icelanders participate in swimming, soccer, camping, skiing, skating, river-rafting, hunting, fishing, hiking, horse riding, golf, cycling, handball, and wrestling. Icelanders swim throughout the year in pools heated with geothermal energy. Students are taught to swim in school. The midnight sun allows golfers the opportunity to tee off at midnight. Boxing is illegal in Iceland, however, they have their own form of wrestling called the glima where the wrestler tries to throw his opponent bodily or trip him. Glima is more about skill than strength and weight.

Occasionally a polar bear that floated on drift ice from Greenland may be spotted. Reindeer were imported in the 18th century. Sheep, horses, cattle, poultry, and pigs were also brought to Iceland. There are at least 70 species of whale off the coast of Iceland. There are more than 70 species of birds and 800 species of insects found in Iceland.

In Iceland, where petty theft merits front-page headlines, police do not carry guns and parents leave their children in prams on the street while they shop in stores. They even let prisoners go home on public holidays.

Tourist attractions in Iceland include:
1. Thingvellir: The most significant historical sight in Iceland. Iceland's first national park and home of the beginnings of Iceland's government.
2. The National Museum: Museum featuring the best of the Norse culture and Icelandic history.
3. Gulfoss Waterfall: This is Iceland's star attraction. The river Hvita drops 32 meters in two falls.
4. Great Geyser
5. Lake Myvatn: In Northern Iceland, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It sits on a spreading zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and is surrounded by volcanic and geothermal features.
6. Althing Building: In Reykjavik, the home of Iceland's present government.
7. Lystigarour Akureyrar Botanical Gardens: Opened in 1912 and has every species of plants native to Iceland.

Unpolluted environment? Geothermal swimming when it's 40 degrees---below zero? A 99% literacy rate? Golf at midnight? Glacier climbing? Rams testicles? When planning your next vacation, think about Iceland for a vacation unlike any other.