Cold comfort

If the cost and the cuisine - burnt sheep's head, anyone? - don't put you off, the attractions of Iceland are priceless.

Going to Iceland is like travelling to another planet; the mountains are grander, the geysers more startling, the sky catches fire and the people speak a language spoken nowhere else on earth, while all kookily resembling Bjork. Going to Iceland also costs about as much as an outer space mission, yet is worth every cent.

So make the decision your children will never go to university, then set off on your Icelandic adventure. A perfect place to begin is at the Blue Lagoon (Grindavk 240) - a vast geothermal pool of mineral-enriched water carved out of a lava field about a 45 minute drive from downtown Reykjavik (or 20 minutes from the airport). Here, according to one brochure, for ISK3300 ($60) one can "soak in effluent" to one's heart's content. If you're not put off by the thought of various pollutants seeping into your every crevice, you'll find it's a fabulously relaxing place to dance under a waterfall, slop some silica mud on your face or simply laze around. Its soothing powers are so amazing, in less than an hour you will be totally at ease with the vast sums of money this land will have you hemorrhaging.

Which is about the time you'll realise that for the price of just one of your kidneys (ISK6600/$121) you simply must go on a guided tour to see the Northern Lights. Reykjavik Excursions Kynnisferir (re.is) will take you on a journey where, if you're lucky, you might just spy this wonder of nature (otherwise it is a very expensive bus ride through the dark, even for Iceland).

Watch out for a quite on-the-edge tour guide who spends the first 20 minutes of the drive repeatedly explaining why it isn't his fault if you don't see the lights (and makes one wonder just how many angry tourists have thrown bricks through his window in the dead of night).

Yet, if conditions are right, you'll see tornadoes of green fire burst across the sky that are then delicately swept away by angel-like footprints, and realise this is worth far more than the price of admission.

Buoyed by this exceptional experience, take a second mortgage out on the house and go on the Golden Circle tour - a volcano, waterfall and hot springs extravaganza for a once-in-a-lifetime price of ISK6600 ($121).

The highlight is undoubtedly the Strokkur geyser in the Haukadalur Valley town of Geysir that guarantees to spurt once every four minutes. This normally occurs while you are deeply entrenched in a conversation about whether that really might have been Bjork with the big sunglasses and slightly mad hair in the back of the bus - so that you have no other option but to yelp in quite a childlike fashion, while running backwards over the slick ice, quite seriously risking falling and breaking a hip for fear that the 20 metre-high spurt of hot water might shower down and burn your entire face off. Of course, by the time you collect yourself enough to fumble for your camera, the water spout will have disappeared and left you destined to repeat this process over and over again until you are a nervous wreck whose only option is to head to the gift shop to buy a postcard of the geyser instead, for ISK100000000000000000000 (OK, this price might be a bit exaggerated).

If, after all these mind-boggling natural attractions you have not yet declared bankruptcy, thankfully eating your way through your last few cents in Iceland is a piece of pickled-ram's-testicle cake. Although you'll have to look outside downtown Reykjavik for traditional Icelandic food such as this or the infamous putrid shark (complete with that delectable scent of ammonia) as many of the central restaurants unfortunately now cater for the bland tastes of the tourist.

So head to the BSI national bus station (Vatnsmyrarvegur, Reykjavik) if burnt sheep's head is what you desire. For ISK1600 ($29) you will be served a sawn in half, boiled head (wool having been removed by flame torch) smiling up at you next to a helping of mashed potatoes and turnips. Wash it down with the cheapest beer you can find (Viking generally retails at ISK520/$9 a pint) and remember not to tip.

Yes, you read correctly. Do not tip. As well as all the mind-boggling things to see and do, Iceland has one other saving grace for its high cost: tipping is never expected. In fact, at some places, it's frowned upon. So spend those last few kronas on a snack bag of smoked haddock for the road or any other tasty treat that makes you smile. For, in Iceland, money really does buy happiness.

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