Vogafjós Cowshed & Goðafoss: Waterfalls & Milk of the Gods in Iceland

Holy cow! I know this sounds funny, but the highlight of my day is going out to eat at the Vogafjós Cowshed Restaurant. Yeah, that’s what it says…..cow shed….as in a barn….yeah, eat in a barn. We spent the day in the Mývatn Lake area in anticipation of just this fine dining moment. After dinner we’re heading east towards Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods. 

You may know that we have not gone out to eat at all on this Iceland trip, save one dinner in Reykjavik. Now, you might say that’s a mistake because we are missing out on tasting Icelandic cultural foods, but I would argue that is not necessarily the case. We have been camping and cooking our own dinners, and have made sure to purchase foods that are, at least what I would assume, local type foods. Mind you, they aren’t the cheapest foods either, but that’s okay. For instance, we have bought preseasoned chicken, delicious lamb chops, smoked lamb, various types of fish, skyr and so on. 

For a group of 7 travelers eating out in Iceland is just prohibitively expensive, so we really have to do it this way. However, on the Icelandair magazine I saw an article about this Vogafjós Cowshed restaurant and I thought, by golly, I want to go there!

The reason why I am excited to eat out here at Vogafjós is not because of the food, as much as because of the milk. This restaurant is in a barn, and you actually get to drink milk straight from the cows! Now that sounds hilarious! And believe it or not, all the food in this place is from local sources or straight off their own farm!

Now just so you know, if you want to enjoy the fresh milk you don’t have to eat in the restaurant. You can simply show up at milking time and you can get a taste of the milk of the gods. 

The cows are lucky, because they actually get to be out in the pasture during the day. 

Look how beautiful the pasture is! The milk must be delicious from these cows that are so lucky to have such a beautiful home!

Whoa….has this cow not heard of the women’s liberation movement…..they have her wearing this huge brasierre….a cow bra….I have never seen one of these before, have you?

We check out the pasture behind the restaurant. 

At 5 pm they bring all the cows into the barn, and they have a hay day.

Oh look, there’s Jasmine and Tristan just behind the window that overlooks the barn! We got the second best seats in the house, lucky for us, just on the other side of the window!

Our table is located right next to the window that overlooks the barn. We got here a bit early, and none too soon, because there was a long line up just after we arrived. 

And no, the answer is no…..it does not smell like cow pies at our table!! Iceland has amazingly pure air, so maybe their cows magically emit pure air, too. 

Hopefully the cows don’t let loose out the back end, though…..ish…..that cow has raised its tail….Tristan is in shock at his fine dining experience in a barn! 

You’ve got to notice the lovely Icelandic sweaters that are hanging on the wall! We aren’t here to shop though. We order up our meals, which I guess I don’t need to tell you that they are delicious. 

David orders smoked Arctic char.

Yeah, this is my dinner….I guess I will be hungry when I leave from here…..unless I steal some of David’s meal. It’s actually an appetizer. 

Jasmine and Tristan feast on Icelandic lamb chops! Melt in your mouth!

As we are eating the farmers begin to milk the cows in the milking bay on the other side of the window. 

The farmer (or maybe it’s the farmer’s wife) very adeptly squirts some milk into little cups for us to taste. If you want to buy a whole cup of fresh milk it’s totally on the menu! 

I am not entirely convinced that the kids are excited for the opportunity to taste fresh milk straight from the cow, but since we are here they have to do it! Yeah…..it’s warm….warm milk….foamy….foamy milk….sweet…..sweet milk…..

Annika is always game to try to new things, which may be a problem when she becomes a teenager….

Clearly Bjorn is not excited about this. He is our picky eater!

I don’t know if Jasmine will dare to taste it….

Okay, well, what’s the best thing of all? How about homemade ice cream straight from the cows?

Well, since I forced the kids to taste milk straight from the cow I guess we have to do it, too! David was raised on a dairy farm and drank unpasteurized milk all his life. I don’t know how many times, if ever, he drank warm milk straight from the cow though. I also drank my fair share of farm fresh milk as a child, because my parents used to buy milk in 5 gallon pails straight from a farm. I remember skimming off the cream, and sometimes we even churned butter. 

Nowadays in the US you are practically a shocking criminal if you drink unpasteurized milk. Maybe that’s why I am so drawn to this place. It’s that rebel in me. Too bad the beurocrats and officials and rule makers can’t see me now…..breaking the law drinking unpasteurized milk….straight from the dirty old cow, no doubt! 

But honestly……warm milk…..straight from a cow? That sounds disgusting…..

Can I do it? 

Well, actually it ends up being not too bad. The milk is really sweet…..and warm…..and frothy….and creamy…..it would be perfect on a coffee drink…..mmmmm…..holy cow! This truly is the milk of the gods! 

It’s time to pay the bill, which is painful….I guess I shouldn’t have ordered that ice cream….burp…..man, the views in this restaurant are incredible!

It’s time to get moving down the road. I take one last look off the back patio of the restaurant towards Lake Myvatn. It’s beautiful, in a peaceful and quiet and serene way!

I snap a photo of the barn/restaurant as we leave. I think that maybe if the barn looked more barn-like it would really add to the atmosphere at the restaurant. I will say, though, that we really enjoyed our visit at the Vogafjós Cafe. If you are in the area you should go and check it out. Enjoy some warm milk squeezed from the cow’s teats right before your very eyes….gag…..

And with that we head west on the Ring Road. This part of the country is very beautiful. 

We don’t go very far when we find the gorgeous Goðafoss waterfall. The water looks cold! If I told you “foss” means falls, then what do you suppose Goda means? Yeah, you’re right….”Waterfall of the Gods”.

Now that’s interesting. I might tell you, as I already probably have, that Iceland has a lot of “sagas” that have survived through the ages, passed down from generation to generation. I think somehow that the surreal nature of the landscape almost brings the stories alive in a strange kind of way. If you have never been here then perhaps you have never experienced this type of inexplicable magical force that shapes the mindset and thinking of inhabitants of this country.

You almost can’t help but feel the spirits when you breathe the air here, when you feel the wind upon your hair, when you feel the arctic sun warming the earth with it’s gentle rays, or even when you hear the rushing sounds of water thundering down a canyon. How can you explain the power of the rushing water, except that you believe in otherworldly forces, be they a Christian-like god, or any other various gods or beings invisible to the naked eye? 

When you see this place and experience it, your soul longs for answers, and you know that there must be more to this existence of ours than we know. There must be more than what our limited mortal sense of sight can ascertain. There must be more than what our limited mortal knowledge has discovered. There must be more than what our limited mortal ears can hear. As the human species we like to think we are so intelligent, so all knowing, so vastly superior than prior generations and other beings ….but are we? What do we really know? How much do we really know? Are there deep dark secrets of the universe of which we know not?

Maybe it’s the sense of isolation that a person feels on this island far up in the northern reaches of the mighty Atlantic Ocean that brings on this sense of uncertainty about who we are and what we know about this life and eternity. When I stop to marvel about the beauty of this incredible waterfall, I find myself thinking about how it might have been hundreds of years ago in the remote reaches of this arctic land. 

Now you may or may not know that Iceland is supposed to have the earliest known parliamentary system in history. Now think about what I just said….the earliest known parliamentary system…..way up here in the far reaches of never-never-land! The parliamentary meetings (called Alþingi) were first held in 930 AD in a place called Þingvellir,  about 40 km east of Reykjavik. Every year respresentatives from around the country travelled  great distances through extremely difficult terrain to attend the annual parliamentary sessions. 

And so it was in the year 1000 AD that a chieftain named þorgeir þorkelsson of Ljósavatn was the law-speaker in the Alþingi. Now apparently he was a very important man, for he was charged with decisions related to spiritual concerns. 

He traveled the great distance to Þingvellir to attend the parliamentary session,  during which there must have been great and influential discussions about matters of Christian faith, as opposed to the pagan beliefs that were hitherto the status quo in Iceland. There must have been serious discussions about the perils of pagan gods and such foolishness. There must have been highly influential discussions. Perhaps there were some powerful speakers and religious leaders present, whose words were strong, and almighty, and convincing, and wreaking great havoc amongst the people. 

Now I say that because can you imagine this for yourself? If someone were to attempt to talk you out of your religious beliefs, or lack thereof, that you have held onto all your life….would you succumb? Just because someone told you to, would you give up your lifelong values and beliefs about this life and eternal life, and right and wrong, and gods and deities, and angels and devils, and redemption and damnation, and heaven and earth, and eternal salvation and eternal suffering? 

I suspect the answer is a resounding “no”! It would take a heck of a lot of convincing to get someone to cast aside their life long beliefs and embrace something new and unfamiliar and uncertain and untried and ungodly. Would you deny your god if someone tried to convince you to do so? Or, on the contrary, if you are an atheist, would you suddenly embrace a god when someone tries to tell you to? I suspect not.

And so it was that þorgeir þorkelsson, the Law-speaker, was faced with the task of settling the growing disputes between Christians and those who worshipped the old Nordic gods. Upon returning from the parliamentary session in the year 1000 AD he was torn between having Iceland’s people maintain their old “pagan” beliefs versus embracing a Christian faith that had presumably been discussed in Þingvellir. So distraught was he that he spent 24 hours huddled under his cloak attempting to decide which philosophy to embrace. When he emerged from beneath his cloaks he had made his decision.

On his homeward journey he passed this magnificent river that rushed through a volcanic canyon and plunged over a horseshoe shaped gorge, creating one of the most impressive waterfalls in the entire country of Iceland. The power of that water must have moved his soul so significantly that he took all his carved images of pagan gods and thrust them into the water, hence the name “Waterfall of the Gods”. I can imagine his heart must have been pounding heavily in his chest, and perhaps his breaths came in short heavy gasps, and perhaps his body shook, and perhaps beads of perspiration pricked his scalp, and perhaps his stomach felt queasy, and perhaps his head felt light, and perhaps his toes felt numb, and perhaps his soul felt relieved….or stressed….or troubled….or vindicated….or blessed…..or cursed…..or pleased….or saddened…. 

Who can know? None of us. Surely the time of transition from one set of beliefs about life and eternity brought great angst to him and his loved ones, and those in his community who trusted and revered him. How could it not? 

Have you ever experienced this in your own life, where either you or a loved one has made a complete about face in the things upon which you believe? Surely it was a time of great distress and upheaval and uncertainty, or on the contrary, a time of great joy and intense release from a sense of bondage – depending upon your perspective. 

That’s the story of these magnificent all powerful falls, the Waterfall of the Gods, Goðafoss. Perhaps those pagan images have long since, over a thousand years ago, floated out to sea. Perhaps some of them are still here in the depths of the bright icy blue water, perhaps trapped under a stone, wedged there for an eternity. I think that perhaps at least one or two are still here, casting their spells upon this wild place. Should someone venture too close to the edge of the water the pagan images might snatch them up, dash them upon the jagged rocks, and carry them helplessly down the forceful current towards the icy sea. 

And so it is, that fateful day upon which the chieftain thrust his pagan images into the mighty waters here at Goðafoss has been preserved as one of the most significant events in Icelandic history……the conversion of this great arctic nation from heathendom to Christianity, for better or for worse depending upon your perspective. Even though he himself was a heathen priest, on that day þorgeir þorkelsson proclaimed that all of Iceland’s people should be Christian. 

How there must have been murmurings among the people. How there must have been parents who still taught their children about their pagan beliefs. How there must have been resistance among the people. And yet,there must have been those to whom the Christian visions and teachings answered to their very spirit. 

When I look intently into the rushing water, perhaps I catch a glimmer of something golden, or perhaps something silver. “Are those the pagan artifacts that were disposed of here at the Waterfall of the Gods over 1000 years ago?” I murmur to myself. 

The objects seem to beckon my spirit. “Come listen, for I have a story to tell… a story about great ancient people who have sacrificed and suffered immensely in their daily survival struggle here upon this ragged land.” 

I look away, but my eye is drawn back again. I know the people have struggled and the people have suffered. I can feel it in my own weary bones. The daily labor, the daily battle against the weather and powerful forces of nature, the daily struggle of survival. But indeed, it has created a nation of strong and powerful Icelandic people, determined and proud, simultaneously flexible and rigid, capable and practical.  

I stand still next to the thundering waterfall, it’s intense sounds filling my ears to bursting. I watch the icy blue water rumble over rocks and rush onwards towards the sea. How small I am in this mighty universe, a mere speck in time ad infinitum. How meaningless my very existence in the whole scheme of this vast universe and endless time that passes on and on. Over 1000 years ago! That’s when the pagan images were thrown into these mighty waters, and the story is still very much alive so many generations later. 

Here is my husband in a fleeting moment in time next to the mighty river that rushes and rushes and rushes from moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, year to year, decade to decade, century to century….on and on….

It’s “Geek of the Week” and Mr. Handsome…..

Kristoff positions himself on a little ledge for a photo op.

Dad is no chicken liver….he has to do it, too!

Aaaa…..too scary to stand up…..

My princess baby….

Soon enough it’s time to move on. When you drive around with a trailer you sometimes have to get pretty creative about how you park…..
Well, that’s that. We have to put the pedal to the metal and make some headway. Luckily the daylight never really ends, so we can drive late into the evening. Once again we get to see the sun shaped as a star….it’s the third time on this trip!

We drive through the capital of the north, Akureyri. This looks like a lovely town and it would be fun to spend a little more time here….maybe cozy up with a cup of coffee in a nice little coffee shop or something.

Whoa! Do you see that? The most intense rainbow I have ever seen!

Two rainbows, in fact!

Now, here is something very Icelandic. These are sheep pens. Before winter sets in all the sheep have to get rounded up. Every sheeperherder goes into the hills to find the sheep and they bring them to this type of holding pen. They bring any sheep they find, even if they aren’t their own. Each farmer’s sheep go into a different stall. 

Actually, I don’t even know if this is true. I just made that up. I want to think that this is what they do. 

These mountains here look like Arizona. The green fields don’t, though. 

It’s quite late again by the time we pull into our campground. This campground is not particularly exciting, but it’s a place to pitch tents. 

Tristan gets busy and cooks us up some lamb chops! Mmmmmm…….Now, let me tell you. I usually do not like lamb. To me it takes like lanolin-laced hand lotion. But Icelandic lamb chops are incredibly succulent…..incredibly succulent…..

I don’t think I need to tell you this…..when I finally get to crawl into the tent my bed feels extra awesome. I am exhausted! Tomorrow we will be going to a nearby sod village museum. It’s one of the places that David really wanted to see in Iceland. In fact, he really wanted to spend the night in a sod home, which obviously is not happening. 

As I fall asleep I find myself wondering if indeed those pagan images are still wedged beneath some rocks in the mighty river at Godafoss. But more on my mind is if my husband will be happy with the sod museum that I have picked out for him to enjoy…..tomorrow…..