Horsens, Denmark - My husband is a monk; I am a burgher, a respectable woman from the merchant class.
"Look at that monk! He's got a girl," someone announces in surprise.
I guess ours is not the best choice of costume for a couple. We must stop holding hands or face punishment. From what I remember, public humiliation was a favourite.
The European Medieval Festival held in this Danish town captures the bustling ambience of medieval market village life with such authenticity it makes you wonder. Would people in the Middle Ages really shop for a new bow, send the kids off to throw horseshoes with the other kids and drink mead at a stall next to the good-for-gossip pilgrim badge maker? The streets are filled with the smell of roasting pigs and the sound of sizzling eggs on cast iron heated by hot coals.
The organizers' painstaking efforts to recreate town life during the period between 1350 and 1536 has made the event, held annually the last Friday and Saturday of August, the largest medieval festival in northern Europe.
The enchantment begins with the setting. Nestled at the bay of a long fjord, Horsens is an old port town with a gentle rise along a ridge about three streets north of its pedestrian town centre. From Mølletoften the view is of mossy red roofs and goose-topped church steeples. Around the fjord, the landscape is bucolic: farmed fields and grazing cows.
Much of life today, as in medieval times, takes place along the main pedestrian street, Søndergade. Although Horsens was founded in the 10th century, the town centre was constructed in the 14th century. The Vor Frelsers Kirke still lords it over the picturesque pastel timber-framed merchants' homes and 18th-century buildings that now house smart Scandinavian interior design shops, the high-end electronics of Bang & Olufsen and clothing stores.
To deck out the town as a medieval village, strings of multicoloured flag banners are strung across the streets. Lampposts, telephone boxes, bicycle racks and street benches are covered in bark. Wrought-iron torch-holders are nailed into building walls; they are the only lighting come festival nightfall. Trucks of soil arrive and fill the jousting stage in the town hall square. Medieval stalls line the streets and church courtyards. Encampments of "medieval" families move in. Straw is laid on the cobblestone streets.
On the day of the festival, 5,000 participants and spectators like myself don old-style outfits. People can't wait to get into character, and their enthusiasm makes the transformation seem effortless. Aristocrats stroll, child beggars kneel in the straw, craftspeople are a study of concentration, and archers patiently share their skill with youngsters as if it really is one of the most important things they will learn.
This is all-out living history. Grab a clay goblet of mead, juice or water - no plastic cups here - and step aside when you hear the trumpets: a procession of handsome flag wavers and a fresh-faced bride-to-be and her wedding party are coming by. Be amused by the minstrelsy of jugglers and jesters and entranced by a cappella singers' beautiful love songs.
It's the charismatic bagpipes that get me going, their haunting medieval sound make my feet itch to move and give me goosebumps. Barrel organs, drums, flutes and lutes - and instruments that I never knew existed, like the cornamuse and rebec - are still alive and well, used on four different stages of the festival area.
Remember that this is a market and entertainments encourage trading in the over 250 stalls. The costumers and armourers have your next new frock or chain mail, and you can also buy jewellery, leatherwork, books of calligraphy, glasswork and woodwork made in the medieval style.
Comfort food typifies the period: hearty soup, bread, pig and grilled vegetables with chunks of meat. Plates and bowls are of wood, as are the spoons. Fast food comes in the form of sausage on a cabbage leaf to go. For dessert, Danish puff pastries with cherry sauce and icing sugar are made in special pans indented with half-circle scoops.
The jousting tournament is said to be the highlight of the festival. But it's the chaos of the market streets, the common and everyday, that transports people back in time.