International Viking Market in Ribe

One weekend in May, we headed out to the west coast with another family to see the International Viking market in Ribe, one of the largest in Europe. It’s held at a permanent fairground on the outskirts of town, in buildings, houses, and tents no different than what you would have found there a thousand years ago. Vendors showcased everything from blacksmithing to woodcarving to weaving, and everyone was wearing homemade clothing and leather, just as you’d have seen back then as well. Lots of fun activities for the kids, plus authentic Viking food and ale – Ren Faire had nothing on this place!

First stop was the Great Hall at the entrance – it looked like a scene from the Vikings TV show inside! Dark and smoky, but with many beautiful artifacts and fineries to inspect. The boys loved getting suited up for battle with swords and helms just perfect for their size! They’d have a chance to go berserker a bit later…

Afterwards, we wandered around and did some crafty-type activities. The boys were obsessed with the peg-making station! You selected a stout square wooden peg, and then used a mallet to pound it, bit by bit, into a series of holes in an iron plate. Each time, the edges would get shaved off, and then you’d graduate to the next smallest hole. By the time of the process, you had a narrow wooden peg, useful for cartwrights, shipwrights, etc. We must have spent 30 minutes at the peg station and then again later in the day! I should just get one for the backyard…

We all also enjoyed the area where you got to use a handheld blade to shave sticks down into sharpened stakes. (I know, it’s the simple things in life.) You sat astride a low wooden bench, and pressed down with your feet on a wooden brace meant to hold the stick in place. Then you just bore down with the blade and whittled away until the stick was of sufficient sharpness. Bears and vampires beware!

At noon, we headed over to the combat area so the boys could try their hands at archery and sword fighting! They each got a few shots with a wooden bow – it was much tougher then they’d assumed! Then M got a “sword” and lined up with the other kids to get shouted at for 10 minutes by a burly bearded Viking (who was kind enough to bellow in Dansk and English). He got to do some light sparring with sword and shield, and then joined in on a battlefield rush afterwards.

The men hosting the station did a great job with everything that little boys and girls would want from “combat training”: lots of shouting, banging, and fighting. Even though it was toned down, they made no attempt to cover up that battlefields were where men went to fight and die – doubt you would get quite the same show in the US! (We saw a similar show a few months later at the Jelling Viking market, and the choreographed fighting there was even more intense, right down to the men stalking around the battlefield after the fight, using their swords to ‘finish off’ the fallen enemies. Then again, there was also a tussle that ended in tickle-torture.)

After the exercise, we went off to find some food for our ravenous warriors. A typical Ren Faire might have lots of treats and meals set up in decidedly non-authentic stalls – including the ubiquitous monster turkey leg – but not here. There was only one place to get food, and it was inside one of the stone huts. You could choose between two types of meat pies – minced lamb and mushed peas, or beef baked into dense, chewy bread. Doubt there was even a veggie option (not surprising, considering that most places in Denmark will give you chicken instead of pork if you say you’re vegetarian). We got both, and they were delicious – the boys even asked for seconds, guess they were hungry! We washed it down with water for the boys, and øl (ale) for us. You had to pay additional kroner to ‘borrow’ the pots, just to keep people from walking off with them. My favorite thing about the meal wasn’t just how authentic it was, but that we ate it inside the chilly house – the cool temps made the warm food all the much better.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the stalls, admiring crafts and handiwork. B was interested in a lot of the jewelry and beadwork, while I coveted some of the drinking horns (didn’t get one). I also just enjoyed watching the vendors and craftsmen and women, impressed with the time and effort it must have taken to fashion their clothes, assemble their gear, and create their crafts to sell. They were all very much into the culture and community – bet there were fun parties in the evenings!

I did manage to pick up one treasure on our way out of the market – this picture of a silly horse rolling around in a field like a dog. It’s been my cover photo on Facebook ever since. Happy horse, happy day!

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