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Sziget Festival: A Survival Guide for 30-Somethings

April 15, 2017
Sziget Festival Survival Guide http://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/gitpics/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/16001446/Colour-party-at-Sziget.-Photo-by-Rockstar-Photography.jpg

We all know that the height of uber-cool things to do during the summer months is go to a music festival (according to my 18 year-old students). In my 20s I made it to a couple of festivals in Europe and V-Fest in the UK but have sadly never made it to the daddy of all UK festivals – Glastonbury.  At least I’ve not made it yet.

However, last summer my friend and frequent travel buddy Liz suggested we hit up Sziget Festival in Budapest – a SEVEN day extravaganza of music and artistry. She had ended up there during her travels the year before on a day ticket to see Florence & The Machine and realised this was something that needed doing properly.

The inner teenager in me enthusiastically said, “Yeah, cool, let’s do it!”  Then of course my inner monologue was hijacked by middle-aged Joanne, the woman who likes to sleep in comfy beds surrounded by silence, take daily showers, use clean loos and wash her hands afterwards. Seven days is a whole lotta festival!

I’m no travel snob, not by any means, but I couldn’t help recall my last festival camping experience where we were pitched next to some absolute (*insert choice words here*) who thought inhaling laughing gas from balloons at 4am and falling onto our tent was standard, accepted festival behaviour. We ended up leaving a night early and driving to my friend’s house in London, desperate for a hot shower, a mattress, a duvet and some peace.

So this time around, at the ages of 33 and 36, we decided to do our research and find a fuddy-duddy friendly festival plan that allowed us to remain cool and down-with-the-kids, whilst also satisfying our need for a bit of R&R.

If I do say so myself, we did an ace job, so here are my top tips for surviving Sziget in your 30s…

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Invasion Mag

1. Do not Camp at the Festival

Sziget is held on Óbudai-sziget (‘Old Buda Island’), an island in the middle of the Danube aptly dubbed ‘The Island of Freedom’ by the organisers for the week of the festival.

There are a number of reasons I could give for not camping, one of them being that you end up being kind of stuck out there away from the other amazing sights Budapest has to offer. Of course there are transport links on and off the island (which I will come to) but with everything that is going on all day and night at the festival, you’d probably end up deciding to stick around rather than exploring the city.

Had we gone straight to camp on the island, we probably would never have experienced the “beer bike”, undoubtedly one of the most unusual and fun ways I’ve ever been sight-seeing. Basically, you and up to seven others pedal power what is essentially a bar on wheels. While your driver/guide steers up at the front, you cycle away and pull your own pints at the back. We threw in some sing-along entertainment too for good measure, gaining many a round of applause from admiring pedestrians.

Another reason not to camp is very simply because it’s uncomfortable, noisy and eventually, very smelly!

As with many festivals nowadays, there are a number of accommodation options on the island that are a significant step up from camping. We considered booking the ‘Flexotel’ option for a while – little shed-like cabins containing 2 beds, linen and towels, a power supply, storage space and access to separate bathroom facilities. It all sounded perfect for a couple of 30-something revellers until we realised we could get our own apartment in the city for a fraction of the cost.

The Flexotel rooms cost 895 euros for the week and that doesn’t include your actual festival ticket. It just didn’t make sense, and the cheaper option (tents) didn’t appeal at all.  

Staying in the city apartment meant we could come and go as we pleased while also having easy access to other attractions around Budapest. By the end of the week, as we walked around the island watching the haunted, dusty, exhausted youngsters dragging their zombified selves around, catching a whiff of them or their abodes every now and again, we knew we’d made the right choice.

Like I said, seven days is a long slog to be living in a small canvas triangle.

At this point I have to give a little shout out to Georgia, our host at Red Pearl apartment who, after getting over her initial annoyance at our arriving a bit later than expected, made us very welcome and even had a bottle of wine waiting for us on arrival. She has a couple of fully furnished, self-catering apartments in the same building, situated right in the heart of the city on a street with convenience stores, bars and restaurants. They can all be found on booking.com or AirB&B.

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Love Music Travel

2. Know the Public Transport Times and Routes

If you do decide to stay in the city, it is well worth checking to see how close your accommodation is to a main metro line. Using public transport is really cheap which helped make our decision to stay in town an easy one.

We stayed a very short walk away from Kalvin-Ter metro station on the blue M3 metro line and getting to Sziget was pretty easy. We took the M3 a couple of stops, transferred onto the red M2 line going to the other side of the river to Batthyany-Ter station and then jumped onto the overland train up to the festival getting off at the Filatorigat stop with the rest of the cool kids. The whole journey took about 30 minutes.

The earlier you go, the less packed the trains are and the easier it is to get over the bridge and into the festival. Queues tend to get busier the later in the afternoon it got but we never had any major problems; it’s pretty well organised with portaloo stops along the way just in case.

Trains coming back off the island were pretty regular and ran until late at night to make sure everyone who stayed for the headline act could get back.

It is worth noting however that the metros do not follow suit and the last metro tends to finish before midnight, whereas the last train back from Sziget arrives back in the city after the clock ticks over into the next day.  Make sure you plan carefully or you may end up on a bus with no idea of which way it is going (guilty) or in a taxi costing more than your whole book of public transport tickets (guilty again)!

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Global Publicity

3. Get the App

Isn’t technology brilliant?

Remember the days when we had to wait for information about events to come through the post ON PAPER, or make phone calls to find out what in the world was going on then draw up an itinerary ON PAPER?!?

Well no more my globetrotting friends!

This has probably been happening for all sorts of festivals and events for years, but for me, being able to download a tailor-made app that could tell me pretty much anything I needed to know about acts, stages, shows, artists, times and locations was a whole new 21st century experience.

The Sziget Festival app is free to download and is a great way to plan your days and nights on the island. You can save the acts you want to see in your own personal planner so you know exactly where you need to go at the touch of a button.

Mind blown.

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Gap 360

4. Locate the Good Toilets (and Bring Supplies)

Anyone who is a regular to festivals knows this one is pretty important.

You want to find the kind that actually flush, as opposed to the ones that have that pump lever that you try to avoid touching with your hands by using your foot (no? Just me?). Those are the loos that are going to be pretty horrendous after seven days of use by people who have been living on a staple diet of fast food and beer.

Luckily, at Sziget, there were a number of more “luxury” options scattered around which also had proper sinks and taps outside of them too (no soap however – take your sanitiser).

The most convenient of these were located right at the back of the main stage audience area which meant we didn’t have to journey far from the big acts when nature called.

It’s also worth having a supply of tissues with you (standard festival kit) as the loo roll provided runs out pretty quickly.

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Festi Leaks

5. Get your Passport Stamped

A very cool aspect of the whole Sziget experience is the passport you are issued on arrival. Not only does it serve as your guide to the festival and the venue, it has two pages just waiting to be stamped at the many different tents, stations and areas around the island, just like a real passport.

What a novel way to get people exploring the whole venue during their stay!

We obviously made it our mission to collect every one of the 23 stamps, some of which you can only get at certain times of day, which in turn led to us trying out lots of the quirky activities: Travelling Funfair, Sportzone, Cirque Du Sziget, Ability Park, I Ching Labyrinth, Museum Quarter, and 17 more funtivity filled spots.

Once festival “Szitizens” have filled their passports with stamps (which also include a photo and a few funny personal details), they can claim their prize – free merchandise!

I got myself a snazzy bandana which I rocked on the last day. Which brings me to my next snippet of advice…

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: One Backpack Blog

6. Look the Part – Wear the Merch and Learn How to Braid

Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt?

Good, because you’re not part of the gang unless you’re wearing something Sziget branded.

To be honest, I bought my hoodie because it got a bit chilly at night but I was happy that my nanna-like need for warmth and comfort also allowed me to join the ranks of the other young, cool Szitizens.

As for hairstyles, it seems braids are back. I’m more of a bun and bandana girl myself, but I made sure Liz was a member of the braidy-bunch (you can thank me later, Liz).

Needless to say, we looked awesome! No, really.

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Joanne – Exploring Kiwis

7. Laybags are the New Black

Laybags/Laysacks – these things go by a number of names these days but the concept is the same and they are the new essential item to have at open field events.

As regular concert and outdoor event goers, Liz and I had ordered a laybag each months before the festival but they had failed to turn up on time so we were rendered green with envy when half the population of Sziget had these very comfy looking, inflatable couch/beds.

I’m over the days of sweaty mosh-pits at festivals; I much prefer sitting back and chilling with a beer while watching my favourite artists rock out on stage, so having a big bouncy bag of air to recline on would have been lovely (*sigh). 

Having said that, now mine has arrived I can say with confidence that inflating them is not as simple as they make it seem on the adverts. Expect many a comedy moment as you run around trying to ‘catch’ air in the bloody thing!

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Absolute Tours

Have the Best Time – You’re Only as Old as you Feel!

Other than these few tried and tested tips, I would recommend trying as many of the food-trucks as possible (the Hungarian sausage being a personal favourite), wear comfy but ‘throw-away-able’ shoes, and don’t feel bad about missing things. There is so much going on that it would be impossible to do it all.

My bottom line?

Have fun.

Safe, warm, comfortable, clean fun!


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The biggest and best of music festival in all of Europe! Don't miss Sziget Festival - Budapest's amazing multi-day music fest. Need a little help surviving Sziget Festival? Budapest's music fest (one of the biggest in Europe) is amazing but a little advice will help ensure your experience is one to remember for all the right reasons.

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Warming up in the Thermal Baths in Budapest

February 24, 2016

Prior to arriving in Budapest, the one thing we were determined to do was to visit the thermal baths.  These warm-water swimming pools are a throwback to when the Greeks, Romans and Turks made Budapest their home, whilst they now serve to relax travellers and locals alike.  The natural, geo-thermal water is known for it’s medicinal benefits, and perhaps more importantly, is guaranteed to warm you up over the chilly winter months!

After reading countless reviews on Trip Advisor (that website sure can be both a blessing and a curse!) we’d practically called our visit to the baths off; many visitors described the pools as being grimy and over-priced and with the weather being so cold, we weren’t feeling inclined to jump in our togs and brave the winter weather if it wasn’t going to be worthwhile.

As it turns out, maybe we were always meant to venture to the baths… Having decided against visiting, we wandered around Budapest on our second to last day there and stumbled across a gorgeous old building – as it turned out, the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.  Once we saw them, we couldn’t resist!  After popping back to our accommodation, we jumped back on the subway and returned to enjoy the warm water.

There are two entrances you can use and though we’d read about staff trying to up-sell guests to tickets they didn’t really need, we didn’t encounter any problems.  We paid 5,400Ft (about 17 euros) for one ticket (which included a small cabin to get changed in and to store our personal items) and 4,900Ft (approx. 15.50 euros) for the additional ticket.  As we’d read, the changing cabins weren’t particularly clean, but by no means were they bad enough to put us off.

You are able to sign up for massages and a range of beauty treatments but we found them to be a third of the price elsewhere so saved our massage money to spend away from the pools.  They also rent towels but they have a bad habit of going missing there, so try to take your own and leave it waiting in your locker/cabin.

We took our own towels and swimwear but did end up wishing we had our jandals  (AKA flip flops)  as they would have made getting changed that bit more pleasant and definitely would have made getting too and from the pool easier!  Earlier in the day it had started snowing quite heavily (yahoo!) but it meant walking from the changing cabins (over the slippery floor), over the pebbles and through the snow to get to the pools – the stones made for sore feet when it was as cold as it was!  Not to mention the fact that I  then raced back inside to get my camera, back out to take piccies and then had to repeat the process again to put it back, before running the loop again to get my towel at the end!  Brrrrrr.  

We intentionally visited later in the afternoon so we could experience the baths through the evening, and would recommend you do the same.  It was fantastic sitting in the thermal pools, watching the sun go down (well as much as possible through the clouds) and then relaxing into the evening.

 

The pools themselves were a glorious temperature, very relaxing and well worth the visit.

Would we visit Széchenyi again?  You bet!

It just goes to show, you can’t believe everything you read on Trip Advisor (though I still love it!)

Austria Berlin Bratislava Budapest Czech Republic Europe Germany Hungary Munich Prague Salzburg Slovakia Vienna

European Winter Roundup

January 11, 2016

With two and a half weeks off work, there was never any doubt that we’d head away to Europe.  Up until a couple of months ago, neither of us had stepped foot on the continent, and growing up listening to my parents talk about their travels there, I knew it had to be done.  A large part of the reason for our move to Abu Dhabi was to be closer to Europe, so it was always going to be our first stop.

We decided on Central and Eastern Europe for a few reasons.  #1, research and advice told us that some of these spots were cheaper than the average European cities.  #2, we could get relatively direct flights from the UAE in and out, which was important to maximise our time there… and #3, these were the cities that came to mind when we imagined beautiful snow-covered winter vistas; Italy could wait ’till it’s warmer, bring on the snow in Budapest!

This post is designed as an overview to help those of you thinking of undertaking a similar trip through this part of Europe… details regarding how many nights we spent in each spot, the key things we saw and did there and how we moved about.  Keep your eyes peeled for more specific information about each city in the coming weeks if you’d like to see some more detailed posts.

In regard to flights, we arrived on German Wings and were really happy with their service.  We were on their inaugural flight (and as such were treated to a free sandwich and snack, yes!) out of Dubai (via Cologne to Berlin) and though they’re a low cost carrier, the staff were friendly and the legroom was fine – we didn’t get a baggage allowance, but we tend to travel carry-on only so that wasn’t an issue.

Flying home, we used Wizz Air and though they are pretty basic, again, the flight was comfortable enough and the price was right.  Be warned that when they take you out past the gate in Budapest, you’ll be waiting in a big shed outside – not ideal in freezing temperatures, especially when you’ve taken all your thermals off in preparation for arriving back in the Middle East!  It wasn’t a drama, I just wouldn’t get into my warm-weather clothes before getting on the plane next time. 

Now onto the itinerary…

Berlin, Germany, 4 nights:  We fell in love with Berlin’s combination of old meets new!  We visited lots of Christmas markets and soaked in as much of the area’s history as we could.  The East Side Gallery (to see what was left of the Berlin Wall), Check Point Charlie, the Reichstag Building (prebook your spot for free, it’s well worth a visit) and more.  This city had the most fantastic buzz about it and was a pleasure to visit.  We got an all-you-can-use public transport card that we made great use of as Berlin is relatively spread apart.  If you’re interested in Berlin, definitely check back as there was much more that we did there!

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Prague, Czech Republic, 2 nights:  Like a fairytale from centuries ago.  Prague’s a relatively small city but a beautiful spot and probably the most affordable on our trip.  We had a go at our first ‘escape room’ here and climbed the many stairs up to the Prague Castle and Saint Vitus Cathedral for a stunning view of the city.  More Christmas markets and fairy lights made Prague especially memorable.

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Munich, Germany, 4 nights:  Munich would have been the biggest surprise on our trip; it had a noticeably different atmosphere to Berlin and we both came away a little disappointed by the city if we’re honest.  This was largely down to poor planning on our part – it turns out everything shuts right around Christmas!

We did, however, enjoy our daytrip out to Neuschwanstein Castle and wandering around the Englischer Gartens; don’t miss  the surfers in the river. 

We would happily return to Munich at another time of year and when we do we’ll be sure to stay at one of these Munich city hotels.

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Salzburg, Austria, 2 nights:  Salzburg is a gorgeous little town, perched either side of the river Salzach.  Though beautiful, we didn’t find there to be a great deal to do there, unless you’re a massive Sound of Music fan.  There were certainly some historic buildings, but I think we were coming down off our Berlin/Prague high still, if I’m being honest.  From Salzburg, we hired a car and drove through some lovely local villages out to Lake Hallstatt which I would highly recommend doing – getting out into the countryside totally turned my thoughts on Salzburg around!

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Vienna, Austria, 1 night:  Vienna was a lovely little surprise.  We only booked one night as I’d been told by some travellers that we were better to spend the time in Salzburg – in the end, I really enjoyed exploring the city though (different strokes for different folks, I suppose).  Whilst Vienna is home to many beautiful buildings and we enjoyed paying a visit to the butterfly house, one night ended up being suitable for us.  I’m sure we would have found more to do had we planned more time there, but don’t let the idea of only one night there put you off going.  PS: We found the most fantastic Airbnb host there, so if you’re planning a trip, let us know!

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Bratislava, Slovakia, 1 night:  Bratislava was by far the smallest city we stayed in.  It didn’t feature a heck of a lot to see and do (though the old town certainly had a charm about it), but we met the friendliest hotel manager who put on an amazing breakfast for us and chatted away about life in Slovakia for a great deal of time.  It’s funny how a person can make a place, but in this case he really did.

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Budapest, Hungary, 4 nights:  Ahhh Budapest!  A gorgeous city that combined a similar vibe to Berlin with the quaintness of Prague (but on a bigger scale).  We really enjoyed our time here and were delighted to find many of the Christmas markets were still selling delicious hot food, which was exactly what we needed as the temperatures plummeted.  We enjoyed looking around Buda Castle and the other historic buildings scattered throughout Budapest, swimming at the traditional baths (in the snow, no less) and seeing our first ever snowflakes!  I’d hoped for snow the whole trip so it was a real treat getting it on the second to last day.

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Getting between each city was really simple – we used Meinfernbus for the majority of our trips (plus a few inter-city trains) and always managed to pick up bus tickets a few days before on an app on my iPhone.  Trains were the same, with the exception of leaving Bratislava, where we were told to purchase them on the day.  Though the idea of travelling cross-country by train was very romantic, buses generally ended up being significantly cheaper, at times more comfortable and, for the most part, had free wifi.  Honestly though, you can’t go too far wrong either way, especially when our longest journey was five hours and most were significantly shorter.

If you’ve been to any of these spots, I’d love to hear what you thought of them.  What other cities and towns in Europe would you recommend we visit next?

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