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…
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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?
Safe, warm, comfortable, clean fun!
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