After a farewell to family and friends in Hungary, and a 5 and a half hour journey on a packed train, I’m back in Salzburg and ready to blog about Sziget Festival, a week-long music, arts and culture event held on an island in the Danube in the city of Budapest. Verdict: we loved every second of it, so much so that plans for Sziget Festival 2015 are already in place – and I never put anything in the diary that far in advance!
Here’s why it was better than we could ever expected;
1: It’s organised
Really organised. Queuing and waiting, be it to get your wristband, to go to the loo, or to enter a tent, really are among the worst parts of festivalling for me. My past experiences have always left me thinking ‘surely there’s a better way to do this!’ As it turns out, there is, and the organisers of Sziget really had it nailed; in fact, no matter what time of day, we hardly found ourselves standing around much at all. Nothing like the over-an-hour-long queue to get into Reading Festival, anyway!
The festival also offered City Passes, wristbands that allowed us unlimited travel on Budapest public transport during the festival, which we bought along with our ticket for an extra €30. We were able to pick these up at a number of locations in the city, even at the airport or the main railway station, meaning that buying train tickets was one less thing to worry about, right from the beginning of our trip!
2: There’s an app
Do other festivals have their own app?
This free Sziget mobile app was indispensable; it allowed us to plan our schedules in advance (before and during the festival), check the exact times and locations of bands’ sets while we were on site, and get immediate updates on any changes to the schedule, such as a band cancelling or a delay. This made it so much easier to organise our time, navigate our way around the island, and keep on top of things!
What’s more, if you’re not sure whether to watch a certain act or not, the app has links to their Soundcloud profiles, as well as photos and descriptions so you know what to expect.
Real smart festivalling.
3: Diverse and varied crowd
The festival was a true melting pot of cultures, languages and nationalities; I met people from all over the world, and there was no guessing where the party-ers around you were from. Flags filled the air, people used costume to play up to their national stereotypes and traditions (Egyptians dressed as Ancient Egyptians was perhaps my favourite), and everyone was united by a love of music and partying! Excuse the hippy vibes, but I love a bit of multi-culture!
4: Its location
The festival takes place on Óbuda island, a 2700m by 500m stretch of land in the Danube, which is reached by suburban rail from the superb city centre of Budapest in just 10 minutes. The festival site has all you’d need to stay on the island for a week, but heading into the city couldn’t be easier, and the location really does find the balance between city and country. There’s a beach (which, I must admit, we never got around to visiting) and, due to this location, the music can run later and longer, as neighbours aren’t much of an issue.
And after all, that ‘we’re on an island’ feel really does contribute to the uniqueness of the whole event.
5: And thus, the weather
It could have been a lot better, I’ll admit; we had one day of rain and the rest of the week averaged around 25 degrees with some sun and some clouds. But you’d take that over a rainy muddy British festival in an instant! And anyway, we all agreed that a solid burst of 35 degree heat would have been a ton worse! We didn’t need wellies, and we didn’t need much sun tan lotion either. Perfect!
Either way though, the organisers were prepared; a spray system above the densest part of the main stage crowd to cool people down, and plastic tiles around the main crowd-y areas so things didn’t get too soggy.
Another big issue with festivals is money, and how to make it easier, quicker and, above all, safer to pay for things on site.
Sziget uses the Festipay system, which works amazingly, I must say, and cash itself is not accepted anywhere on site. You put money on to the card at designated top-up points and simply touch the card on the terminal upon payment. Not only does this make it safe, as you aren’t carrying all your money with you, and if you lose the card, it can be cancelled and your balance transferred, but it makes the whole process of paying quicker.No fumbling around for foreign currency coins in your purse or waiting around for your change.
There are a couple of costs associated; a small deposit on the card and a 30 cent ‘convenience fee’ if you transfer money from a debit card. But the system works so well and efficiently that there’s no doubt that it’s the smartest way to go.
7: Approach to alcohol
I’m a hugely proud Brit, trust me, but I can honestly say that one thing the UK has not got figured out is its drinking culture. Living abroad has helped me realise this. The reputation of UK music festivals is marred by reports on underage drinking, binge drinking, and subsequent behaviour. Getting hideously drunk at a festival is almost a right of passage; black out and miss your favourite bands. Makes sense, no?
Things tend to be different out here I find; beer is cheaper, but you won’t find anyone playing drinking games. So-called Szitizens seemed to be in it for the music a little more. After all, it was on until 6am and you had to pace yourself!
8: Range of activities
Were you not to like any of the bands on that day, fear not, as the activities and events at Sziget are varied and diverse. Here’s a little taster;
Admittedly, we didn’t explore all that was on offer quite as much as we could have done (too many bands we wanted to see!)
However, on top of that, random performance art and dance groups were popping up all over the place; people on stilts, on poles, dressed up as animals, traditional Hungarian dancers… Everything was pretty out there. And if you just wanted to sit back and relax, there were a ton of places to do that too (out of pure over-comfort and laziness we missed The Prodigy’s set to spend much of an evening in a large wooden egg…)
9: … including, a chill tent
Our nights tended to end in the chill tent, pictured in my title photo, a crazy carpeted zone covered in cushions, where tired Szitizens napped to psychadelic rock, or drank tea and eat cake at 5am. It was all a bit trippy, and shouldn’t really make sense at all, but after a long day and night dancing, it was all we wanted! One of my finest moments of the festival was sharing a 6-person spoon nap there with my lovely drunken friends after a long night of partying.
Anyone for an Earl Grey?
10: And it’s pretty cheap too!
The ticket sales operate on a graded system, whereby they are at their cheapest upon first release (in December I believe), and then every two months get €30 or so more expensive. Buying our tickets in May, we paid €170 each for 5-day-non-camping passes, the 7-day-camping passes costing roughly €200 (days -1 and 0, only included in this more expensive ticket, also have a lot of the big names playing) but had we bought earlier, we’d have been able to get it even cheaper!
On top of this, we paid €30 each for the aforementioned City Pass, which also gains you discounted entrance to many of the city’s attractions and a visit to one of the famous baths for free! As far as food and drink is concerned, it was considerably cheaper than what you’d be paying at a British festival, but still a little more than you’d expect to be charged in the city of Budapest. Think €2 a beer, €2 for a big slice of pizza, €3.50 for a kebab… On the whole, we spent a ton less than we expected to, and a whole load less than we would have done at a parallel event in the UK!
Recapping the wonder that was Sziget 2014 has made me truly miserable! I hope it doesn’t have the same effect on my readers!