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A love letter to Sziget Festival

The first I saw of Sziget were the waves from the Danube lapping affectionately against Óbuda Island’s shores. I was sitting in an airport shuttle bus with just a few others. We stared, jaws agape, at thousands of people, all rushing along a bridge to get to the enormous check-in gates. It was 35 degrees and rising.

As I walked along the bridge, a light, cool mist started to spray from the leafy canopy above. Just what I needed after so many hours of travelling. The group around me watched the sunlight refracting through tiny water droplets. A refreshing welcome to the Island of Freedom.

Once through the gates, I had no idea where to start. Armed with a map of the island and a small bag, I set off to find the big stages. This is where I’d watch Florence + the Machine, James Blake, Post Malone, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Foo Fighters and so many more incredible musicians perform over the next five days.

I remember accidentally walking into a Zumba class

To say that the stages were massive would be an understatement. I would remember how big they seemed later on when I found the fields packed with tens of thousands of people, all waiting expectantly for Martin Garrix. My favourite act from the big stages was Twenty One Pilots. I hadn’t listened to them much before, but their energy and presence was intoxicating. Honourable mentions have to include Tamino, whose music I fell instantly in love with, and James Blake, who was every bit as mesmerising live as he is in his records.

The island is large, and very well organised. There were food courts, where you could order everything you could possibly imagine. The vegan section quickly became our favourite place to eat, thanks to its enormous selection of different cultural foods. I have to confess a lot of our spending budget went to one particular stand that sold some gorgeous coconut and chocolate desserts.

Budapest is so lively and vibrant in the summer; if I get the chance I’d love to explore it again

Entertainment didn’t just come through music though. From theatre tents to game arenas and dance lessons, it really wasn’t possible to stay bored very long. I remember accidentally walking into a Zumba class and finding myself swept up by the crowd’s energy. Given that it was over 35 degrees, volunteers would come by to spray the crowds with water to help stifle the heat. It made me nostalgic for the hours I’d spend running through sprinklers as a kid.

We opted to stay in a hostel in central Budapest over camping. If I could go again, I think I’d prefer to camp on the island, although I loved being able to visit the city as well as the Festival. One night we walked all the way to the beach, where campers had started small fires and were singing, dancing and talking around them. The trees there had been covered in fairy lights, and I imagined how beautiful it would be to sleep under them.

We took the ferry from central Budapest to the island every day. The fare was included in the city pass, which we used in the afternoons to move around the city. Budapest is so lively and vibrant in the summer; if I get the chance I’d love to explore it again.

I know this summer I’ll be scrolling through memories and photographs from my time there last year, in hopes and anticipation of being there again in 2021.

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