Hungary Hungary Wedding

Katie and I were invited to the wedding of one of Katie's uni friends, Tellis, to the love of his life, Barbi, in May 2017. They live in Sweden, where we visited them a couple of years ago, but Barbi is from Hungary and that's where we would be going for the wedding.

When we got the invitation, we looked at the map and noticed that next to Hungary is a country we had never been to, which looked rather interesting to explore - Romania. What could have been a long weekend away for the wedding, turned into a 15 day holiday around Hungary and then Romania. So we did what we do best and set out on our adventure, starting in Budapest, where I was hungover from a work-do the night before.

When we arrived, we picked up our seven-seater rental car from a handsome man who looked like Silas from the show Weeds. I was driving my first ever automatic car (how novel!), and didn't have any incidents as we headed into the centre of town…but also didn't find the hotel. After several loops of the neighbourhood we eventually saw the secluded gate and dropped off the car and our bags before heading out to explore the delights of Budapest on a Thursday night.

We grabbed dinner (which Katie will write about in In My Mouth) and headed to a "ruin bar". This is a relatively new style of bar in Budapest and there are several around the city. They have sprung up in old derelict buildings and unused plots of land, and are popular spots to grab a cheap beer, often accompanied by live music.

We kept seeing one stag party that had been on our flight and loads of hen-dos and other groups of raucous people getting ruined at the ruin bar. Budapest is a hotspot for boozy groups from across Europe. We headed away from the groups and sat outside, where we met a lovely American couple and proceeded to get very drunk and raucous together. They had just quit their jobs and were travelling around Europe at the ripe old age of 29 and 31. That’s how you do it folks! Several beers and several shots later we left the bar and stumbled back to the hotel. Considering Thursday started with a hangover, we did well surviving and drinking til 3am!

The next day I drove to pick up our friends and take them to the wedding. Michael is a good friend from Blackpool, currently living in Ireland, and he managed to get sunburned while waiting in the car park for us to arrive. He works for YouTube so any questions or comments you have about this wonderful video service should be directed at him. Joking aside, it's fascinating hearing about his job and what life is like in the Dublin head office. A blog post about this is coming, as we did visit him and the Google head office in 2016. We might wait for him to leave Google before we post it though…

Our first stop was at Lake Valence, which was a quaint little body of water and a great introduction to Hungary's landscape. Our love affair with these beautiful lands had started.

Next up was the much larger Lake Balaton, which we referred to as Lake Bell End throughout because we are so mature. We started at the tip then headed down the shaft, taking it all in, before stopping for lunch.

I was surrounded by German language graduates and since the Hungarians seemed to prefer to speak German than English, their useless degrees turned out to be slightly less useless than usual! We all fancied pizza, but apparently couldn't have it unless we wanted to wait until the next day, which is the longest serving time I can ever remember being given. We decided not to wait because, as you know, we had a wedding to get to!

The wedding venue was located at what can only be described as the ball sack of Lake Bell End. After several wrong turns into the venue itself, we finally arrived where we needed to be. We were greeted by two huge stalks, which were more exotic than peacocks to our English eyes. The venue and grounds were beautiful and spacious, and our room was a delight too.

Before moving on, I want to give a big shout-out to Liam who, due to his long legged nature, had to sit in the front and was therefore the defacto navigator, which he did a very good job of.

The wedding itself was a wonderful experience. The ceremony was held outside in the beautiful garden, and the very charming MC did a fantastic job of translating everything into English so we all knew what was going on. There was a hilarious moment when the ceremony was put on hold so that we could be treated to a one-man-one-guitar (slightly out of tune) rendition of the Friends theme tune, which was a complete surprise to everyone, including the bride and groom! Michael did a fine job of being a witness and of course, Barbi looked beautiful.

Throughout the evening we experienced many Hungarian traditions, such as the groom drinking
palinka from the bride’s shoe. Palinka is a Hungarian spirit, made from a variety of fruits. It's incredibly strong and was being drunk by the gallon! At one point there was a palinka tasting competition, which definitely tipped those involved over the edge.

Part way through the party, Barbi and Tellis disappeared and when they returned, Barbi's white wedding dress had been replaced by a red one. I think we can all guess what this represented...

There was an abundance of food throughout the night and everyone had a great time. As you'd expect from a wedding, there was plenty of drinking and dancing and the party was still going strong when we bowed out some time after midnight. We just couldn't keep up with the locals, and we had a long drive ahead of us, back to Budapest the next day.

Budapest has a beautiful train station

Lake Valence

Lake Balaton

The hills surrounding the wedding venue were beautiful, and dotted with quaint houses and lots of grape vines

We explored the local village on the morning of the wedding. There was a market with loads of interesting goods, including these smiley picked vegetables!

The bride, groom and the Fantastic Five

So much food at the wedding!

Despite not being a big drinker and really disliking palinka, Michael did pretty well in the taste test!

I couldn't get over how huge the grapes were! No wonder the region makes so much wine!

¡Fallas Part II: The Sequel!

In the last blog we introduced Fallas and the craziness of this festival and its firecrackers. One odd thing about fireworks is that in Rio we always thought fireworks were going off when we heard loud bangs. We later realised that they were gunshots. Now in Valencia, my initial reaction thinks they are gunshots, but I have to retune my mind to recognise them as fireworks. The reversal of our #RioLife.

In this post we will be exploring the many other elements of this festival, which is about so much more than fireworks!

The origins of the festival
The festival originally started as a way to celebrate the spring equinox. Carpenters used wooden planks to hold candles during the winter, so that they could see better at night. With the coming of spring, these carpenters no longer needed the planks so they burnt them. People also saw this as an opportunity to burn unwanted wooden items from their houses, such as broken chairs etc. As Christianity took hold, the festival became associated with Saint Joseph - the Patron Saint of Carpenters - although there is no actual religious connotation to the festival itself. Fallas continued to evolve into what we have today, which as mentioned before, is utter madness.

The fallas
To pay homage to the origins of the festival, hundreds of models made of wood, paper, and polystyrene, are made throughout the city. They are designed and built by the different neighbourhood communities (approx. 400) and often designed based on a theme, 2018's theme being balance. They can also be pretty political, and we saw so many that included caricatures of Trump, Kim Jong Un and Putin, and one that was making some kind of statement about Brexit (although we don't know what it said because it was written in Valencian!) 

Every couple of streets belongs to a different community group and they all donate throughout the year to build these structures. They take this all very seriously, as each year there is a competition to find the best ones. There are many different categories but there are about seven or eight that compete for the top prize each year, and these are truly spectacular, standing tens of metres tall with hundreds of different elements making up the scene.

During the festival, many streets close and food stalls and beer halls spring up everywhere. Beyond the gunpowder smell, there is one of beer, chocolate and sweat from all the dancing. The atmosphere is intoxicating, and you can't help but feel something special in the air.

This was Katie's favourite falla
La Ofrenda
Translated as the offering, this is the only religious element of the festival. Men and women from the different communities wear traditional clothes and march towards the centre of town, playing live music. They make an offering to the huge statue of Jesus' mum by adding flowers to decorate her dress. This lasts for a few days, with as many as 10,000 women contributing the bouquets. It's a magnificent spectical, as the dresses are beautiful and many of the people involved are moved to tears by the occasion.

La Ofrenda - thousands of bouquets of flowers were added to the structure.
Light shows
Another element of the festival are the magnificent light displays, which are set up in several streets around the city and which flash in time with music. These trippy displays are phenomenal and captivate a part of my brain in an addictive way. I went to them all, multiple times, and captured them in 360. I have a project in mind that I'll get round to in the latter part of this year so stay tuned!

But none of what we have already mentioned comes even close to the craziness of the final night of the festival...


La Crema
At midnight on this final night, all across the city, they BURN DOWN ALL THE FALLAS!

That's over 300 giant statues in a city of less than a million people, which all go up in flames. They call it La Crema - the cremation! Music, fireworks, screams, fire, and a hell of a lot of air pollution flood the city and you are overcome. It is nothing short of mental. We were caught up in a scary one that involved a mass evacuation as the wind turned, blowing thick black smoke full of burning ash into the crowd. Melted plastic has now permanently decorated my bag but luckily neither of our faces or eyes. Additional PPE will be required for next year!!


...And after.

Final Thoughts
The whole festival is more than a little strange, as the city grinds to a halt during these days and is descended upon by tourists. One thing I find shocking is how unknown this festival is in Britain. It is nowhere near as famous as it should be, considering the scale and beauty of all the displays.

The food, dancing, gigantic models, FIRE, and culture on display is something to behold and no wonder it is a UNESCO heritage event. It's the scale of the event that is difficult to get across in a blog. A carnival, manic atmosphere descends on the city and usual norms go out the window. It's The Purge of loud noises and fireworks. It truly is one of the most phenomenal festivals I have ever seen.

Fallas is a truly unique festival. Words, 360 videos, smileys, and memes cannot do it justice. This is up there with any carnival in the world. I highly recommend planning to come in 2019 because it really is that good.

I compared it to Rio Carnaval in the last post but it's an apt comparison. I went to the one in Rio two years running and was amazed at the energy in the city. But I think the bizarreness of Fallas actually outdoes Carnaval's free love, more party-ish atmosphere.

If you're single, go to Rio and have a lot of fun. If you're not, come to Fallas, eat sweet things, and be blown away by the craziness.

This shows one mid-construction. We saw this one burn, and it was oddly moving.
Game of Thrones!

La Ofrenda was beautiful and wasn't set on fire!

One of the many street parties happening throughout the week
There were paella cook-offs in the street, although we were warned this was more about having fun
and drinking than actually making something that tasted nice!

The aforementioned light displays