Studio Ghibli, enchanting and dreamy

Studio Ghibli, enchanting and dreamy

Studio Ghibli has been producing some of the world’s best anime films for over 3 decades. Hayao Miyazaki, one of its co-founders, uses strong female characters in whimsical settings to create memorable movies that stay with you long after they have finished.

I first became interested in Studio Ghibli when I was at college. During a media studies lesson, I was shown Howl’s Moving Castle. That was the first time I had ever seen anything anime, apart from the hugely popular Pokemon. I always saw anime as something a little strange and hard for me to understand. When I was growing up, the only animation I saw was that of Disney or the cartoons I watched on TV. That was what I was used to – the Western world’s style. But here was something created from the minds of the Japanese. Although inititally unsure as to whether I would enjoy it, I watched Howl’s Moving Castle with an open mind.

For those of you who don’t know the film, it revolves around a young girl called Sophie, who gets turned into an old woman by a witch’s curse, and the time she spends with a wizard named Howl. On that first viewing, I found myself very quickly falling in love with it. It was probably the most fantastical thing I had ever seen. Among the long list of characters is a humorous fire called Calcifer and the unfortunate-looking Witch of the Waste. Along with a jumpy scarecrow that follows the castle around (which has legs and moves like a creature, by the way) it made for such a strange yet endearing story. That is exactly what I loved about it. It’s a love story at its core, not something I’m usually interested in, but it also teaches valuable lessons about being shallow about looks, amongst other things. I suddenly found myself wanting to explore Studio Ghibli some more.

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My favourite Ghibli film is the iconic Spirited Away. Released in 2001, it is the most successful film in Japanese history. You will find some of Hayao Miyazaki’s most infamous characters within this film, including a floating head wearing a cape called No Face and a giant baby. Sen, the young girl who the narrative revolves around, is said to be based on the 10 year old of one of Miyazaki’s friends. She begins the film as an innocent girl who seems weary of the world around her, reliant on her parents for safety. As they explore an abandoned fairground in those early scenes, Sen urges her parents to leave. But they continue their journey and gorge on food they find at a stall. Sen watches as her parents are turned into pigs by the spirits that inhabit the fairground, having been taken over by their greed. She is then forced to live amongst the spirits at the bathhouse in order to get her parents back. She uses her inner strength and charisma to save herself and her parents from this intimidating world, proving herself to be the most powerful female character within the narrative.

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This is what Miyazaki does so well. As a pronounced feminist, he creates these inspiring female characters knowing that his audience will be able to relate to them wholeheartedly. I love watching films with strong female leads because it makes a change from the somewhat dominating male presence in many movies. And girls are just really cool. Princess Mononoke from the film of the same name, Kiki of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind are other females from Ghibli films who also radiate this sense of strength and independence. In fact, most if not all films produced by Studio Ghibli include central female characters. This in itself is a real triumph.

Of course, I cannot talk about anime without mentioning the animation itself. It is truly beautiful and drawn with the most incredible detail. The colours are vibrant and the landscapes and settings are other-worldly. I find myself getting lost in them. Whether it’s a village by the sea, a vast valley or an inner-city town, the settings are always amazing. It’s hard to imagine the pain-staking process that must go into the creation of the animation for each film. But it brings so much joy and emotion to the narrative that Studio Ghibli wouldn’t be same without their icon style of drawing.

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I think it’s impossible to simply watch only one Ghibli film without starting an everlasting love affair with the studio. The stories they create are so unlike anything else and it is animation at its very best. I sometimes describe Studio Ghibli to those who are unaware of it as a Japanese Disney. But it is so much more than that. I grew up watching Disney films, as most young girls do, but never did their films stay with me as much as Ghlibi has. It’s the combination of the narrative, characters and settings that make them so special and I will always be in awe of them.

Budapest, a hidden gem in Central Europe

Budapest, a hidden gem in Central Europe

Budapest, separated into Buda and Pest by the Danube River, is a beautiful city set in the heart of Hungary. It’s host to many wonderful monuments, historic thermal baths and even its own island on the river. With so much to offer, and at an affordable price, it makes the perfect city break or longer getaway! 

When I told people I was visiting Budapest for a holiday last June, I was surprised by how many hadn’t heard of it before or didn’t know where it was. It was somewhere that I had wanted to go for quite a few years after seeing pictures of its beautiful architecture. So I was really excited when me and my boyfriend finally booked 3 nights in this wonderful city.

Budapest is, unknown to some, an amazingly cheap place to visit. Our return flight only cost us around £30 and took just a couple of hours. We took just under £500’s worth of Hungarian Forint altogether and didn’t even manage to spend it all. To make our entire holiday even cheaper, we decided to ditch staying in a hotel. Instead, we chose to go with Airbnb, a holiday rental company. I cannot emphasise enough how good this is. You get to pick exactly the kind of house/apartment/room you want to stay in and how pricey you want this to be. We stayed in a central studio apartment near Keleti station, situated in a quaint building with its own courtyard, which cost us just £14 each a night. Such a steal! It’s also a great way to experience the city, staying next to people who actually live there.

In Budapest, there is so much to sight see. We spent an entire day walking around the city, visiting all the monuments and buildings we wanted to see. Everything is in such a walkable distant that you don’t need to take a single step on public transport if you don’t want to. We walked in a loop, starting with St. Stephen’s Basilica, onto the Hungarian Parliament building, crossing the bridge over to Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side and ending at Buda Castle. Not forgetting our little detour onto Margaret’s Island as we crossed the bridge.

Fisherman’s Bastion was my favourite place in Budapest. It’s where many of the most famous photos of the city are taken because you get the most breathtaking views. I found it hard to believe that there could be somewhere so beautiful in the world. I also couldn’t believe that we had just walked around pretty much all of it. It was the perfect way to end a day of seeing the most unbelievable architecture and buildings I had ever seen.

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Something else that Budapest is famous for are its thermal baths. The city sits on over 100 thermal springs, meaning these baths hold naturally warm water. There are a handful of baths you can visit but we chose to go to Szechenyi Thermal Bath, distinctive for its yellow colouring. It’s hidden within the city park and was only a short distance from where we were staying in Keleti. It cost around £18 each to get inside, which I thought was a reasonable price to pay to experience some of Budapest’s most famous history.

The main spectacle of Szechenyi is its main pool outside. It’s architecturally incredible and so is the experience of stepping into its warm water for the first time. My brain was hardwired to expect pool water to be cool, so it took me a minute to adjust. But then I began to understand the thrill of it. It is beyond relaxing and I could have spent hours in the water if they didn’t suggest you spend only 20 minutes in there at a time. It’s also quite something seeing the old Hungarian men playing chess whilst sat in the pool.

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One of the best times I had in Budapest was in one of its famous ruin bars. These are unlike anything you will see anywhere else in the world. They, as the name suggests, are literally bars located in formally abandoned buildings, with added character. We visited Szimpla Kert, the oldest ruin bar in the city, and it was a sight to behold. The walls were covered in grafitti and scribbles from past visitors. Bikes were hung on walls and hanging from the ceilings. One room was full of plants and flowers whilst another was decorated with television sets and fairy lights. It was such a great atmosphere because everyone there was just as amazed with the place as each other. We drank plenty of beer (beer is ridiculously cheap in Budapest) and enjoyed taking in our surroundings.

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Other highlights of the trip were a visit to a pinball museum, home to over 20 retro pinball machines from the likes of The Simpsons and South Park, which gave us unlimited play for a small charge of around £8. The Hungarian Agricultural Museum was really fun because as a lover of taxidermy, I was amazed to see its huge central room full of thousands (seriously thousands) of antique antlers. Also, on Margaret Island, we drank watermelon juice, ate spicy Hungarian hotdogs, and rode on what could only be described as something similar to that of the two-seated bike featured on Chuckle Vision. My research tells me this is called a Cyclo-Pousse but I’m not going to call it that because that’s hideous.

I could talk about my love of Budapest for days and anyone who’s asked me what it’s like there has probably instantly regretted it because of my incessant rabitting. I could not recommend it enough as either a weekend getaway or a longer holiday. There are an endless amount of things to see and do and I know I have only scratched the surface at what the city has to offer. Maybe one day I’ll get to explore it some more.

Trip Advisor was an amazing tool to me when I was planning my trip, so if you’re interested in visiting Budapest, I suggest having a look at what it says about it here.