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The Budapest Experience


The beginning of October 1998 saw us spending five days in Budapest, the capital of Hungary.
A much less spectacular city than Prague (where we stayed the previous five days), yet a much more vivid city with lively atmosphere. The great Danube river divides the city into two parts, Buda on the west side and Pest on the east side (as a matter of fact Buda and Pest were two separate cities until merged into one some 130 years ago).
There are many nice buildings in Budapest, mostly from the 19th and early 20th century. Some of them could do with a face-lift, but one only has to look up at the many beautiful facades of the extravagant period of the Austro-Hungarian empire in order to envision the richness and leisure the city once possessed. The epitome of the splendor Neo Renaissance architecture is probably the majestic Parliament House and the extravagantly beautiful opera house.
Unlike Prague, the inhabitants of Budapest seem to like their city and life in general. They eat well, spend time strolling around and sit in outdoor (and indoors) coffee houses. Theirs is a living city, not a collection of spectacular relics...
We stayed in what must be one of the very best hotels I ever stayed in. The Kempinsky hotel in the heart of the shopping center of Pest, not far from the famous Chain Bridge on the Danube. This prohibitively expensive hotel (especially if you insist on having one of their deluxe rooms) is not only luxurious. It is really really good! The attentive and personal service one gets in this 350 room hotel is like what you would expect in the most intimate and high-class family establishment...
The only let-down was the weather. Not until our last day did we see a ray of sun. Cloudy, cold and rainy. Unfortunately I caught a serious cold so had to give up on extensive outdoor sightseeing. Fortunately, the comfortable hotel and the nearby Grand Casino were at hand :)

During the five days we saw a beautiful performance of 'La Bohem' in the incredible opera house, an excellent gypsy concert, and a charming operetta evening.

Hungarian wines are of better quality than the Czech. Not only the famous Tokaji, but some very decent red wines too. As we are all too familiar with the 'international' grape varieties, we tried to drink what we don't know. The grape that we found to enjoy most (whether on its own or in combination with Cabernet Sauvignon) is what they call Kekfrankos, Hungarian for the Austrian Blaufrankisch grape.
Following is where and what we ate and drank:

A busy and cosy restaurant in the Obuda part that serves enormous traditional dishes. A gypsy band plays (loudly) in the main room, but there are two other rooms where you can enjoy your meal in relative quiet. The food is rich and extremely tasty!

Beef broth with liver knodel
'Hot-Pot' soup with meat, vegetable etc.
Two huge full-of-marrow bones on skewers!
Pork filet wrapped with bacon and stuffed with liver!
Ox-back steak marinated in mustard and wine with bacon and puree
Chocolate sauce palachinky (pancakes)

Villanyi Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, Weninger - A full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark color, wood and some fruit on the nose. Lots of tannins on the palate with medium-full body.
Very-Good. MARK 16/20.

Super tasty food (though very "unhealthy" by American standards I believe). Very moderate prices (about $70).
Highly recommended!

A nice Baroque style cellar restaurant two blocks from the opera. Nice atmosphere, good service and very good Hungarian food.

Beef soup with knodels
Onion soup
Slices of roasted Goose liver
Wild Boar in gravy and puree
Assorted desserts

As my cold was really bad this night we didn't have any wine. Instead we had some vodka, beer and fruit juices.

Excellent food, very good service. Very moderate prices (about $60 for what we had).
Highly recommended!

The most famous and most elegant restaurant in Hungary. The Gundel restaurant has been serving the crown heads of the world since the 1870s. After being closed for most of the communist era it re-opened some years ago. The decor, service, gypsy band and ambiance are really those of the Austro-Hungary empire.
The food is good though not as thrilling as the dish names may suggest. But who comes to Gundel for the food? :)

Guineafowl soup with homemade noodles
Goose liver marinated in Tokaji
Roast of Rabbit crown
Stuffed Cabbage with smoked Pork ribs and smoked Goose sausage
Assorted desserts

Kekfrankos 1996, Nagygalagonyasi - A pure Kekfrankos red wine. Medium color, flowery perfumed nose with no wood. Red fruit sweetish pleasant and interesting flavors on the palate.
Very-Good-plus. MARK 16.5/20.
Tokaji Aszu Essencia 1993, Szepsy - With the dessert we had two glasses of this highest grade of Tokaji from the family that "invented" the wine some 340 years ago... Bright orange color, complex flowers and spices nose, delicate smooth honey on the palate. Extremely viscous and very noble.
Superb-plus!! MARK 18.5/20.

Unique restaurant. Quite expensive (about $130 for what we had).
Recommended as an experience

Kacsa (duck)
A small restaurant on the Danube embarkment on the Buda side. A piano and violin try too hard to please as do the waiters...

Crepe stuffed with minced veal
Bouillon with egg dumplings
Duck with pears and apples
Roasted duck in honey
Fruit salad in liquor

Villanyi Kekfrankos 1994, Weninger - A fiery blend of Kekfrankos and Cabernet Sauvignon. Very dark in color, warm and mouthfilling on the palate. Very tasty.
Very-Good-plus. MARK 16.5/20.

The food was good though not enough to justify the $110 bill.
Marginally recommended

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Jacob "Yak" Shaya.