Budapest travel notes

October 24, 2010

Linda and I arrived in Budapest on Monday, September 27, 2010. On the half-hour drive in from the airport we could see big construction projects underway. On the outskirts we could also see enormous blocks of shoddy Stalinist apartment buildings, still in use.

We stayed at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, a centrally-located first-class modern hotel with which we were very happy.

The first evening we went to a concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra at the impressive Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in the Palace of Arts, opened in 2005.

The performance (Brahms and  Bartók) and acoustics were excellent. The audience was quiet, attentive, and mostly very well-dressed.

After the concert, we returned to our hotel where its Bistro Jardin is open late. We ordered Hungarian specialties: Sauteed goose liver with Calvados apple and mashed potatoes; Mangalica pork medallions on truffled Savoy cabbage, chanterelles and oven baked potatoes.
They were too fancified and complex, typical of an international hotel. We had a bottle of Pannonhalma Pinot Noir, which was quite heavy.

The following morning we went to the Central Market (see separate blogpost.) We walked the short distance from there to the Museum of Applied Arts, which we enjoyed, although some of the exhibit space was empty. Lunch was at Dunacorso on the recommendation of George and Julie; (see separate blogpost.) 

In the evening we walked up the elegant Andrássy út to the Opera House for a 7:00 performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The 1884 building is magnificent. I cannot quarrel with those who say it is the world’s most beautiful opera house.

The Rossini-sized orchestra was very good, but the singing ranged from okay to poor; the acting and production were dreadful so we left at the intermission and walked to dinner at Nosztalgia, recommended by our hotel concierge.  

We had the set menu: 
Assorted home made appetizers (sausages, paprika salami, smoked ham, head cheese,, cold goose liver, vegetables) 
Jókai bean soup with smoked pork and mini Debrecen sausages

Roast sirloin strips with „Bácska” style letscho and rice 
Hazelnut and rum cream filled pancake with chocolate coulis


We ordered a bottle of Egri Bikaver, the famous Hungarian Bulls Blood red wine blend. It was quite dense.  The cuisine was okay and Hungarian, but that wasn’t the point of Nosztalgia, as we quickly figured out after sitting down. There was the typical “Gypsy Music” combo of two violins, a bass and a cimbolom, or hammered dulcimer. There were also four very lively folk dancers, who were not shy about involving the audience. Eventually we found ourselves in a Hungarian conga line. An Irish diner asked the musicians to play Summertime, which his wife sang beautifully from her table. I did not sing, but we relaxed and enjoyed the show, not paying much attention to the food. Nosztalgia is probably what most tourists want in a Budapest restaurant and I think it is high class for its type.

Wednesday morning Linda went early to the Great Synagogue. (When I tried to go on Thursday, it was closed for the three-day Simchat Torah holiday.)

We took the Number 1 subway line, built in 1896 and renovated in 1970-1973. It still retains its antique charm.

We had bought a two-day Budapest Pass, good for free subway and tram rides and some discounts at museums etc. Tickets are controlled at the entrances and exits of the stations as well as on the trains. We got off at the City Park station and walked to the Museum of Fine Arts a short distance away.

There was a Gustav Klimt exhibition in progress; it was a bit disappointing. A Botero exhibition was about to open. The big disappointment was that almost all of the museum’s great works were at an exhibition in London. The only great paintings we saw were some by El Greco.

We took the subway back to its downtown end and walked across the 1849 Chain Bridge across the Danube. At the far end is an 1870 funicular which takes one to the top of Buda, right outside the old Royal Palace, which now includes the Hungarian National Gallery, full of art which could only be of interest to students of Hungarian art. One can look back over Pest. Here we see the Chain Bridge, the Gresham Hotel and the dome of Saint Stephen’s Basilica.

We had lunch at the Rivalda Café in Buda, which was pleasant. Beef Gulyas Soup with mini-pinched noodles; Paprika Pork Chop with sauteed potatoes and lecho (Hungarian ratatouille.)

We walked around old Buda and entered the ornate old Matthias Church.

In the evening we dined at Gundel. (see separate blogpost.)

Thursday we walked or took trams around much of the center of Budapest. Linda visited the Holocaust Center, another synagogue and walked in the old Jewish quarter. We met at Saint Stephen’s Basilica.

We stopped for lunch at Onyx, which features traditional Hungarian dishes updated to modern international techniques.

Linda’s lunch: Sweet potato cream soup with oxtail; Challans breast of duck with pear chutney and home made sesame pasta.

My lunch: Mild cucumber jelly with smoked trout tartar and horseradish – apple foam; Veal minced meat with savoy cabbage.
We enjoyed Onyx and thought the cuisine successful. It is associated with Gerbaud, a 150-year-old pastry shop. I stopped there for a coffee and Sacher Torte in the afternoon before doing some shopping.


In the evening we went back to Dunacorso  (see separate blogpost.)

Friday morning we took the Number Two tram along the Danube to revisit the Central Market and buy paprika, before leaving for the airport.

We really enjoyed our four days and nights in Budapest. Its historic charms are very appealing.

4 Responses to “Budapest travel notes”

  1. laszlo Says:

    Dear Michael!
    Really enjoy reading your blog. I’m from Hungary, and I write a blog on restaurants here similar to yours. I’m happy you enjoyed your time here, but next time you’re around please drop me a mail and I will prevent you from going to places like Nosztalgia and Gundel. This is NOT XXI. century hungarian cuisine unfortunately, but something as you rightly point out is about a 100 years out of date. Best wishes!

  2. Henry Says:

    Thank you for the delightful travelog. Please know your efforts are much appreciated.

  3. Jerry Vance Says:

    Michael once again you are showing us parts of the world most of us will never see. Thank you and your pictures and descriptions they are fantastic.

  4. vilmamat Says:

    I’m going to Budapest in a month or so, you just got me reeeally excited:-) Thanks for the post!

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