Sunday, June 24, 2007
How to Spend the Perfect Sunday in Budapest
[The main dining room at Gundel]
First, after breakfast, don't do what I did, which is visit the House of Terror Museum. I didn't want to go there, but I had to for work purposes. While this museum purports to commemorate the terror of the fascist Arrow Cross and the Hungarian Communist Secret Police, both of whom used this site for interrogations, in fact, after the first three rooms, the remainder of the museum is wholly devoted to the evils of the Hungarian communists.
Even the material on the Holocaust whitewashes the Miklos Horthy regime, completely omitting all mention of the slave labor camps instituted by the Hungarian government on their own initiative, to work Hungarian Jewish men to death. Instead Admiral Horthy is presented as a noble man who did his best to preserve Hungarian sovereignty in very difficult times. It was my visit to this museum last year that sparked my research project on post-communist Holocaust commemoration.
After collecting the English-language handouts for each room in the museum (my main purpose in going), I headed up to Gundel, the most famous and posh restaurant in Budapest. Normally, this place has a very strict dresscode, requiring jacket and tie, but on Sunday they relax a bit for their all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch.
After being seated and given my complimentary glass of champagne, I started at the salad section. I took some small portions of various items, including a hardboiled egg filled with fois gras mousse and topped with a grape. After that it was time for the main course. They had veal roast, rack of lamb, hungarian stew, schnitzel, bacon-wrapped rabbit in chocolate sauce, grilled salmon over farfalle noodles, and something with pork. I started with two ribs of lamb, some stew, corn, and haricot vert. They were all delicious.
For my second main course, I decided to skip little bunny foo-foo, and went instead for the veal roast. I've never had it before and the texture was reminiscent of liver (though not the taste). I had it with mushroom sauce.
As I began to ease towards dessert, I took a bowl of cold melon soup (with cantaloup balls) and a plate of cheese, watermelon, and grapes (both seeded, of course, since they have more flavor).
Finally it was time for dessert. With so many choices, I could have made that my whole mean (and you can be sure I considered it). I don't remember the names of everything I had. One was layers of poppyseed meringue separated by grand marnier buttercream, another was a "Wine-Cream Roulade." I had a coconut roulade, which was a layer of flourless chocolate cake, coated in coconut, filled with coconut cream filling and then rolled up. At the end they brought me a delicious cafe au lait, with a serving dish with different types of sugar, and chocolate flakes.
The whole bill for all the above (plus a bottle of mineral water and 12% service charge) came to about 7100 Hungarian forint (or about $38). A steal.
Then I took the metro to the banks of the Danube and walked across the Chain Bridge to the Buda side. From there, I took the funicular to the top of the Buda castle hill.
[The view from the funicular]
I shared the cabin with a british woman and her three sons. She was complaining about the expense, but I told her that given the heat, it was well worth it.
From there I headed to the National Gallery. They have a big collection of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque art, but if you ask me, the best stuff is on the 2nd floor in the section devoted to pre-1945 art.
After that I started to run short of time. I made a stop at the ruins of the medieval synagogue on the hill, destroyed by the successful Christian reconquest in 1688 (when all the Jews in Buda were either killed or exiled). I made a quick visit to Ruszwurm cafe for dessert. This is the oldest sweet shope in Budapest, founded in 1827.
[Interior of Ruszwurm Cafe]
It was too hot for cake or coffee, so I ordered icecream and mineral water. I had the "Forest Fruit Cup," which consists of vanilla and sour cherry ice cream, topped by blackberries, raspberries, red currents, whipped cream, and blueberry sauce. By that point, you could just roll me down the hill.
I'm back on the Pest side, where I changed some forints into Polish Zloty. Now I've got to race back to my hotel, pick up my luggage and get to the train station before my sleeper train to Poland leaves in 55 minutes. Next stop: Zakopane!