Tag Archives: Budapest

Happy birthday, Queen Victoria!

Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, was born on 24 May 1819, 200 years ago today.

That was “Victoria” by the Kinks, from the album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Queen Victoria had been dead for 68 years when the Kinks recorded the song in 1969. Another couple of decades, and “Victoria” will be closer in time to the Victorian Age than to our own brave new world. Boats against the current….

“Canada to India
Australia to Cornwall
Singapore to Hong Kong
From the West to the East
From to the rich to the poor
Victoria loved them all.”

If you pay close attention to the lyrics, you might catch hints of the band’s signature working-class rage peeking through all the exaltation, but we’ll ignore that for now. Victoria’s bicentennial gives good Anglophiles everywhere a reason to celebrate, from the West to the East.

Home Again

In lesser news, I’m back from beautifully gloomy Budapest, and ready to resume posting.

I dined well, and you’re gonna hear all about it.

Another Day, Another Christmas Market

The most popular Christmas Market in Budapest is on Vörösmarty Square, right in front of Café Gerbeaud. It’s one of my favourites—I’ve been there more than a dozen times, by day and by night. Day visits are a joy, and nights are even better.

Repeat visits are easy, since the market is open every day from early November through New Year’s Day, usually from 10 AM – 9 PM.

Like most Christmas Markets, this one has booths selling anything and everything even vaguely related to the holidays, or to winter in general, or to the seasonal decoration of houses, preferable in shades of red and green. Where it really excels, though, is in the quality and variety of its food offerings.

If you aren’t currently in Budapest, Look on these Booths, ye Hungry, and despair!*

*Shelley wrote “Ozymandias” in 1818, so this year is its 200th anniversary. My trivia fact du jour.

Café Gerbeaud and the Best Desserts in Budapest

Café Gerbeaud

Café Gerbeaud

It’s possible to spend time in Budapest without visiting Café Gerbeaud, but why on earth would you do a silly thing like that? The café, dominating Vörösmarty Square in the heart of the city, is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. Long known as one of the great coffee houses of Europe, Café Gerbeaud has survived two world wars and a dismal 50-year period of nationalization. After the collapse of Communism in the 1990s, it was purchased by a German businessman and, like Fashion Street a few blocks away, beautifully restored to its former glory. There’s no better place in Budapest to enjoy fabulous desserts in a truly elegant setting.

Here’s what I ordered:

Caramel and Dried Plum Sundae

Caramel and Dried Plum Sundae

The menu describes this Caramel and Dried Plum Sundae as “Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, two scoops of caramel ice cream, dried plum ragout, caramelized hazelnut pieces, walnut croquant, whipped cream, caramel bon-bon, and a walnut crisp”, which left me unsure about the exact dfference between a “walnut croquant” and a “walnut crisp”. That uncertainty didn’t prevent me from savouring every delicious spoonful of this unforgettable sundae.

Café Gerbeaud Interiors
Images Found on the Web

Budapest at Night

I had business in Budapest, so I took the train from Vienna.

And there I was, prowling along the shadowy Hungarian streets on a cold, rainy Wednesday night in November, with film noir memories of spies and Eastern intrigue playing in my head, hoping the rendőrség wouldn’t look at my papers too closely, wondering if I could just drop the damn microfilm in a trash can and walk away, estimating how far it was to the Swedish embassy….

Sorry, got a little carried away there.

And then I walked into the light. Literally.

I was at the foot of Budapest’s Fashion Street, which was brilliantly lit for the holidays. The street, which had deteriorated badly because of the hardships of WWII and by the non-benign neglect of the following Communist government, has been beautifully restored and renovated. This year marks Fashion Street’s 10th Anniversary.

I lingered. This was my third trip to the city, and once again, I’d found something new and beautiful.

Here’s a drone’s eye view of the area:

A Late Lunch at Fatál, and the End of Another Adventure

For my last meal in Budapest, I went back to an old favourite. The restaurant is called Fatál, and it’s just off Vaci Utci, a couple of blocks from my hotel. Despite the hint of Eastern European intrigue suggested by the name, “Fatál” simply means “wooden bowl” in Hungarian.

The entrance to Fatál isn’t very impressive, but good stuff awaits within. You descend a dark flight of stairs and find yourself in one of those dimly lit, arched underground dining rooms that are so common in the East.

I knew enough to order only a main course. Even in Hungary, with its notoriously oversized portions, Fatál is famous for its generosity. Servings come in pots and pans because they’re too large for plates. The American “doggie bag” concept isn’t all that widely accepted in much of Europe, but, as my server said, “It’s not only allowed here, it’s required.”

None of that would have mattered, of course, if the food hadn’t been so very good. My meal—meals, actually—of Roasted Pork Brasso Style with spicy fried potato was a perfect example of Hungarian home cooking.

Roasted Pork

The check arrived, effectively signaling the end of my Budapest adventure, and, clutching my doggie bag, I went back to the hotel to pack for the trip home to Washington. That’s always a bittersweet task.

There are too many unexplored cities, too many life-changing experiences, far too much beauty, and an infinite number of undiscovered pleasures in the world.

And never, never, never enough time.

Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival II — The Food

And then there was the food.

The food at the Budapest Christmas Market is a long way from the Deep-Fried Peanut Butter Banana Cheeseburgers on sale at the Texas State Fair.

I could probably have dined here—and dined very well—every day I was in the city.

Here’s a small selection of what some of the vendors were offering:

It’s not too late! The Christmas Market lasts until New Year’s Eve, so you still have three or four days to get there. You can make it if you rush.

And there’s always next year.

Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival I — The Booths

The timing of my trip to Budapest wasn’t random. I wanted to be in the city during the Christmas Market season, which runs from 10 November through New Year’s Eve.

Many European cities have neighbourhood Christmas Markets scattered around town, and one big, internationally-known festival in a central location. In Budapest, that’s Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival, on Vörösmarty Square.

You can tell you’re getting close long before you arrive, because the smell of cinnamon and mulled wine fills the air. The site is overflowing with little wooden stalls selling all kinds of wintery things. It has a feel similar to that of a Renaissance Faire, or of an upscale arts and crafts celebration.

It looks like this:

On most days, the Christmas Market is open from 10 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night. As the sun sets, the lights come on.