Viking River Cruise - - Day One, Fri 10/9/15
The airport in Munich is surprisingly big, I don't know why I was expecting it to be small. We walked about twenty minutes to get to our gate. Then I walked around another ten minutes looking for a place to fill up my Hello Kitty! water bottle. They have free coffee every ten feet, but no water. I think that says something about the Germans. Our flight to Budapest was just an hour long, and they gave us a wonderful turkey salad sandwich, which had some kind of pickle thing going on.
We deplaned, and I had my sport coat and messenger bag, was holding Mom's rolling bag, and handed her her coat. We got downstairs to baggage claim and I realized that I had forgotten my trench coat on the plane! What a moron! Thankfully they found it and brought it to me in twenty minutes, but that whole scenario did not make me happy. Mom decided that we were even, and that's all the mishaps we would need on this trip.
I had mapped out a way for us to go from the airport to our hotel using the subway, it looked like a straight shot from the airport, followed by a 5-10 minute walk from the subway. Turns out it was a 30-minute bus ride from the airport followed by a 30-minute subway ride. And then we had no idea where we were going when we got above ground - - I had printed out a Google map, which looked pretty darn straightforward but didn't quite make sense when we got there. I asked for directions from the guy at the tourist information booth, and either I didn't understand him right or he had his head up his ass. We asked another couple of guys, who gave us equally mystifying directions, mostly in Hungarian. Mom, in all her wisdom, said, "Let's take a cab." It was a three-minute ride, and we found out from our desk clerk that the guy had charged us at least twice as much as he should have. I had a feeling he was doing that, so I did not give him a tip!
We're staying at the NH Hotel, a recommendation from Jere and Dale. Nice hotel. The desk clerk, a tall dark and handsome guy named Zoltan, could not have been more helpful. We got upstairs, unpacked a little bit, and Mom took a nap. I took a shower (heaven), got caught up on email and started my first blog post.
My priceless friend Dennis was in Budapest years ago, and told me about an elegant restaurant called Gundel. Very Old World, very delicious. He also told me about another place called Rezkakas, which is cheaper and more on the "quaint" side of the spectrum, rather than "elegant." I met a guy named JJ a few months before the trip, he had lived in Budapest for a while - - I told him about the trip and asked him where I should go for dinner. He said that Rezkakas is very good and we'd have a nice time there, but for a Bucket List trip like this, Gundel is really where it's at. And he was right, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It's a beautiful restaurant, so refined and tasteful. The china and the silver, everything top drawer. Even the linens - - they had your typical white tablecloth, but also had a navy blue silky sort of narrow runner going diagonally across the table, a lovely touch. BTW that picture is from their website, I don't know those people.
We looked at the menu and both decided to get the Chef's Menu, but not with the paired wine tastings. Mom and I are not big drinkers, and we don't want to get thrown out of the joint. Four glasses of wine and I'd be standing on a chair singing "Those were the days, my friend" with the Gypsy band.
First course: home-pickled Atlantic salmon with mustard potatoes and fresh cucumbers.
I won't bore you by saying that each course was delicious - - the whole meal was incredibly delicious, a subtle mix of flavors and textures in each course, and a genius plan for the meal as a whole. There was plenty of fresh dill on the salmon, lovely. And they had a few teeny blobs of something light green and gelatinous - - we couldn't figure out what it was. We asked one of our servers, the only female server we saw, a pretty young woman with incredibly long eyelashes - - she asked and told us it was cucumber. So they must have made some kind of cucumber Jell-O. Who knew.
Second course: duck essence with truffled duck quenelles. The loveliest little bowl of soup ever. I'd never seen such a crystal clear broth, it was like liquid gold in the spoon. Oh, and did I mention the silver? We had your typical restaurant set-up when we arrived, and when we chose our meal a server came back and added about ten pieces of silver to our settings. With the tines of the forks or bowls of the spoons facing DOWN - - something I'd heard of but had never actually experienced. Anyway, the soup was sublime, and the duck quenelles (duck balls, if you will) were luscious. We got fresh toast with this course, to go with the rolls they had given us at the start of the meal. Also two kinds of butter: regular sweet cream butter and butter infused with mustard, so delicious.
Let's take a brief diversion to talk about our drinks and the band. I got a glass of sparkling rose' - - I can't figure out how to do the French <<accent egue>> on my laptop, so I'll spell it out: a sparkling rozay. Did you know that rozay is having a big comeback right now? My rozay was nice and crisp. Mom got a glass of red wine, the Szekszardy Bikaver reserve from the Takler winery. All their wines are Hungarian wines, this one was rich and bold.
There was just one musician playing when we arrived, I'm pretty sure he was playing a hammered dulcimer. It sounded sort of like a piano, but it's played with mallets hitting the strings. A lovely Old World touch. The rest of the band showed up about a half hour into the meal - - two violinists, a violist, a string bass, a clarinet, and an accordion, along with the hammered dulcimer. They were essential to the ambience of the restaurant. I found the clarinetist a little tiresome: he did one thing and did it all night long, he was a real one trick pony. The same doodles in every number, it all sounded like "yadda yadda yadda" after a while. But hey, I guess you could say it was authentic.
Most of what they played was unfamiliar to me. They played a few things we knew: the "Fascination" waltz, the loveliest waltz ever (I told Mom the story about how for years they thought it was written by Ravel, but now they know it wasn't), a few other waltzes I don't know by name. There was a big group on the upper level and the lead violinist went over to them and played "Waltzing Matilda". Something tells me they were from a land down under. They brought out the real shlock later in the night: the theme from *The Godfather*, the aforementioned "Those were the days", and the inevitable title song from *The Phantom of the Opera*. But most of what they played was charming, and like I said, essential to the ambience.
Third course: white asparagus with hollandaise sauce. This was Mom's favorite course. The asparagus was perfectly steamed, crisp but done. And the hollandaise sauce was dreamy. They had one sprig of something green laying over the sauce, and Mom said it was a sprig from a pea plant. Who ever heard of such a thing?
Fourth course: rose-seared veal tenderloin with vegetable-enriched barley risotto and spinach. This was my favorite course. I know we're not supposed to like veal, but we do. We don't feel good about it, but we do. The whole thing was out of this world, every component of the dish done to perfection and working harmoniously with the others. And to top it all off, a velvety sauce on the side. We couldn't figure out what it was - - it was the color of mustard, but it didn't taste like mustard. Mom thought maybe it was a mild curry.
Dessert: traditional walnut pancakes a la Gundel with dark chocolate sauce. The pancakes were more like crepes - - light, perfect. They were stuffed with walnuts that had been prepared in some kind of unbearably delicious manner. I don't know what all was in there, but I'm pretty sure I picked up on some orange zest. And the dark chocolate sauce was to die for. I hadn't slept much in the previous 36 hours, and was starting to fade at this point in the meal: the chocolate sauce gave me the little boost I needed.
We looked at photos in the lobby or way out, people who had been to the restaurant: QE2 and Prince Philip, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Pope John Paul III, Putin (blech), lots of other people we didn't recognize. The whole experience was absolutely priceless and the perfect first real meal of our trip.
We got back home and hit the hay. I slept like the dead.