Overcoming a crushing setback

Budapest, Hungary

We left room 645 a little after 10 a.m. this morning and walked up Budapest’s main pedestrian drag, Andrássy út, passing by the Hungarian State Opera House en route to Lukács, one of the city’s most decadent cafés with a gold-leafed ceiling and crystal handeliers hanging from above. The Continental Breakfast, with its pot of coffee and two freshly baked pastries, hit the spot.


Right next door was the House of Terror, a haunting museum that focuses on two tragic periods in this country’s history: the Nazi and Communist regimes. The building itself, at 60 Andrássy Boulevard, is historic, having served as the headquarters of both the Hungarian Nazis and, shortly thereafter, the AVH, or communist terror organization. Its rooms are filled with exhibits that tell this story — perhaps most profound were the basement’s reconstructed prison cells.


It was a pretty draining visit, so we walked back to the hotel and across the Chain Bridget to Pest. From there, we boarded the Siklo, an aging funicular that brought us to the top of Castle Hill. The wind had picked up and the temperature dropped, so we bundled up, avoided the touts for classical music concerts and checked out the former Royal Palace. The views of the Danube toward Buda were pretty impressive.


Matthias Church was largely under renovation, which fortunately did not take away from the magnificence of the interior stained glass.


We strolled Fishermen’s Bastion, a neo-Gothic masquerade built as a viewing platform in 1905 before retreating to a small café for sandwiches and fruit salad and then heading to the day’s main attraction: the House of Hungarian Wines.

We had read that this Budapest institution offered a crash course in Hungarian wines; a $20 ticket was to have given us two unlimited tasting hours of 50 varieties. When we arrived, thirsty and read to go, an absolute crushing setback: the House was permanently closed after a fire this summer. Needless to say, we were devastated (even more so than yesterday’s Parliament fiasco) and retreated to the lobby of a Hilton across the street to regroup.

It was there that we hatched a genius idea. If the House of Hungarian Wines couldn’t provide us with our introduction, we’d organize our own wine tasting. Conveniently, La Boutique de Vins, one of the city’s premiere wine shops was just a block from our hotel and the helpful owner offered up some suggestions.

Bottles in hand, we walked back to the Sofitel and set up a wine tasting in our living room. We had a 2006 Le Sommelier Merlot (from the Malatinszky Kuria region); a 2006 Chardonnay from the same region; and a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Malatinszky Villány. Some glass cups from our mini bar worked just fine.


Here are our tasting notes:

  • Merlot: Meaty and full-bodied. Pairs well with steak and our uncomfortable couch.
  • Chardonnay: Lemony, would go well with chicken picata. We love watching International Travel Channel and uncensored German MTV reality television while drinking this.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Didn’t quite get to it.

Our wine tasting ended in a short nap, after which we headed out for dinner at Kheiron, a restaurant that billed itself as “The place where the gastronomy meet with the mitology and art.” Despite the terrible spelling and translation, we split a delicious caesar salad and then had solid steak and rosemary chicken dishes. After the sour cherry strudel disaster last night, we skipped dessert and instead jetted back to our pillow-topped bed.


  1. Totally jealous. I’m guessing that (by design) you didn’t know to redeem your forints on your way out of the baths.

    My parents lived two blocks from Lukacs.

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