“I would not eat the soup of life with a fork; I
would continue to use a big ladle.”
               George Lang, Holocaust

TIME: 11 PM.  PLACE: The Danube River.  COUNTRY:
we glided down the Danube on our approach to Budapest, all passengers rushed to
the upper deck of  the river boat that had been our floating hotel for the
past week.  The cruise staff had forewarned us not to miss the sight of
this city that would be our on-shore home for the last three days of our Danube
River tour.
we approached the final stretch, a breathtaking sight appeared before our
eyes.  The city of Budapest, gracing both sides of the Danube River, was
ablaze with thousands of lights.  Lights outlining the regal bridges;
lights outlining the Neoclassical buildings; lights outlining the grand
monuments.  Budapest (pronounced Budapesht) was a veritable
fairyland.  A fantasy that Walt Disney might have conjured up.
morning came reality.  Here we were, one-fourth of the way around the
world, in an exotic, mysterious city that had been devastated in WWII and
inaccessibly cloistered behind an Iron Curtain in the last half of the 20th
century.  Here we were, watching history being made in a city that was,
once again, being rebuilt and reinvented by its proud people.
city we know as Budapest was once three cities existing side by side. 
Obuda, with Celtic and Roman ruins, is the oldest section; Buda is the home of
Castle Hill and the finest residential areas; and Pest is the seat of the
bustling government and commercial areas.  

1873, under the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the three were united to
form the city of Budapest.  That monarchy fell after WW I and Hungary lost
two-thirds of its territory.  It is said that during WW II, Hungary
supported Germany in an attempt to regain its borders.  After the war,
Budapest was taken over by the Russian troops.  In 1990, free elections
brought the democratic victory that is responsible for reviving some of the
pre-Communist traditions.
1251, King Bela IV gave the Jews religious freedom that kept them integrated in
Hungarian society until 1941 when Nazi anti-Semitism took over. On January 18,
1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Pest ghetto, created in 1944. 
With 3000 seats, The Dohany Street Great Synagogue,
is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. 
Built in Byzantine-Moorish style between 1854-1859, its brick facade is
ornamented with a large rose window flanked by onion-domed towers.  The
Jewish Museum is within the restored synagogue.
Hungarian Holocaust Victims and Heroes Memorial unveiled behind the Great
Synagogue in 1991 pays tribute to Hungarian Holocaust victims who were
exterminated by the Nazis in WW II.  This Weeping Willow sculpture, funded
by the late actor Tony Curtis, is in loving memory of his Hungarian-born
parents Mr. and Mrs. Emanuel Schwartz. 
In Tony Curtis’s words, the Holocaust Memorial is
“dedicated to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who perished in the Holocaust and to
the many valiant heroes of all faiths who risked their lives to save untold
numbers of Jewish men, women and children from certain death.”
the poignant plaques at the base of the memorial was that of the Ronald S.
Lauder Foundation which read: “We may never understand why or how it happened,
but we must never forget it happened.” Edgar Bronfman’s plaque was inscribed
“Evil shall be vanquished by memory”.
United States has imported some of Hungary’s most valuable assets…immigrants
like Estee Lauder, the world-renowned cosmetic giant and mother of the
aforementioned Ronald Lauder; Judith Leiber, the world’s most famous bag lady,
and George Lang. 
you might ask “is George Lang?”  Well, I will tell you. 
Hungarian-born George Lang was one of the world’s greatest restaurateurs. 
During his lifetime, this talented, witty, erudite, perfectionist invented
restaurants.  About Lang, Martha Stewart once said: “…he was one of the
fathers of modern hospitality industry.” 
survived life in a concentration camp, the young Jewish violinist made his way
to America and another Horatio Alger story began.  His dream of a musical
career eventually took a back seat to the food-as-entertainment business. 
Lang’s culinary path crossed his life with the likes of Queen Elizabeth,
Princess Grace, Kruschev, President Clinton, and Pope John Paul II. 
successfully reopening New York’s Café des Artistes in all its former splendor,
George Lang returned to Budapest to purchase, (with partner Ronald Lauder,
Estee’s son) the century-old Gundel Restaurant.  Founded in City Park (Varosliget
in 1894, it was taken over by Karoly Gundel in 1910, restored and
reopened by Lang /Lauder in May, 1992.

Gundel’s exquisite turn-of-the-century mansion, refined versions of traditional
Hungarian dishes, as well as the aristocratic cuisine of the Austro-Hungarian
era, are served in rooms decorated with dazzling chandeliers, paintings from 19th century
Hungarian masters, opulent floral arrangements, and a collection of Gundel
memorabilia from an earlier era. 

began our Gundel dinner with a cup of traditional gulyas (goulash)
soup.  Proceeded to the warm Hungarian-style goose liver (libamajszeletek)
and from there to the pike (fogas) indigenous to Hungary’s Lake
Balaton.  Our splendid dinner was washed down with Gundel’s own
Bull’s Blood wine, and topped off with palacsinta, the thin
crepe-like pancake filled with homemade jams and/or nuts. And, all the
while, we were serenaded by a Gypsy Orchestra.  In my book, the word
‘Gundel’ is synonymous with the word ‘Budapest’.  Don’t leave
Budapest without dining there.  



last evening’s dinner was at BAGOLYVAR  (The Owl’s Castle), another
George Lang masterpiece.  This restaurant, in a rustic Transylvanian
manor house next door to Gundel, is unique in Hungary.  Bagolyvar
serves comfort food like mama (or grandma) used to make, in the atmosphere of a
pre-WW II, Hungarian middle-class dining room.  The restaurant was
staffed entirely by women who planned, marketed, cooked, served, and provided
traditional Hungarian hospitality. 


Danube Bend Tour to Szentendre revealed a baroque town, just north of
Budapest.  Home to the fabulous Margit Kovacs Ceramic Museum,
Szentendre is the best place to buy paprika and Helia-D, the magical face and
eye creams in the little black jars.  Cheaper than Budapest, and oh
so much less than in the US.

the waters’ at the Gellert Spa is a Pesti (pronounced peshtee) tradition.  The
Art Nouveau spa inspired by Rome’s baths of Caracalla, offers therapeutic
massages at bargain basement prices.  Once you figure out what to do,
and where to go, you will feel great.  But don’t expect Baden Baden

award-winning Travel Writer, International Travel Consultant, and winner of 40
national Travel Writing Awards.