I’ve been enthusiastically looking forward to boarding the new Riverside Luxury Cruises MS Mozart in Budapest. But, of course, before I can do that I’ve got to get to Budapest!
I know for many the flight to the destination is an important part of the experience. For me, it is more of, “What hassles will I face now that air travel has been relegated to a consistent less than enjoyable experience?“. It really is time for folks to adjust their expectations. With all the airline and airport issues, the crowds, and the generally degraded passenger behavior, air travel just ain’t glamorous anymore.
My journey started at the Reno-Tahoe Airport. There was literally no parking…as in none. After a half hour of circling the long-term parking and every other option, I sat in the hourly garage waiting for someone…anyone…to leave. Eventually, I did get a spot and am paying literally double what I should be…and clearly, with the lack of spaces in the hourly lot, there are a number of people forced into doing the same. You see the airport hasn’t grown, but the population most definitely has. Add to that the summer travel crush overloading the system is the rule.
I had an afternoon flight (unusual for me) and saw the non-TSA Precheck line was incredibly long. I mentioned to the TSA agent that I figure my normal 5:30 AM departures would be better. He said that is no longer the case, advising it was utter chaos earlier that day. Well, I got through security and into the lounge to wait for my flight…which was, again, at capacity.
As I was waiting for my flight to Denver to connect to Munich, I received a message that the intended aircraft to Munich was broken and a replacement was required, delaying my departure for about 25 minutes. No problem. But when I went to board the flight in Denver US Customs was backlogged clearing aircraft so there was an additional delay. And then there was a paperwork issue…and now my making my connection in Munich looked like it was almost impossible.
With a last-minute upgrade to United Premium Economy…like literally the last minute, as the aircraft doors were closing…I figured I’d get some sleep and United would try to make up some time. I got some sleep but United did nothing to improve on our arrival time. United was well aware that most of the passengers had connections, as they announced as we were arriving and apologized to all those with missed connections…and advising them they should speak with the onward airline; not United. Geez.
Arriving in Munich, fortunately now toward the front of the aircraft so I had a quick exit, and only 25 minutes before my flight to Budapest was to depart, I literally ran through the airport. When I got to passport control there was no line, so I still had a chance. Literally, as my passport was being stamped, Lufthansa sent me a message through its app: My flight was delayed due to late arriving crew! Whew! (Note: If you fly without each airline’s app you are making a mistake. Download them even if all the information appears on one airline’s program. With all the airline issues, getting messages on your phone is essential nowadays.)
I finally arrived, albeit later than anticipated, at the Mystery Hotel in Budapest. They upgraded me to their best suite, the Atelier Suite. I walked into this huge, and super-funky, suite. Yup, I like unique boutique hotels, and this most certainly was one.
Because of my late arrival, I didn’t have time to enjoy it. I had only minutes to shower, change and meet my friend Jennifer Halboth, Riverside Collection, America’s CEO. I was there just long enough to say, “Hello” and Jen introduced me to a couple of fellow social media people I would be sailing with (Yes, I am now considered both a luxury travel agent and an influencer!).
It was then time for a very special dinner at Rumour by Rácz Jenő, a Michelin star restaurant that is a Chef’s Table experience. Finding the place was “interesting” after Google Maps kinda failed me, I saw a bakery shop called Rumour, entered, and asked where the entrance to the restaurant was. I was directed to a vinyl curtain that led into a refrigerator…or so I thought!
As I stepped through, I was surprised by being greeted by the Maitre de. I was directed into the dining room, which was a large three-sided counter with all seats having a great view of the kitchen.
I was ushered to a specific seat: front and center. It was the beginning of a very friendly and relaxed evening with amazing cuisine.
There is a fixed menu. I appreciated that, unlike most other multi-course tasting experiences, a menu of the evening’s offerings was at each place setting.
I was then offered three choices for wine pairings: Classic with Hungarian and some Italian wines, Premium wines, or Champagne with each course. I obviously went with the Hungarian wines for two reasons: I was in Hungary and Tokaj wines are some of my favorites.
I knew I was in for an amazing culinary experience when the bread was beautifully presented, with the server explaining that the mother starter for the bread was 107 years old.
I won’t go through all 15 dishes and the wines that were paired with them, but will let the photographs do the talking. I do have to mention my absolute favorite dish: Le Foie Gras Royal with Corn, Eel, and Beef Tongue. I have no idea how those elements could possibly work together, but it was not only beautiful and had amazing flavors, it was downright unctuous. And the wine was a 2019 Juliet Victor Furmint Tokaj. I was in heaven.
As you know, I have dined at many Michelin star and otherwise culinarily impressive restaurants. Rumour, however, made me smile…a lot!
The next morning I had breakfast at Mystery in the very cool Great Hall before heading back to my suite, not just to enjoy it for a minute, but to work. Yes, work.
After sadly checking out of the hotel, not having a chance to use its beautiful spa or its rooftop bar (encouraging me to return!),
I dropped my bags off at the Matild Palace, where Riverside had arranged a courtesy lounge for arriving guests.
Even though it was raining, I had a mission: I wanted – needed – to get to Domus Vinorum – a wine shop and tasting room where I held a Tokaj tasting for the 2014 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise.
I walked in the rain through a bit of Budapest, which has a curious mix of architecture ranging from ornate to Russian communist minimalism.
The rain and it being a Sunday worked in my favor as I was the only one in the shop’s upstairs tasting area. (Downstairs, where the 2014 event was held, was literally filled with over 50 Chinese tourists. Fortunately, the brick and stone walls kept their noise away from me.)
The wine steward was a quiet and friendly young man. And, as I was enjoying my five wine tasting we had a wonderful chat about living in Budapest, his girlfriend and dogs, and more. Even though he wasn’t drinking, it was just another example of how food and wine lead to meeting local people and a way to better embrace where you are visiting.
It was a wonderful couple of hours and a great tasting even though the number of Tokaj I could taste was limited to two as the others were just too expensive to open just for me.
I did pick up a couple of bottles, including a 2016 Grof Degenfeld 5 puttonyos Tokaji Aszu. ( A puttony is a 25-kilogram basket of Aszú grapes. The more puttony added to the barrel of wine, the sweeter the eventual wine. But the amount also reflects, in many ways, its quality.)
After my wine tasting, it was out into the rain, back to the hotel, and then onto Riverside Luxury Cruises MS Mozart on a 15-minute bus ride to travel effectively four blocks; because you will experience, in Budapest you can never get “there” from here easily!