Hungry for Hungary

This item appears on page 23 of the March 2021 issue.

We have two ITN subscribers to thank for suggesting the topic of our last essay contest, “Hungry for Hungary”: Debbie Wenck of Carlsbad, CA, and Kathy Hatfield of Montvale, NJ. The subject elicited essays with recollections from decades past. ITN staff judged the submissions, and the winning work — based on visits past and present — was that of KITTY CHEN DEAN of New York City, NY. Kitty’s prize is an ITN mug.

We are currently accepting essays on the topic “Chilling Out in Chile.” If you are an ITN subscriber and have been to Chile, get creative! In no more than 300 words, express the mood of the place, what it felt like to be there, or get across what the people were like, or describe a meaningful encounter you had, or share any insights you gained into the culture. Paint verbal pictures of things you saw.

Email your essay to or send it to Essay Contest, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your mailing or billing address. The deadline is April 30, 2021. A prize will be given for the winning essay, which will appear in ITN.

I have had a long interest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire through such writers as Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig, Sándor Márai and Ferenc Molnár, so in August 1991, less than two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the easing of travel in East Europe, my husband and I got our chance to visit Budapest, Hungary.

Hotels were scarce and complicated to book, so we found a room in a private home. A man gave us a key, and we saw no one there again.

We could get around the city by tram, bus and walking, but many of the main attractions, especially on the Pest side, were closed to the public. Still, we had magnificent views from both sides of the Danube and ate rich meals of roast goose and duck in stolid restaurants. We even attended a Ferenc Molnár play done in English: “Rough Crossing,” adapted by Tom Stoppard.

Returning in September 2018, we found Budapest had transformed. We had choices for accommodations from low-cost to luxury. The staff at our Ibis Hotel were friendly and eager to please.

We stayed in the Jewish Quarter, refurbished with a huge synagogue and an affecting Holocaust Memorial Center. The Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art now graced a formerly rundown waterfront.

Meals had a modern twist: a waiter assured me that my duck had ALL the skin and fat removed. Unfortunately, those are my favorite parts. But, actually, all the restaurants were spectacularly good.

“Ruin bars,” dilapidated buildings turned into gathering areas, had a mostly hip, attractive, “grunge chic” clientele. People looked happy, prosperous and cosmopolitan, often speaking a polyglot of Hungarian, English, French and German. We looked old-fashioned but felt welcomed.

The political scene is changing. I just hope this renewed country can retain its vibrancy.

Kitty Chen Dean
New York, NY