Travel Expert and Radio Talk Show Host Stephanie Abrams - Travelers411 Travel Radio Shownotes
"Travelers411" Radio Show - November 20, 2010 - Show Archive

A Historic Ballroom and Spa at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, Budapest, Hungary; Overlook the Danube from the InterContinental Budapest Hotel, Budapest, Hungary; Enjoy Hungarian Specialties and Wines at the InterContinental Budapest Hotel, Budapest, Hungary; Communist Past and 5-Diamond Present Meet at Starwood Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

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Hour 1

Topics Include:

Link to this segment

Adrian Ellis, General Manager, Corinthia Hotel Budapest, Wyndham Hotels, Budadpest, Hungary.
www.corinthia.com/Budapest

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show arrive in Hungary and talk with Adrian Ellis, General Manager of the Corinthia Hotel Budapest in Budapest, Hungary. Stephanie flew with British Airways, loved the Club World service, and is now enjoying the fall weather in Budapest. "It's a gloriously sunny day," she says. "Driving through parks here, I had the feeling I had just driven through Central Park."

View of Budapest, Hungary overlooking the Danube.
View of Budapest, Hungary overlooking the Danube.

She compares the Corinthia Hotel to the Palace Hotel in Madrid or the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. The Corinthia, however, has its own special history. Adrian has been in Budapest for five years and previously worked for Marriott, Starwood, and Le Meridien in Warsaw, Singapore, and other places around the world. Even after five years, though, Adrian says that he still has a tough time grasping Hungarian.

Budapest at night. Szechenyi Chain Bridge.
Budapest at night. Szechenyi Chain Bridge.

The Corinthia Hotel was built in 1896. After its opening, the property hosted royalty, celebrities, and other well-known guests. Although it became known as a grande dame of Budapest hotels, the Corinthia shut down in the late 1990s and fell into disrepair. Finally, it was refurbished and reopened in 2003 under the Corinthia banner. The Corinthia company itself started in the 1950s in Malta. The group opened hotels in Europe and North Africa and today has properties in Prague, Lisbon, Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Dubai, and Malta. It is also associated with Wyndham Hotels.

Corinthia Hotel's Royal Atrium Restaurant in Budapest, Hungary.
Corinthia Hotel's Royal Atrium Restaurant in Budapest, Hungary.

Stephanie was surprised by the number of foreign visitors in Budapest. "It's a very cosmopolitan city," she says. "There are so many young Americans here; I was shocked when I walked along the streets. I heard Italian, French, and Spanish, too." Adrian agrees, adding that Americans are the third largest group of visitors to the Corinthia Hotel. "We get a lot of visitors from the U.S. during the summer, both on tour groups and private visits," he explains. "Budapest is becoming more and more popular as a city to visit."

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams at the Corinthia Hotel.
Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams at the Corinthia Hotel.

During its long history, the Corinthia has seen royalty, war, and revolution. "The hotel opened in 1896 and is probably the oldest 5-star hotel in the city," Adrian says. "It catered to the rich and famous from the beginning; lots of royalty came through. During the First World War, there was a certain amount of damage, but the hotel wasn't destroyed. During the Second World War, the Corinthia was the headquarters for the Germans. Then, during the 1956 uprising, it was used by insurgents, who camped out in the property. There's a plaque on the outside to commemorate the incident; people are very proud of the insurgency and those who upheld the history of Hungary."

Interior atrium at the Corinthia Hotel in Budapest, Hungary.
Interior atrium at the Corinthia Hotel in Budapest, Hungary.

When the hotel fell into disrepair in the 1980s and 1990s, it served as office space and the ballroom became a cinema. "Some of the older staff remember going to the movies as children here," says Adrian. Today, the ballroom has been completely refurbished; Stephanie compares it to the music rooms and ballrooms at Versailles or in Vienna's palaces. "It's just over-the-top and glorious, with white walls, 24-carat gold trim, and portraits all around the ceiling of Liszt and Bartok," she says. Since the hotel is across from the Liszt Academy, musicians often came over to play concerts in the ballroom.

Bock Restaurant at the Corinthia Hotel.
Bock Restaurant at the Corinthia Hotel.

Another unique feature of the Corinthia Hotel's ballroom is its air conditioning system. Many of Budapest's old buildings have underground cellars that were used to keep the rooms cool. The cold air from the cellars was brought up through vents into the upper rooms. According to Adrian, the system is still used in many historic buildings, even though it predates the use of electricity.

Presidential Suite at the Corinthia Hotel.
Presidential Suite at the Corinthia Hotel.

The Corinthia Hotel Budapest has 414 rooms and 26 apartments for longer stays. The apartments are self-contained, with two or three bedrooms, kitchens, and dining areas. The hotel's Presidential Suite is 1,900 square feet and has two double bedrooms, a lounge, a library, study area, and two separate bathrooms. According to Adrian, it's the largest suite in the city. Stephanie points out that the cost is probably a third of that of comparable suites in New York City, London, Paris, or Milan.

Grande Ballroom at the Corinthia Hotel.
Grande Ballroom at the Corinthia Hotel.

The property also has a spa that dates from 1886. Like the hotel, it fell into disrepair, was covered over, and was in fact slated to become a car park. Luckily, the spa was revived during the hotel's most recent renovations. "The pool still has its original contour and the spa has its Romanesque feel," says Adrian. Guests can enjoy a 15-meter pool and 15 treatment rooms. "If you're coming to Budapest to look for flavor, the history of the city, a historic building, great architecture, and great personalized services, look no further than the Corinthia," he adds.

Related Photo Galleries:
Hungary Photo Gallery 003:  Budapest

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2317

For more information visit www.corinthia.com/Budapest


Link to this segment

Mathieu van Alphen, General Manager, InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.budapest.intercontinental.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show continue their visit to Budapest with Mathieu Van Alphen, General Manager of the InterContinental Budapest Hotel in Budapest, Hungary. From the InterContinental, which is on the Pest side, Stephanie is looking out over the Danube River at the hills of Buda. She compares the city to Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are also spread out over the two banks of a river.

Exterior of the InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Exterior of the InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

Mathieu has been general manager of the InterContinental Budapest for three years. He started his career at the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam and worked with the InterContinental brand throughout Europe before coming to Hungary. "Budapest was on my wish list – the first town I wanted to work in," Mathieu says. "I think that it's a great place for Europe because there's still lots of development, some beautiful things old and new, and you can see it growing. It's a lot of fun to be a part of it."

Mathieu van Alphen, General Manager, InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Mathieu van Alphen, General Manager, InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

From the hotel, guests can see the famous Chain Bridge and the former royal palace, once home to the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. "It's a beautiful location; you can see the whole heritage of Budapest from the guest room windows," Mathieu says. "When you sit there in the evening and everything is lit beautifully, you can just dream away." Perhaps more importantly, the hotel puts an emphasis on service. "We want to read the wishes from your lips," he adds. "We hope to give people an experience; they're not just there to see the hotel, so we want to help them explore the town and come back with great memories."

Intercontinental Hotel Budapest Hungary Standard room.
InterContinental Hotel Budapest Hungary superior room.

The InterContinental Budapest has 402 rooms and frequently hosts conventions. The property has several meeting room options and the largest ballroom in the city, according to Mathieu. "We have lots of convention groups and lots of business from the U.S.," he says. "We're very happy that all these people travel so far." He suggests that business travelers extend their stays and see the city. The hotel is close to the Chain Bridge, castle district, the palace where the empress was crowned, and Matthias Church. On the property, guests can relax with a cocktail on a terrace overlooking the Danube.

Budapest Hungary St. Stephen's Basilica.
Budapest Hungary St. Stephen's Basilica.

Stephanie describes the city as an "undiscovered gem" for North American travelers and is very impressed by the "spectacular" architecture. Mathieu agrees and suggests that visitors take a few days to appreciate the architecture and cafe culture. His three must-see locations in Budapest? The InterContinental Budapest, the castle district of Buda, and St. Stephen's Basilica. "It's a beautiful square with a lovely, well-decorated church," he says.

Related Photo Galleries:
Intercontinental Budapest Hungary Photo Gallery 003:  Budapest

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2318

For more information visit www.budapest.intercontinental.com


Travel Tips:

Looking for Diet Coke overseas? Try asking for Coca Light instead.

Budapest is divided into two sections: Pest, the commercial and retail center, and Buda, which leans more towards leafy, residential suburbs.


Guests Include:

Adrian Ellis, General Manager, Corinthia Hotel Budapest, Wyndham Hotels, Budadpest, Hungary.
www.corinthia.com/Budapest

Mathieu Van Alphen, General Manager, InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.budapest.intercontinental.com

Hour 2

Topics Include:

Link to this segment

Gergely Molnar, Food & Beverage Operations Manager, InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.budapest.intercontinental.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show welcome Gergely Molnar, Food and Beverage Operations Manager at the InterContinental Budapest Hotel in Budapest, Hungary. "Budapest is the kind of city you'd get if you took pieces of Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, and Rome, put them in a pot, and made Hungarian goulash," says Stephanie. "It's an all-around delightful gem. Far too few Americans have Budapest on their must-visit lists."

Gastronomy creation at InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Gastronomy creation at InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

Gergely has been at the InterContinental Budapest Hotel for four years. Born and raised in Budapest, he has plenty to say about the local cuisine. Stephanie points out that many Americans are comfortable visiting Mexico because there are so many Mexican restaurants in the U.S. Unfortunately, there are hardly any Hungarian restaurants, so the food is unfamiliar to American visitors.

Gergely Molnar, Food & Beverage Operations Manager, InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Gergely Molnar, Food & Beverage Operations Manager, InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

There are several dishes, however, that she suggests getting to know: goulash, paprika, nokedli (dumplings), veal Esterhazy, and Rigo Jancsi cake. "If you think Austrian Sacher tortes are something to save room for, wait for Rigo Jancsi cake," says Stephanie. "It's death by chocolate, a culinary delight. It's really a shame that more Americans are not familiar with it."

Corso Restaurant at InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Corso Restaurant at InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

Gergely explains that many traditional Hungarian dishes require lots of ingredients and time. "You're not just making pasta and it's ready in 35 minutes; it takes days," he says. "Families plan what they're going to eat during the weekend so they can buy the food at the market on Thursday. Goulash, for example, has to be cooked for a long time; otherwise the meat will be tough and nobody will eat that." The dish was originally developed in the countryside, where shepherds had plenty of time to cook while minding the sheep.

Outdoor dining option at the InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Outdoor dining option at the InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

At the InterContinental Budapest, guests can try Hungarian specialties like cod patties and a dessert hour. Dishes are featured on a special menu inlay. "We have signature items that you can get at most restaurants, but we try to make them special," says Gergely. "People think that Hungarian food is heavy, with lots of paprika, but you can do something different with it." The hotel also features several Hungarian wines. "The idea is to show international clientele what kinds of wines are being produced here in Hungary," Gergely explains.

Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary.
Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary.

With 402 accommodations, the hotel has to feed anywhere from 800 to 1,000 people. "Feeding everyone is easy; you just need good logistics and good expectations," says Gergely. "You have to know your clients and be prepared professionally. If you know where people are coming from, you can give them the types of food or wine they'll want. As a waiter, the best compliment you can receive when offering something to a client is when he or she says thanks for the suggestion. The ultimate pleasure for a waiter is to offer something and have the client like it, so that the client takes home memories of the country."

Related Photo Galleries:
Intercontinental Budapest Hungary Photo Gallery 003:  Budapest

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2319

For more information visit www.budapest.intercontinental.com


Link to this segment

Adrian Gray, General Manager, Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.lemeridien.com/budapest

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show talk with Adrian Gray, General Manager of the Starwood Le Meridien Budapest in Budapest, Hungary. Adrian has been at Le Meridien Budapest for seven years. Although he wasn't familiar with the city before taking the job, he fell in love on his first visit. "The city at nighttime is absolutely spectacular," he says. "It reminds me of Edinburgh, my hometown, because of the castle right in the center."

Adrian Gray, General Manager, Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Adrian Gray, General Manager, Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

Budapest has the advantages of being planned and preserved. "A lot of buildings here have been protected, so as development happened in other cities, history was preserved here," explains Adrian. "The old buildings haven't been replaced by apartment towers or office blocks." Many of the historic buildings still carry porcelain ornamentation that reflects the identity of the architect.

Lobby at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Lobby at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

When Adrian arrived, the Le Meridien Budapest had just won the 5-Diamond Award. "There were big lights on the front of the building; it was one big party," he says. "I could see that it was the center of the city. The hotel has a prime location and is one of the most important hotels in the city's history. It even hosted the U.S. president when he came to visit in 2006." Stephanie remarks that Le Meridien is very well known among American business travelers and the more sophisticated tourists.

Dining at Le Bourbon Restaurant at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Dining at Le Bourbon Restaurant at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

What makes Le Meridien so unique? The brand was originally the hotel division of Air France and has retained its French touch. "French gastronomy and wine culture plays a big part, although the brand has evolved to become much more international, more European," Adrian explains. "Art plays a much bigger role now. But our goal is still to create experiences of discovery for people."

Deluxe room at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Deluxe room at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

For example, to celebrate the hotel's 10th anniversary, the staff looked back to its historic role as police headquarters during the Communist era. "We had guests who had been coming for ten years experiencing that by going out on a shooting range with Russian rifles," says Adrian. "It was the strangest memory to see one of our salespeople there in high heels with a submachine gun. Good fun was had by all experiencing past and present together."

Related Photo Galleries:
Le Meridien Budapest Hungary Le Meridien Munich GermanyLe Meridien Vienna Austria Hungary Photo Gallery 003:  Budapest

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2320

For more information visitwww.lemeridien.com/budapest


Link to this segment

Franciska Keseru, Public Relations Manager, Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.lemeridien.com/budapest

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show continue their visit to the Starwood Le Meridien Budapest in Budapest, Hungary, with Franciska Keseru, Public Relations Manager for the property. Franciska specializes in ensuring that the hotel makes a good first impression. "When I receive a guest, it's very important to introduce the hotel, product, and destination in a certain way," she says. "I consider myself an ambassador for Budapest, especially when talking with a foreign client."

Exterior view of Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary. Franciska Keseru (R) and Julien Daubas (L).
Exterior view of Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary. Franciska Keseru (R) and Julien Daubas (L).

Once guests have arrived at Le Meridien Budapest, they're treated to a number of special events. In November 2010, the hotel will host its fifth annual traditional Scottish night (perhaps thanks to the Scottish roots of general manager Adrian Gray). A world-champion band of Scottish pipers will perform while guests enjoy an authentic Scottish dinner, complete with whiskey.

Related Photo Galleries:
Le Meridien Budapest Hungary Le Meridien Munich GermanyLe Meridien Vienna Austria Hungary Photo Gallery 003:  Budapest

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2321

For more information visit www.lemeridien.com/budapest


Link to this segment

Julien Daubas, Director of Sales, Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.lemeridien.com/budapest

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show visit with Julien Daubas, Director of Sales for Starwood Le Meridien Budapest in Budapest, Hungary and learn about deals at the hotel. Since the hotel is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, it's offering a special 10-euro rate (about $14 U.S. at the current exchange rate).

Streetside at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Streetside at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

"The idea is to give guests the opportunity to spend a weekend in Budapest," says Julien. "If you're staying Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you'll get Sunday night for just 10 euros." Stephanie is amazed. "You can hardly go into a toy store and get something to play with for $14," she says, "let alone stay at a luxury property."

Diplomatic Suite at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
Diplomatic Suite at Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.

The Starwood Le Meridien Budapest has 218 rooms, including 26 suites. What distinguishes this hotel from other properties in the city? "Our location is a plus; we're right in the center, close to everything," Julien says. "We have very dedicated service. And of course, we have beautiful rooms with nice views of St. Stephen's Basilica and a very fashionable street." The hotel frequently welcomes leisure travelers on city breaks but also has plenty of meeting and banquet facilities for business travelers.

Related Photo Galleries:
Le Meridien Budapest Hungary Le Meridien Munich GermanyLe Meridien Vienna Austria Hungary Photo Gallery 003:  Budapest

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2322

For more information visit www.lemeridien.com/budapest


Fun Facts:

Budapest has the largest synagogue in Europe.


Guests Include:

Gergely Molnar, Food & Beverage Operations Manager, InterContinental Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.budapest.intercontinental.com

Adrian Gray, General Manager, Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.lemeridien.com/budapest

Franciska Keseru, Public Relations Manager, Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.lemeridien.com/budapest

Julien Daubas, Director of Sales, Le Meridien Budapest, Budapest, Hungary.
www.lemeridien.com/budapest

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