Posts Tagged ‘Pilates’

torta RigojanciArriving in Budapest the previous afternoon turned out to be somewhat more of a culture shock than Vienna had been. After many years of traveling throughout Italy, I had begun to take for granted the fact that I spoke the language. Even though I didn’t speak German, I had learned a few key phrases to help me get by in Austria—plus I was so familiar with the exchange rate that I could convert euros to dollars in my sleep. Hungarian, however, proved to be a decidedly more challenging language—I had bought a phrasebook but only managed to learn a couple of words—and the national currency took me back to my pre-euro visits to Europe. Fortunately, I found the people in Hungary to be incredibly friendly, and if they didn’t speak any English themselves, they could often round up a young person who did.

On my first morning, I was delighted by the selection at Hotel Art’s breakfast buffet. Along with the yogurt and muesli that I had become accustomed to, there were scrambled eggs, an assortment of salami and sausages, cheese, bread, and a platter of tomato and cucumber slices. After I had my fill, I set out to find the Keleti train station, so that I could buy my ticket for Trieste, where I would be heading two days later.

The closest Metro station was two blocks from my hotel, but once underground I found the ticket options to be rather perplexing. The choices included tickets with unlimited stops, three or fewer stops, a transfer with unlimited stops, and a transfer with five or fewer stops. I knew I needed to transfer from the blue to the red line, and so counted out on the map how many stops that would make, but then I couldn’t find any place to purchase tickets. I asked at a nearby newsstand, and though the girl working there didn’t speak English, she got her friend to assist me. This young man, who had been hanging around outside her store smoking a cigarette, steered me to a ticket window—small and rather hidden off to the side—and conveyed to the clerk exactly what I needed.

Once at Keleti, I succeeded in purchasing my train ticket, although I was surprised to learn that seat reservations were not given here. From the station, I retraced my course via Metro and then set off on foot toward Buda, the section of Budapest on the western side of the Danube River.

At the river, I crossed the Chain Bridge and climbed the steep steps to the Royal Palace (a.k.a. Buda Castle). I had hoped to visit Mátyás Church, but they had just begun mass and weren’t letting in tourists until later in the afternoon. On my way to the castle, I passed Ruszwurm Cukrászda, one of the city’s oldest bakeries. There, I bought a slice of Rigó Jancsi, snagged a spoon from the gelato counter, and took my treat to a bench outside. The squares of chocolate sponge cake were thinner than I expected and rather stale. The chocolate cream filling, on the other hand, was piled about two inches thick, and the top layer of cake was glazed with a sinfully rich chocolate ganache. While I had read that this dessert was popular in Trieste—and I was therefore hoping to include it in my book Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy—this was the first time I had ever tasted it.

As I was polishing off the last crumbs of my decadent treat, I felt the mist of a light drizzle beginning. Nevertheless, I continued my exploration, strolling around the outside of the castle to the Fisherman’s Bastion, a viewing terrace built in the late 19th century, complete with towers and turrets straight out of a fairytale.

As it was nearing lunchtime, I descended the steps and headed to Horgásztanya Vendéglő, professed by some to be Budapest’s best fish restaurant. I ordered the fish stew with carp, which was served in a mini cauldron hanging from a hook on a small cast iron stand. The dish came with a fiery paprika sauce on the side, so that I could make my meal as spicy as I liked.

After lunch, I decided to make the climb up Castle Hill once again, in hopes that Mátyás Church would be open. It was—and well worth the effort, for the interior was as gorgeous as the church’s brilliantly tiled roof. The walls were painted floor to ceiling in colorful, though somewhat muted, patterns: stripes, swirls, dots, flourishes, leaves, and flowers, the intricate designs lending an exotic Byzantine character to the Gothic arches and stained-glass windows.

From there, I made the descent a second time, but instead of returning to the eastern Pest side of the river, I walked south, past the Chain Bridge and Elisabeth Bridge, all the way to Szabadság Bridge. I spotted Hotel Gellért, famous for its spa and thermal baths, but was more interested in seeking out the Cave Church, a tiny chapel built inside a grotto underneath Gellért Hill. The walls were made of nothing but bare, natural rock, its niches filled with Catholic statues and altars.

Budapest's Pilates Balance StudioBy this time, fatigue was beginning to set in, so I returned to my hotel to rest for an hour. I wanted to feel refreshed for my late-afternoon appointment with Zsuzsanna Bokor, owner of Hungary’s first Pilates studio. As a Pilates instructor myself (and author of Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates), I had recently written for the new Pilates Style magazine. I was now planning on submitting two articles for their “International” section: one on the Pilates studio in Milano, which I had visited in July, and another on this studio in Budapest.*

Budapest's Pilates Balance StudioMy plan was to walk all the way to Oktogon Square, where Zsuzsanna had arranged to meet me outside a Burger King. It was quite a distance to cover by foot, but I left my hotel extra early and even found time to stop and peek inside the magnificent Hungarian State Opera House on the way. When I arrived at Oktogon, it appeared that Burger King was a popular meeting spot for all sorts of people converging in this busy octagonal crossroads. Girls, boys, women, men—some alone, others in groups—all loitered casually in front of the American fast food icon, only to vanish once their companions arrived.

Budapest's Pilates Balance StudioI had seen Zsuzsanna’s picture on her website, so I knew who to be on the lookout for: an attractive brunette in her early 30s. I was startled, then, to be approached by a man, tentatively addressing me by name. It turned out to be Zsuzsanna’s husband, Gabor, whom she had sent to fetch me. We went directly to the Pilates Balance Studio, where Zsuzsanna and two of her instructors, Krisztián Mélykúti and Czech-born Vladka Mala, were waiting. Like me, they all had a background in dance—except Gabor, who was an orthopedic surgeon. Zsuzsanna and Krisztián were professional ballet dancers, and Vladka was a contemporary dancer. They all spoke English, and the interview flowed seamlessly. Even my camera, which had begun to malfunction in Vienna, managed to remain on long enough for me to snap a few photos of the instructors demonstrating Pilates moves.

After the interview, Zsuzsanna and Gabor invited me to dinner. I followed them to a nearby restaurant called Karma. The daylong showers had stopped by now, so we sat at one of the outdoor tables, a relief for me after having put up with far too many smoky dining rooms in the past few days. The menu was an ecclectic mix of international cuisines: Hungarian, Italian, Asian, Mexican, and Indian. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I ordered a plate of grilled mozzarella and vegetables. Zsuzsanna had a quesadilla, and Gabor had tandoori chicken. To drink, they ordered sparkling lemonade for us all, though by the time the sun went down, the icy beverage had me shivering with cold.

We lingered at the restaurant until after 8:30pm, talking about our lives, our hopes and dreams. It was especially interesting to hear their take on the fall of Communism and how things in Hungary had changed over the past fifteen years. Having lived in Ohio for several years—Zsuzsanna once danced for the Cincinnati Ballet—their English was flawless. I felt overjoyed to have made friends who were not only close in age but also shared a similar background and values. Although we have since lost touch, I will never forget our friendship that chilly October evening.

* Shortly after I sent in my articles, Pilates Style hired a new editor. In fact, their entire editorial staff seemed to have turned over in a very short period of time. Although I submitted my pieces several times during the following year, they were never published.

torta RigojanciHere is my version of Rigó Jancsi (torta Rigojanci in Italian). The cake was named after the Hungarian gypsy violinist Jancsi Rigó, whose passionate affair with a beautiful American millionairess caused a worldwide scandal in the late 19th century. For picture-perfect slices, trim the cake edges before assembling.

6 eggs, separated
1-1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup cake or pastry flour, sifted
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
Pinch salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar to the “ribbon stage,” about 5 minutes. (The batter will be pale in color and will leave a ribbon-like trail when drizzled over the surface of the batter.) Stir in the flour and cocoa powder.

2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Soften the batter by stirring in a little egg white; fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 11- by 17-inch jelly-roll pan. Bake until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool completely before removing from the pan. Slice the cake into two 8-1/2- by 11-inch sheets.

Chocolate Ganache:
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Melt the chocolate with the cream in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Pour the ganache over one sheet of cake. Refrigerate until the ganache has set; slice into twelve squares.

Cream Filling:
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth; remove from heat. Pour the cream into a large bowl. (For best results, chill the bowl in advance.) Beat until the cream forms stiff peaks. Stir about 1 cup whipped cream into the melted chocolate. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of whipped cream; whisk vigorously until the chocolate is thoroughly incorporated. Spread the chocolate cream over the remaining sheet of cake. Place the twelve glazed squares on top of the cream layer. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Balance on the BallBalance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates has just been awarded a gold medal in the “Health, Fitness & Dieting” category of the AUTHORSdB 2013 Book Cover Contest.

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Balance on the BallCheck out my latest guest blog post “Balance On The Ball” at www.drhill.com.

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Milano's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele IIIt was July 2005, and although Mike and I were now engaged, this was to be yet another of my many solo trips. I had just arrived in the sweltering, early evening heat of Milano and, after checking into Hotel Speronari, was preparing to meet up with Mike’s cousin Pam, who was in the city for her job with Bulgari. We decided to meet at the Duomo and then go somewhere for dinner. I left my room dressed in the most elegant clothes I had brought with me: a light, cotton mini-skirt, fitted t-shirt, and sandals. As I reached the edge of the piazza, the sky opened up and began pelting me with raindrops, so I sprinted across to take shelter in the giant doorway of the Duomo. Pam was nowhere to be seen. After a few anxious phone calls, I finally spotted her—an adorable, petite Asian in her mid-20s, with a pierced tongue and a flair for high fashion—waving to me from the south side of the piazza. I felt entirely under-dressed next to Pam’s chic Prada dress and 5-inch heels.

The brief downpour had ceased but threatened to begin again any moment; therefore, I suggested we eat at the nearby Pizzeria Dogana. After my pizza margherita and Pam’s quattro stagioni (actually a “due” stagioni pizza, since she ordered hers minus the mushrooms and olives), we said good-bye. Pam caught a taxi back to her hotel, while I walked the couple blocks back to mine. Around 10:00pm, the thunder and lightning kicked in with a vengeance. Despite the rain, I threw my window wide open, in hopes of getting some relief from the heat. The temperature gauge on the bedside alarm clock read 91°F! Between the heat and my jet lag, I remained awake until around 5:30am, when I finally dozed off, only to be awakened two hours later by the resonant tolling of church bells.

Once I finally dragged myself out of bed, I went out for a walk, leaving my suitcase at the front desk. With an appointment later that afternoon, I still had several hours to kill. First, I headed to Via Solferino to pick up some lunch at Più del Pane Callegaro. I came away with an assortment of mini quiche and polpettine di riso (rice balls), and after a picnic of sorts in Piazza della Scala, I returned to Hotel Speronari to collect my bag.

Since my appointment was in the direction of the train station, I decided to check my bag at the station, so that I could go straight there afterward. I was just leaving the deposito bagagli when I realized that I had left some important items inside my suitcase: magazines that I had promised to bring to my interview. The baggage handler was extremely annoyed with me, but I eventually persuaded him to retrieve the suitcase.

I was still 90 minutes early, so I treated myself to a triple cup of gelato to help beat the heat—limone, fragola, and pompelmo rosa. I sat for the remainder of the time in the shade of the Giardini Pubblici outside the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, looking over my notes and rehearsing my questions in Italian.

Studio Pilates MilanoMy appointment was an interview with Anna Maria Cova at her flagship Studio Pilates Milano. At the time, she was Italy’s number one Pilates instructor and had opened numerous studios throughout the country. As a Pilates instructor myself (and author of Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates), I had recently written for the new Pilates Style magazine. I was now planning on submitting two articles for their “International” section: one on the Pilates studio in Milano and another on a studio in Budapest that I would be visiting in October.*

When it came time for my appointment, I had a bit of a panic trying to find the studio. Italian buildings are notorious for their illogical numbering system; however, I was able to locate the correct address without much difficulty. The problem was that number 4 at this address simply did not exist, nor was there anything that indicated the presence of a Pilates studio. Frantically, I strode around the entire block and, by some miracle, stumbled upon the studio—on a completely different street from the address that I was given!

The interview went superbly well. I stayed for over two hours, chatting with Anna and observing a session with one of her clients—and yes, I did remember to give her the stack of Pilates Style magazines from my suitcase. It was 4:30pm when I finally left; I would now have to hustle to make it to the station in time for my train to Udine.

I reached the station with only five minutes to spare. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough time to buy a ticket, collect my bag, and pick up something to eat for dinner on the train, so I had no choice but to wait and get the next one that was leaving two hours later. The bad news: now I wouldn’t arrive in Udine until 11:30pm. The good news: this was one of the few direct trains, eliminating the usual change in Venezia Mestre. At the station’s market, I picked up a panino with mozzarella and bresaola, along with a cup of kiwi chunks, to eat while biding my time in the grand, high-ceilinged sala d’attesa. As it turned out, the 5:00pm train I had planned on taking was delayed by more than an hour. If I had caught that train as planned, I would have missed my connection in Mestre—and since the direct train I was forced to take didn’t stop in Mestre, I then would have had to catch an even later train into Udine. Sometimes things just have a way of working out!

* Shortly after I sent in my articles, Pilates Style hired a new editor. In fact, their entire editorial staff seemed to have turned over in a very short period of time. Although I submitted my pieces several times during the following year, they were unfortunately never published.

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