My Big Ontario Affair

In an attempt to uncover the mystery behind Canadian migration up north to cottage country every spring/summer, I decided to trace their movements right from the beginning. My trip from Toronto to Manitoulin Island started around 6am with a light breakfast, extra strong black coffee, last minute packing (think chain-saw parts, propane cylinders and a fur coat – out of a looong list) and setting Google Maps for the road ahead. And what a road! A scenic four hour drive is followed by two breezy hours on the MS Chi-Cheemaun, the legendary ferry that connects Manitoulin Island to the Bruce Peninsula since 1930. Total time from Toronto to the cottage – 8 hours.

Speaking of the trip and duration – Canadian roads deserve special praise. They seem to be improving yearly with picnic sites, beautiful scenery and Tim Horton outlets within an hour of one another. Being used to driving on 6 lanes in one direction with a speed limit of 120 km/h (plus 20) in Dubai, it was challenging to adapt to “one lane for all” highway standards where speed will drop from 90 km/h to 50 km/h around small towns. Plus I had to watch out for horse drawn carriages managed by men in black. In Ontario “Adopt a Highway” is a common traffic sign to which people seem to respond rather positively – no garbage, but flowers, greenery, wind turbines and occasional bear jaywalkers greeted me along the road.

Just right after Toronto, I noticed the disappearance of large glass / concrete condominiums. Houses grew bigger, front lawns lusher and households got busier. The further north I went, the more confusing the Canadian accent – all super friendly comments from folks wearing “I love haters” hats were completely lost on me: “Oh hey, eh”. “It’s really weathering outside, eh”. “Got yourself in a kerfuffle? Go talk to Doug”…  I accidently got myself into further trouble by ordering a cup of tea. “Excuse me, a cup of white tea please”. “Sorry, you want it black?” “No, white”. “No double-double, eh?”. “Just white!” “Oh, boy…”

Charming little towns spread along the route casually feature the usual Ontario architecture (churches, clock towers, barns, brick houses) and the two most successful local businesses: gas stations and Tim Hortons (Always Fresh!). I was never a big fan of the latter until I tasted it in Canada. It was a love from the first sip with a dark roast black coffee paired with Maple Pecan Danish. “Tasty, eh?”

A trip on a local celebrity – the MS Chi-Cheemaun, meaning a large canoe, requires a commitment to show up not later than 1 hour (sharp) prior to the departure. Being late, even for a minute as my past experience has proven, results in loosing the reservation and queuing to be boarded on a “first-come first–serve basis” (not a delight, unless you are a fan of Russian roulette). The queue can be long as well as the vehicles in it. Chi-Cheemaun is capable of carrying 638 passengers and 240 vehicles. However, once your reservation fate is locked – it’s time to discover the little port city of Tobermory.

Tobermory is a fun place to explore, just like Dubai. It’s all about entertainment, shopping, food and the joy of a short stay. Start at Foodland for last minute supplies shopping (avocados, crackers, mature cheddar and marshmallows in our case). Continue with crowd watching from the comfort of the Tobermory Brewing Co. and Grill while sipping Russian Imperial Stout beer and spooning Vodka Smoked Salmon Roulade. That place is seriously delicious and should not be missed. On the way to the car, stop to get a scoop of locally made ice cream, fudge and a serving of beaver tail (delicious, beavers like it too).

Sailing the MS Chi-Cheemaun is an adventure in itself. As passengers are not permitted to re-enter cars during the trip, it’s important to carefully select a pile of layers to snuggle into and remember to carry a camera. I was told that a photo with a lighthouse on the background brings luck. The Chi-Cheemaun proudly features two outdoor decks, an indoor lounge, a playground, an information kiosk, a little museum display, a cafeteria and a boutique. Good news, she’s air-conditioned!

Once the Chi-Cheemaun reaches land and the final round of driving is done, it’s time to open the cottage, turn the electricity and the water on, dispose of spent mice traps and open a bottle of Cab to cheer the sunset on the wooden dock. The overwhelmingly fresh air, edgy smell of a distant fire and 50 shades of red spread across the sky reflected in the waves made me think that the trip is a total success already.

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You scream “Ice Cream”!

For me, life is a scoop of ice cream. Or 2. Frigid at first, it softly melts, filling souls with joy, happiness and the tingling sensation of a sugar rush. Some will gulp it, others cherish every tiny bit (or pathetically waste it on a sidewalk…). It’s truly an adventure – you never know how far you will get unless you taste it. Ironically, when bikini season is around the corner, ice-cream stands seem to be always closer and greatly desirable.

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In  Toronto the art of ice cream making is taken rather seriously – a rare brand will offer less than 10 house-made flavors with dairy-free and vegan options. They pride themselves in locally sourced, organically grown ingredients (think Ontario strawberries Gelato at Soma) or alcohol-based flavors (Vegan Pinacolada at Bang Bang). Hunting for the right scoop of the 16th century dessert turns out to be an exciting expedition through witty names, flavors and neighborhoods. On your journey you will learn that “Pint” stands for a small bucket of a frozen treat to take home, which is often not available for sale at artisanal stores from May to October. So, are you ready? Follow me hungry readers!

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  1. Predictably in a search of “Gelato to die for” I headed to Little Italy on College. The scent of rich espresso infused with hazelnuts and happy body language clearly indicated that Dolce Gelato was my sort of a place. Endless selection (60 flavours!) of traditional (pistachio) and traditional with a twist (torrone – almonds and nougat) gelato is overwhelming… Do not repeat my mistake of pointing at the first good looking bucket. The best strategy is to invest some time in tasting and chatting with super friendly staff to select a serving of two flavours or more.

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2. The opposite of traditional, Put a Cone on It is a destination for rebellious and adventurous souls. Serving at only one location in Koreatown on Bloor they rotate a minimal selection of flavours (I counted 12) with maximum taste – Black Cat, Earl Grey, White Miso, Vanilla Malt and deliciously exotic Black Sesame (a must-try). If you decide to indulge in your ice cream on the go, be aware of a high risk of being stopped by fellow pedestrians longing to repeat your experience or steal your crispy vanilla waffle.

3. Ice-Cream Junction on Dundas West is the most kids-centric place I visited – there is a line of cute low-rise chairs at the entrance, tons of paper napkins on the counter, complimentary drinking water and a little step-stool in front of the freezers. They serve Canada-made, rich in flavor and history Kawartha ice cream in cups or house-baked cones. Their bright decor resembles the set up for Alice in Wonderland and visitors, surrounded by candies, toppings and sugar in various forms are encouraged to create their own perfect treat. Try Black Cherries!

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4. Soma Chocolatier on King street impresses with thoughtfully sophisticated design, sleek freezers and fancy ice-cream cups (even to the eye of a Dubai girl). Located downtown, in a crowded touristic area à côté de TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival theater) they nevertheless invest in taste and research. Known for seasonal flavors based on locally sourced ingredients, all their gelato and sorbets are made from scratch. A brisk evaluating look from a guy at the counter led to a suggestion that “blueberries and basil” sorbet was my alter-ego. He was absolutely right.

5. Ed’s real scoop on Roncesvalles Avenue is casual, delicious and widely affordable. They promote peace, taste and happiness. A branded t-shirt on a wall says, “Make ice-cream, not war”. There is something truly magical in the air – even the naughtiest little screamers behave, patiently awaiting their turn. For grown ups in the summer Ed often creates seasonal Mojito and Sangria sorbets infused with rum and real wine. My serving of pistachio gelato was so rich and velvety smooth that I almost forgot to take a photo.

6. Bang Bang ice-cream on Ossington Avenue is the easiest to find, but the hardest to get. Look out for a long queue of intriguingly dressed folks mostly in their 20-30s, busy chatting and Instagramming. Prepare to camp for a half an hour in the evening and do your homework: pick between cookies (7 types), waffle, cone or puff, topped with a scoop or two. Flavors like London Fog, Mud, Totaro are impossible to figure out. Fortunately the staff are trained to work under pressure, quickly answer questions and guide you in the right flavor direction. My choice was a scoop of mud between captain’s p’nut cookie cut in half. It’s unforgettable!

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City Chick gone Wild

Good girls go to Pataya. City girls go to the Wild Wild North.

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Beginning of June, +14C, partly cloudy and windy. I love Canadian summers!

Or – just a girl, me. Like a survival reality show, I’m competing with the grumpy Canadian weather, bears, beavers, and lovely deer-flies for food, entertainment and decent photographs. Set in isolation with minimum outfit options and… (say what!) – limited WiFi, I’m challenging my wits, biceps and questionable sense of fashion to prove that a city chick is the best type of a chick.

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One learns very quickly that country living is about hard rough work – chopping, lifting, splitting, fixing (you name it). Equipped with a basic tool – Mr. Axe, I’m armed and dangerous to any dead tree in the way.

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Being a fitness freak is paying off. A quick warm-up, stretches and chop, chop, chop… My personal trainer ( Leo ) loves to repeat: today’s pain – tomorrow’s gain.

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Have you ever wondered how Thai-Chi was invented?

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Thinking of what was going through Geppetto’s head when he created Pinocchio, I generated a super swing that any country boy would envy:

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Like in business, it seems that behind every successful project stands a pair of well-trained and qualified individuals.

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Where the iron rusted and broke, I pushed further and further and further. If only those awesome shades could reveal the tears of joy sparkling in my eyes.

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As the day progressed my KPI’s were booming. I attacked every milestone of country living and successfully carried out every bit of it. My biggest accomplishment was laundering bed sheets in a boiling hot water using nothing but a stone, a piece of soap and bare hands.

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The country wisdom says: it takes a craftsman to carve a beautiful canoe.

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But it takes a fearless City Chick to sail it.

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A bientôt!

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Turns Out Baseball Isn’t Cricket

Baseball! Toronto takes the Blue Jays pretty seriously (after hockey, maple syrup and beer). I saw them play the NY Yankees in the mostly full, 50,000+ capacity Rogers Centre downtown. And they won!

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The stadium has a retractable roof (was opened for nice weather) and Blue Jays fans dressed in branded blue were pouring through gates with a power of the Niagara Falls.

Luckily, as baseball is not prevalent outside North America, I had 3 helpful locals next to me explaining the rules. My understanding is that players wear tight pants, carry bats for personal protection, steal bases to take them home, and wear a single glove like Michael Jackson. No sequins or moonwalk though – just a super energizing hip routine from a guy called Jose Bautista.

Blue Jays dedicated a couple of minutes to the legendary baseball columnist Bob Elliott who has retired from  the”Sun” (= TimeOut Toronto) on May 31st.

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The only area cricket has baseball beat is the mandated tea breaks. But! Baseball outshines cricket with their Cheerleaders! They are truly the glam, chic, beauty, vibe and fun of the game and the only girls who moved comfortably and freely on the field without police interference.

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It did not appear anyone was shy about branding. Sport is a business and is definitely run as one.

By the time sun went down – the stadium was groaning with anticipation of forthcoming victory and CN Tower burst into rainbows. The NY Yankees showed no desire to score, loosing 7-zero and it was very exciting to see happy Blue Jay’s fans booing, cheering and sharing joy.

Watching girls and boys shake their hips made me hungry for chicken and freedom. Fortunately the most Canadian shawarma was just next door. History is indeed now 🙂

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P.S. The first recorded game of baseball in Canada and arguably the fist ever way played today – on June 4th in 1883 in Beachville on a field behind a blacksmith’s shop.

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Fort York – in the heart of Urban Toronto

Squeezed between condos, bridges and concrete architecture – it’s hard to believe that Fort York was once a defensive fortress right on the lake. Built in 1793 as part of an alliance with the First Nations to protect the Upper Ontario from Americans, it resembled more of a settlement than a military base and was surrounded by green woods and blue waters.

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Fort York was further strengthened in 1811 in anticipation of the war, then burnt and looted by Americans in 1812 (which eventually resulted in successful storming of the White House by British and Canadian troops). It was re-built to the modern look in 1814 and then the peace was declared.

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Soldiers’ barracks were decorated in minimalistic and practical manner. Double-beds, iron lanterns, dining tables, a few shelves and a fire place – all too small for modern standards, and too short to comfortably fit me.

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The uniform, a fur-hat and a flask fitted me perfectly and were made in my favorite colors (is it true that red was chosen for it tendency to cover up blood?)

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Officers’ barracks with individual rooms, servant’s kitchen, fire-places, extra furnaces and personalized furniture had a rather luxurious look.

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Poor bear stretched on a wall occupied more space than officer’s bed and contrasted dramatically with a secret blue pot on the floor.

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The whole place was frozen in time; even the glassed displays had a vintage look.

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This innocent looking furnace was used as “hot shot” weapon to heat cannon balls and set targets on fire (think enemy ships).

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If only I was allowed to try them on! Haute-couture.

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My favorite place and the pumping heart of the Fort – was the operational (to nowadays!) kitchen.

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I could not resist filling up on cookies and rhubarb tarts.

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No wonder kitchen staff often ended-up with burnt eye-brows and eye-lashes. Cooking over the fire is a battle! I left covered in a cloud of smoke and fire-wood fragrance.

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It’s astonishing that kitchenware hasn’t changed much and the same ingredients were used to feed the hungry souls.

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I expected the white window to open wide any moment and officers to rush in for a drink and pre-dinner chat.

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The same green chairs are still widely popular in Canada and serve their duties well at cottages. The same China set is a sought-after piece of art.

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Found at the end of my journey – a lonely beaver looked me straight in the eye and silently begged to visit him again.

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Spring in the city

Toronto in Spring is all about the 3B’s – Beautiful, Buzzy and Breezy (lots of free stuff as well, think street concerts, festivals and ice cream tastings). Every day there is a tiny change in surroundings – the city is greener, lusher, brighter and of course,  warmer (except for when it suddenly snows). On a clear day, the famous CN Tower can be spotted from almost anywhere:

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The people of Toronto and visitors opt for walking and cycling over commuting underground. Streets are filled with love:

The best place for a “walk, breath and watch” experience is High Park. The land was gifted to the City and people by John George Howard (civil engineer, architect and artist) at the end of 19th century. Every May, park turns into a Mecca for cherry-blossoms fans, however this year the weather pulled a wicked trick, and left me heartbroken with no vivid memories:

I learnt that the Canadian spring is moody. I was exposed to the wind, snow, rain, clouds and sunshine all in 1 day. Locals love to quote: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait for a few minutes”. True!

Another way to get into Spring Spirit or Hipster Spirit/Hippy Spirit/Cocktail Spirit is to visit the famous Kensington Market. That place is a legend featuring many Victorian homes and hand-made robots. A true mix of flavors and cultures.

While Canada is loved world-wide for its nature, Toronto is a place where wild life finds you whether you want it or not. Watch out for cute little creatures like squirrels or raccoons plotting to steal your lunch:

Built of glass, concrete blocks and dark-brown bricks, downtown Toronto resembles the streets of New York. No wonder American Psycho, The Interpreter and How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days were shot over here.

Remember the CN Tower? It’s literally poking the sky. It used to be the tallest building in the world (1975-2007) and then Burj Khlaifa in Dubai grew into the title. Sky in Toronto is another phenomena – 50 shades of white and blue.

On the last Monday before May 25th, Canadians celebrate a birthday of the “Mother of Confederation” – Queen Victoria. The long weekend usually marks the beginning of the outdoor season with people opening up cottages, organizing picnics and barbecues. Torontonians gather at the Beaches waterfront to watch fireworks and share a drink from coffee flasks.

No matter where you are – Spring only happens once a year. Use your time wisely!

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High on Fashion and Self-Expression

In a city where I was once complemented for wearing tiny pajama-shorts Downtown, it is still a challenge to stand out. Torontonians often dress not for the occasion, but to blend in to the lush, rich outdoors created by nature and great Canadian civil engineers. They tend to love simplicity, organic, cruelty-free fabrics and tons of layers. Well, do what Romans do when in Rome.

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When I arrived it snowed the next morning. There is nothing more exciting for a Dubai girl in flip-flops than to be exposed to numerous opportunities to show off fur, boots and some serious winter style in May (you may argue that a gold chain is missing in that outfit).

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While the weather was throwing tantrums – my fashion spirit grew as sharp as CN Tower. Pockets, a hood and double stockings made my defense strategy a total success. God Bless Aritzia!

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For a feel of La Vie en Rose (French language is as important as English to Canadians)  – a little pink dress by Moda Aesthetics is a must-have and a must-paired with a locally sourced coat. The camel color brought all the nostalgic memories from the back home. With addition of an Italian scarf and American shoes, all the sudden you look as diverse as Toronto society.

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If you ever fancy a long romantic walk on a foggy morning – head to Lake Ontario waterfront in shaping leggings by Zumba wear. Hold tight to a funked up backpack; its sparkling powers could save you from cycling enthusiasts and random snakes.

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Torontonians taught me another important lesson – no matter how fit, strong, confident or stylish you are, always wear a helmet on every wild off-road adventure (and support your lower back of course).

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What I really love about dressing-up in Toronto is to be a part of something big, bigger than my ego. Stroll through the neighborhoods to camouflage your way into high-end street art installations.

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Then let the rebel inside you shine. Self-expression is what fashion is all about. Go wild!

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Live. Love. Breath. Be Crazy and Happy!

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Secret: 20% off all Zumba wear, shoes and accessories with annatrestain on Zumba US

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Take me down to the Paradise city

Where the sea so warm and rays are pretty…

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Maldives!

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In the age when traveling is all about reaching a destination – a trip to Maldives is a big bright adventure. Start with careful packing – think ridiculous bikinis, speedos, tuxedos and gowns (for after 6), as every second of the island life is a perfect photo-opportunity. Tip: the sun is killer – invest in serious sunblock (SPF 100) are cover-it-all swimwear for snorkeling. Fly high and keep your eyes open!

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The only downer on arrival is an endless queue at passport control. Business class passengers and families with kids are given a priority – use your time wisely and blend in with the right crowd 🙂

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Banyan Tree resort  is 20 minutes on a boat away from the airport, so after a breezy trip, a very quick and pleasant check in, one is ready to par-ty.

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Maldives is known for unforgettable, aquarium-like snorkeling and diving adventures.  Surrounding coral reefs are inhabited by all sort of creatures – rays, barracudas, exotic fish, turtles, sharks, octopus, girls in tight suits and so many, many more. Banyan Tree diving center provided masks and fins for no extra charge. Tip: ask for a life-jacket to wear on your snorkeling expedition for extra confidence and comfort (saves back from sun-burns too).

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The best part about the Banyan Tree resort – you can swim directly off the beach to discover the treasures of the Indian ocean. The water is slightly lower than a body temperature reflects all shadows of blue creating a fancy aquarium effect. Just jump in and keep your eyes open to be amazed. When the time comes to get onshore, there is so much to do and experience! Here is my selection of things you need to try at Banyan Tree.

1. Wake-up with the sun for a fragrant self-brewed coffee experience in a batik gown:

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2. Indulge in a non-sharable exotic breakfast:

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3. Walk on the softest white sand late in the afternoon and let the disappearing sun bronze your skin a little:

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4. Did not burn all the energy swimming? There is plenty of space on the island for all type of outdoor exercises, including energetic Zumba moves:

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Or questionable skipping:

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5. Spend evenings sipping refreshing cocktails (because you deserve an exotic Margarita). Keep an eye for happy hours:

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6. Sunbath. Literally:

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7. Participate in sting-rays feeding show or visit a real Marine Lab on the island and sponsor your own coral garden:

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8. Watch sunset and re-watch the sunset:

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9. Share your happy moment with the world – Instagram’em:

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10. Learn to cat-walk (a very helpful skill):

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11. Pick a new hobby – full moon, night-time photography for instance:

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The milky-way is just a mile away:

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12. Hide from early afternoon sunshine:

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There is plenty of shade at any time of the day:

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13. Enjoy the “golden-hour” in full glory:

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Never say good-bye. See you soon Maldives!

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Ting Irie – Everything is Gonna Be Tasty

The first Jamaican restaurant is serving jerk chicken in Dubai since May and mon, it’s spicy! Everything… from food to decor. The entrance is slightly hidden, as all best kept secrets are, but once you are in – you’re never out. Ting Irie is addictive. I blame it on absolutely beautiful people who charm you right at the door.

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First stop the open bar… You can’t miss it! Watch a coconut opening ceremony in the company of a fancy rooster and a pretty Caribbean girl.

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The key ingredient of every dish and drink I tried is freshness. Mocktails are blended and immediately served, spinach is baby crispy-tender, chicken is juicy and mains are proudly hot. What’s missing – liquor license and rummy cocktails.

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Must try – seasoned Lamp Chops served on deliciously spicy hummus.

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Another favorite – Chips Oman Burgers (mini-B).

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There are restaurants conveniently located a cote de bar. Well, Ting Irie is all about the Bar. It’s the center, it’s where all entertainment and gossip are happening. This side offers a great view on the kitchen where my jerk chicken is being prepped (however, I’m looking in a completely different direction suspiciously happy).

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And… I lost myself to Caribbean vibes, moves and all these beautiful people

Well, what happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica even when it’s the center of Dubai 😉

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Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook. Not enough? Find out why all the food at Ting Irie is so special (love it!)

“The Beach” Dubai – Sun.Tan.Fun

There is no place like The Beach. No-no-no! Being ridiculously delightful with its buzz and glory, the Beach appears suddenly, hidden between construction sites. Made to impress and to splurge on, it transports you to the era of great Austin Powers, where life is a non-stop Carnaval. You do not wanna miss it!

There is no place like The Beach. No-no-no! Being ridiculously delightful with its buzz and glory, the Beach appears suddenly, hidden between construction sites. Made to impress and to splurge on, it transports you to the era of great Austin Powers, where life is a non-stop Carnaval. You do not wanna miss it!

Believe it or not, back in 2009 The Beach looked empty. Getting ice-cream required putting on layers and walking a mile. Splashing in a shower was just a dream.

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Things change… – a movie theater, real grass, top restaurants and a super awesome guy on the left (you rock!).

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Look out for 3-D graffitis and cheeky Instagramers with selfie-sticks.

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For the “feel yourself a celebrity” experience jumping on a camel and enjoy crowds gathering around you with flashing cameras and a scene of awesome tall girl in a questionable outfit waiving at you.

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When the time comes to dive in – choose a shallow spot and use this opportunity to show off your “outfit” and some modeling skills. Folks should notice who is looking good today!

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My favorite way to attract “likes” is either James Bond’s style walk (featured) or Bay Watch run (stay tuned for that one). Warning: do not repeat without sunscreen!

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If your personal trainer follows your feed – stop by not-so-easy-to-find Almaz by Momo restaurant for the best Fruit Salad in town and really tasty Moroccan-style pancakes (only served for breakfast unfortunately).

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End your adventure with posing in front of a beautiful, but well-hidden mural and forward your look to antrestain@gmail.com. I will share the top 5 on Instagram just because “It’s Summer of Love”

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