Feel Like a Soviet in Moscow, Top 10, Part 2

My shady mission that started one dangerously sunny afternoon in Moscow has so far led to KGB interferance and thousands of vivid photos of the Red Square from every possible angle (except space). Those who followed my walking map in the previous post (as ambitious as the USSR’s five-years national economy plans) have developed a strong immune response to discoveries and probably lost 4-10 pounds of precious western body fat. Those, who didn’t – shame on you! The real communist is always on the go and with a little help, you’ll soon become one, willingly or not.

No. 7 – Gorky Park + Garage art center

Entrance to the park is free!

All you Scorpions fans will certainly remember the visionary video and heartbreaking lyrics of Wind of Change : “Follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park, listening to the wind of change… To the magic of this moment… Let your balalaika sing what my guitar has to say…”. Wait no more! I’m taking you to the place “where children of tomorrow share their dreams” 🙂

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Since its opening in 1928, Gorky Park was established by a young Soviet government (fun could be regimented too) as a place to feel the change. While the new state was growing through the ruins of the Empire, the site for the future park was chosen on a deserted area, a former dump 45 minutes away from the Kremlin. Named after a Soviet writer (“Untimely Thoughts”) it was here that in 1935 a two-headed herald eagle striped off the Kremlin towers spent their last hours on display outshined by the symbols of a brand new era, red stars encrusted by semi-precious stones. For the next 75 years propaganda and leisure co-existed here. Extraordinary, from 1929-1937 it was run by female manager, Betty Glan who was only 25yo when appointed.

During WWII it was used to exhibit German war trophies, feeding anticipation for victory, and in post war years, the victory of communism. Following a recent restoration in 2012, Gorky Park was overrun with evil hipsters who enjoyed the 24/7 schedule of free wi-fi, all sorts of “ball” activities, lush lawns to sunbath on, access to Moscow’s river embarkment, never ending supply of kvas (a cold local drink which apparently is super hot) and street food. Beware, it’s easy to loose your sense of time and spend the whole day over here.

Not on my watch! Whatever you will be tricked in doing (local enthusiasm is contagious), find an hour or two for Garage, the museum of contemporary art opened by Darya Zhukova. Apart from a selection of peculiar installations, you’ll be surprised by the modern hybrid of minimalistic soviet architecture and modern urbanism. More here.

N0. 8 – Patriarch Ponds

Free!

Dive into the Moscow metro for a rapid ride from Oktyabrskay to Tverskay station, and for a quick meal at the first McDonald’s to open in the USSR. You may find this idea quite awful at first (especially if you are Vegan or allergic to fast food), however at the end of January 1990, around 30,000 Soviets arrived to queue for the taste of freedom. For many following months, a trip to McDonald’s became a dream stop on a sightseeing tour of Moscow (here is a video proof). Looks convincing, eh?

Our next mission is to explore the Patriarch’s neighborhood, the area loved by former party leaders, expats, spies, poets, ministers, the nouveau riche and readers of Master and Margaret (soviet satire novel by M. Bulgakov if you skipped my previous post). It was here at the Patriarch Ponds (actually there is just one) where the Devil allegedly appeared on May 1st, 1929. It was here that a phrase “don’t talk to strangers” turned into the meme and a dark fate for the two participants. Lounge on one of wooden benches to watch a very well dressed crowd pass by or have a drink at many nearby bars.

No. 9 – VDNKH

Entrance is free!

VDNKH is one of my favorite places in Moscow recognized for its authentic feel and magnificent architectural structures. It’s a Soviet version of Disneyland with rides, candies, glitter, performances and a promise of the Brighter Future for every working comrade. Many call it “Versailles stormed by Bolsheviks”. VDNKH or vystavka (fair) of Soviet realism with pavilions exhibiting new exciting gadgets, machinery and produce (anything from apples to spacecrafts). Here, feel the vibe!

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Glittering with gold, VDNKH isn’t just eye-candy, but it radiates the famous Russian spontaneity when one never knows where the day ends and is ready for all sort of scenarios. I was treated to a random glass of prosecco on board an empty stationery soviet plane.

Take a good look around. Back in 60s you may be walking alongside Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Today you may spot parkour enthusiasts rolling head-breaking tricks, brainy youth on scooters or special forces officers splashing in the fountains. A must-see are the space pavilions and the nominee of Stalin’s prize, sculpture “Worker and a kolkhoz woman (farmer girl)” by Mukhina. Just like Hollywood’s roaring lion it was chosen as the opener to Soviet films.

Once you watch the setting sun in the Communist themed park, it’s time to use the privileges of the capitalist’s world and jump into a comfortable Uber for the long drive through the center of Moscow to a place best described as temptation.

No. 10 – Chinese Grammar or Kitayskay Gramota, the restaurant

Reserve a table a day in advance. Arrive hungry. Be ready to throw cash to settle the bill. Tip: impress staff and audience by making it rain thousand ruble notes “Bad Grandpa”  style. Explore their food, drinks and mind-blowing menu here.

Owned by Mr. Rappoport (remember Dr. Zhivago), a lawyer known in his circle as a foodie and a talented chef with obviously good sense of humor and taste (in art for example), Chinese Grammar wins your interest at the front door. In the best traditions of the communist era, the statue of the greeting comrade is cheerful, green and screwed to the wall (for its own good they say). March in and be stunned by the atmosphere of a post-Imperial selected members only bunker loaded with artifacts. Strikingly good looking staff dressed in Mao’s soldiers uniforms are quite entertaining to watch with their trained posture and detailed knowledge of the menu. Believe me, my reader, it’s not just the decor that this place is loved for, but the Cantonese cuisine delicious in its simplicity and long selection of tempting cocktails. I couldn’t stop looking for a hidden door leading to gambling, opium tastings and happy patrons puffing the magic dragons so well described in Sherlock Holmes, but I failed. Maybe you’ll get luckier…

The end!

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Feel Like a Soviet in Moscow, Top 10, Part 1

Twenty five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow is still as Red as it gets. In fact it’s getting redder and redder. Although “red” stands for beautiful in old Russian, older Russians are feeling nostalgic about the debris of a country that doesn’t officially exist. Defeated by my attempts to comprehend the mysterious Russian soul, I spent a week in the Kremlin’s Shadow to review, photograph and eventually leak to a wide group of civilians, the Top 10 “Feel Like a Soviet” experiences in Moscow. Let’s start with a little video to put you in the right mood. You’re welcome, Comrades!

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No. 1 – Sparrow Hills

It’s free!

Sparrow Hills or Vorobyovy Gory is a place with the observation point where Mr. Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita wished farewell to Moscow and vanished in the darkness on galloping black horses. “Follow me my reader, and me alone…”, so this time let’s substitute horse power with a rather bourgeois morning Uber ride (as a after 10am local traffic is bearable), and take in a delightful view of “the meadows” of Moscow River.

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The Novodevichy and the Luzniki

Right in front of you is Luzniki Stadium where a fuzzy Olympic Misha tied to thousands of balloons broke many hearts at the closing ceremony of the 1980 Summer Olympics. On the left, see the golden onion-domes of Novodevichy Convent, which for a couple of post-revolutionary years served as the Museum of Women’s Emancipation. Then turn around to see one of Stalin’s so called “seven sisters” monument buildings, the Moscow State University poking clouds with its tall spire. The last leader of the Soviet Union, and the voice and spirit of Perestroika, Mr. Gorbachev was among its powerful and famous alumni. Walk around the University to appreciate the extend of Stalin’s architecture and then hike down the hills through partially wild-grown greenery to the Vorobyevy Gory subway station.

P.S. “The Master and Margarita” is witty Soviet satire novel and a masterpiece of 2oth century literature; a wonderful read if well translated.

No. 2 – Subway 

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The Moscow Metro is a treasure of Soviet architecture hidden underground. It was built to amaze (with the initial help of British engineers) and it’s truly shockingly beautiful. Being one of the first projects of Stalin’s ambitions, the Metro is loaded with secrets, mysterious passages, bronze sculptures, mosaics, gold, art deco and baroque elements. Allegedly every station has a unique design (Vorobyevy Gory is the first station ever constructed on a bridge). Some shine in marble recycled from demolished cathedrals and churches. Forty four stations are cultural heritage sites and all of them merge into one marvelous underground castle of the Working Class. While an assertive male voice announces stops on the way downtown and female voice the way out, I consider the Moscow Metro to be the most convincing propaganda ever. If communists ride in such a lavish style, sign me up to join the party (well, there is always a dark side, as Goethe’s Faust discovered when he sold his soul to the devil).

P.S. Tokens and passes are available at every station, the Metro is open daily from 6am to 1am. It’s the best way to get around the city and a great activity on a rainy day. Photography is permitted.

No. 3 – Red Square

It’s free!

Enjoy your underground ride all the way to the Ploshchad Revolyutsii (the closest exit) and hold your breath, prepare to be fascinated.

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Internationally recognized as a symbol of the evil USSR, Red Square originates in the 15th century when a space near the Kremlin (city’s fortress and now the presidential residence) was cleared by the early urbanists to create a buffer zone and a battle field. Later it turned into the heart of the city’s life, where state leaders fancy appearing and addressing the nation during official ceremonies, parades and on the New Year Eve (starting in the 20th century).

Ironically the first revolutionaries (Streltsy, then Razin and Pugashev) were executed here, followed by Soviet revolutionaries finding their eternal peace along Kremlin’s walls. You can visit the father of the Soviet revolution, comrade Lenin, in his private tomb (the mausoleum) right in the center of the square free of charge.

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Spasskaya Tower and the first Lenin’s mausoleum. Credit to unknown photographer.

Not sympathetic to mummies and queueing? Watch out for live smiley versions of Lenin and Stalin sneaking around. Look up. Some of Kremlin’s towers are topped with ruby stars, which replaced double-headed eagles in 1935. On the way out, spot a statue of General Zykhov, the one who led the victory parade after the end of the WWII.

No. 4 – Alexander Garden

It’s free!

Situated along the Kremlin’s wall, this park was originally dedicated to victory in the Napoleonic War and consisted of three separate gardens. Walk through the main cast iron gate to spend a minute in silence in front of the WWII memorial (every Russian family lost at least one member in that war). Watch the eternal flame and witness the change of young, good-looking guards gloriously marching in unison (relocated here from Lenin’s tomb in 90’s). Continue your walk to discover the Grotto (stones recycled from houses ruined by Napoleon’s army), and the Obelisk, ironically placed to celebrate 300 years of Romanov’s rule in 1913, then in four years it was tweaked by bolsheviks to represent their interpretation of history and restored to its original look in 2013. Time to turn to the other side, where happy teenagers on a hot summer afternoon loudly splash in the waters of the fountain with galloping black horses (again!), created by born-in-the-USSR artist Zurab Tsereteli.

No. 5 – GUM

Entrance is free!

Literally translated as the “Main Department Store”, GUM always has and always will represent prestige and luxury trade in the minds of Russians. Most visit GUM not to shop, but for an experience, an inspiration and Instagram selfies, obviously. Located right in front of Lenin’s tomb in an area known for retail and trade for centuries, it’s a totally different kind of a mausoleum nationalized by bolsheviks after 1917. Praised by the tragically talented poet Mayakovsky as the store for everyone’s every need, it was turned into a bureaucratic institution during Stalin’s regime (and the body of his wife who committed suicide was displayed here before her funeral). Since reopening in 1953 to outshine Saks and Macy’s, GUM never faced a shortage of goods nor a shortage of consumers. The two longest queues on Red Square led either to Lenin or shopping paradise. GUM was also a home to the secret Section 200 store where the Soviet Elite stocked up on Western fashion (think Nina Ricci and Chanel). Stroll down the aisles to enjoy the remaining signs of the Soviet avant-garde, taste the famous ice-cream and visit a delightfully jolly grocery store on the ground floor.

Well, my tired reader, congratulations! You’ve completed the first challenge set for your mind and body with true communist determination. To feel the true glory of this moment, imagine yourself back in 1937, in Stalin’s Russia. Back then there were three ways to celebrate: 1. the Na Zdorovie ritual (we tried it); 2. relocation to GULAG (skip!) or induction to the Pioneers (Soviet scouts and the second step in a complicated Party hierarchy). Let’s head to Dr. Zhivago’s for this unique experience.

No. 6 – Dr. Zhivago, the restaurant 

Reservation is a must. Credit cards are accepted, carrying cash is advised. More here.

Located right across Red Square, Dr. Zhivago is a place with great indoor and outdoor views. For a few months after it opened, it was impossible to reserve a table unless secured far in advance or demanded using the Russian tradition of close friends. Decorated in posh futuristic style with the elements of cubism, avant-garde and beloved soviet realism, this place is truly intimidating (even for those who indulge in chopstick fights at Hakkassan). Start with ordering vodka, trust me you’ll need it, paired with black beluga caviar to clear the palette and an overwhelming feeling of illusion (mosaics on the ceiling aren’t what they seem). Try traditional soft drinks mors and kvass (Russian answer to Coca-Cola) and get engaged in a conversation with the polished staff in choosing your treats. Have fun and overcome my silly fear of taking photos at Zhivago’s as I couldn’t get enough.

To be continued…

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Operation “Kremlin’s Shadow”

Raised on memories of the Cold War and fears of Bolsheviks emptying the bars of Rockefeller Center with the vigour they demonstrated storming the cellars of the Winter Palace, I sacrificed purchasing the newest Chanel Boy to save for a trip to the nest of former-Soviet culture, Moscow.

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Red Square

Set on a mission to investigate the progress and success of the working class, I first had some time in Toronto to master the complicated art of “maskirovka” and dress in camouflage. Visual aids were sent to me by my contact in Moscow.

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Serebryakova, “Bleaching the cloth” displayed at Tretyakov’s Gallery

Well, being a cheeky City Chick and a big fan of Versace silk scarves, nostalgic Etro garments and bright fabrics in general, I always follow one impeccable life motto: “when in a doubt – wear Italian”. So fashion decisions were not a challenge! To top it off, I invested in a decent chapeau and Google Glass (a must-have this spying season). The process of turning me into a comrade had begun!

Once the dress code was successfully deciphered, a rendez-vous with group activists was scheduled to practice the “Na Zdorovie” drinking ritual, another important aspect of every day Soviet interactions. After an intensive briefing by the group leader (not present on this photo for obvious reasons) on the dangers and fun of cocktail consumption, I was cool and ready to pursue the operation “Kremlin’s Shadow”. Well, I called it “tourism” and boarded a flight as a true communist with “a cold head, flaming heart and clean hands”.

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Na Zdorovie

I arrived in Moscow on a beautiful sunny afternoon and as instructed headed to Red Square without delay to take photographs and collect information. My maskirovka worked perfectly, allowing me to sneak unnoticed a few steps from the Kremlin. What a great start!

However, unexpectedly and sadly, suspicious activity around my hotel made me realize my cover was blown and my room was potentially bugged. As someone brilliant once said: “You find party in the West. In Russia, party finds you”. Well, I knew from the start what I was up against and at least they revealed a good sense of humor.

So I sat by candle light, armed with American technology, Chinese stationery and a printed map, to experience and share with you the best 10 “feel like a Soviet” attractions in Moscow.

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To be continued…

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Window to Europe

In Moscow, June 1672, a Tzar was born with a vision. He was unusually tall, bright, clean shaven, non-religious and kept his eyes to the West.

He dared to challenge traditions, domestic structure and the modus operandi of Medieval Russia, advancing it to be the new powerful kid on the block. He led a massive cultural revolution by cutting beards, opening math and engineering schools, encouraging youth to travel abroad, forcing French fashion on his court, and introducing potatoes (ha!) to Russian cuisine. He moved New Year’s day from September to January 1st and adopted the German custom of decorating Christmas trees. Believe it or not, he was also the father of Russian ballet. Sound like a lot? Well, he could also twist and roll silver plates and assemble anything ranging from kid’s chairs to real warships. He topped it all when in 1703 he chose the site and laid the foundation stone for the new capital of New Russia, Saint Petersburg, which he believed was and forever would be the”window to Europe”. Long Live Peter the Great!

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St. Petersburg in 1720 by J. Homann

The legend says that when Tzar Peter and his entourage scouted islands in the Neva river delta for a perfect location (or a fancy sunset view), an eagle appeared right above them and that’s how it started. Well, superstition runs deep in Russian DNA 🙂

Modern St. Petersburg consists of 101 islands, it’s the largest, youngest European city with the most number of bridges and a confident promise to amaze. Today follow me on a tour of Peter’s city…

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We’ll start across the Neva river and the Winter Palace on Zayachay (Hare) Island at Peter and Paul Fortress. It was built as a bastion to counterattack Swedes, but soon turned into the “Russian Bastille”, where prince Alexey (Peter’s son) conspired against reforms and was interrogated and imprisoned. While still fresh and eager, climb up the Bell Tower, the second tallest local structure to discover its tragic past (a victim of several fires caused by lightining) and a panoramic view from 42m platform. Then enter the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the eternal home of Romanov family, and the oldest church in the city. It was built in stunning early Baroque style, greatly influenced by Western Europe. Its interiors were decorated with golden ornaments, icons and bible-themed paintings. On the way out, look up to spot the famous angel weather-vane on the golden spire.

Continue your walk along the walls of Peter and Paul Fortress, take panoramic photos of the historical center on the other side of Neva river and then turn to Petrovskaya embarkment to visit the first residential house, a little cottage built for Peter himself in record 3 days, Cabin of the Peter the Great. Protected from the harsh weather by the pavilion, it was originally assembled in traditional Russian log cabin style (izba) with large windows and a high roof. Interestingly, its exteriors were painted to imitate a brick pattern as Tzar was building a city of stone on a limited budget.  The interiors were simple, practical and decorated with essentials only.

Photo credit St. Petersburg’s card

Our next stop is the opposite of practical. It was one of the fist luxuries, proudly designed for the eyes and soul by the Tzar himself and with his active involvement (he loved to be a part of all his projects). So cross the Troitskiy (Trinity) bridge to take a romantic stroll down the alleys in the Summer Garden. Yes, it was laid out as an entertainment park filled with early 18th century urban luxury trends – strict geometric principales, trimmed trees, swans, rare plants, sparkling fountains and marble statues. The river that supplied water to feed its fountains was eventually called Fontanka. Through its history, the Summer Garden has witnessed secret rendez-vous, powerful celebrities, assassination attempt, love scandals and impressive fireworks to end imperial ball. Sadly, most of the marble statues (except one) were replaced with copies during the latest restoration. Keep an eye for the Peace and Victory statue, it’s the only original left.

Now it’s time for “I spy with my little eye”. Turn around and find another golden spire with a weather vane in the form of a little ship shining high in the sky (or use Google maps). It’s the Admiralty tower strategically located on the Neva River in close proximity of Peter and Paul fortresses canons, so it could be easily destroyed if overtaken by enemies. The Admiralty at first was functioning as a shipyard to build the new Russian Baltic fleet and to support Peter’s Imperial ambitions (produced 262 warships).  Peter himself was seen over there working hard as a craftsman on docks. Today the Admiralty is one of most recognizable symbols of the city and a starting point of 3 main avenues. One of them is Nevsky prospect.

It’s impossible to visit St. Petersburg and miss the Nevsky’s. It’s a happening place, the hub of entertainment and nightlife, one of the best-known streets in Russia and a history itself. Around 2 million people walk up and down it every day (pickpockets too, beware!). Nevsky is lined with fancy shops, restaurants and the most impressive buildings in St. Petersburg, including Kazan Cathedral, Singer House, the Passage Mall and Anichkov Bridge across Fontanka River. Stop over here for a water adventure that will take you on a tour of bridges and water canals to discover St. Petersburg from a different angle.

Our next stop is Menshikov’s Palace located right in front of the Admiralty. It was built for a childhood friend of Peter the Great, his supporter and later the first governor, Aleksander Menshikov (not of noble origin but promoted to Duke by the Tzar). Being the first stone residential building in the city and a magnificent structure featuring a rare mix of Baroque style with traditional Russian architecture, the palace was often used for official receptions, balls and carnivals. Rich interiors were decorated with silk, gold, Dutch tiles and marble. The legend says that many of the guest were frightened to step on unusual looking 3D parquet designed by Peter himself and kept their feet up while seated.

If it happened that the eagle responsible for Tzar’s decision flew through time, this is how amazed it would be by the beauty of this eternal city (watch the aerial video)

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Photo and video credit: TimeLab Pro

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Honest Ads

The era of Mad Men continues in the digital age. Where there’s a space, there’s a temptation to use it; emptiness is irresistible. I walked the streets of Toronto and further with Mr. Goose to discover the meaning of life hidden behind letters and images in posted advertisements. Accompanied by the spirit of Nietzsche, Mo Di, Tolstoy, Einstein and the cast of Mothy Python, we are about to add our deep voices to the choir of philosophical marketing. Enjoy!

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… but no thyme to chill! Spotted in the front patio, The Drake Hotel.

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… look who’s got no socks = no life at all. Just another pharmacy downtown.

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… clothed reptiles permitted. Thanks Uncle Tetsu!

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… Actimel needs to stay a lot stronger (35%+) to get me through this! High Park subway station

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… Hurry! Honest Ed’s is about to turn into condos.

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… talking about thunders, eh? Cafe on Yonge

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…can’t wait to try it all! Chinatown.

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…Psycho Reader, the aborted Hitchcock sequel. Just another place on Yonge.

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… it’s true, thought a modest spider on the wall and blushed. Diesel store, Yorkville.

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… this place sucks!

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Does Yoga mean the same thing in Canada as the rest of the world? This place rocks!

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…are you kidding me?!? Only bad vodka is made from potatoes.

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… craft beer and hipsters. Somewhere around King St W

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Wild Wild North

Do you love the countryside? Imagine waking up to the soft sound of trees brushing, and leaves and waves sparkling in the sunshine. Then a cheeky squirrel gently taps on a window looking for a treat, or a friendly beaver waves his tail as a greeting. Picture freshly baked pastry paired with freshly brewed coffee, a wooden dock spread across crystal waters, a long awaited book by O’Henry and a loop of beautiful warm days…

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Knock-knock-knock – it’s reality: morning temperature in June on Manitoulin Island ranges from +4C-16C (if you are lucky), with the hottest +20C, high risk of rain and thunderstorms. When the weather locks you indoors, another round of pleasant surprises is awaiting – your cottage originally built in the 1910’s as a log cabin lacks every comfort that a city girl is so accustomed to: central heating, hot water, internet (forget Netflix), showers and a Nespresso coffee-maker! “No problem, let’s go for a drive” they say, though the closest restaurant is 37 km away and so is the closest supermarket – well, welcome, to the Wild Wild North.

There is something very Canadian about heading up north to survive through their vacation. It took me a while (a bottle of Ontario produced Riesling to be precise) to comprehend the fun behind jumping in a lake in June when it stayed frozen until the mid of May. The “now or never” motto applies to every aspect of the short Canadian summer experience.

I choose to discourage any boring anthropological, logical or any other sorts of statistics in favour of deep psychological analysis driven by Sigmund Freud to understand the truth, the pain and the joy of Canadian summer cottage lifestyle from dawn to dusk. There is always the possibility that the majority of Canadian population lives in the south of the country, spread across the border with US, so geographically two options are open – traveling to US (South) or up north (the rest of Canada). Here is the top 10:

  1. Summer is really short (obviously). It may accidently start any time from April to June or never start at all. For two summers in a row, 2013-2014, I experienced the worst weather possible with cold gloomy days, minimum sunshine, but generous daily showers. In fairness or in unfairness, the situation had improved just right after my departure. In their turn, Canadians are well aware of their moody climate and well prepared to cherish every bit of sunshine, so for them, cities are where one works during the year and cottages are meant for summer chill-outs (chill-out is a key word).
  1. Cities, think Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, get intolerably sweaty when the weather stays warm for a couple of days. Last July, Vancouver was surrounded to forest fires, balding lawns and big-tummy shirtless guys. Heat (and not-so-handsome shirtless guys) is a lot easier to tolerate in the shadows of tool-sheds, boathouses, oaks and wild cottage shrubs.
  1. Canadians love to hide away from hipsters (and hipsters from their fellow-hipsters), in order to not being judged for dressing super casual (or not casual enough), or wearing the same shorts for 2 weeks (as tried and tested at City Chick Gone Wild).
  1. Big city folks are used to squeezing into clustered spaces on subways, the office, streetcars, condos, detached houses, family vans or other places where functionality prevails. The find it super exotic to be out in beautiful nature, with affordable room and space just after an hour drive within Canada (they are patriots).
  1. The Wild Wild North is Wild! Yes, it’s a sense of danger in the most protected way through the luxury of locked doors and windows that appeals to sweet Canadian souls. Encounters with bears, snakes, foxes, wolves, deer and turtles are slightly exaggerated and passed in a form of a “knight’s tale” from generation to generation. Select Canadians of above-average toughness escape to remote locations to voluntarily deprive themselves from using electricity, running water, WiFi and technologies in favour of candle-lit dinners and physical labour. Well, the first hot shower back in the city turns out to be the sweetest thing ever (the dream!).
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Photo credit Mark M.

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  1. Physical labour. Well, Canadians enjoy physical labour with great enthusiasm. The next day after arrival at the cottage they start walking around looking for the stuff to fix, wood to split, trees to chop and picnic tables to build.
  1. Living and re-living Canadian stereotypes. Morning starts with blueberry pancakes soaked in Maple syrup, side bacon from St. Lawrence Market or from a gourmet store on Bloor. Beef sliders for lunch are prepared on the BBQ and eaten right before a trip to the beach where boats are sailed, rowed, motored and remote controlled. Caesars (have you tried? They involve clams) are stirred, not shaken around 5 o’clock. Crunchy celery stir sticks trick the mind into believe that this super Canadian cocktail is healthy. Then there is cold beer, chilled beer and more beer leading to dinner cooked on a campfire.
  1. Campfire! Hooray! The campfire is a ritual. Unlike in Dubai, buying wood to build one is considered a waste. Driftwood is collected right on site, carefully sorted into categories and then neatly arranged into a Tepee shaped pyramid. Dinner is cooked at the sunset; baked potatoes and sausages are followed by my favourite treat: s’mores (slightly burnt marshmallows pressed between butter cookies with a chunk of milk chocolate). The evening ends with sparkles and star gazing (Manitoulin Island is one of the few places where milky way is shining in its full glory)

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  1. Socializing – letting kids run freely, meeting childhood friends, lending and borrowing tools from neighbours, sipping cocktails on the dock, playing real table games (Monopoly, cards, spoons, etc.) and having long heartily chats after midnight. One would be surprised what the lack of Internet does to good people. Cottages are perfect for family re-unions too. Summer tends to bring the best team-oriented behaviour and drinks served in the early afternoon encourage good humour and an attitude of cooperation.
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Meet Mark, a super-skilled cottage neighbor who  knows the secrets to cooking the best fried fish on the planet Earth, and to taking the closest close-ups of wild bears
  1. Last, but not the least, is the healthy component of any cottage adventure – discovery walks, cycling to the grocery store, hiking the trails, swimming in a refreshingly freezing water, outdoor showers, simple food, lots of vegetables, fruits and vitamin D – so when the vacation is over, Canadians are glowing with happiness and sun kissed skin. Even their well known irony is replaced by simply funny jokes: “Guess what’s brown and sticky? – A stick!”. “What are 2 seasons in Canada? – “Winter and July”.

Speaking frankly, the Wild Wild North is not meant for everyone though, only the bravest hearts. Being there is a lifestyle adventure that takes a few summers to figure out and another few to fall in love with. So it happens that one day at the end of June you will wake up to the sound of a racoon pressing its teethies against your window for a better lick of fish flies off the glass, while a merciless north wind bashes waves onshore and the outdoor temperature lowers to +8C. You say, “good morning world!” and actually mean it.

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P.S. A group of great people have dedicated their time and humor to help me to write and review this post. Thank you Judy, Tom, Angie, Andrew, Mark and Sander.

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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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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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