El and An #LastExitDubai

Beside the thrill of extreme driving and promise of a great night out, there is a new exciting reason to take a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. Food Truck Park! Just cross the nonexistent border between the emirates on E11 to dig in to a selection of street food, cool folks and eye popping design.

The only one of its kind in the Gulf,  Food Truck Park offers both drive through and dine-in options for foodies on the go, making it a must visit playground for kids and older. Well, I couldn’t resist! Could you?

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Together with my edgy style gangsta El in her sequence black hat by Rella paired with golden slate stone & wood shades from Propwood, we were ready to party.

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Overwhelmed by the number of choices including Chicks and Friends, Clinton Baking Company, The Brass, Poco Loco and My Karak (among others), we seriously considered Starbucks to reward their support of bloggers worldwide with free Wi-Fi and facilities. Decisions, decisions, decisions…

Once I tricked El in trading her beanie for my awesome Dark Knight Snapback made of shiny black leather from the Nylon Shop, it was the right style moment to review the old school public dialing experience. Meanwhile my 6Plus was peacefully boosting its battery at phone charging station right around the corner.

Then a random brilliant idea entered my hungry mind (oh, boy). To determine who’s gonna pay for dinner, we engaged in a winner take all game of style. Best look rules!

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El moved quickly and with confidence knowing that except cats, nothing beats the “hot girl and a car” scene.

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Being a big fan of emerging brands and hipster-friendly designers, I was pretty happy in my “go back to black” outfit that contrasted with vivid industrial design and urban sand.

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Details from the head to toes: black wool beanie by Rella, Propwood shades, silky long-sleeved shirt under a golden see-through top by Trina Turk, track pants with leather elements by Alice & Olivia and super comfortable Sperry sneakers.

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Frankly, it didn’t take El long to prove that timeless “lady in red” conquers hearts in seconds.

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Dinner is on me, girl!

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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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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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