Born in Toronto in the summer of 2012, a tavern with an impressive, old fashion bar and a concept of elevated casual cuisine featuring responsibly sourced meat, it was only a matter of time before Weslodge went international. Two years ago the model moved across the ocean, landing on the 68thfloor of one of the tallest hotels in the world. As it often happens, apart from the name, values and careful approach to sourcing people and ingredients, Weslodge in Dubai seems to surpass its predecessor, opening its door to savvy crowds with great effect.Let’s be frank. This place is fancy. Fancier than most restaurants in DIFC (a financial district known for high-end establishments), Weslodge surprises with a minimalistic yet extravagant approach to design that whispers elegance and luxury. The sign on the door says “saloon” but it’s the only clear indication to categorize Weslodge this way. My first impression of royal hunting cabin quickly disappeared after a closer look at the soft sofas neatly arranged for the comfort of guests.Warm spotlight works perfectly with rather classy walls presenting a combination of two solid paints: beige and dark green. The polished look is accented by a museum-like art collection arranged with a personable touch to create the illusion of home. The importance of detail is evident in the shining crystal glasses, exhibition of occasional eccentrics (skull wall decor, central spider chandeliers and a giant orchid on a red velour sofa).What you see from the entrance is a long wooden bar with a reflective surface and many tempting tall bar stools. The simple décor is augmented with liqueurs, spirits and incredible bartender, Emilio. Emilio is not so simple either. With a proven record of success in mixology, an award wining cocktail menu and expressive jewellery, he is a real character and an attention magnet. Guests seat at the bar just for a chance to interact. Attracted to charismatic personalities, I couldn’t pass by without a chat and needless to say, I ended up with a cocktail in each hand and a secret recipe for homemade jalapeno jam.Moving from the bar into the dimmed dining zone, I was stunned by the view. The whole of downtown Dubai was right in front of me sparkling in night beauty. The full moon rose over Burj Khalifa, softly reflecting in its mirrored panels. The traffic looked rather fun and easy going, pouring slowly from one street to another and changing colours from white to red as it turned. I was able to see all the way to the horizon and a bit beyond into the darkness of the never-ending sky. It was difficult to overt my gaze from this majestic scene. It was finally Riona who got my attention.
Born and raised in South Africa, Riona moved to Dubai a few years ago and is a Weslodge veteran. Apart from detailed knowledge of the dishes, Riona is a confident public speaker and keeps an eagle eye on her guests, ready to cheer with a joke or help with a recommendation. I was lucky to get both. While we studied the sharing menu, Riona suggested the following must-tries: Mediterranean sea bass ceviche with pickled watermelon, deep fried calamari with slices of crispy lemon and spicy chilly, roasted cauliflower with curry leaves resting on a bed of almond paste, and obviously the steak.
The food created by head chef Abdi was absolutely exceptional and was accented by fresh and often surprising ingredients. The watermelon in the ceviche was a simple touch that turned the originally Peruvian dish into an unknown delicious mystery. Sliced and deep fried lemon in the calamari made me wonder why it wasn’t an independent plate on its own. The steak, served with zesty green salsa and truffle butter, was all crunchy top and juicy middle. I was so blown away by the taste and the presentation that I insisted on meeting the chef. Luckily he made one of his usual rounds and I barely stopped myself from hugging him.My evening ended up with Death by Chocolate (dessert), paired with a very unique cocktail based on peanut butter infused whiskey. I left full, happy and unsurprisingly craving more.
At that time Taj ran at full occupancy, hosting party after a party and guests from all over the world. The hecticness, however, wasn’t obvious to anyone’s eye except the staff, and all my free time was passed at the swimming pool, guarded by statuesque lions and ever hungry crows.
10 years later the lions were still on duty.
When not in the water, I used to enjoy lazying in vintage like chaise longues, starring at the grey stone majestic facade.
Ten years later the facade was the same. The most drastic transformation was a change in the “open sky” policy for cheeky city birds, limiting their access to all day long “bed and breakfast”. But don’t you worry: birds still sneak in, showing a complete ignorance to etiquette. The garden has greatly expanded to the mezzanine floor, and new palm trees popped up here and there. I noticed chaise longues no longer featured sun shades. Instead, the traditional Rajasthani umbrellas were installed, adding a touch of cultural and heritage to the pool area. Believe it or not, but this used to be the front entrance back in 1903. Do you agree that the pool is a better idea?
Happy to see that the Taj’ exteriors stayed true to their 2008 look, I did noticed a change in interior design. Damaged after the fire and destruction, all ground level restaurants were completely refurbished and highly unrecognizable. The number of open entrances to the hotel was reduced to one, where strict security has been introduced. I could no longer run in and out without passing through a metal detector. On the brighter side, the iconic floating staircases look exactly the same if not a little prettier.
The rooms featured the same white marble in the bathrooms, giving them a rather royal feel. Additionally the new wooden flooring, brighter paint and furniture appeared in the living spaces and all sort of life hacks in the form of buttons, cables and devices were introduced to add technical luxury to the stay. The view stayed the same.
To be continued…
Find out more about the Taj Mahal of Mumbai here.
In many ways Dubai is the most eccentric city in the world. Home to driverless subways, the largest malls, warmest sea, safest environment, the most expensive coffee and the tallest building, it always keeps visitors on their toes, overwhelmed with experiences all year (even when thermometer jumps to +50C). The one truly unmissable attraction is the Burj Khalifa, a tower that holds to the world’s record of 828m since 2010. Dubaians believe if you haven’t been to Burj Khalifa you haven’t really seen Dubai. Many opt to book a tour to the top but there is a better and tastier way to experience it, – At.mosphere.
Located on the 122nd floor, a minute ride on a rapid elevator, Atmosphere is divided into two establishments: a lounge for high-tea, pre- and post-party drinks, and a luxurious restaurant with private dining. Needless to say the view is fantastic from every window.
Depending on time, weather and position of sun and moon, the view around Atmosphere changes dramatically making it the most exciting destination to explore the ever-expanding Dubai.
Being a frequent guest of Atmosphere’s lounge for high-tea and pre-dinner cocktails, this time I stopped in to experience the newest breakfast menu created by chef Christopher Graham, formerly of Jumeirah Group hotels.
Atmosphere states the dress code as casual, but I prefer to wear a slightly ridiculous outfit because my photo memories are expected to be spectacular!
The interior resembles the vibe of London decor with polished wooden panels, reflective aluminum columns, shiny glass, panoramic windows and patches of warm red light here and there.
The new breakfast menu consisted of pre-set dishes paired with eggs as well as tasty delights like organic greek yogurt parfait, waffles, crepes, jams and vanilla butter (with real crushed vanilla).
In terms of cost, it’s quite flexible. The minimum spend is AED 200 per person (window tables are subject to availability upon reservation). A special 35% discount is offered on Decadence Menu (yumm) for guests with a valid Emirates ID card.
And a little bit more:
Day & Time: Daily, from 7am to 11am (last arrival time is 10am)
Price: Decadence Menu – AED 325 per person (UAE residents can enjoy 35% discount with their Emirates ID), Prestige Menu – AED 525 per person and À la carte – Dishes start from AED 60. Children below 5 years can dine for free (ID required with date of birth). Children aged 6-10 years are entitled to 50% on Decadence Menu only (ID required with date of birth).
In the pre-oil era, Dubai was a cosy settlement nested on opposite shores of a salt water Creek known as Deira and Bur Dubai. The Creek played a vital role in connecting the emirate to the region and the world, making it a peaceful harbor for fishermen, merchants, sailors and travelers.
Today, Dubai is a city that develops rapidly with incredible acceleration but nonetheless loves its past and history. Dubaians take pride in preserving old buildings, opening museums and restoring the Sikkas, narrow streets hidden away from the cameras of tourists in busy districts. In Old Dubai, Sikkas resemble little arteries pulsing good vibes and connecting people, places and experiences.
My life in Dubai has had it ups and downs, mirroring the trends of the world’s economy. Realizing how little I had discovered on my own after living in the UAE for twelve years was surprising. Then a few weeks ago the luck smiled down on me when I randomly met inspiring Emirati photographer Zainab who talked me into joining her on a walking / shopping tour of the 5 most important Souks (markets) in Old Dubai – fish, fruit, vegetables, spices, garments and textiles and obviously, gold. I agreed without thinking twice and voila, this is the true story of what happened.
“Anna! See you tomorrow at Rashidiya metro station. 8am or earlier. Zainab,” my WhatsApp cheerfully pinged.
“Metro station? Are you sure? What if I drive?” my replies sounded as confusing as my thoughts. I’ve never used the metro since its opening in 2009 and frankly never intended to. Living in the Middle East taught me to cherish my extended personal space especially while commuting, which I did’t fancy sharing. Driving a reliable fancy car turns out to be a necessity, not a luxury. Zainab meanwhile responded in a non-negotiable manner and went silent, expressing how less she would sympathize with my chaotic emotions.
“Well, metro it is”, mumbled I to myself choosing to wear beige pants, a white tunic with long sleeves and a colorful silk head scarf by Wyilda; hoping to be unrecognizable in that camouflage. The next morning at 8am I was standing on a platform waiting for Zainab feeling extremely proud of my “mission accomplished”. I drove all the way to Rashidiya, conquered traffic, parked and used an escalator to reach the platform. Not too bad for a girl who’s car became her cave on wheels.
Tip: sort out your NOL metro card in advance to avail free parking.
Zainab appeared on a platform with a warm confidence that only locals portray.
“Anna, where’s your gold card?” Zainab demanded greeting me. I pulled out my credit card in confusion.
“No, no. Metro gold card! Let’s get it quickly and ride in style”.
Finally, I felt relieved. Riding in style was all I wanted, so I happily scurried after Zainab. A few minutes later we were chatting tet-a-tet in a gold class cabin.
Leaving brilliant Zainab in charge of logistics, I chose to sit back, relax and thoroughly enjoy the view paired with the complete privacy of our voyage. Half an hour later we changed a train and in another 20 minutes stepped out in Deira blinded by a bright sunny morning.
First stop: Fish market
As carrying raw fish on the metro was forbidden, our trip to the market had a more educational purpose than practical. We both shared excitement and curiosity but for opposite goals. Zainab was excited to indulge in real street photography and was curious to visit the fish market prior to its relocation to the Waterfront community. I was excited to watch Zainab, the “Queen of iPhone 7 portraits and boomerangs” in action. There was a secret goal too. Being a “crazy cat lady”, I needed to satisfy my curiosity and count all stray cats sabotaging fish businesses with their cute hungry faces. For some inexplicable reason Zainab was sure my blogging and photography intentions were towards people not cats. I did “my level best” to keep that illusion going.
A few minutes after our stylish entrance, I, avoiding any eye contact, found the most remote corner to spy on Zainab through my superzoom lens, documenting her fearless endeavor through melting ice, chopping and cracking. She didn’t seem to mind any of those, seeking only the pure joy of photography.
Needless to say, my scheme fell apart pretty soon and my camouflage failed me too, as I ignored a fact we were the only two girls “shopping”. The whole market was able to point out my hiding spot to Zainab when she looked for me. To say she was disappointed was to say nothing! She frowned, giving me a stern studying look:
“Anna, listen. You are not a fish, you interest no one. Your options are: interact with people closely or halas, I’ll tape your zoom”.
Then she gently pulled my arm to illustrate the decision was made. That’s when I found myself in the middle of the fish cleaning area staring at heads, tails, fins and other scary attributes of that fishy business.
“Anna, yalah, I’m watching you,” Zainab’s voice insisted. Chop, chop, chop, click, click, click, we all worked in unison…
To be continued…
Dear lovely loyal reader,
How have you been? I’m mostly well too (thanks!), struggling to conquer sugar cravings and removing make-up before sleep. My resolutions is “just do it!”The opportunity for a new top me-me-me sounded tempting, a spiritual Klondike on a personal horizon of dreams and hopes.
However a few weeks through January, when it became obvious that goal accomplishment has already failed, there was one I intended to nail no matter what – shape up! Frankly speaking it would be really cool to get super fit in my 30s and be discovered by Sports Illustrated.
Would you agree that the year of 2016 was the year of healthy living? If research into the benefits of black coffee, red wine and butter left some questions unanswered, Instagram hashtags #fitness and #fit displayed endless motivation and effort towards a stronger body. Meanwhile my initial attempts to exercise were barely successful and rather painful:
Right at that moment the destiny introduced me to Leo.
Leo belongs to a rare circle of Personal Trainers who don’t brag, but do their job with enthusiasm, passion and contagious persistency. Yelling is not in practice either. Instead, he uses a technique that I describe as “charm and kill”, loading me with a logically connected chain of exercises similar in structure to DNA. Just right when I’m out of breath or motivation to continue, he would drop: “Today’s pain – tomorrow’s gain, smash it Anna” and smile. While I indulge in double Caesars for fun – Leo wakes up at 5am to win Cross Fit “pageants”.
The best is that he focuses on my fading body goals to tone sagging knees, straighten outer thighs and so many many more. Leo delivers a tailored workout every time and gets me stronger, fitter and healthier because a rising star swimwear model is not just a pretty face!
So to keep my New Year resolution alive and get you involved, I teamed up with unstoppable Leo who decided to break our “perfect legs” exercise routine into 5 easy moves. Attention: warm up and stretching are not included in this routine but should never ever be skipped (though skipping is great for lean leggies).
Move 1: Front Squats
A very successful exercise that results in stronger and leaner legs. Choose to start without weight if your recent workout plan involved Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” or spying on friend’s Instagram (I’m certainly guilty), otherwise move some weight off your shoulders to the front, stand with your feet apart and squat! Do 20, 15 and 10 reps.
Move 2: Ball Throw Squats
A variation of the previous exercise engages additional groups of muscles including shoulders. Start with a lighter weight and focus on your posture. It’s important to keep your back straight and straighten knees softly every time. Do 20, 15 and 10 reps.
Move 3: Single Leg Bench Lunges
Stand a meter away from a bench. Keep your back straight, place one foot on the bench, smile, bend your leg and lunge. Do 20, 15 and 10 reps.
Move 4: Curtsy Lunges
A powerful variation of the standard lunge, this exercise tones outer hips and builds better glutes. Bring one of your feet back and across your body. Both knees when bent should be 90 degrees (as always). Do 20, 15 and 10 reps.
Move 5: Forward lunges
This is considered a dangerous exercise, please remember to keep your chest lifted, back straight and knees bent at 90 degrees. Add weight only when a standard lunge has been mastered to perfection. Wear compression socks for an extra support.
Well done! Let’s make the world a fitter place together, right meow!
Secret no. 1: It was love at first sight between me and Zumba!
We met rather randomly. They say opposites attract, so there I was a big fan of mat exercises and a quiet reader of The Economist who meditates to the sounds of Tibet, scrolling through my work mail in front of the studio. “You could use some cha-cha-cha, girl. It’ll loosen up your back”, laughed someone’s voice and a few minutes later it happened. I lost my soul to the wild Zumba moves. Forever, I’m afraid…
To my delight, Zumba loved me back! I juggled and partied through classes leaving behind work stress, the weight of deadlines and pressure from the land of business. I integrated all kinds of sneaky salsa steps into my daily walks around the office. I amused colleagues with occasional “a la cadera” routine on lunch break. I traveled with Zumba wear while my Instagram flourished with Zumba looks from all over the world…
“My moves-my rules” and on a count of four (my lucky number) one summer afternoon a passion had turned into a profession. I registered for certified Zumba Basic 1 instructor training (oh, la la!) in Dubai.
Secret no. 2: You can as well! Everyone can. Around the world zumba.com
Being a Zumba instructor with a license to teach for up to a year sounded absolutely awesome! It would be a flexible paid engagement that brings happiness, prolongs wellbeing, encourages traveling and socializing. Top it up with a new collection of Zumba wear every couple of weeks that turns you into a desirable trendy superstar! So without any doubt I was ready to scream “Yes!” and take my relationship with Zumba to the next level. At least spiritually. So to support my commitment with action, I sat down to obsessively study the training manual (the curse of a perfectionist) to be one move ahead and to surprise the dancing community with my witty comments (the curse of a manager).
On the morning of the training I was ready to jam, learn and impress. Equipped with a spare outfit, water and Zumba protein shake I was fearless, no challenge seemed to be challenging enough. I must admit, I was wrong!
My first impressions straightened me up. The Bare fitness studio in the heart of Dubai was full. Full to the limits (I had no idea Zumba was so popular in the Middle East), however it was rewarding to find out how easily fitness united people from different regions and counties, including the UAE, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Europe and the UK. There were no boundaries, just the rhythm of dance! Our instructor Steve handled a demanding crowd with a professional sharpness. In a matter of seconds I was greeted, registered and briefed. The fun has started!
Steve was truly brilliant. He had carefully constructed his training in a way that was interactive, engaging and easy to follow. He started with the free style master class giving everyone an opportunity to show off and then gradually moved to teaching the basic steps of Merengue, Salsa, Cumbia, and Reggaeton. With constant repetition and friendly assurance, we all clapped, jumped, laughed and successfully followed his choreography (with variations!). At times, Steve would pause the training to mix standup humor with facts, and would talk us through the dancing routine, music, secrets of being a great instructor and that strictly confidential Zumba formula. I hardly noticed the time fly by.
Loaded with the theoretical and practical knowledge, I couldn’t wait to get home to practice my new moves and steps. Dancing was a part of me. I felt inspired and overwhelmed by the new exciting opportunities and connections. Training with Steve and with all those beautiful, talented and motivated individuals made me realize that I wasn’t alone in this journey to the greater me as a person and as a new instructor. There was more than a community of fitness enthusiasts as Zumba combined it all: people, technology, fashion, innovation, ideas, formula, choreography, music, steps, beauty, healthy supplements, spirit, you name it! Now I’m a part of Zumba too.
Secret no. 3 Here are 10 proven tricks to get through the Basic 1 successfully:
- Attend Zumba classes ahead of the training;
- Read the manual;
- Google your instructor and learn about them before the course;
- Invest in trendy Zumba outfit (20% off with antrestain at zumba.com (US));
- Carry business cards to connect with great people around you;
- Pack a change of clothes, shoes, a towel, water bottle, snacks (I opted for Zumba protein shake);
- Monitor your wellbeing: phase up and phase down to stay actively healthy;
- Bring camera and don’t go shy on photos;
- Try to get closer to the stage;
- Have fun! Your first training will be unforgettable!
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” 🙂
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
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!
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…
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.
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.
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”.
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.
To be continued…
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…
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
Things change… – a movie theater, real grass, top restaurants and a super awesome guy on the left (you rock!).
Look out for 3-D graffitis and cheeky Instagramers with selfie-sticks.
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.
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!
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!
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).
End your adventure with posing in front of a beautiful, but well-hidden mural and forward your look to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will share the top 5 on Instagram just because “It’s Summer of Love”