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.
I arrived in Mumbai late in the evening. My flight with Jet Airways was short, pleasant and a little bit boozy as I had no shame taking advantage of the unlimited champagne offered in Premium class. Next to me, the only other passenger in the two seats arrangement, sat a charismatic older gentlemen in a really good suede shoes brushed to perfection.
He took zero interest in my presence until I engaged the Jet Airways crew in every Instagram star’s favourite routine: stories, selfies and the endless production of photographs from a particular angle no one else seems to recognize beside you. As a result the crew delivered even more champagne and very personalized service, which other travellers confused with being mega famous and invited me for dinners with their wives. Luckily we landed and with no time left to respond I rushed out.
Mumbai International Airport greeted me with the shine and sparkle of a fully completed renovation to its interiors and services. For the first fifteen minutes I was absolutely alone in a giant endless corridor with panoramic windows to the runway on the right and cheerful wall art with a puppet theatre feel to them on the left. A very friendly passport control officer stamped my passport in less than two minutes and wished me a pleasant stay. Bless him!
My destination tonight was Taj Mahal. Yep, that’s right. Mumbai, or Bombay as the older generation proudly calls it, is a home to a palace of a hotel. Taj Mahal was built in 1903 in response to demand for a luxury hotel open for everyone who can afford it without prejudice. Originally the main entrance was not the one facing the Gateway of India and the sea, but the residential district from where horse drawn carriages brought in the wealthy and famous. The Taj at that time was only two floors tall and had no Tower. Later the entrance was relocated to the opposite side and a very charming pool surrounded by a lush garden built instead.
Right from it’s opening, Taj represented the symbol of Indian wealth and prosperity by becoming a landmark and pushing ahead of its time by setting quite a few records: complete electrification, first elevators imported from Germany, first Turkish baths, English butlers, first licensed bar, a discotheque (ou est la discotheque!) and a restaurant open through the day. Taj Mahal was converted into hospital during the First World War. The Tower was added in 70s and the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces was born. So you can imagine my excitement smooshing my nose on the Taj limo’s windows, peering curiously into the darkness on the way to the palace. The Taj limo was equipped with cold towels, Himalayan mineral water, mints and complimentary WiFi immediately won my heart. The feeling of serene “Tajness” surrounded me like a fluffy cloud bringing in security, comfort and peace.
To be frank there was a separate significant reason behind my impatience. Back in 2008 I left Taj Mahal just a few nights before the terrorist attack, responding to my friend’s request to help her shop for diamonds, Chanel and gold in Dubai. I felt terrified watching my beloved home in Mumbai on the fire thinking of all the friends I made over there during the years and visualising its majestic interiors with closed eyes. The relief when it was all over turned into an obsession to revisit Taj in its full glory followed a major renovation in 2009. Half an hour drive from the International Airport and there we were about to enter through the new gate and pass luggage screening.
The first glance put a huge smile in my face. Taj looked majestically beautiful in the dazzling streetlights as if the fall of 2008 had never happened. I witnessed a very familiar scene, tall men in turbans efficiently guiding guests and traffic, happy kids carelessly running between parents, local dollies shining with diamonds and lip-gloss and wrapped in glamorous saris rushing to a party and so on and so forth. I missed you Taj Mahal!
To be continued…
Waka is not a regular restaurant but a destination to experience the authentic flavours of Latin American cuisine with a fusion of Japanese influence. The place is decorated in warm earthy colours, with splashes of bright expressive patterns bringing in a cosy homey feeling. So does the art on the walls.
The reception outside the restaurant sorts out calls and reservations, keeping the extra noise away. A short corridor with dimmed lights opens up to a small lounge, beautifully lit bar, and DJ booth. The main dining area, divided in two parts, can easily be transformed in exclusive secret rooms for private events.
The kitchen is divided from the main dining area by a transparent glass wall. Interestingly, while guests can sneak peak on chef’s movements, the window is blackened on the other side. Just like American detective stories but the other way around.
Ordering is a pleasure, as the team gets very passionate talking about food and describing dishes. Frequent recommendations are followed by a brief history of a particular ingredient or a dish.
The food is fantastic. Most of what I tried had a distinctive individuality in taste and presentation including many little special effects (dry ice, so hot right now). The finely sliced wagyu steak that resembles salami from a distance gets cooked right at the table with a blowtorch and then quickly dressed with delicious bits and pieces. Chicken skewers served on tiny charcoal grills are deliciously juicy and out of this world. On a personal request a little bowl of fresh chilly sauce was prepared especially for me and was quickly consumed with great appreciation.
Live, love, eat, have fun and feel good. BodyTree Studio, it’s for everyone!
After twelve years living in the UAE, I’ve developed a special connection to the capital. Abu Dhabi attracts me with its soft warmth reflected in local architecture, focus on arts and cultural events, close communal living and an atmosphere where people you randomly meet become good friends. Dubai, in contrast, is a louder, busier, shinier and a lot more extravagant neighbour. Dubaians set impressive records; Abu Dhabites love to enjoy living.
When I heard about a hidden gem of a wellness studio with unique classes, inspirational workshops and ten years of history, it was immediately worth a morning drive to the capital for me. Even for a Dubai girl, BodyTree studio was easy to find. Once I set my destination, Google showed minimal traffic warnings and confirmed I was in for a pleasant trip.
Upon arrival, I sighted several model-fit girls rushing with little concern to the gate of a spacious villa. I parked right in the front and jumped out. The whole place was surrounded by tall palm trees, lush greenery and blue sky, giving it a Miami feel, though the first thing I noticed was a thoughtful sign on the wall saying (and Bradshaw is never wrong):
The front desk greeted me with smiles and cheerful comments. I was advised to disclose any physical injuries or concerns to instructors prior to the workout. I was also encouraged to go with a flow, not worry about the choreography and to challenge myself while having a lot of fun. I’m always in for fun!
That morning I was about to try BTB – a Bodytree body class designed by women for women. Led by two very experienced fitness instructors trained in dancing, Pilates and other advanced “stay awesome” techniques, the class promised to be a blast. All equipment for the class was provided, including cuff and ankle weights, dumbbells, resistance bands, a mat, and towel and of course, motivation.
The hour started with a musical warm-up; musical because Anissa, a professional ballerina, included a few pretty cool moves one can use in audition for any upcoming Broadway show. My legs were a little lost for the first few minutes, but not my heart. It was pumping blood, oxygen and good vibes. When I was about to quit, I heard that wonderful world “break” and Nadia took over with arms and upper body exercises. The next segment was high impact and a little intense, balanced with Anissa’s cosmic personality and persistent energy. I jumped, squatted, bounced and laughed my soul out. Girl, it was great!
However, it was Nadia’s leg workout that practically killed me. Usually I favour mat exercises. You know for a lazy girl like me everything lying down is the best fitness routine. Nadia didn’t let it happen. Raising the same leg up and to the side and flexed and straight with ankle weights and a resistance band repeatedly was a challenge. When we finally surrendered to the baby pose, I was the happiest person ever. Anissa closed BTB class with stretches and dancing, making it an unforgettable experience for my muscles. The difference between first timers and a regulars was noticeable. While my breathing fluctuated from bad to very bad, other girls in the class encouraged me with smiles and non-stop positive attitudes.
Wrapped in a towel, I decided to drown my sores and fails in a cup of coffee (my personal solution to stress). Conveniently, BodyTree studio has a brilliant Nectar juice bar on the ground level, a few steps away from the reception.
When it was my time to order I decided to treat myself to something super exciting, but was slightly overwhelmed with choices: turmeric latte, smoothies, fresh juices, signature drinks, etc. The girl at the counter sounded very understanding and just asked me to describe what I felt like. As I felt a little sorry for myself and dehydrated, Nectar bar mixed me a powerful smoothie with coconut water, dates, almonds, protein and probably a bunch of other secret ingredients that boosted my thirst, energy and self-esteem. Impressed with the service and taste, I opted for a few healthy snacks to take home: warm from the oven banana muffins, crunchy granola, soft protein snacks and spicy vegetable toasties.
Refreshed and very happy, I asked if a tour around the house was a possibility. And it was! Accompanied by charming PR and Marketing Manager Grainne, we covered all three floors looking at the state-of-the-art training facilities, equipment, and changing rooms with huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors and showers. I spent half an hour at the wellness and fitness boutique looking through stylish activewear, essential oils and even waiting for the right “gong moment” (super tempting to just do it).
During the tour I noticed what a fantastic gathering place it was! I spotted moms-to-be waiting for a pre-natal class, an Emirati father waiting for his little ballerina, a Zumba girl in a sparkling outfit, a girl in a sharp suit, a group of moms enjoying “kids at school time” at Nectar juice bar, and a cool mix of personalities everywhere.
With more than 130 classes on offer, ladies-only workouts, private training, classes for teens and kids, including ballet, mixed group training, fancy Pilates, outdoor meditations, full-moon nights, Zumba (yeee!), free workshops and conversations and so so so much more, I wonder what will bring me to BodyTree studio next?
At the lobby level of Palazzo Versace, with indoor and outdoor seating facing the main pool and magnificent Creek (especially at night), Enigma delivers on its namesake, “delightfully mysterious”. So did my incredible gown from Si Fashion Galerie.Si Fashion Galerie.
It’s best to call it contemporary Turkish with warm Mediterranean influence, reflected in the ingredients, flavours, colours and distinguishable Versace prints.
The installation of branded wall mirrors result in dramatic reflections of candlelight and exteriors, creating an Ottoman palace effect. The soft fabrics used for seating arrangements including pillows, sofas and chairs create a “divan culture”.
Signature cocktails, designed around everyone’s favourite beverages and well-known landmarks like Constantinople and Bosporus, show the bartender’s obsession with the history (of the world and drinks).
One can never underestimate the freshly baked fluffy bread with crispy edges and sesame seeds, paired with a selection of sauces, including my favourite tomato and red peppers, sweet pear puree and sliced marinated to crisp onions.
The real magic starts when the chef appears with a long serving table and house cured meat, pastrami layered with black pepper, fenugreek, anise, bay leaf, white pepper and obviously a secret ingredient. While the chef slowly slices pastrami on white plates carved of stone, he engages in a conversation explaining the magic behind the softest and the most fragrant piece of meat one can dream of.
But the masterpiece of the night was octopus, cooked in a vacuum pot for as long as five hours, then quickly seared on a hot pan.
I’m wearing a beautiful tight gown from Si Fashion Galerie.
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).
After two months in Toronto I was homesick for Dubai. There is one characteristic to expat life in the UAE found nowhere else: Dubai people create a fantastic ambience of “the show must go on”. And I missed it bitterly. Unsurprisingly, after conquering my ghastly jet leg it was time to hit up the local social life.
A big fan of everything party and spicy, I decided to revisit Farzi Cafe at City Walk for lunch, as my breakfast there back in April was unbelievable. As they say, “eat here, or we will both starve”.
Farzi Cafe represents a modern take on the art of cosmopolitan cooking. It’s a mix of colours, flavours, cultures and spices with a dominant Indian theme. Committed to bringing Indian food back “en vogue”, they add a touch of a lovely ridiculousness to the art of serving, as drinks and dishes usually have an unexpected twist. The Farzi Team creates the illusion of spontaneity, but believe me everything they offer is a result of hard work and design.
By 1pm on Saturday afternoon Farzi Cafe was packed, contrasting with the hot empty streets of City Walk. Life does move indoors from May to October in Dubai! Fortunately I had a reservation, otherwise my name would appear on the long wait list. The cooling waves of air-conditioning installed at the entrance chilled a hot head like me and I noticed the cheerful buzz of happily fed crowds enjoying themselves.
To spice things up, I ignored the menu and asked my server Aditya to just feed me. Well, I did clarify how little a model eats plus we discussed potential food risks and allergies. So the magic began! After a complimentary appetizer made of chilled mango burst into a drop of yogurt in my mouth, cotton candy was transformed into a watermelon cocktail revealing a little green leaf at the bottom. I’m guessing it was basil.
Savory shrimps in creamy chili sauce with foam was my next dish, followed by incredibly fragrant mushroom ragout served in an apothecary bowl with an overwhelming aroma of truffle oil pouring out of a long bovine nose. What can I say except they were absolutely amazing! Very tender at first bite, but wait for the heat of freshly crashed black peppers to tease your taste buds. It will happen!
As a further surprise, a model vintage truck arrived carrying my butter chicken burger. However my favorite dish came next. Set in a crescent plate, on a layer of mashed potatoes, rested pieces of roasted lamb and golden potatoes seared with crunchy beetroot chips. Watercress herbs added bright green colour to the dish.
My main course consisted of cheese naan, mutton biryani and chicken tikka. Exceptional through every bite, it was the presentation that got my complete attention. If only I could eat for two!
My dessert, a traditional yet contemporary gulab jamun, arrived in a cloud of fog. Right in front of my eyes, in a bowl of dry ice, a serving of vanilla ice cream was created and placed around warm gulab jamun. Frozen rose petals, crushed pistachios, berries and strawberry syrup made it the most irresistible dish.
So good to be back in Dubai!
Click here to learn more about Farzi Cafe.
Aangsana Velavaru is an island paradise 45 minutes away from Male, the capital of Maldives. In the shimmering blue waters of the Indian Ocean, the island is surrounded by a live coral reef with unimaginably colourful species and creatures.
The island is far enough away from civilization to create the illusion of an exotic adventure and disconnection from hectic urban living. But it’s just an illusion as fast free WiFi allows one to reach out anywhere in the world within seconds.
We arrived on a little floatplane right before the sunset and were greeted with the sounds of traditional instruments echoing in the waves. I turned my face to the breeze and smiled.
It was a fantastic ending to a desperate morning struggle to book an alternative to the first hotel that turned out to be hideous. Changing hotels in Maldives was a risky exercise considering logistics, most of the resorts existed as independent islands. I called Angsana Velavaru in panic requesting immediate help with the booking. I wanted to believe they were moved by my sobbing voice however later experience proved Angsana’s team really truly cared about guest’s wellbeing. So in a matter of half an hour, I was assured of a new address to stay at and most importantly, that great humanity existed! So when I stepped out of the last seaplane for the day mesmerized by vanilla sky reflected in crystal clear shimmering waters, I felt like the luckiest girl on Earth! I will never forget the kindness of the person on the opposite side of the line helping me out.
Our island villa with air-conditioning and cheerful wall art was a delight to step into after a long day of travels.
It included a private swimming pool, spacious garden facing an expansive waterfront, and a complimentary bottle of chilled champagne that obviously didn’t last long.
We spent our first night sipping champagne on the terrace, listening to waves, and bathing in the disappearing sun.
The next morning was the start of the Maldivian island routine.
Imagine waking up to the sounds of sea followed by a quick splash in refreshing waters, then rushing to exotic breakfast that I usually started with a fragrant cup of black coffee; despite the presence of fresh guava juice on a shelf. The best part was the view.
After breakfast a wooden boat would take us for a complimentary snorkeling expedition to beautiful reefs, different every time.
Sylvia, our snorkeling instructor, mingled between swimmers, pointing out sea treasures. I kept following her around for a better glimpse of the underwater world. She didn’t seem to mind.
We would spend evenings taking photographs at golden hour and tasting local cocktails. At night the fatigue associated with 3+ snorkeling trips would kick in and I opted for lovely room service dinners.
I miss my time at Angsana and their amazing team and looking forward to going there again!
Take a look at Sylvia’s inspiring Instagram.
Last night, on the way to Iftar dinner with a friend who makes this world a better place, we had an opportunity to explore the new Address Hotel and Residences at the Boulevard Downtown.
With its central location a few minutes away from major landmarks, and views on the tallest tower Burj Khalifa, the Address Boulevard is already a sought after place to stay in the city. Not to mention New Year’s Eve!
Through the glass door we went with expectations of a hearty dinner, and unexpectedly stood still looking around at the little details. The interiors opened up in a beautiful bright space filled with comfort and lots of fresh air. High white ceilings, elegantly decorated walls, and crystal lamps paired with patterned marble floors created an illusion of a private residence lost in the era of Art Deco.
The dinner was served in a spacious Ballroom at a long communal table surrounded by mouthwatering desserts, chilled refreshments and aromatic Arabic coffee.
The feast began after the sunset, and from the first minute we completely lost count of the endless array of irresistible dishes placed in front of our eyes.
Accompanied by the sounds of Oud, the dessert tasted sweeter than ever.
By the end of the evening I really envied the guests who were so well looked after at this beautiful new hotel and residences.
A few weekends ago I secretly stuffed my shiny LV suitcase, left a lot of extra water for my ever-hungry cat Freddie and ran away from my friends, work and routine. Don’t worry guys, it didn’t affect my Instagram community as they are the real family and impossible to part with, right :)?
For the purposes of extreme privacy I selected one of the most popular hotels in one the most public-friendly Dubai areas, Intercontinental in Dubai Marina, right when a huge group of Instagrammers from Kuwait stormed the city. Can you spot me?
The Intercontinental in Dubai Marina is a place with a view. Conveniently located between The Marina and The Beach, the hotel’s design contrasts with the gold skyscrapers on one side and fancy yachts on the other. Right from the entrance the interiors surprise visitors with high ceilings, and minimalistic simple colours that create a magnificent additional space to breathe, walk and enjoy a moment. Stunning!
At check-in I obviously pretended to be new to the city and was dully briefed on all nearby attractions (spoiler: many) and dangers (spoiler: none). Frankly over-shopping is one of the tourist traps I always fall into. However it was a look at my key that made me realize I was in for a treat. What’s your favorite number?
The 13F didn’t disappoint. I walked into a spacious room with a view on deep blue water where busy boats left wavy trails behind and a party vibe, breaking reflections of skyscrapers and fancy towers.
Despite high humidity, the balcony’s attraction was irresistible resulting in my room turning into a sauna.
And what a room it was!
Equipped with essentials including iron, complimentary mineral water and a Nespresso machine, it also featured fresh fruit, toiletries and Instagram themed macaroons. Spoiler: they didn’t last…
Satisfied with my lodging, I went on a walking tour around the premises looking for cool shots and hot snacks. I discovered’ em all strolling amongst futuristic art objects installed here and there. Don’t miss complimentary cookies and dates served with traditional Arabic coffee offered at the lobby (I wasn’t shy).
The staircase led to me up and down to irresistibly looking bars and restaurants. Ginter with retro furniture, glass displays and gin themed cocktails, Marina Social and popular night out destination Ynot.
With a few hours to spare before dinner I changed into my fanciest swimwear and hurried to the beautiful terrace with a pool overlooking the busy waters of Dubai Marina. I instantly called it the Blue Lagoon for its incredible shades of this warmest colour.
While the sun was setting the blue intensified creating an eye-candy of photography including breathtaking views on Marina.
Inspired by street lights, I adorned myself in sparkles, crystals and other shiny things. Then I headed to Ynot to eat and party, shamelessly taking an advantage of their Thirsty Thursday offer (more here). It was nice to chat with oft sought after chef Ioannis, known for his good taste in food and humor. Apparently he often makes an appearance to check how quickly guest clear their plates and glasses. Spoiler: instantly 🙂
So I turned off my phone, brewed a cuppa and soaked offline…
Looking for more? Head to the official site of Intercontinental Dubai Marina – here.
The new moon has been sighted and tonight is the start of Ramadan in the UAE. Regarded as a spiritual fasting month of giving and sharing, for many Ramadan is a time to focus on personal development, family life and wellbeing of a community. As an expat, I really enjoy observing the little changes happening in local life: extended shopping hours, the aura of concern around women rushing home with groceries, the excitement everyone shares when offices close two hours earlier, the beauty and the warmth created by colourful lanterns lit at every corner, and the happy sparkles in the eyes of local kids expecting sweet treats at dinner. I love the tradition of gathering for Iftar, a dinner at sunset shared together after a long day without food or drinks. Ewaan at Palace Downtown hotel serves Iftar buffet in the best traditions of Arabian hospitality and creates an unforgettable moment of unity people, flavors, dishes, species and tastes.
The experience starts with a warm Marhaba (welcome) and a lovely cup of Arabic coffee or a chilled drink made of dried fruits.
Right at the table there is an extra bottle of water and a serving of figs, prunes, apricots and dates to help conquer immediate thirst and hunger.
My table was inside the restaurant however another option was to settle on air-conditioned Bedouin tent with a magical view of the water and and Burj.
Overwhelmed by a generous selection of dishes and flavors, I walked around talking to staff with curiosity of a foodie and a journalist. Fortunately no one minded my camera and my plate got heavy in a matter of minutes.
My joy of discovering the dessert section was indescribable. It was the sighting of Moroccan tea brewing at my table that forced me to move away.
Hope you can make it to Ewaan this season and I’m so looking forward to hearing your reviews!