#AZtory: Anna and Zainab in Old Dubai, Part 1

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.

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That’s what Google shows for “Dubai in 1950”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Blue Lagoon, Intercontinental Dubai Marina

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 :)?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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Despite high humidity, the balcony’s attraction was irresistible resulting in my room turning into a sauna.

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And what a room it was!

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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…

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Looking for more? Head to the official site of Intercontinental Dubai Marina – here. 

Good night!

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Taste of Arabian Hospitality, Ewaan

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.

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The experience starts with a warm Marhaba (welcome) and a lovely cup of Arabic coffee or a chilled drink made of dried fruits.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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ESMOD Dubai Runway

Last night a new generation of ESMOD graduates presented the glamorous outcome of their three years of dedication to the non-glamorous side of vogue: stitching, sewing, pattern drafting, scaling and other elements often left behind the curtain. A long journey through the ins and outs of the fashion industry was visualized in a collection individually produced by each emerging designer from concept to runway. With 22 branches worldwide, ESMOD is a French Fashion Institute and a top school for design and pattern makers.

Previously set at Wafi luxury shopping mall, this year’s new venue was in contrast with local trends and unexpectedly edgy. The runway curved between wooden benches fixed on an artificial field lit by industrial lamps. At the beginning ceiling high posters created the illusion of cheering crowds. The whole space was protected by wires, fences and netting, adding a touch of a street underground culture to the upcoming event.

Backstage (I used my charming powers to sneak in) things seemed to be under control. Kid models with iPads reading The Economist (see photos below), graduating makeup artists kept busy bronzing pretty faces (including mine), and designers keeping surprisingly chilled. I managed to startle a person or two with a random flash but in general we (me + my camera) were invisible to most.

I was pulled aside by Ohoud, a graduating student of ESMOD, who applied layer after layer of magical beauty products to help me look like a true Instagram Star. Half an hour later I was transformed 🙂

Dressed by Canella in Canella Hostal Couture, a 2-piece outfit with a focus on a beautiful Geveva handmade skirt, I got surrounded by photographers who demanded me to turn, walk, sit, smile and deliver pose after a pose.

Pushed in a fancy corner, I complied.

Back at the venue, hundreds of guests including family, friends, bloggers, alumni, models, influencers, hipsters, fashionistas and other stylish Dubaians were greeted by the founders of ESMOD and stalked by me. Craving inspiration (and dinner), I scouted eye-catching pieces and people with camera in hand.

It was a whistle paired with witty comments from L. Redman that started the show. As I had never met any designers it was easy to be absolutely neutral focusing on music, fabrics, accessories, footwear, creativity, art work, etc., rather than personalities. Towards the end however I narrowed my “OMG” list to one designer and my “I want it now” list to two.

Knowing the amount of hard work every designer had invested in their first collection, it was unsurprising to see emotions on the runway. I was laughing, sobbing, clapping and snapping through the show wondering how impossible would it be to select a winner.

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Unsurprising the producer of Vancouver Fashion week, Jamal Abdourahman, chose three winners instead of one to showcase their collection during Vancouver Fashion week in September. As they say, “Winner takes all”. Congratulations!

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Feel Ibiza, breath Dubai

Close your eyes and visualise a place where sand whispers stories of eternal happiness and blue is the warmest colour. Picture white chaise lounges, vibrant umbrellas, sun-kissed hair, boaty-boats and a glorious Mediterranean tan ruined slightly by fancy swimwear. Add a fabulous soft beat and oh boy, you are in Ibiza.

Open your eyes and you are here in the financial heart of the dazzling Dubai, sipping rosé at La Cantine du Faubourg.

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Impossible, you say? Well, not quite! Look closely at the photograph…

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The mesmerizing piece is the work of a Frenchman, passionate photographer Stephane Dessaint. Born and raised in Paris (I wonder if he loved to hang out at Montmartre) Stephane also lived in LA and New York where he was involved in the emerging fashion industry. Several years later, at his recent vernissage in Dubai, Stephane was introduced to me as the artist and photographer behind the limited edition “Ibiza Feelings” collection. My first impression however was: “Boy, he knows how to dress”.

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Charmed by his style I was the hundredth person at La Cantine to ask the same question: “What’s your secret?”, unintentionally narrowing his work to a photography trick. To my surprise Stephane took my inquiry with the full seriousness a serious artist can only afford and whispered back technicalities related to his usual day at a shoot. Geared up with a camera, Stephane would patiently wait for the “l’heur du Zenith” when the angle of the sun leaves no shadows on the ground giving seawater additional sparkle and deep blue colour (apparently his favorite).

Warning: Please consider the image below as rather inaccurate as I don’t recall being the only person who talked 🙂

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Stephane Dessaint’s work will be displayed at La Cantine de Faubourg for another couple of months. Please stop by to witness the charming vibes of Mediterranean summer and photographs that tell stories.

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Destination dream body

“Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it,” said Tony Soprano with a sparkle of irony in his eyes, and I shivered. For the last couple of weeks my mind has been fully occupied with “below the waistline” thoughts. With upcoming modeling assignments, bikini season and everyone’s continuous obsession with perfect legs, I’ve been identifying the missing links in the chain of diet plus exercises. Don’t get me wrong, nutritionists love to repeat that first we are what we eat and then what we do, and a balanced diet contributes to 80% of success. However, regardless of playing by the rules, cutting on sugar, macaroni and gravy and squatting till last breath (did you see my insane workout with Leo), my body is a rebel at heart.

It was time to turn my attention to science by “doing the right thing”, googling my options. It appears that today’s beauty market had a lot to offer with body treatments varying from steaming to freezing, and everything “laser” in between. My search, narrowed to medical centers and clinics, resulted in a list of “must call” places, but only at Silkor was I offered a specialist prior to committing to any treatment plans. I screamed “Eureka” and demanded that Siri immediately book me for a free assessment.

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Headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon Silkor is well known in the region for hair removal and laser services, promising smooth baby skin. Being a big fan of both babies and great skin, I decided to focus on getting rid of a baby fat here and there. While not so many are aware that Silkor Dubai is equipped with state of the art machines to polish the look and curves of female and male bodies, it was a perfect moment to take advantage of their availability to see me. So when I showed up at the door with an endless list of body goals supported by peculiar questions, Milena, Silkor’s specialist in body aesthetics, was well prepared to cool me down (literally).

During the consultation I mostly talked about the triumphs and failures of a busy girl in her 30s attempting to regain a body she once had prior to committing to an 8-5pm (if lucky) lifestyle. I explained my struggle with shaping up outer thighs and especially knees, which require a 7/7 gym attitude. Milena was seriously attentive just like Jennifer Milfner in the earlier “Sopranos”.

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Done with talking, I was asked to step on a smart scale to reveal my body secrets and the truth behind my questionable physic. The scale measured my weight, percentage of a body fat, water and muscle mass as well as BMR (basal metabolic rate), crutial if one is looking to loose weight. My results were printed and carefully filed.

When the time came for a visual assessment, I was done with my anxieties and no longer afraid of Milena’s tools: various rulers, scales, measuring tapes and a blue marker. After being asked to lie down, wrapped in a soft warm blanket, I was convinced that Silkor was my type of a place.

Armed with the facts and my emotional desires, Milena sat me down one more time for an honest talk, expectations vs reality.

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To be continued…

Meanwhile you can book your free medico-easthitics assessment here or reach Milena at Silkor Jumeirah branch. Their contact number is +97156- 1744550 or +9714-3480500, silkor.com. Silkor is Instagram active too

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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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Dubai International Film Festival. The Opening.

The 13th Dubai International Film festival opened last night with a red carpet screening of “Miss Sloane” by British Director John Madden (loved for “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Debt”). Surrounded by the breathtaking architecture of Madinat Jumeirah, traditional Arabian style with water canals, palm trees and a crystal clear beach, the DIFF venue resembled a Hollywood studio set from the Golden Age inspired by the tales of One Thousand and One Nights. The festival’s focus on regional talent and industry was no surprise.

At the opening, the red carpet was overflowing with guests and celebrities rushing in to the screening. Obviously there was press too, represented by leading UAE media giants like Dubai One, Gulf News, Dubai Eye and my favourite Harpers Bazaar Arabia (among others). I did on occasion feel like a sassy well-trained paparazzi snapping photos on the go.

The event was as theatrical as expected, with a ruby red carpet rolled under the stars, powerful stage lights, and beautiful people from all over the world appearing and disappearing like a dream sparkling with diamonds, confidence and haute couture outfits (incredible #WIWT by Indian actor Ranveer Singh). It was overwhelmingly exciting to spot the dangerously dazzling Olga Kurylenko (Bond girl!), the crew of “The Eagle Huntress” (amazing cinematography) and, no introduction needed, Samuel L. Jackson.

The opening ceremony started with Lifetime Achievement Awards celebrating film industry contributions. Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared, Indian actor Rekha and Samuel L. Jackson were honoured.

The premier screening, “Miss Sloane”, was an intense fast-paced political thriller focused on American political intrigue (hot topic this year!) and the controversial subject of gun control. With a strong leading female character played by Jessica Chastain (secret agent in “The Debt”), I was curious if her previous performance influenced John Madden’s decision to cast her in this role. This year’s program has been passionately selected by organizers and consisted of more than 150 movies from over 50 countries. In my opinion (it’s so personal!) other films to watch out for included: “Their Finest”, “Swallows and Amazons”, “La La Land”, “Rogue One: the Star Wars story”, “Jackie” and “Manchester by the sea” (reviews to follow). Meanwhile here are some exclusive behind the scenes photos of DIFF 13th opening night in making:

To be continued…

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“The Beach” Dubai – Sun.Tan.Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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