Follow The Sun, Versace Way

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Weslodge Dubai, behind the famous yellow doors

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.IMG_6479.JPGLet’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.PB242258.JPGWarm 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).IMG_6478.JPGWhat 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.PB242247.JPGMoving 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.

PB242307.JPGBorn 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.PB242415.JPGMy 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.PB242435.JPG

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10 years later, the Taj in Mumbai

It’s been 10 years since my last stay at the Taj Mahal in Mumbai (read part 1 here). I left a few days earlier than planned to help my friends deal with a glamorous shopping spree in Dubai.

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Taj Mahal, view from the pool, 2008

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.

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, the pool, 2008

10 years later the lions were still on duty.

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, the pool, 2018

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?

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, view from the pool, 2018

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.

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Break the sky @At.mosphere Dubai

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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).

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#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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New Year’s Resolution: Shape Up!

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.

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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.

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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.

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Well done! Let’s make the world a fitter place together, right meow!

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I am wearing Coega sunwear and Zumba wear. For questions and inspiration feel free to reach out to Leo or stalk me on Instagram or Facebook

Teach. Dance. Party – Zumba!

Secret no. 1: It was love at first sight between me and Zumba!

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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

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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).

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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!

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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:

  1. Attend Zumba classes ahead of the training;
  2. Read the manual;
  3. Google your instructor and learn about them before the course;
  4. Invest in trendy Zumba outfit (20% off with antrestain at zumba.com (US));
  5. Carry business cards to connect with great people around you;
  6. Pack a change of clothes, shoes, a towel, water bottle, snacks (I opted for Zumba protein shake);
  7. Monitor your wellbeing: phase up and phase down to stay actively healthy;
  8. Bring camera and don’t go shy on photos;
  9. Try to get closer to the stage;
  10. Have fun! Your first training will be unforgettable!

Find more information about the training at zumba.com. Stalk me on Instagram or Facebook

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