This is Rella, the perfect companion

Fashion like the change of seasons comes and goes, but your personality stays no matter what. Style is forever too. Encrypted in DNA it molecularly copies your attitude because we, the individuals are born this way! So once the weather starts falling apart and the survival instinct prevails common sense, I hit back with the right accessories. This is Rella!

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From the heart of Canadian Rockies Rella has expanded it reach by opening offices in cosmopolitan cities of Montreal and Stockholm (c’est vrai!) becoming a four-season brand. Driven on passion, Rella communicates warmth and comfort by transforming traditional knits into sought after elements of super hip outfits.

Described as edgy, fun, vibrant, cute, classy, comfy, awesome (you name it!), Rella’s collection balances good fit, high functionality and eternal style. These babies are made to be enjoyed! Look, my grey beanie is lined with soft woolen fabric (shield) for extra warmth and topped up with “can’t take my eyes off” pompom. Sharpen your look with Betto scarf and explore tons of hot opportunities to wear it (I warn you, there are many!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARella is designed to be a perfect companion to enjoy outdoors in the most adventurous manner. Expect unexpectable every time you put it on!

Remember there is no bad weather, just the boring company… Rella is always ready to rescue, keep you warm and keep you going!

A big special thanks to adventure driven stylist Domenic Iannuzi and picture driven photographer Tom Trestain for your help!

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Honest Ads

The era of Mad Men continues in the digital age. Where there’s a space, there’s a temptation to use it; emptiness is irresistible. I walked the streets of Toronto and further with Mr. Goose to discover the meaning of life hidden behind letters and images in posted advertisements. Accompanied by the spirit of Nietzsche, Mo Di, Tolstoy, Einstein and the cast of Mothy Python, we are about to add our deep voices to the choir of philosophical marketing. Enjoy!

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… but no thyme to chill! Spotted in the front patio, The Drake Hotel.

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… look who’s got no socks = no life at all. Just another pharmacy downtown.

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… clothed reptiles permitted. Thanks Uncle Tetsu!

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… Actimel needs to stay a lot stronger (35%+) to get me through this! High Park subway station

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… Hurry! Honest Ed’s is about to turn into condos.

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… talking about thunders, eh? Cafe on Yonge

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…can’t wait to try it all! Chinatown.

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…Psycho Reader, the aborted Hitchcock sequel. Just another place on Yonge.

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… it’s true, thought a modest spider on the wall and blushed. Diesel store, Yorkville.

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… this place sucks!

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Does Yoga mean the same thing in Canada as the rest of the world? This place rocks!

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…are you kidding me?!? Only bad vodka is made from potatoes.

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… craft beer and hipsters. Somewhere around King St W

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Wild Wild North

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…

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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:

  1. 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).
  1. 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.
  1. 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).
  1. 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).
  1. 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!).
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Photo credit Mark M.

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  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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)

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  1. 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.
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Meet Mark, a super-skilled cottage neighbor who  knows the secrets to cooking the best fried fish on the planet Earth, and to taking the closest close-ups of wild bears
  1. 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.

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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.

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My Big Ontario Affair

In an attempt to uncover the mystery behind Canadian migration up north to cottage country every spring/summer, I decided to trace their movements right from the beginning. My trip from Toronto to Manitoulin Island started around 6am with a light breakfast, extra strong black coffee, last minute packing (think chain-saw parts, propane cylinders and a fur coat – out of a looong list) and setting Google Maps for the road ahead. And what a road! A scenic four hour drive is followed by two breezy hours on the MS Chi-Cheemaun, the legendary ferry that connects Manitoulin Island to the Bruce Peninsula since 1930. Total time from Toronto to the cottage – 8 hours.

Speaking of the trip and duration – Canadian roads deserve special praise. They seem to be improving yearly with picnic sites, beautiful scenery and Tim Horton outlets within an hour of one another. Being used to driving on 6 lanes in one direction with a speed limit of 120 km/h (plus 20) in Dubai, it was challenging to adapt to “one lane for all” highway standards where speed will drop from 90 km/h to 50 km/h around small towns. Plus I had to watch out for horse drawn carriages managed by men in black. In Ontario “Adopt a Highway” is a common traffic sign to which people seem to respond rather positively – no garbage, but flowers, greenery, wind turbines and occasional bear jaywalkers greeted me along the road.

Just right after Toronto, I noticed the disappearance of large glass / concrete condominiums. Houses grew bigger, front lawns lusher and households got busier. The further north I went, the more confusing the Canadian accent – all super friendly comments from folks wearing “I love haters” hats were completely lost on me: “Oh hey, eh”. “It’s really weathering outside, eh”. “Got yourself in a kerfuffle? Go talk to Doug”…  I accidently got myself into further trouble by ordering a cup of tea. “Excuse me, a cup of white tea please”. “Sorry, you want it black?” “No, white”. “No double-double, eh?”. “Just white!” “Oh, boy…”

Charming little towns spread along the route casually feature the usual Ontario architecture (churches, clock towers, barns, brick houses) and the two most successful local businesses: gas stations and Tim Hortons (Always Fresh!). I was never a big fan of the latter until I tasted it in Canada. It was a love from the first sip with a dark roast black coffee paired with Maple Pecan Danish. “Tasty, eh?”

A trip on a local celebrity – the MS Chi-Cheemaun, meaning a large canoe, requires a commitment to show up not later than 1 hour (sharp) prior to the departure. Being late, even for a minute as my past experience has proven, results in loosing the reservation and queuing to be boarded on a “first-come first–serve basis” (not a delight, unless you are a fan of Russian roulette). The queue can be long as well as the vehicles in it. Chi-Cheemaun is capable of carrying 638 passengers and 240 vehicles. However, once your reservation fate is locked – it’s time to discover the little port city of Tobermory.

Tobermory is a fun place to explore, just like Dubai. It’s all about entertainment, shopping, food and the joy of a short stay. Start at Foodland for last minute supplies shopping (avocados, crackers, mature cheddar and marshmallows in our case). Continue with crowd watching from the comfort of the Tobermory Brewing Co. and Grill while sipping Russian Imperial Stout beer and spooning Vodka Smoked Salmon Roulade. That place is seriously delicious and should not be missed. On the way to the car, stop to get a scoop of locally made ice cream, fudge and a serving of beaver tail (delicious, beavers like it too).

Sailing the MS Chi-Cheemaun is an adventure in itself. As passengers are not permitted to re-enter cars during the trip, it’s important to carefully select a pile of layers to snuggle into and remember to carry a camera. I was told that a photo with a lighthouse on the background brings luck. The Chi-Cheemaun proudly features two outdoor decks, an indoor lounge, a playground, an information kiosk, a little museum display, a cafeteria and a boutique. Good news, she’s air-conditioned!

Once the Chi-Cheemaun reaches land and the final round of driving is done, it’s time to open the cottage, turn the electricity and the water on, dispose of spent mice traps and open a bottle of Cab to cheer the sunset on the wooden dock. The overwhelmingly fresh air, edgy smell of a distant fire and 50 shades of red spread across the sky reflected in the waves made me think that the trip is a total success already.

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City Chick gone Wild

Good girls go to Pataya. City girls go to the Wild Wild North.

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Beginning of June, +14C, partly cloudy and windy. I love Canadian summers!

Or – just a girl, me. Like a survival reality show, I’m competing with the grumpy Canadian weather, bears, beavers, and lovely deer-flies for food, entertainment and decent photographs. Set in isolation with minimum outfit options and… (say what!) – limited WiFi, I’m challenging my wits, biceps and questionable sense of fashion to prove that a city chick is the best type of a chick.

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One learns very quickly that country living is about hard rough work – chopping, lifting, splitting, fixing (you name it). Equipped with a basic tool – Mr. Axe, I’m armed and dangerous to any dead tree in the way.

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Being a fitness freak is paying off. A quick warm-up, stretches and chop, chop, chop… My personal trainer ( Leo ) loves to repeat: today’s pain – tomorrow’s gain.

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Have you ever wondered how Thai-Chi was invented?

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Thinking of what was going through Geppetto’s head when he created Pinocchio, I generated a super swing that any country boy would envy:

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Like in business, it seems that behind every successful project stands a pair of well-trained and qualified individuals.

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Where the iron rusted and broke, I pushed further and further and further. If only those awesome shades could reveal the tears of joy sparkling in my eyes.

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As the day progressed my KPI’s were booming. I attacked every milestone of country living and successfully carried out every bit of it. My biggest accomplishment was laundering bed sheets in a boiling hot water using nothing but a stone, a piece of soap and bare hands.

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The country wisdom says: it takes a craftsman to carve a beautiful canoe.

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But it takes a fearless City Chick to sail it.

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A bientôt!

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Turns Out Baseball Isn’t Cricket

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!

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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Fort York – in the heart of Urban Toronto

Squeezed between condos, bridges and concrete architecture – it’s hard to believe that Fort York was once a defensive fortress right on the lake. Built in 1793 as part of an alliance with the First Nations to protect the Upper Ontario from Americans, it resembled more of a settlement than a military base and was surrounded by green woods and blue waters.

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Fort York was further strengthened in 1811 in anticipation of the war, then burnt and looted by Americans in 1812 (which eventually resulted in successful storming of the White House by British and Canadian troops). It was re-built to the modern look in 1814 and then the peace was declared.

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Soldiers’ barracks were decorated in minimalistic and practical manner. Double-beds, iron lanterns, dining tables, a few shelves and a fire place – all too small for modern standards, and too short to comfortably fit me.

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The uniform, a fur-hat and a flask fitted me perfectly and were made in my favorite colors (is it true that red was chosen for it tendency to cover up blood?)

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Officers’ barracks with individual rooms, servant’s kitchen, fire-places, extra furnaces and personalized furniture had a rather luxurious look.

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Poor bear stretched on a wall occupied more space than officer’s bed and contrasted dramatically with a secret blue pot on the floor.

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The whole place was frozen in time; even the glassed displays had a vintage look.

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This innocent looking furnace was used as “hot shot” weapon to heat cannon balls and set targets on fire (think enemy ships).

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If only I was allowed to try them on! Haute-couture.

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My favorite place and the pumping heart of the Fort – was the operational (to nowadays!) kitchen.

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I could not resist filling up on cookies and rhubarb tarts.

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No wonder kitchen staff often ended-up with burnt eye-brows and eye-lashes. Cooking over the fire is a battle! I left covered in a cloud of smoke and fire-wood fragrance.

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It’s astonishing that kitchenware hasn’t changed much and the same ingredients were used to feed the hungry souls.

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I expected the white window to open wide any moment and officers to rush in for a drink and pre-dinner chat.

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The same green chairs are still widely popular in Canada and serve their duties well at cottages. The same China set is a sought-after piece of art.

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Found at the end of my journey – a lonely beaver looked me straight in the eye and silently begged to visit him again.

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