#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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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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Head to my Instagram and Facebook for more

Fight Night Team and a Fancy Girl

In anticipation of the returning Fight Night II, a white-collar boxing event on March 31st, a fancy girl like me cut her Maldives trip short for exclusive behind the scenes access to the training zone. What a night it is going to be! Fourteen Dubai seasoned executives including two female brave hearts have traded their business dinners at Roberto’s for an opportunity to physically interact with one another face-to-face, surrounded by a roaring crowd and yelling coaches. Great news, the event is free to attend and will take place at the Round 10 Gym at 2pm on March 31st in Dubai. Exciting!

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Not wanting to admit what a complete idiot I am in connection to  boxing or any competitive sports (my last attempt with Muay Thai failed due to a lack of aggressiveness), I turned my desperate eyes to Hollywood, a trusted source of reliable information. From the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a talented amateur boxer, I studied Kubrick’s Raging Bull followed by unbreakable Rocky. However, it was Gigi Hadid’s defence strategy during Milan Fashion Week that convinced me to jump into my favourite Zumba outfit, tie my hair in a quick chignon and put on some bright long-lasting lipstick prior to committing to an hour of live trial.

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“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. Nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep on moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you are worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits…” Rocky’s alarming voice was looping in my ears again and again as I made my glamorous entrance to the Warehouse Gym reception. My first sweat appeared a few seconds later when I shook hands with Roy, the technical coach of the Fight Night Team who unlike me was chill and confident. After Roy promise not to hurt me, I was ready to take the hit.

The training started with a warm-up followed by an intense three-rounds skipping routine. “Side to side, faster, knees higher”. Joe’s voice was lost on me as I struggled to produce five decent skips in a row. Everyone around me seemed absolutely fine, skipping like pros. Joe, the Fight Night fitness coach continued to be very nice, not yelling for extra push-ups like the movies.

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When sparring began, I did what I do the best – giggled and batted my eyes to avoid participation at any cost. The fighters in front of me were engaged in an incredible boxing waltz, mixing rapid steps with sleek shoulder moves and sneaky defence strategies. I couldn’t believe these were the freshmen who started their first boxing class at the end of January this year.

I was mesmerised until someone tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at resting gloves. “I’m Frank, let’s get you started,” and that was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Frank, was a tough looking guy with the most charming smile. He helped me with gloves, moved my feet apart, stretched and curled my arms in a defensive position. In a matter of minutes, we were practising the basics: “one” and “two”, (“three” was a challenge). Needless to say, my glam had faded away.

During short breaks I noticed how dedicated and focused the whole Fight Night crew was. I was the only one out of breath, quietly sobbing in a corner with my long lasting lipstick smeared all over my face. The fighters were constantly on the move, from bags to sparring and back to the bags.

The last part of the training was mat power exercises. Joe gathered us in a circle so there was no change of sneaking out. Without escape, I dove into rounds of burpies, high jumps, full body crunches and some other painful moves. Believe it or not, I survived!

It was a real pleasure to chat with the crew who didn’t have a single laugh at my ridiculous attempts to beat them at their game. With the attitude of real champions, they were supportive, encouraging and helpful. I really can’t wait to see them in the ring. Are you gonna be there? Do come to say hi if you see me.

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You can shop my look at Zumba.com

 

 

 

 

 

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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Be your own stylist with Valenxe

Once upon a time on a late night train from France to Germany, two beautiful girls dreamed up a perfect wardrobe staple for all occasions all around the world. Joined by a third fashionista they designed a pair of truly desirable and versatile leggings with a slimming effect. That’s how Valenxe, the “intrinsic attractiveness” was born. Being hard to impress, I decided to sneak three pairs of Valenxe leggings into Dubai and put these babies to an ultimate style trial, breaking all possible fashion rules in between.

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Look One: Trophy Girl

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It was a sunny January Friday in Dubai, the perfect day to brunch, pool around and show off that hard to get beach body (did you try my insane workout?). So I grabbed my “la vie en rose” shades, a silky shiny tunic by Parker NYAntilla crop leggings in dream navy, and headed to the family friendly Waldorf Hotel on the Palm. Cropped leggings is a challenge to wear well. For me. I visually extend the look of my legs by balancing shorter leggings with either flats or sneakers. Voila:

Look 2: Nasty Woman

They say show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are. Woah-oh-oh-ah-ah-ah! Hanging out with these three unbreakable style gAnnstars: no.1, no.2 and no. 3 led to irreversible changes in my attitude. Armed with a truly Canadian maple syrup candy, a tee with me boyz Beavis and Butthead, I pulled on the leather-like Aspasia leggings in black and rolled away. Do mind the cool hat (this is Rella)

Look 3: Lady in Red

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When the time came to dress for a challenging shopping afternoon with a fellow fashion-addict, I opted for a bright red tight dress, Versace scarf and Bollea leggings in bella fiora brown. Not only did I have a fun time strolling down the new “must-see” district in Dubai, but found a solid number of followers thinking I was a celebrity in disguise.

Look 4: Walkaholic

It’s that time of the year in the UAE when the anticipation of rain is almost as enjoyable as the rain itself. Layered in Aritzia wool jacket and protected by a powerful red umbrella, I felt like Mary Poppins on a mission. Surprisingly my black  Aspasia leggings pulled off a classy as well as edgy look, making my lower body look “gym every day” thinner.

Look 5: Trouble Maker

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Inspired by the adventures of Indiana Jones, I decided to initiate my own treasure hunt and drove all the way to the capital, glorious Abu Dhabi. Dressed in a vintage cotton shirt from Austria, breathable Japanese sneakers, sweet Italian shades and Canadian leggings I was proud to communicate the spirit of a true globetrotter. I did discover a hidden Arabian quarter overlooking the blue water of a little creek and called my trip a total success!

Loved Valenxe – shop’em here! Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook

Update: While on a different style mission, I spotted another Dubai girl rocking Valenxe leggings. I think she wore them better than me! What do you think?

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