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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Enigma @PalazzoVersace, Dubai

At the lobby level of Palazzo Versace, with indoor and outdoor seating facing the main pool and magnificent Creek (especially at night), Enigma delivers on its namesake, “delightfully mysterious”. So did my incredible gown from Si Fashion Galerie.Si Fashion Galerie.

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It’s best to call it contemporary Turkish with warm Mediterranean influence, reflected in the ingredients, flavours, colours and distinguishable Versace prints.

The installation of branded wall mirrors result in dramatic reflections of candlelight and exteriors, creating an Ottoman palace effect. The soft fabrics used for seating arrangements including pillows, sofas and chairs create a “divan culture”.

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Signature cocktails, designed around everyone’s favourite beverages and well-known landmarks like Constantinople and Bosporus, show the bartender’s obsession with the history (of the world and drinks).

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One can never underestimate the freshly baked fluffy bread with crispy edges and sesame seeds, paired with a selection of sauces, including my favourite tomato and red peppers, sweet pear puree and sliced marinated to crisp onions.

The real magic starts when the chef appears with a long serving table and house cured meat, pastrami layered with black pepper, fenugreek, anise, bay leaf, white pepper and obviously a secret ingredient. While the chef slowly slices pastrami on white plates carved of stone, he engages in a conversation explaining the magic behind the softest and the most fragrant piece of meat one can dream of.

But the masterpiece of the night was octopus, cooked in a vacuum pot for as long as five hours, then quickly seared on a hot pan.

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I’m wearing a beautiful tight gown from Si Fashion Galerie.

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Sunset Street Feast, #AZtory

Of all the Iftars I recently attended in Dubai, there was one that evoked a mix of emotions and a long series of photographs. It’s all started with the sound of powerful cannon operated by Dubai police in front of the tallest tower, Burj Khalifa. Legend says the tradition of firing Ramadan cannons dates to Ottoman Empire, when the sound announced the end of fasting. Today it’s only a symbolic gesture. The first cannon was fired in the UAE at the beginning of 19th century in Sharjah.

The cannon we observed in Burj Park wasn’t simple or shy.  Made in the UK in 1945 it looked as good as new but sounded a lot louder. I was 20 meters away however faced all the consequences of the sudden explosion. Prior to the demonstration I took photos with a charming UAE military officer in a smart uniform that resembled my outfit. When the ceremony was over, packaged Iftar meals were distributed among the spectators.

Amused by my astonishment, Zainab (you remember that brilliant girl, do you?) suggested we must go back to the Old Dubai to immerse in the true spirit of Iftar, witnessing people breaking fast right on the streets. So I charged my camera’s batteries, cleared the memory card and was ready to snap.

Wearing beautiful scarf “Distant Lands” by Wyilda 

From Baniyas square we crossed the street towards Deira, moving away from heavy traffic and into little alleys. The rule in the UAE says no drinking, eating, smoking or chewing is permitted during day time in month of Ramadan. Zainab’s last meal was around 3am and my discreet sip of water was right before I met Zainab however I was literally dying of thirst.

Zainab didn’t seem to mind the weather. She bravely led our expedition further and further between buildings and random pedestrians.

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Our first stop was in the front of a local mosque. I was surprised how many people were gathered for Iftar. They were busy helping with improvised tables, distributing meals and arranging seats for themselves and friends.

I wondered where all the women were. So Zainab took me around to a little hidden space.

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It took me a while to find Zainab.

After all the recent fancy dinners I’ve attended, it was very interesting to see the simpler side of dining at the sunset. Strangers offered me a bottle of water, dates and an opportunity to share their meal. I held tight to Zainab. She was my everything (again) in the middle of the old Dubai.

The prayer started and the feast began. I finally got to my bottle of water and believe me it was the sweetest sip ever!

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Only debris served to remind of the great feast that just happened in front of us. We  rushed to a nearby restaurant using the great Dubai metro of course 🙂

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P.S. I’m wearing a beautiful silk scarf by Wyilda, “Distant Lands”. Get yours here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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

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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“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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