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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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Déjà vu, Taj Mahal Mumbai

I arrived in Mumbai late in the evening. My flight with Jet Airways was short, pleasant and a little bit boozy as I had no shame taking advantage of the unlimited champagne offered in Premium class. Next to me, the only other passenger in the two seats arrangement, sat a charismatic older gentlemen in a really good suede shoes brushed to perfection.

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He took zero interest in my presence until I engaged the Jet Airways crew in every Instagram star’s favourite routine: stories, selfies and the endless production of photographs from a particular angle no one else seems to recognize beside you. As a result the crew delivered even more champagne and very personalized service, which other travellers confused with being mega famous and invited me for dinners with their wives. Luckily we landed and with no time left to respond I rushed out.

image3Mumbai International Airport greeted me with the shine and sparkle of a fully completed renovation to its interiors and services. For the first fifteen minutes I was absolutely alone in a giant endless corridor with panoramic windows to the runway on the right and cheerful wall art with a puppet theatre feel to them on the left. A very friendly passport control officer stamped my passport in less than two minutes and wished me a pleasant stay. Bless him!

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My destination tonight was Taj Mahal. Yep, that’s right. Mumbai, or Bombay as the older generation proudly calls it, is a home to a palace of a hotel. Taj Mahal was built in 1903 in response to demand for a luxury hotel open for everyone who can afford it without prejudice. Originally the main entrance was not the one facing the Gateway of India and the sea, but the residential district from where horse drawn carriages brought in the wealthy and famous. The Taj at that time was only two floors tall and had no Tower. Later the entrance was relocated to the opposite side and a very charming pool surrounded by a lush garden built instead.  P3270387.JPG

Right from it’s opening, Taj represented the symbol of Indian wealth and prosperity by becoming a landmark and pushing ahead of its time by setting quite a few records: complete electrification, first elevators imported from Germany, first Turkish baths, English butlers, first licensed bar, a discotheque (ou est la discotheque!) and a restaurant open through the day. Taj Mahal was converted into hospital during the First World War. The Tower was added in 70s and the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces was born. So you can imagine my excitement smooshing my nose on the Taj limo’s windows, peering curiously into the darkness on the way to the palace. The Taj limo was equipped with cold towels, Himalayan mineral water, mints and complimentary WiFi immediately won my heart. The feeling of serene “Tajness” surrounded me like a fluffy cloud bringing in security, comfort and peace.

To be frank there was a separate significant reason behind my impatience. Back in 2008 I left Taj Mahal just a few nights before the terrorist attack, responding to my friend’s request to help her shop for diamonds, Chanel and gold in Dubai. I felt terrified watching my beloved home in Mumbai on the fire thinking of all the friends I made over there during the years and visualising its majestic interiors with closed eyes. The relief when it was all over turned into an obsession to revisit Taj in its full glory followed a major renovation in 2009. Half an hour drive from the International Airport and there we were about to enter through the new gate and pass luggage screening.

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The first glance put a huge smile in my face. Taj looked majestically beautiful in the dazzling streetlights as if the fall of 2008 had never happened. I witnessed a very familiar scene, tall men in turbans efficiently guiding guests and traffic, happy kids carelessly running between parents, local dollies shining with diamonds and lip-gloss and wrapped in glamorous saris rushing to a party and so on and so forth. I missed you Taj Mahal!

To be continued…

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The House of Waka

Waka is not a regular restaurant but a destination to experience the authentic flavours of Latin American cuisine with a fusion of Japanese influence. The place is decorated in warm earthy colours, with splashes of bright expressive patterns bringing in a cosy homey feeling. So does the art on the walls.

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The reception outside the restaurant sorts out calls and reservations, keeping the extra noise away. A short corridor with dimmed lights opens up to a small lounge, beautifully lit bar, and DJ booth. The main dining area, divided in two parts, can easily be transformed in exclusive secret rooms for private events.

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The kitchen is divided from the main dining area by a transparent glass wall. Interestingly, while guests can sneak peak on chef’s movements, the window is blackened on the other side. Just like American detective stories but the other way around.

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Ordering is a pleasure, as the team gets very passionate talking about food and describing dishes. Frequent recommendations are followed by a brief history of a particular ingredient or a dish.

The food is fantastic. Most of what I tried had a distinctive individuality in taste and presentation including many little special effects (dry ice, so hot right now). The finely sliced wagyu steak that resembles salami from a distance gets cooked right at the table with a blowtorch and then quickly dressed with delicious bits and pieces. Chicken skewers served on tiny charcoal grills are deliciously juicy and out of this world. On a personal request a little bowl of fresh chilly sauce was prepared especially for me and was quickly consumed with great appreciation.

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BodyTree Studio

Live, love, eat, have fun and feel good. BodyTree Studio, it’s for everyone!

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After twelve years living in the UAE, I’ve developed a special connection to the capital. Abu Dhabi attracts me with its soft warmth reflected in local architecture, focus on arts and cultural events, close communal living and an atmosphere where people you randomly meet become good friends. Dubai, in contrast, is a louder, busier, shinier and a lot more extravagant neighbour. Dubaians set impressive records; Abu Dhabites love to enjoy living.

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When I heard about a hidden gem of a wellness studio with unique classes, inspirational workshops and ten years of history, it was immediately worth a morning drive to the capital for me. Even for a Dubai girl, BodyTree studio was easy to find. Once I set my destination, Google showed minimal traffic warnings and confirmed I was in for a pleasant trip.

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Upon arrival, I sighted several model-fit girls rushing with little concern to the gate of a spacious villa. I parked right in the front and jumped out. The whole place was surrounded by tall palm trees, lush greenery and blue sky, giving it a Miami feel, though the first thing I noticed was a thoughtful sign on the wall saying (and Bradshaw is never wrong):

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The front desk greeted me with smiles and cheerful comments. I was advised to disclose any physical injuries or concerns to instructors prior to the workout. I was also encouraged to go with a flow, not worry about the choreography and to challenge myself while having a lot of fun. I’m always in for fun!

 

That morning I was about to try BTB – a Bodytree body class designed by women for women. Led by two very experienced fitness instructors trained in dancing, Pilates and other advanced “stay awesome” techniques, the class promised to be a blast. All equipment for the class was provided, including cuff and ankle weights, dumbbells, resistance bands, a mat, and towel and of course, motivation.
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The hour started with a musical warm-up; musical because Anissa, a professional ballerina, included a few pretty cool moves one can use in audition for any upcoming Broadway show. My legs were a little lost for the first few minutes, but not my heart. It was pumping blood, oxygen and good vibes. When I was about to quit, I heard that wonderful world “break” and Nadia took over with arms and upper body exercises. The next segment was high impact and a little intense, balanced with Anissa’s cosmic personality and persistent energy. I jumped, squatted, bounced and laughed my soul out. Girl, it was great!

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However, it was Nadia’s leg workout that practically killed me. Usually I favour mat exercises. You know for a lazy girl like me everything lying down is the best fitness routine. Nadia didn’t let it happen. Raising the same leg up and to the side and flexed and straight with ankle weights and a resistance band repeatedly was a challenge. When we finally surrendered to the baby pose, I was the happiest person ever. Anissa closed BTB class with stretches and dancing, making it an unforgettable experience for my muscles. The difference between first timers and a regulars was noticeable. While my breathing fluctuated from bad to very bad, other girls in the class encouraged me with smiles and non-stop positive attitudes.

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Wrapped in a towel, I decided to drown my sores and fails in a cup of coffee (my personal solution to stress). Conveniently, BodyTree studio has a brilliant Nectar juice bar on the ground level, a few steps away from the reception.

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When it was my time to order I decided to treat myself to something super exciting, but was slightly overwhelmed with choices: turmeric latte, smoothies, fresh juices, signature drinks, etc. The girl at the counter sounded very understanding and just asked me to describe what I felt like. As I felt a little sorry for myself and dehydrated, Nectar bar mixed me a powerful smoothie with coconut water, dates, almonds, protein and probably a bunch of other secret ingredients that boosted my thirst, energy and self-esteem. Impressed with the service and taste, I opted for a few healthy snacks to take home: warm from the oven banana muffins, crunchy granola, soft protein snacks and spicy vegetable toasties.

 

 

 

Refreshed and very happy, I asked if a tour around the house was a possibility. And it was! Accompanied by charming PR and Marketing Manager Grainne, we covered all three floors looking at the state-of-the-art training facilities, equipment, and changing rooms with huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors and showers. I spent half an hour at the wellness and fitness boutique looking through stylish activewear, essential oils and even waiting for the right “gong moment” (super tempting to just do it).

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During the tour I noticed what a fantastic gathering place it was! I spotted moms-to-be waiting for a pre-natal class, an Emirati father waiting for his little ballerina, a Zumba girl in a sparkling outfit, a girl in a sharp suit, a group of moms enjoying “kids at school time” at Nectar juice bar, and a cool mix of personalities everywhere.

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With more than 130 classes on offer, ladies-only workouts, private training, classes for teens and kids, including ballet, mixed group training, fancy Pilates, outdoor meditations, full-moon nights, Zumba (yeee!), free workshops and conversations and so so so much more, I wonder what will bring me to BodyTree studio next?

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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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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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