Where Turquoise Waters Shimmer

At Angsana Velavaru

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Aangsana Velavaru is an island paradise 45 minutes away from Male, the capital of Maldives. In the shimmering blue waters of the Indian Ocean, the island is surrounded by a live coral reef with unimaginably colourful species and creatures.

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The island is far enough away from civilization to create the illusion of an exotic adventure and disconnection from hectic urban living. But it’s just an illusion as fast free WiFi allows one to reach out anywhere in the world within seconds.

We arrived on a little floatplane right before the sunset and were greeted with the sounds of traditional instruments echoing in the waves. I turned my face to the breeze and smiled.

It was a fantastic ending to a desperate morning struggle to book an alternative to the first hotel that turned out to be hideous. Changing hotels in Maldives was a risky exercise considering logistics, most of the resorts existed as independent islands. I called Angsana Velavaru in panic requesting immediate help with the booking. I wanted to believe they were moved by my sobbing voice however later experience proved Angsana’s team really truly cared about guest’s wellbeing. So in a matter of half an hour, I was assured of a new address to stay at and most importantly, that great humanity existed! So when I stepped out of the last seaplane for the day mesmerized by vanilla sky reflected in crystal clear shimmering waters, I felt like the luckiest girl on Earth! I will never forget the kindness of the person on the opposite side of the line helping me out.

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Our island villa with air-conditioning and cheerful wall art was a delight to step into after a long day of travels.

It included a private swimming pool, spacious garden facing an expansive waterfront, and a complimentary bottle of chilled champagne that obviously didn’t last long.

We spent our first night sipping champagne on the terrace, listening to waves, and bathing in the disappearing sun.

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The next morning was the start of the Maldivian island routine.

Imagine waking up to the sounds of sea followed by a quick splash in refreshing waters, then rushing to exotic breakfast that I usually started with a fragrant cup of black coffee; despite the presence of fresh guava juice on a shelf. The best part was the view.

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After breakfast a wooden boat would take us for a complimentary snorkeling expedition to beautiful reefs, different every time.

Sylvia, our snorkeling instructor, mingled between swimmers, pointing out sea treasures. I kept following her around for a better glimpse of the underwater world. She didn’t seem to mind.

We would spend evenings taking photographs at golden hour and tasting local cocktails. At night the fatigue associated with 3+ snorkeling trips would kick in and I opted for lovely room service dinners.

I miss my time at Angsana and their amazing team and looking forward to going there again!

Take a look at Sylvia’s inspiring Instagram.

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#AZtory: Old Dubai, Part 2

“Anna!” Zainab’s voice ricocheted off a tiled white wall. She sounded impatient. “Sun is setting higher. Yalah! First you were lost in space and now in time. Let’s get moving to avoid hitting the midday heat.”

Arguing with Zainab or the Dubai summer would be a definite defeat, so I rolled my eyes and complied. Fortunately Zainab didn’t notice my facial emoji. She seemed preoccupied photographing an entire family of three generations: a son, father and grandfather working in the same place all together.

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Happens rarely these days! I tend to swop between projects quicker than scrolling through my Facebook feed. By the way, if you are wondering who the mysterious Zainab actually is, go ahead, review her IG credentials here or read part One of “Anna and Zainab in Old Dubai”.

“Anna, yalah,” smiled Zainab pointing at our next destination. Any guesses?

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Second stop: Fruit and vegetables market

Deira’s fruit and vegetable market used to share its address with the fish market between Ras Square and Hyatt Regency hotel. At this particular moment (June 12, 2017 at 4pm) fish market is relocating to a new waterfront community.

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Walking along endless rows with beautifully ripe fruits, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bargain. Bargaining is a real art in the Middle East, usually mixed with stories and anecdotes shared by all sides of a potential deal: a shopper, a seller and observers.

“Zainab,” I whispered. “Teach me.” Zainab nodded, hid away her inseparable iPhone 7 and confidently walked to a stall. Casually joking half in English (for me), half in Arabic (for better effect) she reached her target in a matter of a few sentences. “Wallah!”

Now it was my chance to shine. Looking as charming as possible I opened with: “Your neighbor offered 2 pineapples for 10 Dirhams” (around $3). Well, you can tell the seller looked unconvinced. The truth was that not only that I didn’t speak with the neighbor, but my LV purse was too small to fit anything bigger than an orange.

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I confessed, initiated small talk about the weather and noticed a little crowd of perspective buyers building up behind my shoulders.

“Mashallah, he’ll sell’em all now,” whispered Zainab and we’ve departed.

Just like Alice in Wonderland, who ran after the White Rabbit to escape the boredom of her world, I followed the lady in the black abaya worrying how easy it would be to loose her in a crowd of other ladies.

“Anna, hurry up. Are you day dreaming or is it the heat?” It was at that moment a very elegantly dressed cyclist stopped by the road to straighten a rose attached to his bicycle. Or was I dreaming?

To be continued…

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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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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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Autumn style, sugar coated

The calendar is a funny thing, it cannot be trusted! Take September for example. While the weather is staying baking hot in Dubai, Australians are cheering the beginning of Spring and somewhere in Siberia kids are building their first snowman. So, where on Earth do I go to show off my new cashmere coat? I decided to head to Eastern Europe for some serious sugar coated autumn style. Salut, St. Petersburg!

Secret: Read about my summer adventures in SPB here and here.

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Peterhof, St. Petersburg

It’s true, the autumn’s here! I feel its presence in cooler breeze and shorter days… September sky is getting heavier allowing the weather to rapidly switch from fatally gothic to dreamy rococo. Autumn is here to charm with the ever-changing palette of colours and forever steal our memories of sweet summer days… With no time to lose, I encourage you to assist me in embracing the change of season with the sounds of l’Autunno by Vivaldi accompanied by a skinny flute of sparkling rose. Let’s savor this moment as every day is unlike any other. Follow my ten steps to glam up!

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On the streets of St. Petersburg

1. Allure. There is nothing more stylish than a great hair or… a complete lack of it. Scented with long lasting perfume (I love Dior Addict on a windy September afternoon), your flirty locks lure attention, making you truly unforgettable. Go for it!

Secret: I use Fountain Cosmetics moisture hair mask for extra softness and shine. Available here.

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Rooftop bar, W Hotel with the view on Admiralty building, Saint Petersburg

2. Red lipstick. Forget about pink, orange or purple. Forget about lighter or darker shades. Power play the upcoming autumn melancholy with a beauty statement. Red will make you irresistible in any circumstances and in any weather. Think red!

Secret: Red lips by Feral Cosmetics, semi-matt Envy. Available here.

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Feral instinct

3. Lace it. There is no bad weather! Whether it’s sunny or rainy, dry or muddy put your comfort first because heels are killers (in every context). Get a pair of funky laced sneakers and be a big city girl who values independency and time. Own that walk!

Secret: I love shoe hunting at Farfetch for their all-time discounts.

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St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg

4. Fashion forward. Splash your outfit with a little colour. Play with a scarf, long necklace or umbrella (your choice) or use your fantasy and creativity to enhance the “every day in a coat” look. Experiment with your individuality and you’ll never look back.

Secret: I love scarfs by the upcoming designer Kris Jane. Available here.

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Nevsky avenue, St. Petersburg

5. Trench that trend. They say elegance is attitude, but a classy trench coat on a rare sunny day will be as impressive. Plus it may save you from an unexpected rain and annoying paparazzi by softly camouflaging you in the 19th century architecture. A good trench coat gently wraps around your curves, hiding some of your secrets and keeping open what is needed to be seen. Add shady shades for a super cool spy look.

Secret: I’m wearing trench coat by Elementy Simple wear . Available here.

6. Candy it up. The fun of wearing layers is an opportunity to sneak in a fancy piece and shine it at the right moment. There is always that special dress that reminds you of sunshine, summer secret affairs or an exotic vacation. Be the eye candy, get noticed. You are awesome!

Secret: I’m wearing “Pink pearls for my girl” silk dress. Available here.

7. Polish it. For the rainy day at the museum (I ended up strolling through a spectacular art collection at Hermitage) opt for a “good-girl” look with focus on beige tones and natural fabrics. Play the cliche element of your outfit right and every photo you take can easily be a page from a glossy magazine.

Secret: I love Ruelala.com for style inspiration.

8. Warm coat. Never underestimate tricky autumn weather and invest in a comfy, yet warm cashmere coat. Apart from saving you from sneezing, it has all the opportunity to turn into a timeless and favorite forever piece. Choose a flirty cut and pay attention to the fabric. It has to be either cashmere, wool or a mix of those two. No compromises!

Secret: Aritzia offers awesome selection of coats (especially when they are on sale). Contact Canadian customer care for worldwide delivery.

9. Heavy military coat. Military design is as hot as ever. A heavy maxi coat tailored to compliment your curves or tiny waist is a must for those special nights out to the ballet or daytime downtown walking sprees. The best part – you can wear whatever underneath, including a naughty bodysuit, this coat will keep your warm!

Secret: A tiny purse with metallic details will add a little sparkle. I love DVF handbags (keep an eye for price cuts), not to mention her statement coats. Available here. 

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10. Stockings. This one is quite simple. Say no to nudes and instead welcome opaques with microfibre in brown, grey, black or maybe cosmic red. When the weather behaves show up in fishnet tights in all unimaginable shades.

That’s it! You’re ready.

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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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Operation “Kremlin’s Shadow”

Raised on memories of the Cold War and fears of Bolsheviks emptying the bars of Rockefeller Center with the vigour they demonstrated storming the cellars of the Winter Palace, I sacrificed purchasing the newest Chanel Boy to save for a trip to the nest of former-Soviet culture, Moscow.

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Red Square

Set on a mission to investigate the progress and success of the working class, I first had some time in Toronto to master the complicated art of “maskirovka” and dress in camouflage. Visual aids were sent to me by my contact in Moscow.

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Serebryakova, “Bleaching the cloth” displayed at Tretyakov’s Gallery

Well, being a cheeky City Chick and a big fan of Versace silk scarves, nostalgic Etro garments and bright fabrics in general, I always follow one impeccable life motto: “when in a doubt – wear Italian”. So fashion decisions were not a challenge! To top it off, I invested in a decent chapeau and Google Glass (a must-have this spying season). The process of turning me into a comrade had begun!

Once the dress code was successfully deciphered, a rendez-vous with group activists was scheduled to practice the “Na Zdorovie” drinking ritual, another important aspect of every day Soviet interactions. After an intensive briefing by the group leader (not present on this photo for obvious reasons) on the dangers and fun of cocktail consumption, I was cool and ready to pursue the operation “Kremlin’s Shadow”. Well, I called it “tourism” and boarded a flight as a true communist with “a cold head, flaming heart and clean hands”.

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Na Zdorovie

I arrived in Moscow on a beautiful sunny afternoon and as instructed headed to Red Square without delay to take photographs and collect information. My maskirovka worked perfectly, allowing me to sneak unnoticed a few steps from the Kremlin. What a great start!

However, unexpectedly and sadly, suspicious activity around my hotel made me realize my cover was blown and my room was potentially bugged. As someone brilliant once said: “You find party in the West. In Russia, party finds you”. Well, I knew from the start what I was up against and at least they revealed a good sense of humor.

So I sat by candle light, armed with American technology, Chinese stationery and a printed map, to experience and share with you the best 10 “feel like a Soviet” attractions in Moscow.

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To be continued…

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