La Carnita, Señorita?

Incredible but true, following Weslodge (saloon), Morah aka Byblos, Ting Irie (curated by Toronto’s beloved chef Craig Wong) and Sweet Salvation aka Sweet Jesus (cult Canadian soft ice-cream), another fantastic restaurant has exported from The Six aka Toronto. La Carnita.IMG_7070.JPGStarted as a pop up taqueria (taco stand) in July 2011, it soon expanded into four permanent locations in Toronto and beyond, opening its doors last year in the Gulf’s fanciest city, Dubai. Home to everything street style: cuisine, art, design, beat, beverages, vibe and interiors, which could easily pass for a road corner, La Carnita on the lower level of Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Marina, fills you with highly positive energy right from the entrance.IMG_7071.JPGPassed giant wooden doors, a big bright screen briefs you on what’s on tonight:

“… When the working day is done,

Girls, they wanna have fun…” A quote from from Cyndi Lauper’s signle back from the 80’s, a perfect intro to Dubai’s beloved and one of a kind “Ladies Nights” with free often unlimited drinks, set menu or nicely discounted dishes, entertainment and dynamic music. La Carnita offered a free flowing high beat by resident DJ Travis accompanied by Margaritas and Sangrias from 8pm to midnight for us, the girlz every Monday night. That’s when I stopped by.

The place visualizes a concept of “you could be anywhere in the world” with its awesome cosmopolitan crew, eye catching design with a few shady elements (cage bars, exposed brick and bulbs), delightful mix of accents, easy going bartenders ready to mix a dream in a glass and to party and the best Mexican street food in town. A tribute to Toronto’s origin, La Carnita serves a Bloody Caesar, hard to find in the Middle East, and first mixed in Canada in 1969 with clam juice as a key ingredient. I love my Caesar crazily spicy with a pickle on a side but don’t you worry La Carnita’s mix is a more traditional beverage paired with a celery stick (AED 50).IMG_7075.JPGFollowing recommendations from Michael, who looked after our table, we opted to start with the “off menu” special beetroot salad with the loveliest and the lightest avocado mousse imaginable. As this place is often referred as “taqueria”, I had to try their house made super crunchy tortilla chips with all kind of dips: guacamole, corn salsa (OMG) and bean cueso (AED 55). Scorpion chicken wings was the last appetizer ordered (AED 58) and they didn’t last long.

From the tacos selection we picked three different single tacos with the intention to split them in half: a very tender short rib (AED 32), exotic tuna ceviche (AED 40) and an absolutely brilliant polo frito with a fried chicken and peanut butter hot sauce (AED 28).

Our main course was inspired by the region’s love for lamb chops. They were served glazed in pomegranate sauce, generously sprinkled with sesame and accompanied with charred lemon (AED 165). Needless to say, they were devoured within minutes. As for dessert, I was impressed by chef Lara Said’s twist on traditional churros, which she turned chocolate with coating them with Oreo cookies crust and intense liquid chocolate (AED 35). Another must try is smooth peanut butter paletas (AED 28).

P.S. Not so many know, but right next to the entrance to La Carnitas there is a secret door leading to a secret bar. If you are looking for an exciting unimaginable adventure – contact Cartel and ask for a code word. There is no other way to get in. I’ve been, I’ve seen and I’m speechless.

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My Top 10 licensed restaurants (part 2, 2018)

Read Part 1 here..

  1. Weslodge. Weslodge surprises with a minimalistic yet extravagant approach to design that whispers elegance and luxury. The sign on the door says “saloon” but it’s the only clear indication to categorize Weslodge this way. The polished look is accented by a museum-like art collection arranged with a personable touch to create the illusion of home. The importance of detail is evident in the shining crystal glasses, exhibition of occasional eccentrics (skull wall decor, central spider chandeliers and a giant orchid on a red velour sofa). In the past year Weslodge diversified their otherwise steak-oriented menu by introducing dishes unavailable anywhere else in Dubai (try Hamachi). If not for dinner, stop by for arguably the best cocktails in Dubai created by award winning resident mixologist Emilio (try peanut butter infused whisky). Ask for Riona to help you with the menu. She is a true expert and a fun soul.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Hoi An. The Dubai interpretation of Hoi An is very visual with colourful lanterns, framed snapshots of Vietnam, wooden banisters, domesticated palm trees and statues of Buddha. Vibrant lights reflected in panoramic windows add a rather exotic feel to the place. The food is authentic and spiced on demand. Hoi An serves the best pho soup in town and I keep on coming back for a steaming bowl of delicious broth with herbs and chillies on a side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Thiptara is the best Thai restaurant in Dubai with the magical views on Dubai Fountains, Dubai Opera and the tallest tower. Like Asado it’s located at the Palace Downtown where luxury exceeds any expectation but stays within the expected price range for Dubai. Chef Nguyen Thanh performs miracles in the kitchen every night managing her team and a very intense wok station. Pair her papaya salad, green chicken curry and everything cooked in a wok with Sauvignon Black or very dry Riesling and you’ll thank me later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Waka. Waka has the personality of the amazing chefs who own and run it. Sometimes you can spot them at the bar chatting and mixing Piske Sours, plating a special treat for a guest or showing the Latin moves to the amazed public. The Peruvian theme is noticable all over the place, the food is just incredible and the very relaxed party yet private atmosphere will keep you engaged through the dinner.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Pierre’s Bistro is a new fine dining restaurant with a lovely easy going atmosphere and magical French contemporarily cuisine designed by Chef Pierre Gagner himself. A wonderful mix of bright and soft interior colours sets an appropriate mood for various areas: exotic lush green lounge with DJ booth, energetic bar sparkling with reflections, spotless chrome kitchen with one transparent wall shared with a hall, lovely terrace and less dramatic but still eccentric salon with macaroon like chairs, cheeky paintings and soft light. Despite the appearance the place is not pretentious in any way and neither is the food. It’s light, innovative and delicious in every bite. The dinner usually starts with a freshly baked baguette and French butter. I love to end my experience with the best apple tart I had in my life (ever!). It’s a must try.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Spirit of York

Once upon a time in 1860, in the lovely industrial city of York (now Toronto), there was a giant Distillery, the biggest in North America and allegedly the whole world. Founded by Gooderhem and Wort, the distillery’s location was considered ideal. Spread out on the bank of Lake Ontario and at a Canadian National Railway hub, the Distillery benefited from unlimited water supply and the best transportation imaginable at the end of 19th century. Production flourished, marking the Golden-era of the Canadian whiskey.

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Painting by Canadian illustrator Arthur Hider

The time passed by. WWI, dry laws, tax disputes and deindustrialization led to a decline in operations and an eventual shutdown. As a result, an enormous collection of Victorian-era industrial machinery and architecture was left unattended to the mercy of the Canadian climate. The extension of the shoreline further south didn’t help either.

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Current map, Google

In 2003, after a massive renovations, the Distillery Heritage District reappeared on Toronto’s social map, eager to face the soon to rise generation of millennials, hipsters, Instagrammers and other daring folk.

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Photo credit: The Distillery Historic District

While investors were keen on keeping the name and transforming the rusting equipment into museum exhibits, they favoured start-ups (OhYeah!) over established chains like Starbucks, Tim Hortons or Swiss Chalet as tenants. The subsequent transformation of the Distillery District evolved into a collection of various businesses like theatres, limited edition art, dance studios, local designers, craft beers, a sake brewery but surprisingly no distillery. The historic district of distillery featured no distillery except in the name. Right until May 2017.

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The Spirit of York opened in a former malting facility with the collective effort of 35 shareholders with a similar vision: “Make Canadian Spirits Great Again” (I’m joking, or am I?). The Spirit of York Distillery consists of a production area and spacious lounge for tasting, mixing, shopping and celebrating. The state-of-the-art distillation facility is well hidden from the eyes of general wanderers, but not from the curious visitors to the lounge area.

The realization of how incredibly sharp this place is hits you right at the entrance. The Spirit of York designers accomplished a very rustic urban look with a prevailing vibe of masculinity and Wild West type of adventure. Look at the ceiling for example:

Not a bottle wasted! The same feeling is applied across the space, making it worth spending a sunny afternoon indoors. Take your time walking around staring at the old exposed brick, fortress like windows, infinity, coded into symmetrical symbols, beautifully polished copper and shining glass. Not to mention a peculiar looking bar on the right reserved for events and parties with a large resemblance to the one in “The Shining”.

A cool heritage building feature is floors made of from an old concrete mix that is no longer used, but sadly coated in parts with a rubber-like layer to comply with modern safety standards.

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The production area is designed as an open concept space seperated from the retail area by just a glass wall. The entire production cycle from mashing to labelling is facilitated in-house. Quality was the first word that popped into my mind.

I was very lucky to spend two hours with Mark Harrop, in the production area, “entertaining” him with questions like: “How many hours at the Distillery does it take to get high on vapors?” or “During tasting do you follow the rule of sommeliers or do you feel sorry wasting a good rye?”.

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While Mark talked passionately about locally sources ingredients (rye and spring water), added botanicals and a new recipe for aquavit he was working on, I couldn’t resist the urge of tasting. So I headed to the bar to investigate if the Spirits of York were worth the hype.

Oh, yes they were! With the floral hints of lavender, citrus, spicy coriander and a warming taste of rye, the Spirit of York gin was absolutely delightful sipped alone or mixed with a tonic. The aquavit impressed me with a distinguish taste of dill and rye, a combination that many a chilly Northern person appreciates.

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Looking through the wonders of the little gift shop I realized how complicated the art of beverage making actually is. Next time I will a way more generous tipping my favorite bartenders whoes hard work and hard listening skills are often underestimated.

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More about Spirit of York or The Historic Distillery District

Eat.Drink.Gossip in Toronto

What I really love about Toronto is its diversity. A place where everyone is from everywhere, boosted with a splash of flavors, cuisines, tastes, spices, beverages and food experiences accessible nowhere else. From Italian breakfast to dim sum lunch followed by 5 o’clock cocktails, irresistible Spanish tapas and locally produced ice-cream, all unforgettable and within a walking distance from each other. The picture is completed with Canadian service, the friendliest and, let’s be honest, most apologetic in the world. Getting hungry? I’m about to share with you a list of places very dear to my heart and my tummy. Places I love to go back to, again and again.

Forno Cultura

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Hiding in a basement beneath the notorious eating and drinking place Wurst, Forno Coutura on King West is loved for deeply fragrant coffees, crispy bread and mouthwatering pastry. The open kitchen creates an illusion of home cooking and there is something exceptionally magical in sipping a rather sharp macchiato while watching a focaccia rolled out right in front of you.

Try: cannoli made of light dough and filled with deliciously smooth ricotta cream.

609 King Street West, closed on Mondays, more at Forno Cultura

Wurst

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With 30 plus sausages to choose from and a fantastic selection of beers and artisanal cider (say what!), Wurst is a true wonder on King West. At a first peek, it resembles the great beer halls of Munich, but once you are in, you know it’s Toronto. Beside multilingual local vibe, this place features tile walls that evoke memories of subway commutes and rush hour. Recommended only for lunch, Wurst gets so crowded after 6pm that people line up on the staircase intimidated by a giant bouncer in a black suit. Well, I was! 

Try: carefully crafted beer samples.

609 King Street West, more at Wurst 

Enoteca Sociale

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They call it “A real Italian Wine Bar”, but for me it stands for the best Italian food ever (I’ve been to Italy). While the menu is only a page long, the selection of dishes based on seasonal ingredients represent what all Italians swear by: mozzarella di bufula, tiniest tortellini, aromatic formaggi e salumi, dreamy gnocchi and other bits and pieces to die for. Reserving a table is easy, but only if you are super lucky. I usually call a few days in advance. 

Try: Sparkling red wine

1288 Dundas Street West, more at Enoteca Sociale

Momofuko

Located at the corner of Shangri-La hotel on University Avenue, a few minutes away from City Hall, Momofuko’s famous entrance has a giant sparking statue and was featured in “Miss Sloan”. But it’s not the statue that made this place so attractive. Spread between three glass levels are two restaurants, a noodle bar, a milk bar and a cocktail lounge. Momofuko’s food experience upgrades with each floor. The higher you go the more expensive it gets, however a bowl of an exceptionally tasty ramen served on the ground floor doesn’t cost a fortune (14-16 Canadian dollars). 

Try: A jar of kimchi, pork belly buns and obviously, the ramen

190 University Avenue, more at Momofuko

Roof Lounge at Park Hyatt

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As romantic as it sounds, the rooftop bar at the Park Hyatt offers an incredible view of downtown and the skyline. Toronto’s food and gossip experience is incomplete without a fancy cocktail sipped away on a sunny summer day, with a view from the top paired with fresh shucked oysters (served after 4p). Just magical!

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4 Avenue Road, walk-in only, no reservations, more at Roof Lounge at Park Hyatt

Drake’s commissary

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Surrounded by brick industrial buildings, Drake’s Commissary embraces the spirit of the local community: urban but warm, dynamic and inviting. It’s a place where one doesn’t need to dress up, can arrive in pajamas and be seated with only one question asked: inside or outside. Provided it’s not raining I would always opt to seat outside in the shade close to the wall. Drake’s menu changes depending on the day (week or weekend), time and season. It’s important to try their both lunch and brunch menu as everything I had was worth re-ordering immediately.

Try: flavored lattes, local craft beers and scones (!!!).

128 Sterling Road, closed on Mondays, more at Drake’s commissary

Carmen

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Oh, Carmen! Carmen’s tapas and paellas are just WOW. Infused with spices, flavors and love, they deliver a dining experience that triggers the mind and senses. Carmen is tasty, visual and truly delightful in every bite, sip, look and noise. The restaurant starts with a long bar right at the entrance, leading to a spacious indoor area and a very cozy terrace open during warmer months. My first encounter with the barmen resulted in a hilarious exchange, where I was called “international” for my desperate attempts to book a table from my Dubai number.

Try: Cauliflower, white fish ceviche and paella of the day (big enough to feed 4-6 people if paired with tapas).

922, Queen Street West, more at Carmen

Rodney’s oysters 

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Another fascinating food experience on King West (I wonder why they call that street a tourist trap). Rodney’s design with dimmed lights, edgy posters and a cave like indoor space resembles a trip to dodgy London dungeons, but that illusion fades once you step onto their terrace. In fairness, the terrace, unlike many in Toronto, is hidden away from the busy street, traffic and curious pedestrians. To light up the magic, start with a dozen of oysters and just indulge in pairing them with their wide selection of sauces and freshly grated horseradish. You’ll be surprised to find pure vodka served in one of the jars as a sauce, but I opted for a dash of spicy chilly.

Try: Smoked fish charcuterie board

469 King Street West, closed on Sundays, more at Rodney’s oysters 

Bang Bang

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Apart from its fantastic name and edgy ads, Bang Bang actually makes an incredible, kicking delicious ice-cream with true Canadian spirit – there is a flavor for everyone. Even a nutty foodie like me finds a scoop that screams hazelnuts. Before placing your order, think carefully how you would like it to be served.  At Bang Bang you are not just choosing a flavor, but rather styling it with freshly baked carbs: a cookie, half a cookie, cone, sugar cone or if you’re lucky, a waffle. In the summer the wait may reach a half an hour, but consider it well spent. More about top ice-creams in Toronto, go here.

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93A Ossington Avenue, closed on Mondays, more at Bang Bang

Patisserie 27

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This little bakery is a hidden gem adored by a local community lining up for an almond croissant as early at 6:45am (well, it only opens at 7am). Their pastry tastes like heaven baked in the best traditions of French patisserie. Always fresh, always crisp and always so perfect that their daily specials sometimes are sold out by 9am. They are able to go an extra mile and create a delightful treat according to special dietary requirements, an egg-free birthday cake for example.

401 Jane Street, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, more at Patisserie 27

Enjoy!

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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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Hell’O Toronto

Warning: You are about to indulge in the most horrifying horrible horror story ever. Do not read before sleep. All characters and events are supernaturally real.

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It was a boring ordinary evening on October 31st (or 13th depending on how you look at it) in Toronto. The weather started falling apart. The clock was ticking towards midnight, but shadows outside were still growing longer and the last rays of sunshine were randomly twinkling in the glass windows. All seemed to be so totally normal.

Then I felt it happening. An inexplicable power of unknown source was dragging me out of the house to the cold deserted streets where enormous black birds and bright laughing pumpkins appeared to be the only living creatures.

“Aritzia” a crow’s cry echoed in my fuzzy coat when I stepped out dressed in a big hurry to face my destiny. “What the heck is going on?” My thoughts were in total chaos.

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“Hell’o baby… Trick or treat”, whispered a gloomy voice from above, but when I turned there was just a house staring at me with the emptiness of its framed windows.  I shivered and blamed the famous freezing Toronto breeze.

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Suddenly I heard a giggle. Shimmering with a variety of sounds like a million jingle-bells, it sparkled out of nowhere and disappeared almost immediately. A minute later a funny white face materialized from the underground, winked at me and laughed. There was another one at the corner, one on the sidewalk and one right by my side. They created an absolutely irresistible vibe! I started giggling along worrying that my shaky hands would fail me in capturing the surreal adventure.”Nighty-night my lady”, said the crisp air, and then there was the silence. I sighed.

“Pardon my interruption, but I’ve been admiring your hat”, said a friendly looking tall man from the garden across the street. There was something very familiar about his look as I’ve met him before, but his high soprano voice put my thoughts at ease. “Sorry, I usually don’t talk to strangers. Strangers scare me.” He confessed and then added: “Care for a walk, eh?”.

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I was happy to get some company to cheer me up on those empty streets and we walked. While I questioned my companion on where to find the best pumpkin pie in the neighbourhood, he was more interested in discussing American politics, so I waved good-bye and found myself on a crossroads.

“What’s next? Mmmmm… Did I get lost?” My recently charged iPhone had turned black and decided to die taking away the privilege of modern communication plus “I can’t live without you” Google maps. I starred at the surroundings, trying to figure out a game plan.

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“Meowellow”, purred a charming voice in my ear. “The sun is setting. You better find shelter. Streets belong to me after dark”. A black cat appeared behind me. “Real cats never get lost. Come along girl and hurry up”.

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I followed the Black Cat sharing the same enthusiasm and curiosity as Alice once showed following the White Rabbit. And what an amazing race it was!

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Houses, creepy sounds, streets decorated in a luxurious and decadent manner, faded facades and pale faces carved on them. I swear I saw a dragon who just played along!

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I couldn’t believe my luck! The Black Cat turned out to be the It Cat, knowing everyone and everything. After a glass of bubbly with local celebrities I realized that my friends were long gone and I was standing by myself in front of my house. It was the moon-faced pumpkin that smiled and sadly whispered: “‘Till the next year darling”!

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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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