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A Roadtrip in Remembrance of Rose. A beautiful BC Ferries trip to Sunshine Coast, Langdale, Sechelt.

bc ferries horseshoe bay langdale

As you may have seen on my social media, I recently lost a close friend — Rose Schwarz.

Many of you have followed our Gothic adventures over the years. Rose’s passion for life and artistic talent (especially her bold style) resonated with everyone who met her, or even just got to know her online.

This post is in tribute to Rose — but let’s not make it a sad one. We’ll dress up, have a road trip, visit her family, and marvel at her incredible collection of treasures ranging from freaky to kawaii. Life is short, so let’s live it as fiercely as she did! I can think of no better way to honor Rose’s spirit.

twin gothic lolita girls

I’d like to first thank all of your for your kindness throughout Rose’s long battle. As you may have heard, Rose was battling undiagnosed Lyme disease, gastroparesis and resulting complications for over a decade. She was in constant pain, yet kept on fighting hard and looking to the future. Despite her family’s unwavering efforts to get her the best treatments and doctors, the disease had progressed too far. Rose passed away gracefully on Jan 11, 2017 at age 28.

I’m honored and grateful that I had Rose in my life. She inspired me to be myself to the fullest. She fearlessly expressed her passions, personality and creativity, regardless of what anyone else might think. Rose made friends everywhere she went; I’ve rarely seen such a magnetic, positive spirit. Above all, she was a wonderful friend to me, and I’ll miss her.

rose schwarz, gothic style

I know her parents well, and they put absolutely everything they had into Rose’s medical care. I’d love to help them get back on their feet again, after the loss of their only child.

● How you can support: You could donate directly to her family on Fundrazr. Alternately, I’d love to send you anything from my shop — come see my available items here and email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dot com), letting me know what you’d like. All proceeds this month will go direct to Rose’s family.

It’s a win-win — you get some fabulous fashion (I priced everything to clear!), and this will help them out enormously. You can browse my shop here and I’m happy to answer any questions.

horseshoe bay terminal west vancouver

As long-time readers know, I’ve had many incredible road trips with Rose over the years. We got in all sorts of shenanigans with like-minded, Gothic spirits! I know she’d want us to give her a send-off in the same fabulous style — so that’s what we did.

Rob and I are two of her best friends, and we met up to attend her celebration of life in Sechelt (on the Sunshine Coast, a 45 min ferry ride from Vancouver). It was an easy drive to Horseshoe Bay, the ferry terminal in West Vancouver. I hung an absinthe necklace from Rose on the rearview mirror; we played Garbage, Marilyn Manson and Sopor Aeternus CDs — and it was like old times.

hello kitty shoes, yru boots

I was excited to sail once again with BC Ferries. I don’t do enough exploring in my own backyard, yet there’s so much to see on the coast of British Columbia.

Rob and I had advance ticket reservations for the Langdale route, so we rolled right in to this scenic spot. (It’s easy to reserve on the BC Ferries site, and they have a lot of useful travel information). While we waited a short time for the ferry to open its gates, we took in views of the ocean — and snapped some photos of my Hello Kitty shoes. (I’m letting them go on my shop, with proceeds to Rose, in case you want to snatch them up!)

blackmilk mummy dress

All aboard! This ferry is one of the smaller ones, but it has picture windows all around for stunning views of the Pacific Northwest coast and islands.

bc ferries interior ferry seats

I can’t believe this was my first ferry ride to the Sunshine Coast. It’s only a 45 minutes journey: an easy day trip from Vancouver, and a way to escape the city and enjoy the wildlife.

british columbia ferry boat view

Rose lived in Sechelt, and rode this ferry often. I felt like she was with us on the entire journey.

I’m wearing the pink feathered headband that Rose made for me — she was a natural talent at making accessories. My velvet body-con dress is by Black Milk — a bloody bleeding mummy design that she would have adored.

bc ferries sailing trip, day trips

Rob and I went out onto the ferry deck. The view was mind-blowing (get it?). We’re lucky to live by the ocean, and surrounded by nature.

pirate skull glove, patch

Tis a Pirate’s life for us! We enjoyed the ride so much that we’re already planning future getaways.

bc ferries vacations, destinations

In April, BC Ferries is launching a new Salish Orca route from Powell River to Comox (from the Sunshine Coast to Vancouver Island) that sounds like a fun and scenic sail. The Salish vessels are also designed to reduce emissions, as they use either natural gas or ultra-low sulphur diesel.

andy biersack makeup jacket

Along the way, Rob and I reminisced about Rose. I’m glad I documented so many of her outfits, handmade accessories and makeup from these fun times.

leather jacket punk diy patches pins

I took a snap of Rob’s “Genuine Monster Parts” patch and spooky pins. Rose’s story is a sharp reminder to see your friends and family, and make good memories while you can. 

black milk bloody mummy wrap dress

My stylist, Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio, dyed my hair rose-colored in her honor. The undercut in the back is leopard print, as Rose used to do (see photo further down in this story). My bloody bandages dress is by Black Milk.

bc tourism, ferries to vancouver islands

Getting close! We got back into the car, and drove off the BC ferry. Then it took about 30 minutes to reach Sechelt, where Rose and her family live.

oracle occult store, blue buddha statue

I had never been to Sechelt, which has a population of 9000, and a peaceful hippie vibe. We stopped inside this Oracle store and browsed Buddha statues and tarot decks. 

sechelt gibsons bc

Many Vancouverites have vacation homes or summer cabins here. Even in February, the rocky beaches are some of the most beautiful in the region.

davis bay beach

Secluded beaches and rugged coasts, framed by old-growth forests and the towering Coast Mountains — wow! We stopped to take in the panoramic ocean vistas.

langdale pier, beaches

This is Davis Bay: a long pebbled beach coastline with a wooden fishing pier jutting out from the shore.

sunshine coast beach, wood jetty

We wandered down the wooden planks, towards the water. There was recently a lot of snow and rain, but the sun arrived for us.

bc islands fishing statue

Next to the pier, I noticed a statue of a fisherman casting a line. You’ll see lots of fishing boats around here year-round. In the summer, vacationers take part in kayaking, sailing, scuba and swimming.

secret beach sunshine coast

There’s a reason they call this “Beautiful British Columbia.” I had also recently visited Victoria (on Vancouver Island) by ferry — here’s the post in case you missed it.

travel blogger vancouver bc

The blue sky blends into the mountains and ocean. It’s hard to make out where each one begins and ends.

british columbia travel blog

The name “Sechelt” means “land between two waters” in the Coast Salish language. Double mind-blowing.

la carmina pink hair

I asked for rose colored hair, to remember my friend. My stylist Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio delivered.

leopard print undercut, hair tattoo

She re-did my undercut… with leopard print spots, just like Rose used to rock! Stephanie buzzed off the lower layers, then painted the animal print pattern in blue and dark purple with her fingers.

hello kitty sanrio boots shoes

Rose and I always loved funky, kawaii shoes (as you’ll see if you keep reading). She’d go crazy for these Sanrio booties.

bc travel nature tourism

Later that afternoon, Rob and I went to Rose’s celebration of life. The Sechelt community gathered to share slideshows, music and thoughts about her.

However, we first visited Rose’s parents at home to catch up in privately, and in person.

rose schwarz lyme disease

We arrived bearing Gothic red wine and roses. It was great to see her parents again, as we’ve known them for years. Around the home, they had framed photos of us and Rose.

rilakkuma stuffed toys, kawaii

Her parents had gone through the heartbreaking task of sorting out Rose’s belongings. I always knew Rose had a keen eye for collectables — but I was amazed by the mountain of cute Japanese stuffed animals! The lazy bear Rilakkuma is one of her favorite kawaii characters, as you can see. There’s also Doraemon and Disney’s Marie in there.

taxidermy kitten, mouse

Rose had a knack for finding intriguing taxidermy online, and customising the pelts with her signature flair. Rob took home the taxidermy kitten and white mouse that she gave devil horns.

Japanese Vintage cat bobble heads

In the last few years, Rose was unfortunately unable to even leave her home, as she had gotten too sick.

However, she never lost her passion for vintage / Japanese / cute design. She surrounded herself with collectables that reflected her personality and made her smile. If you shake the table, these cat bobble-head dolls will nod their heads in agreement.

sweet lolita goth punk girl

As you know from our outfit posts, Rose lived for fashion. She experimented and combined styles, and rocked them all — from sweet pastel Japanese Lolita, to punk corset deconstruction. Many of her accessories were DIY original pieces. 

unicorn pastel goth fashion

Rose’s dad built a rack to hold her clothes. I see rainbow unicorns, Goth horror stripes, and tops from her favorite Japanese underground labels Hellcatpunks and Sex Pot Revenge.

Her family will be selling her clothing, although it will take some time to figure out the best way. If you’d like to contact them about purchasing something that belonged to Rose, you’re welcome to via their Fundrazr (but please be patient, as it may take some time before they can properly list all the items).

big plush tiger head

I’m sure you will recognise the pink hat from our wine hotel trip (there’s also a photo at the end of this post).

black cat shoes, unicorn slippers

Rose and I always bonded over our love of cute meets Gothic fashion. Those cat shoes were tempting, but I ended up with the unicorn slippers instead.

vintage creepy dolls, animals

There were tables upon tables of her belongings… in this Instagram video, you can see everything from antique bunnies to Sailor Moon jewellery.

taxidermy collection, goth house

Rose was fond of taxidermy — her interests and hobbies were wide ranging. She typically put a whimsical twist on them, such as the Cracker Jack box the paws.

rainbow brite cat plush animal 80s

When it came to retro kitsch, Rose knew her stuff. She had My Little Ponies from the 1980s, and this obscure Rainbow Brite plush cat from 1983!

vintage weird stuffed animals collection

I could imagine Rose having a successful online shop, or curating vintage, or designing… so many possibilities, if only she had time.

Rushton rubber face panda bear

Rob holds up a 1960s Rushton rubber face doll. Hard to believe that children would have these in their rooms! The demented panda would give me nightmares… I’ll stick to Miffy.

creepy scary Rushton dolls

Rose was motivated, intelligent, talented… there was so much she wanted to do, and would have excelled at. She did well in both arts and sciences, and dreamed of studying forensic pathology. She and I made plans to visit Japan and other destinations worldwide, but she never got the chance.

It’s tragic that her Lyme disease went undiagnosed, and I hope we can increase awareness so that others don’t slip through the cracks. I encourage you to learn more here about Lyme’s cause and symptoms, and the ways that we can help those who are suffering.

depop store seller fundraiser

I hope you might consider helping out Rose’s family — this month, ALL proceeds from my clothing sale goes to them. (It’s also possible to make a contribution to her fund.)

1) Browse the available items in my store here,  and email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dot com) letting me know what you’d like. No need to use the app, you can simply tell me what interests you.

2) I’ll send you a care package, and funds go direct to Rose’s family. I have cute accessories, makeup, clothing, Lolita dresses, scarves and much moreThank you everyone for your kindness

la carmina friend rose

I’ll leave you with dozens of old photos of Rose, which I uploaded to this Facebook album. I’ve changed a lot over the years, but she’ll continue to be one of my dearest friends, and inspire me for the rest of my life.

The last words go to Rob: “Rose was my sister and even when things were getting worse, I never thought she wouldn’t be there. Now that she’s gone, I’ve lost a small piece of myself. All I can really say is: I miss my friend.”

Thank you for reading, and lots of hugs.

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A sunrise visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar! Burma golden temple, Buddhist travel destinations.

Shwedagon pagoda gold temple

I’ve been to temples all over Southeast Asia, but none has been as extraordinary as Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar. In this photo diary, Yukiro and I will show you why!

Before we begin our pilgrimage, I’m humbled and thrilled to announce that I won the Best Blog of the Year awardA zillion thank yous to everyone who voted in the Auxiliary Magazine awards. None of this would have been possible without your support throughout the years. Congrats to the other winners and fabulous nominees, and I am excited to keep on bringing alternative travel stories to you in 2017.

female buddhist monks pink robes

Yukiro and I are standing inside Shwedagon, with lovely locals. This huge golden Buddhist temple complex dominates the Yangon skyline, and is one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar (Burma). The name breaks down to “shwe” (gold in Burmese) and “Dagon” (the township where it is located).

That day, we met the kindest, gentlest Buddhist nuns, dressed in pink robes…

burmese children wearing thanaka face paint

… and children with thanaka (sun-protecting face paint) on their cheeks. (All photography by Sniper Chau.)

burmese makeup, burma style

Let’s begin our visit to Shwedagon Pagoda with a note on the dress code. Out of respect to those who come to the temple to worship, all visitors (male and female) should wear clothes that cover their legs and shoulders. Shorts aren’t permitted, but there are longyi that you can borrow at the front if you forget.

Despite the clothing restrictions, you can still glam it up — as we did! We wore long wrap skirts (mine is from Thailand), and lightweight tops that kept us from overheating in the humid weather. (Yukiro had the shawl over his arms except for this moment of posing!) Sunglasses are a must, as the golden glare hits hard once the sun rises. In addition to sunscreen, we painted some thanaka over our skin as well.

Shwedagon pagoda tickets, entry fee

We met our ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon driver in the lobby at 6am, as we wanted to catch the dawn. It’s worth waking up early, as sunrise and sunset are the best times to visti Shwedagon Pagoda. (You also avoid the crowds and the high noon-time heat this way).

The temple is open from 4am to 8pm, and the entrance fee for foreigners is $8 (about 8000 kyat — make sure you have the local Burmese currency). Everyone must remove his or her shoes at the entrance, and go barefoot inside the complex. If you’re a foreigner, there’s a special rack where you can store your shoes (otherwise, you’d have to carry them with you).




Shwedagon pagoda yangon myanmar

We walked down the long corridor, and bought a fragrant strand of white flowers. It opened up into this mesmerising plaza filled with gilded architecture and colorful Buddhist statues — we felt as if we’d entered a new universe.

buddhist children praying

Shwedagon is a feast for the eyes and senses. It’s filled with an energy of compassion and happiness — as personified by these praying, chanting Buddhist children.

The pagoda sits on Singuttara Hill, and holds the relics of four Buddhas. The first version was most likely built by the Mon people between theb Shwedagon Pagoda was pillaged many times, rebuilt and expanded, and struck by earthquakes — but has stood strong, and is grander than ever.

travel bloggers myanmar tourism

Could there be a destination more fabulous than this one?

Shwedagon is the largest stupa in the country, at 99 meter high. It’s plated with over 20,000 gold bars, with a tip decorated with thousands of diamonds, rubies and sapphires. The various buildings hold treasures of Burmese art, including the Tharrawaddy Min Bell that weighs 44 tons.

(In the 17th century, a Portuguese adventurer stole the 300-ton Great Bell of Dhammazedi — but it fell into the Bago River and was never recovered.)

smiling buddhist monks

Myanmar is the world’s most Buddhist country, with most locals identifying as Theravada Buddhists. It’s a regular sight to see monks and nuns of all ages in the city, and we encountered many smiling faces here.

Shwedagon golden temple burma

I think Yukiro and I fit in rather well with the decadent, golden art!

Visitors can spend hours wandering into the various buildings, where there are thousands of Buddha statues and relics to behold. 

reclining electric buddha statue

Although Shwedagon Pagoda is centuries-old, and has traditional architecture, you’ll also see modern incarnations. Such as this reclining Buddha with a flashing, electric cyber-disco halo around his head.

punk rocker buddhists

The spirituality is open and welcoming in Myanmar. We saw punk rockers praying, and monks with tattoos. Some locals choose to become monks or nuns for a short period of time (such as few weeks or months).

burmese sculpture, architecture

I wasn’t too familiar with Burmese sculpture / art until I visited, and was in awe. In this tradition, Buddhas are smiling and friendly, and draped in golden robes.

buddhist pilgrimage, sweeping floor

We had no issues walking around barefoot, as the tiles are kept clean by volunteers with mops. Locals have always pitched in to preserve Shwedagon, taking part in activities such as sweeping the floor, washing the statues, and repairing damaged areas.

buddhist asia tour group, travels

The stupa is a top Buddhist tourism destination. We saw a tour group of men and women in pink headwraps, travelling together on a spiritual pilgrimage.

buddhism spiritual destinations, tourism

I loved seeing the joy and tranquillity on everyone’s faces.

burmese rooftops, architecture

Burmese architecture ranges in styles. This reddish-brown spiky roof spoke to our Gothic aesthetics.

cyber goth rainbow gothic fashion

As the sun continues to rise, the tiles heat up. It’s good to go early (as we did) so that you can leave before high noon.

Shwedagon pagodas silhouette

As author Rudyard Kipling described it: “Then a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun.”

visit rangoon burma temples

Wearing cat-eye sunglasses by Moat House Eyewear, which match my pink hair and top.

myanmar temple tour, travelers

A lot of locals came up to us, and gently asked to take photos together. We got nothing but compliments on our outfits and style.




burmese women lonyi fashion skirts

We became fans of the elegant, traditional fashion — particularly these Burmese long skirts, or longyi. This group of women shows it’s possible to be chic while following the dress code.

buddhist kids girls shaved heads

Offerings of fruit and flowers for the Buddha, made by these young devotees.

indian beggar donation

Loved seeing the small moments of generosity all around Shwedagon Pagoda.

Shwedagon gold pagoda yangon

Myanmar has only recently opened to tourists, which means landmarks like these are still very locals-only. We saw only about 10 foreigners during this visit, and there weren’t any gift shops or touts.

burmese water purification ritual

Many Burmese also follow traditions that come from Hindu astrology. They pour water and perform purifications at their “planetary post,” which refers to the day of the week they are born on. For example, if you were born on “Wednesday Morning,” you would look for a basin with this signpost, and make offerings and wishes there.

leogryphs, cinthe

On the left, you can see the sign for “Tuesday Corner.”

We didn’t know which day of the week our birthdays fell on… but the giant leogryph (mythical lion creature) looked like our spirit animal.

burmese lion statues, cinthes

This protector lion being is a “chinthe”, often found at the entrances of pagodas and temples in Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Love the sideways-facing paws.

burma snake temple, snakes

Snakes are another guardian, depicted with vampire-like fangs. The precise carvings found all over Shwedagon are impressive.

travel tips visit myanmar temples

Photography is allowed in Shwedagon Pagoda. Anyone can respectfully ask monks or nuns if they’re willing to take a photo. However, as our guidebook counselled, one must not touch their robes (not even for a friendly pose).

young buddhist boy monk

As you can see — it’s ok to stand next to a monk after getting his consent to take a photo together. But langorous arm-draping is a no-no! 

burmese traditional makeup

Burmese children grow up learning the founding legend of this stupa. Once upon a time, two brothers were traveling when they met the Buddha beneath a tree. They offered him food, and as a thanks, the Buddha gave them eight hairs from his head!

Shwedagon buddhist temples pagodas

The brothers put the 8 hairs in a ruby casket and carried them back to Burma, where they started to build Shwedagon Pagoda with the help of their king.

blue leopard print top, skirt

There are other relics preserved in the temple complex, ranging from sacred robes to… an ancient water filter.

buddhist storyboard, illustrations

This sign illustrates the story of the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. Love the rainbow colors, and the gorgeous Burmese script.

most buddhist country myanmar

It’s apparent how much meaning the Buddhist teachings have to locals here, through each stage of their lives.

longyi fashion southeast asia

We’re very glad we got to spend time in Myanmar, a travel destination that people often overlook.

red robe monks burma

Such an interesting contrast between monastic simplicity, and golden richness. 

lens flare morning sunrise southeast asia

When we saw these flares of light, we knew why “Shwedagon Zedi Daw” is also know as the Golden Pagoda.

myanmar bodhi tree Shwedagon

Don’t forget to walk around the edges of the complex, which tend to be quieter, and filled with surprses. Such as: a bodhi tree. 

buddha monk meditating bodhi tree

Siddartha Gautama meditated under a bodhi tree until he attained nirvana. Perhaps this monk, crouched under the canopy, will follow his path.

Shwedagon lion statues, protectors

We encountered this lion guardian on the outskirts as well. The pale pink claws are on point.

praying burmese monk

Shwedagon is heaven for people-watching and photography. (All images by Sniper Chau.)

burmese ladies dresses

The women we met were stylish and self-possessed. The Burmese are known for their welcoming nature, perhaps testament to the Buddhist culture.

happy buddhist children school

This nun smiled at us as we passed by, and her group of children followed suit. Moments like this remind me of why I travel.

buddhist travel, destination

I hope this photo diary conveyed the magic of Yangon’s Great Dagon stupa. Although the pagoda is not a household name, it now ranks among my favorite wonders of the world (and I’ve been to Petra, Angkor Wat, Hagia Sophia and more).

southeast asia travel blogger

Coming up: we’ll show you more of Yangon, including Sule Pagoda and art galleries. A big thank you to ParkRoyal Hotel for the driver and travel tips. (See our review of ParkRoyal Myanmar here.)

Have you heard of Shwedagon before? Isn’t this spiritual site inspiring? Thank you again to everyone who voted for me in the Best Blogger of the Year awards — none of these adventures would be possible without your love!

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Hipster Stockholm travel tips! SoFo Swedish fashion & music stores, Sodermalm, Fotografiska museum.

long clothing streetwear, dolls kill

I spy, with my giant eye… Stockholm!  (My eye-catching top is by Long Clothing and these leggings are Killstar.)

I have quite a few friends from Sweden, but didn’t make it to Scandinavia until last summer. I was curious about the young / artsy / subculture side of the city, so we spent the day exploring. I thought I’d share my findings in this hipster travel guide to Stockholm.

stockholm cathedral doorway triangle

Along the way, I found the perfect outfit post location: Stockholm Cathedral’s doorway, topped with a spooky black triangle. I’m wearing a Long Clothing x Mishka eyeball shirt, and these exact minimalist sandals.

Long Clothing’s designs are great for travel, as they’re stylish and easy to match, and also comfortable and lightweight. Below are some of my favorites from their collection.

stockholm bridges, walking tour

Since it’s still freezing in many parts of the world, I thought it would be nice to have a flashback to summer. Many tourists consider this the best time to visit Stockholm, as the weather is pleasingly warm.

My friends and I spent the entire day walking around the city — and it was perfection. From our Grand Central by Scandic hotel in Norrmalm (north of the city center), we walked south to Gamla Stan (the Old Town district, consisting of Stadsholmen island and a few islets).

gamla stan shopping, fashion

Gamla Stan dates back to the 13th century. The cobbled streets and classic architecture give it an old time charm. I loved walking around these streets and admiring the historical buildings.

Some of these streets are very touristy, but there are also fun stores such as “Science Fiction Bokhandeln” (a fantasy / sci-fo bookstore) and “Zapata,” a hippie counterculture shop where Yukiro buys some of his clothes.

long clothing mishka eyeball shirt

Close-up on my Long Clothing oversize and pentagram leggings by Killstar. More from this Gothic occult designer below (click to see details):

stockholm roof spires pointed

Stockholm Royal Palace, Parliament and other government buildings are also located in Old Town. How neat are the Gothic pointed spires that pierce the skyline? And these manicured shrubs look like they were pruned by Edward Scissorhands.

freemason triangle symbol door stockholm

I enjoyed the sweeping 18th century stairwells of Stockholm Palace — but this archway was a better fit for my style! The giant wooden doors lead into Stockholm Cathedral, which was built in 1279. The golden Medieval interior has hosted many a royal wedding.

This triangular symbol has a Freemason and occult vibe. However, it’s apparently a symbol of the Holy Trinity radiating golden light.

(I’m wearing street style by Long Clothing, who also make:)

moomin shop stockholm

We kept on strolling… until I saw these happy Moomin figures, and ran straight in. This is a shop that sells cute character goods and souvenirs.

stockholm cute kawaii stores

Moomin is the white, globular mascot created by illustrator Tove Jansson. (You may recall that I went to the Helsinki Moomin shop.)

Tove was born in Finland, but grew up speaking Swedish and studied art in Stockholm —  so both countries claim Moomin as their own. 

katarina hissen elevator viewpoint

We crossed yet another bridge (Stockholm has many) — this time from Gamla Stan to Södermalm. “Soder” was once the working class district, but now it’s gentrified and home to a bohemian and cultural scene. Many scenes in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” were set here.

There’s an incredble viewpoint here: “Katarinahissen” or Katarina Elevator. This steam-powered elevator was built in 1882 and powered by steam — very much ahead of its time, and steampunk to the max.

stockholm fashion blogger, sweden

Today, Katarina Hissen is no longer in operation, but you can climb the stairs to reach the top (and it’s open 24 hours). The cardio workout is worth it, for these incredible city views.

(All photography by Joey Wong.)

dollskill fashion blog outfit

Stockholm is actually situated on 14 islands, which you can see from up here. No wonder it’s often called he “Venice of the north.”

(I got this cute bag from Hong Kong, but there’s a similar Harajuku ghost backpack by Killstar.)

sofo grandpa clothing store

In my previous post, you’ll recall that we visited the hipster district of Hornstull.

There’s another hip haven in Södermalm: SoFo, short for “South of Folkungagatan.” These blocks are a collective of indie fashion, vintage shops, cute cafes and artsy bars.

hipster fashion stockholm so fo

The ironically named Grandpa is all about young fashion and interiors. The shop has a Kinfolk-worthy atmosphere, and all the brands are carefully chosen. You’ll find eco-friendly clothing, minimalist and subculture-inspired styles, and metallic Scandinavian home decor.

sweden street style stockholm

Behind me, I spy a rack of granny dresses, bicycles, and outdoor tables. (My leggings are Killstar; more pentagram witch fashion below:)

rainbow pastel vintage interior decor

I spotted pink flamingos int front of this SoFo store. Coctail is a rainbow of cute retro maximalist kitsch.

kawaii home decoration

I spotted a Miffy lamp, hovering on a cloud. This collection of colorful Mexican sugar skulls also drew my attention.

pet sounds records stockholm

Don’t miss out on SoFo’s Pet Sounds record store. Run by music buffs, the shop has a delectable selection of vinyl records, CDs and DVDs.

sofo hipster underground alternative

I’m looking at disco rarities, of course. Pet Sounds has albums for the most obscure of tastes, including collector’s items from around the world.

killstar leggings goth pants

(See more items from Kill Star below:)

nick brandt inherit dust exhibit

Last stop: the Fotografiska Museet, or Stockholm Photography Museum. I sometimes find photo exhibits to be hit-or-miss, but this museum had multiple floors filled with thought-provoking works.

The most compelling gallery was “Inherit the Dust” by Nick Brandt. In a “making of” video, I was amazed at the photographer’s process. Nick blew up prints of his earlier wildlife photos, turned them into life-sized panels, and placed them in the slums and quarries of East Africa. He found locations that matched up the mountain ranges and backgrounds seamlessly, making it seem as if elephants and leopards were roaming these industrial wastelands.

stockholm fotografiska photography museum

There’s no Photoshop in these black and white panoramas. The contrast between nature and uncontrolled development is startling. 

photography museum stockholm sweden

One of the most painful photos shows a drug squat, filled with addicts with glue bottles hanging from their noses, ignoring the giant elephant print looming next to them. If you’re intrigued, I encourage you to look up Nick Brandt’s photography about disappearing Africa.

All in all, I was very impressed by Stockholm’s museums. (I also saw and reviewed the Yayoi Kusama art show, at Moderna Museet.)

Katarinahissen stockholm best view

Isn’t Stockholm one sweet city? I hope this travel guide helps you plan a visit.

And if you’re looking for a hip hotel in Stockholm, here’s our review of Grand Central by Scandic.

stockholm street fashion

How do you like my Nu Goth outfit of the day? There’s more from these designers below!

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Universal Studios Osaka Japan: guide to buying tickets, Express passes & Halloween horror nights!

where's waldo costume, minions girls

Universal Studios Japan rocks! You’ve got to visit this theme park at least once in your lifetime — ideally, during the Halloween season.

Getting express tickets is a bit complicated, so here’s a detailed guide to the theme park, which features Harry Potter, Minions, Hello Kitty, Resident Evil, Jurassic Park and other favorite characters.

wedding zombies, bride groom undead

Every September/October, Universal Studios Osaka turns into a zombie fest (literally, they send out walkers to attack!) For a limited time, there are frightening special attractions dedicated to Japanese horror — including Sadako of the Ring.

zombies halloween universal japan

Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights are brilliantly produced, with the right balance of fear and fun. (But there are themed events all year round, which match the seasons.)

If you only have a day to explore, I highly recommend getting entry tickets in advance, as well as Express Passes to bypass long lines. The online process is more than a little complicated — so read on for a detailed guide to purchasing Universal Studios Osaka tickets from their Japanese booking website.

universal japan entrance, directions subway

First, directions. To get to Universal Studios Japan, take the direct 15 minute train ride from Osaka Station to Universal City Station, on the JR Yumesaki Line (aka JR Sakurajima Line). You can use a JRailPass (unlimited Japan Rail Pass for 1-3 weeks) to ride all these trains, which saves costs and makes the trip even easier.

If you have a “timed entry” ticket and need to arrive by a certain hour, give yourself plenty of time to walk from the train station to the theme park. You might need an extra 30 minutes to purchase food outside the gates, or check your bags in the coin lockers (larger suitcases can be stored at Guest Services for a fee).

universal studios halloween horror nights

The amusement park goes all-out with seasonal decorations. Since I was there in late September, I got to see Hello Kitty, Elmo and Snoopy in spooky Halloween costumes!  (Shop for Sanrio goods below with a click:)

As for my outfit: I’m wearing a devilish T-shirt from Dead Gallery Iceland, and my tote bag is from Territory, DJ Taiki’s occult store in Osaka. 

I recommend wearing good shoes for walking around all day, and shielding your eyes with sunglasses and a hat (my cap is from the Drop Dead Clothing x Sonic the Hedgehog collaboration.)

flying snoopy ride, universal osaka

Now, a guide to buying tickets and making the most of your visit!

Osaka’s Universal Studios is compact, and it doesn’t long to walk between the various districts. However, this is a popular theme park. To avoid the crowds, try to come early, and on less busy days (avoid weekends and holidays).

While it costs more to buy Express and Special Passes, I highly suggest that you do. Otherwise, you’ll wind up waiting 1-3 hours in line for rides, and you might not be able to see the special attractions at all (as they require advance passes that sell out fast).

sailor moon group cosplay girls japan

If you’re going with a group of friends, I encourage you to designate one person to purchase tickets and advance entries. Otherwise, you won’t be able to coordinate the timed entrances, and “slowpokes” may not be able to get in at all.

Universal Osaka has an English-language sales website, but the available options in English are very limited (for example, when I checked, there was only 1 Express option and no Horror pre-sales).

Instead, you should purchase advance tickets from their website in Japanese. Let me warn you — this process is rather complicated and “Google translate” won’t work well, so ask a friend who is fluent in Japanese to help you (and reward them for their efforts!).

japanese suicide squad cosplayers cosplay

I can’t describe the entire process step-by-step because the Japanese website changes constantly, as the theme park updates attractions and passes.

However, I can give you a general overview. I recommend that you purchase three things well in advance, from the Japanese language site (or if you’re in Japan, you can go to any Lawson to order them):

1) An Entry Ticket ($75), which everybody need just to get inside the theme park. If you don’t get this ticket in advance, you may need to line up outside the gates for 1-2 hours. (If you decide to only get the basic entry ticket, you can purchase this on their English site. There’s also a cheaper evening-only entry price.)

2) An Express Pass, which lets you skip the lines on certain rides. The Japanese language site gives you a variety of Express options, which range in price. I suggest that you figure out which rides/attraction you want to see, and then pick the pass that matches. I personally went for the $55 “15th anniversary Express pass,” which let me access Harry Potter and 3 rides. A steep fee, but this lets you go straight to the front of the line instead of waiting 2-3 hours for the popular rides. Worth it, especially if you only have a day to explore.

3) Advance tickets to Special attractions that you’re keen to see. Again, this will change with the seasons; in my case, I did the $75 package to skip the lines at three Japanese horror attractions. These special events require advance/extra passes regardless, and they sell out fast — so advance entry may be the only way you’ll be able to get in. 

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Ready for another layer of challenges? The Express and Special attraction passes have timed entries — meaning that you have to pick the exact “time window” for going to the front of the line.

Some of these “windows” sell out — so you’ll have to compare time-charts in Japanese, and do some juggling to figure out a schedule that works. For example, I chose an 11-11:20am entry for Harry Potter, and a 1:10pm entry for the first Japanese Horror attraction, followed by a 2-3pm window for the Jurassic Park rollercoaster, and so forth. The attractions may be in different areas of the park, so give yourself enough time to walk over.

prisoner striped costumes halloween

Final puzzle: How to pay for Universal Studios advance tickets? If you’re in Japan, you can go to any Lawson within a day to pay. If you’re outside the country, you must use a credit card to check out from the Japanese website.

Here’s the trick: you need to input a Japanese address AND phone number, or else your credit card won’t go through. You can try putting your Osaka hotel’s address and phone; it took me a few tries, but I finally managed to get through to the confirmation page.

universal studios japan theme park

Complicated? Expensive? Yes, but it’s worth it for guaranteed timed entries and to avoid waiting in queue. I’m glad I splurged on the Express and Japanese Horror passes, and booked weeks before so that I had many timed entry options to choose from.

You can also save money by bringing in outside food (just keep it hidden in your bag) rather than eating the theme park food, and resisting the merchandise. 

jaws ride osaka universal theme park

All right — now we’re inside, and ready to explore Universal Studios Osaka!

The park is divided into different sections: Jaws, Jurassic Park, Terminator, Spiderman, Waterworld, Harry Potter, Snoopy and more. The attractions are constantly changing; there previously were Resident Evil and Evangelion features.

ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン

From September to October, Universal dresses up its characters in Halloween costumes. Since this is my favorite holiday, I was excited to visit during this time.

universal studios osaka amusement park

As you can see in the photos above, many visitors come in groups, and dress extravagantly (even when it’s not Halloween).

It’s a terrific opportunity to cosplay as your favorite Universal mascot. However, keep comfortable footwear and sun protection in mind, or else you may wind up at Universal’s First Aid office (they have one near the front gate).

super mario cosplay, nintendo costume

I saw a lot of Suicide Squad and Minion outfits. Since this is Japan, I was happy to see Nintendo represented — “It’s me, Mario!” — and a bad Japanese schoolgirl in a sailor uniform.

harry potter entrance osaka japan

I was excited to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. My heart raced when I saw “Please respect the spell limits,” and the pointed, snow-capped rooftops of Hogsmeade village. Universal recreates Harry Potter’s world magnificently, with swells of music and meticulous attention to detail.

hogwarts express train universal studios

All aboard the Hogwarts Express! In every area of the park, you’ll find the Universal Japan staff smiling and welcome guests. In Wizarding World, they helped children perform magic tricks with wands (a few gestures made it rain candy). There was also a Harry Potter choir and stage show, performed in both English and Japanese.

You can easily spend an hour or more exploring Harry’s home. A barrel dispenses Butterbeer, a sweet non-alcoholic beverage that is a bit like butterscotch. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the taste…

hogwarts entrance winged boar statues

Hogwarts Castle looms high over the village. Stroll past the winged boars, and into Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is the site of the uber popular ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” (Average wait time is 3 hours… but with my timed entry Express pass, I got to go straight in.)

The anticipation builds as you pass Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room and Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. Then, you put on special goggles and get strapped into a moving chair — for a “4K 3D” ride that makes you feel as if you’re soaring through the skies with Harry, on a broomstick.

harry potter roller coaster, flight of hippogriff

There’s also a small roller coaster called “Flight of the Hippogriff,” which dives past Hagrid’s hut. I was impressed by the moving recreation of the half-eagle half-horse creature, which you pass on your way up the tracks.

owl post, dogweed deathcap, harry potter world

Shops, shops everywhere. You can purchase Harry Potter goods inside the various themed stores, such as Owl Post and Dogweed & Deathcap (which had a moving plant in the window.)

harry potter magic wand store, universal

Inside Ollivanders, you can choose from an array of magic wands, including replicas of the film characters’ personal wands. They’re intricately carved out of wood and decorated, and are in the $50 range.

japanese cosplayers, universal studios osaka

The staff does a fantastic job at immersing you in a fantasy world. I watched a little girl purchase a stuffed owl, and the shopkeeper gave her gentle instructions on how to care for the creature (“she needs lots of hugs, and to have her feathers brushed”).

I snapped a photo of these Japanese girls in front of Honeydukes, which sells sweets from the Harry Potter stories, including Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans and Chocolate Frogs.

snoopy mascots, universal studios parade

I couldn’t help but smile as I strolled through the different parts of the park. Universal broadcasts holiday music, so I got to groove along to The Monster Mash and Time Warp.

Many of the live attractions appear at random. I caught a few Minions performing on a fire truck. Then, it was time for the parade.

hello kitty parade, sanrio theme park

Dancing Hello Kitties, and pumpkin-folk giving out free candy… How can this day get better?

asian matching couples kawaii costumes

Many visitors wore impressive costumes. Some couples dressed up together, such as this pair of Minions, and Hello Kitty and Daniel. 

cute japanese girls halloween costumes

Naturally, “kawaii” cute is a frequent theme. In the “San Francisco” section of Universal Studios Osaka, I came across three Little Red Riding Hoods.

resident evil hunk costume, cosplay mask

Behold — it’s Hunk from Resident Evil! If anyone can survive the zombie apocalypse, it would be this guy.

jason, nightmare elm street toys

As a horror movie fan, I was thrilled to see Jason Voorhees (Halloween) and Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street). They’re strung up as prizes, in the games section.

zombie blood bags, universal studios halloween

The zombie attacks and Japanese horror-shows start when the sun sets… you simply must read on to see what happens.

More here!

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