Yahoo Travel Explorers, Israel video & next travels! Seoul’s strange indoor amusement park, Lotte World.

Reykjavik iceland bloggers trip

Announcing my next travels and writing projects, including the debut of my Israel travel episode! I’ve been hinting at some exciting destinations. In April, I’m embarking on a “Gothic pilgrimmage”:

I will be visiting Reykjavik, Iceland for the first time … followed by Manchester and Whitby Gothic Weekend in the UK!

manchester goth bands

Manchester’s not just famous for football — in fact, many of the earliest Goth and Punk bands emerged here. Joy Division, New Order, and The Smiths to name a few.  Marketing Manchester is sending me on a journey to discover the city’s subculture, past and present. I can’t wait to take you around the Northern Quarter, the current hotspot for young chefs, artists and innovators.

iceland peace tower, white church

I’ll also be stopping by Iceland, with the support of Visit Reykjavik.  I’ve always wanted to see this unique and mysterious country with my own eyes — from Hallgrims Church to Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower. (Above photos via Wikipedia)

whitby gothic weekend, uk seaside goth festival

And I’m crossing off a bucket list destination: Whitby Goth Weekend! Twice a year, Goths gather in this English seaside town to celebrate dark music, culture and fashion.

Will you be at WGW festival? If so, let me know in the comments or on Facebook. I hope to see you there.

yahoo travel explorers, bloggers, travel writers

I’m also thrilled to announce I’ve started writing for Yahoo Travel. As one of the “Yahoo Travel Explorers” bloggers, I’ll be sharing my worldwide stories and videos on their site.

Finally, we’ve been able to release our Israel travel video! Watch me explore the surprisingly edgy culture found in this ancient place. Including hip Israel designers, creative fusion food, LGBT clubs, and the most fabulous drag queen of the holy land. 

(See this episode above and on Yahoo Travel. Produced by Eric Bergemann and Melissa Rundle.)

tel aviv beach, israel sunset

Israel remains one of our most memorable trips to date. Here’s a bonus photo, from the boardwalk at Tel Aviv beach. I’m wearing a tank top and skirt from World Wide Love, the cute-ghost Tokyo brand.

lotte world mascot, lorry

I still have tons of posts to share from last summer, when I went all around Asia. Let’s go back in time to Lotte World, Seoul’s famous indoor amusement park.

seoul indoor amusement park

This indoor theme park is the largest on the planet. The gates open up to a giant hall, framed by hot air balloon rides and roller coasters. Lotte World also has an outdoors portion with scarier rides.

lotte world exterior sign

On the way in, you’ll encounter the mascot, Lotty. He appears to be some sort of chipmunk-raccoon in a vaudeville suit.

lotte balloons, seoul theme park rides

Lotte World’s entrance fee ranges from 12,000 to 46,000 won ($12-44 US) depending on your age, the time of day, and whether you want full access to all the rides (try to go on weekdays to avoid the lines). You can also buy a “no riding” pass, and pay for each attraction individually (about $5-7 each).

Lotte World address: 40-1 Jamsil-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul, South Korea

korean couples wearing matching clothes

A lot of families come to the theme park, as well as couples. Many of them wear matching outfits, which is a romance trend in Korea. Yes, those boys are wearing big red bows on their heads…

korean folk museum

When the children are tired of posing with Lotty, take them to bibimbap and tour the Korean folk museum. Visitors can try on hanbok (traditional Korean dresses) and wedding outfits.

seoul magic castle, korea

Outside, the Lotte Magic Castle looks a lot like the Disney one… Talk about a Korean Magic Kingdom.

korean haunted house halloween

The haunted house is a hoot, with live actors that seem to come out of a Korean horror film. These young girls were so scared. At each turn, they screamed and grabbed onto me and my photographers! We had to hold their arms and push them forward.

young korean girls posing

After, it’s all smiles and Victory-hand poses. Except for the Korean girl in the middle, who insisted on hiding her face.

lotte world map, attractions

The map lists so many attractions, from 3D shows to water rides. No wonder Lotte World is a popular destination for all ages.

gyro spin, jamsil amusement park

People lined up for hours to experience the scarier rides, like a 70 meter Gyro Drop, or this Gyro Spin.

lotte popsicles, hello kitty

They cooled off by eating cute popsicles shaped like Lotty, or Hello Kitty. (Photography by Ken Yuen and noircorner.)

lotte world interior

I love roller coasters, but I didn’t have the patience to line up. I was happy to visit Lotte World to see the quirky mascots and unique indoor rides.

korean horror building

I leave you with a ghoulish horror attraction…

seoul halloween party

… a group of stylish Korean teenage girls, doing heart hand-poses…

little korean girl

… and this shy youngster, who was playing with the rooster. For more adventures from Seoul, see all my Korea travel articles!

tel aviv beach sunset ocean, israel

Please take a moment to watch our Israel travel video, on Yahoo Travel. It’s one of our favorites yet.

And let me know your tips for next destinations. I hope to see you in Iceland, Manchester and Whitby Goth Weekend!

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Pokemon theme restaurant in Tokyo! Pompompurin Sanrio cafe, Line Friends store Harajuku.

line friends harajuku shop

Get ready… for a lot of cute, yummy characters in this post!

Yukiro and I went to three new attractions in Tokyo: the Pokemon cafe, Pompompurin theme restaurant, and Line Friends shop. Follow along on our funny adventures, which include eating Pikachu pancakes, and posing with a 10-foot-tall stuffed Brown bear!

pokemon theme restaurant food

First, we waltzed into the very popular “Ruby & Sapphire” Pokemon-themed cafe, located at The Guest diner in Shibuya Parco. We couldn’t wait to chow down on the adorable food.

(Address: 7F Parco Part 1, 15-1 Udagawachō, Shibuya, Tokyo. Open 11am to 10pm daily. Phone: 03-3477-5773)

Pokemon Omega Ruby Alpha Sapphire Cafe

We walked to the seventh level of Shibuya’s Parco department store, and saw lineup of Japanese girls snaking down to the floor below. Were they waiting to see a pop star? Not quite, but close. They had come to dine with Pikachu and friends.

The cafe has a “first come first served” policy… and these diehard fans usually end up waiting 2 hours in line. Fortunately, we had made press arrangements, and were able to walk right in for a table.

pokemon cafe parco shibuya

The themed experience starts as you get inside. There’s a rack of Pokemon costumes, ears and props for you to wear. Yukiro and I climbed into the funny backdrop, and posed away.

pokemon pikachu theme cafe, tokyo japan

A waiter led us to a booth filled with colorful toys. If a diner comes alone, she can sit with a big plush Pikachu to keep her company.

(Behind me: do you think the girl is laughing at my conversation with this stuffed toy?)

pikachu latte, cute drink

Everything on the menu is cute. We drank lattes that looked like Pikachu’s smiling yellow face.

pokemon decorated food

All of the food is creatively decorated to look like various Pocket Monsters. This is a hamburger wrapped in an omelet sheet, and dolled up with carrot cheeks and nori eyes.

poke ball dessert, ruby sapphire cafe

Our waiter brought over a giant red Poké Ball. When he opened it, steam poured out… and a smiling cream puff Pikachu appeared!

pikachu cake, pokemon desserts

Yukiro used a chocolate pen to draw his favorite Pokemon character on a crepe. Can you recognize it?

pokemon store japan, toys

Everywhere we looked, there was something Pokemon going on. You can see the wallpaper and stuffed toys behind us.

ポケモンセンター pokemon center tokyo

This Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire video game just came out on Nintendo 3DS, hence the pop up cafe.

stuffed toy pikachus

Stop by the gift store at the entrance, to pick up limited edition Pokemon goods. There’s a good selection, although the Pokemon Center has more.

my melody theme restaurant shibuya parco

Hurry and visit the Pokemon cafe, since it closes at the end of the month! However, it will transform into yet another cute theme cafe — this time, dedicated to the Sanrio characters My Melody and her sheep friend “My Sweet Piano.”

(Find out more info about the upcoming My Melody cafe, at The Guest cafe from April to June 2015.)

line friends store harajuku tokyo

Let’s continue our “kawaii characters” adventure… at the Line Friends Store in Harajuku! Located on the main street near Laforet department store, these waving cuties are hard to miss.

(Address: 4-32-13 Jingumae, Harajuku. Phone: 03-6434-0597)

line app characters, japan exhibit

It’s astonishing to see how popular Line has become, in only a few years. The messaging app debuted in 2011, and grew to 500 million worldwide users. Now, Line’s cartoon mascots have their own stand-alone store in Tokyo.

giant stuffed line friends brown bear

Fans can take photos with Line Friends statues and backdrops. I hugged a towering plush Brown the bear — he’s my favorite Line character, probably because he lacks expression. This bear is so tall that his ears hit the ceiling!

sally the chick, line toy

On the main floor, you can pick up eccentric gifts. These range from Sally the Chick toys, to cushions shaped like Cony the rabbit’s head.

line brown bear den, store

Downstairs, Brown has his own hibernation den. Looks warm and cozy.

line friends stuffed toys

Also in this area are more luxurious items, including a Line crystal jewelry collaboration.

line friend shop, tokyo japan

I encourage you to visit the Line Friends store, and do Brown’s signature “fingers together and sad face” pose!

pompompurin cafe, harajuku

Not far from Harajuku station, there lies another cute new cafe… this time, dedicated to the yellow Sanrio puppy, Pompompurin.

(Address: Cute Cube Harajuku, 1-7-1 Jingumae, Harajuku, Phone: 03-6212-0639)

sanrio theme cafe, tokyo

Pompompurin is one of the lesser known characters in the Sanrio universe. However, as the saying goes, “every dog has his day.” At this Harajuku theme cafe, he is finally the star of the show.

pompompurin restaurant, cafe cute cube

The beret-wearing golden retriever is everywhere you look: playing on the wallpaper, and smiling from the placemats. (My trippy prism sunglasses are a gift from H0les Eyewear.)

sanrio cute yellow dog character

At the center of the room is a statue of Pom Pom Purin, surrounded by dancing animal friends.

pom pom purin dog cafe japan

The dog in the back right — with a top hat, pipe and bow tie — made me crack up.

sanrio themed drinks

Yes, this drink is called “Floating Tush”… and it shows Pompompurin diving into your hot chocolate.

sanrio characters store japan

Like the Pokemon cafe, there can be long lineups and it’s not possible to make reservations in advance. I suggest coming on weekdays and at off-hours.

pompompurin pancakes

The food is as adorable as the decor. I’ve never had pancakes and mashed potatoes together… but when they’re shaped like these cuties, why not.

pompompurin cute decorated food

Many of these entrees came with a free ceramic Pompompurin cup — a nice souvenir to take home.

pompompurin cafe food menu

This omelet looks like a sleeping puppy with a hat. Vegetables taste better when they are shaped like hearts and stars, right?

white day sanrio gift

The menu includes seasonal items, like a White Day dessert. (Photos by Melissa Rundle and me)

weird japanese burger

Be sure to stop by the gift section, since these Pompompurin items can be hard to find in regular Sanrio stores.

moomin theme cafe, roppongi hills

I leave you with some bonus photos of theme cafes in Tokyo. We passed by the Moomin theme restaurant, in Roppongi Hills. Customers can sit with this giant family of Moomins!

moomin restaurant, mori museum

This Finnish character is surprisingly popular in Japan. One room is filled with framed prints of the comic strip.

kagaya izakaya, frog costume

We also took our friends to our much-loved Kagaya, the theme izakaya that defies description. (I wrote about it many times here.)

weirdest japan theme restaurant

Mark remains at the top of his game. I’ve been coming to Kagaya since 2008, and it hasn’t lost its magic. One guy performing the most surreal, hilarious, surprising, ribald acts — while his mother cooks Japanese homestyle food in the back.

kagaya performance restaurant tokyo

I encourage you to try at least one theme restaurants when you come to Japan. For more inspiration, read about the dozens of theme bars and cafes I’ve visited over the years.

Are you a Pokemon, Sanrio or Line fan? Which of these places are you adding to your dream-list?

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Lion dance & lanterns! Hong Kong Chinese New Year celebrations at Hotel sáv, Kowloon.

hong kong lion dance

What’s it like to celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong? Loud and colorful, with fireworks and lions!

In February, Hotel sáv flew us in to ring in the Year of the Sheep (or Goat), and soft-launch their new hotel in Kowloon. We even got to decorate our own “La Carmina room” inside!

chinese new year lion dancing

Even though I’ve traveled to Hong Kong over 20 times, I’ve never been here for “Gung hay fat choi” festivities. Thanks to sáv, I saw the rituals up close… maybe too close, since I got attacked by a hungry purple lion! 

hotel sav, kowloon hong kong

The newly-opened hotel has a lifestyle philosophy that connects with me. They want guests to have an elevated stay: connecting them with local art / culture, and enriching the body / mind.  

(Hotel Sav address: 83 Wuhu Street, Hung Kom, Kowloon, Hong Kong. See map and Chinese directions.)

sav hong kong, boutique hotel

Sav’s modern lobby reflects the “Color Journey” approach. Each shade represents qualities such as creativity, peace and vitality. To give guests a personal experience, every room has a different color.

china lion dancers

Sav hotel brought in lion dancers, to celebrate the Year of the Sheep (or Goat – both are used interchangeably in Asia).

watch lion dance, hong kong

Color, energy, inspiration — these qualities make the hotel stand apart.

grand opening hong kong new hotel

I worked up the courage to pet the furry pink lion…

girl eaten by lion

Unfortunately, the purple lion got jealous. He raised himself on his hind legs… and swallowed me whole! 

(These Goth buckle shoes are by Steel Ground Shoes. I adore their alternative designs — check them out if you’re looking for edgy new footwear.)

chinese traditional musicians

When you see our video, you’ll know this was a raucous performance. Musicians banged on traditional drums and symbols, while the lions twirled and danced.

lion dance climb pole

The yellow dancer scurried up the bamboo pole, a feat that requires expert coordination. The music built up a crescendo… and finally, the lions released confetti and a scroll from their mouths. (The Chinese characters express the wish that “everything will be better than you expect.”)

chinese new year ritual offerings

Everyone cheered, and the Sav hospitality team cut the roast pig down the middle. This offering of food and incense is a classic good luck ritual, in China.

chuang's company, sav hospitality team

Cheers to the Hotel sáv team. We see them working long hours each day, ensuring that every detail is in place for the guests.

hong kong coolest hotel

Their hard work has paid off. The lobby design is remarkable: the lights and logos are constantly changing colors. 

sav hong kong review, lobby

Since it was Chinese New Year, I wanted to wear something with red (the lucky color). My dress is by Hong Kong designer Spider — it has a carnival, festive feeling that matches the occasion. The lace black cape is from Black Milk ClothingMy cat-ears hairstyle is by Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Salon, Vancouver.

kowloon hotel patio lounge

The hotel is now open to guests, but some of the amenities are still being finished. I can’t wait to see the completed patio and bar, equipped with an impressive sound system.

playing bongos guitar

The indoor lounge bar, Amplitude, will also open soon. The space will offer specially created cocktails, and can be rented for private events.

hong kong hotel bar

I don’t actually know how to play the bongos, but I did my best. (Photos by Naomiyaki and Melissa Rundle. In the next post, I’ll show you how Naomi made art for our custom room!)

palette restaurant, hong kong

We looked forward to eating at Palette Restaurant every day. Their motto is that “Food should do two things: it should taste completely delicious, and it should contain things that do your body good.”

sav hotel breakfast buffet

Palette’s chefs source local and seasonal ingredients, to make a global menu. No MSG or grease here. (I personally recommend the Singapore laksa, fish balls and vegetables soup, steamed shrimp dumplings, and Thai curry.)

Even if you’re not a guest at Hotel Sav, you can come to experience the daily breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets. Save room for desserts!

rainbow cocktails, colorful drinks

Decisions, decisions… Which drink to try first? Sav makes some of the healthiest cocktails around, using fresh fruit such as strawberries rolled up to resemble a rose.

rainbow colored cocktails

True to the theme, each hand-created fruit cocktail corresponds to a color. The lime/rum and orange/honey were my favorites.

goat rings, silver gothic jewelry

How else did we celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong? John Skeleton dropped by, with his new goat-head rings.

hong kong chinese new year fireworks

Hong Kong puts on a stunning fireworks display every year. I don’t recommend going to the Tsim Sha Tsui harbor to watch, since you’ll get crushed by the crowds. My friends and I watched them from my uncle’s apartment on the Kowloon side. We also got lucky red pockets filled with money — one of the best rituals of the season!

year of the sheep lanterns

On a different night, we dropped by the TST waterfront to see the Chinese lantern displays. Above is more proof that cuteness reigns in Asia.

tsim sha tsui harbor lanterns display

Rows of gigantic lanterns, featured smiling and waving sheep.

petting lion, chinese celebrations

Are you familiar with Chinese New Year celebrations? Ever see a lion dance?

Next, I’ll take you inside our custom-decorated Hotel sáv room, and show you more of Hong Kong!

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Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson: Lobby Girl movie costume! Odigo Japan startup launch party.

grand budapest hotel costume, lobby girl

I’ve taken on a new job in the travel industry… located in the imagination of filmmaker Wes Anderson. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve become a Lobby Girl!

grand budapest hotel logo

My costume is inspired by the “Lobby Boy” character in The Grand Budapest Hotel,  which recently won four Oscar awards. Can you believe I’ve watched this movie about 10 times? It’s witty, charming, funny and stylish — Wes Anderson at his best.

moov magazine cover, wes anderson

I couldn’t resist doing a “Lobby Girl” cosplay, in tribute to the Grand Budapest Hotel. Shutterbug James photographed me in character… and it made the cover of Moov Magazine‘s “Best Of” issue!

Later in this post, I’ll share more photos from our shoot. But first, the Lobby Girl had a gala to host… in Tokyo, Japan. 

tokyo tech travel startup

Last month, I flew to Tokyo for the launch of travel start-up, Odigo. We threw a phenomenal party — thanks to my friends who celebrated with me!

japanese demon masks

What went down? Demon masks, an open bar, Italo Disco music, and a photobooth by ROMP.

jrock style fashion

Are we doing the “X Japan” Jrock sign, or “dame-ee” (which means forbidden, in Japanese)? Probably a bit of both.

tokyo party photobooth

I’m happy to officially unveil Odigo to you. The English-language site is for you guys: people who want to travel to Japan, and see all things offbeat and authentic. 

Readers tell me it’s hard to figure out Japanese addresses, and how to get around. With Odigo, you can easily plan a trip that’s tailored to your interests -- where it’s sushi or Sailor Moon.

keroppy maeda, bagelheads japan

Perhaps you’re intrigued by body modifications, such as bagelheads in Japan? Odigo can show you where to find them. (Hint: look for the man behind the bagel, Keroppy Maeda, above.)

japanese punks goths designers

Odigo also helps you discover underground designers like Ako of Blablahospital (far right). Remember I wore her punk fashions in New Orleans?

tokyo club party photos

It was wonderful to reunite with old friends, and meet new ones. We grooved to DJ Swiftt Edits’ Italo Disco playlist…

colorful hor d'oeuvres

… and nibbled on colorful hor d’oeuvres. Despite the rainy day, our party was packed!

odigo travel startup japan

Several attendees got prizes through the lucky draw. (My lace cape is from Black Milk Clothing.)

Streamer Coffee Company meguro

The event was at Streamers Meguro, a coffee house that brewed probably the best latte I’ve ever had in Japan.

Kilo Shop Tokyo meguro

Upstairs is Kilo Shop Tokyo, which has a large selection of vintage designs.

tokyo vintage dresses shop

Payment is by the kilo, rather than per item.

blue purple hair color

The whole team has been working day and night on the launch, and it’s paid off.

takamasa kawasaki, red horse, embracing diversity

How does my Lobby Girl outfit fit with the site’s mission? In my speech, I explained it represents Odigo’s personalized approach to helping travelers plan “an extraordinary journey” to Japan.

(Above, I’m with founder Takamasa Kawasaki, who wrote a book called “The Power of Embracing Diversity.”)

japan cross dress

Like the concierges of the Grand Budapest Hotel, we’re passionate about sharing the best spots and creating a seamless itinerary, which you can download to a mobile phone and simply follow along.

la carmina and friends

Anyone can contribute travel tips to the site, and build upon previous journeys. I encourage you to check out Odigo and add their Facebook to find out more.

lobby boy costume halloween

Now, let me share the photoshoot we did for Moov Magazine’s cover and spread! Funny enough, I actually stayed in a grand hotel in Budapest, in 2013. This setting, however, is the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver.

wes anderson oscars best costumes

This movie truly is a must see (here’s a link to the digital download). The cinematography, set design and costumes are outstanding: look at the colors! Those military buttons!

grand budapest hotel, hair makeup

We wanted to re-create this feeling, in our images. Huge kudos to my photographer Shutterbug James, assisted by Amy Kay. My crimped hair is the magnificent work of Stephanie Hoy, of Stratosphere Salon in Vancouver, Canada.

concierge, lobby boy outfit

The Lobby Boy’s hat is integral to his look. I DIY-ed a “Lobby Girl” version of the cap — using felt, fabric and letters, which I painted with gold sparkly nail polish.

lobby boy hat, clothing design

My dress is by Spider, the Hong Kong Gothic Lolita / alternative / cosplay fashion brand by Natalie Lam.
These gold-flecked tights are by Gal Stern.

crimped hairstyle

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver was the ideal setting, with its gilded interiors that date back to the early 20th century.

lobby boy hat, jacket

The interior is full of symmetry and decadent shapes, which would please Mr Anderson. I’ll gladly help guests plan a fun trip…

grand budapest hotel exterior car

… but I’ll let the lobby boys do the heavy lifting. (Above is the hotel exterior, in The Republic of Zubrowka.)

wes anderson halloween costumes

If you haven’t already, you must see the Grand Budapest Hotel (available online!). It’s become my favorite Wes Anderson movie.

lobby boy character costume

The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat is also wonderfully evocative. The CD is available here; it won the 2015 Oscar for best original score.

goth doll modeling shoot

Cheers to Shutterbug James for the fun photoshoot.

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver lobby

Do you think we capture the feeling and aesthetics of the movie?

mendl's bakery box

I even made a Mendl’s Bakery box, and we shot this at a nearby patisserie!

wes anderson fans costumes

Thanks to Moov Magazine for putting this Lobby Girl on the cover.

odigo travel launch event

And gratitude to my friends who came to the Odigo launch event.

streamers coffee shop japan

Fashion One wrote an article about my “Tokyo takeover” — soon, you can watch my “day in the life” TV segment with this style network.

tokyo photo booth photographer

And there’s a lot more Japan coverage coming up, including an DecabarZ 80s club night, and a peek inside the Pokemon theme cafe.

trip planning japan tours

If you’re interested in traveling to Japan, check out Odigo. You can plan trips, submit your own spots, and be part of the fun.

What do you think of my Grand Budapest Hotel costume? Are you a Wes Anderson fan like I am?

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