Bonjour from the David Bowie “Blackstar” mural in Brussels!
Earlier this year, I traveled to Belgium for a press project with the tourism board. My film team and I dove into the vivacious local art /culture of Brussels-Wallonia.
In this first post, I’ll introduce you to the young Liege artist who memorialized Bowie…
… and we’ll celebrate the Carnival of Binche, with feathered hats and Mardi Gras costumes!
(PS – If you’ve been wondering why I’m selling off most of my wardrobe, there’s a detailed explanation at the bottom of this post.)
I know many of you are David Bowie fans… so we’ll start with this beautiful tribute by NOIR Artist.
The Belgian pop culture artist was commissioned to make this mural for the release of Bowie’s latest album, Blackstar (available here). The day after the painting was complete, the world learned that Bowie had died of cancer.
I interviewed 20-something year old Lucien Gilson, at the opening of his art exhibition at Mazel Galerie. His striking works are influenced by tattoos, Pop Art, Baroque and magazine covers.
He uses the pseudonym NOIR Artist because his paintings use only black pigment. You won’t find any shades of grey in his works.
His portraits of pop culture figures — Bowie, Edward Scissorhands, Darth Vader — have struck a chord with young audiences worldwide. NOIR Artist is very active on social media, and likes to take viewers behind the scenes, such as through time lapse videos of his murals in the making.
That evening, Mazel Galerie unveiled an exhibit focusing on Belgian artists. I walked through the two floors, and was impressed by the range of striking, modern works.
NOIR Artist took me to see his now-famous mural, located near the gallery at Toison D’ Or shopping mall in Brussels.
It was commissioned by Sony Music Belgium for David Bowie’s Blackstar ★ album — and one day after it was completed, the legend behind Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane was gone.
Fans turned the David Bowie mural into a memorial, leaving flowers and gifts below, and writing messages on the wall. I left one too: “RIP, glorious space oddity.”
Words can’t describe what a powerful impact Bowie (aka Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust) has had on so many, especially those who feel like outsiders.
During our trip, we also got to take part in the centuries-old Carnaval de Binche, a quirky local take on Mardi Gras.
Every year, in early February, these celebrations occur all over Belgium. However, the most colorful parades are in Binche: a small town about a two hour drive from Brussels.
The Belgian Tourism Board arranged for us to visit a local family’s home. There was such a welcoming energy in the room, as everyone gathered to eat and drink, and dress up in the traditional costumes.
These “Gilles” outfits are handmade by artisans, and represent a “strong man” folk character. The participants stuffed their torsos with straw to create the effect — although we thought it made them look a bit more like “fat men”!
Binche Carnival’s origins are unclear, but likely date back to the 14th century. Only males from Binche can take on the role of a Gilles, and this tradition is taken very seriously. Many pass along the torch from father to son: we saw Gilles children marching alongside their grandfathers.
Around 3pm, we headed into the Binche town square for the parade. These celebrations take part over several days, turning the normally sleepy village into a drunken bacchanal. You know there’s a party going on, when you see rainbow confetti strewn all over the streets!
Although only males can be Gilles, women can take part as other folk characters. These “societies” dress up and march together in the parade.
In a scene that looked straight out of a Wes Anderson film, we came across these pointy-hatted, pastel colored Pierrots.
Here come the harlequins, with ruffled collars and diamond print suits. In between the brigades, musicians played a festive shuffle on horns and drums.
Did you notice that everyone is holding a basket of oranges? As they parade through the streets, these participants throw oranges into the crowd!
It’s considered proper manners to accept a offering of the fruit — and it’s good luck if you are hit by a lobbed orange. Although take it from me… this can leave a bump on your head. (My faux fur ombre coat is this exact one, on sale!)
Once again, the reasons behind this tradition are unknown. Perhaps it’s simply great fun to launch fruit at people.
Then, about a thousand Gilles appeared in their distinctive bonnets, wooden clogs and copper bells. This special costume can only be worn during the Binche carnival, and is forbidden to leave the city.
I felt like I had stepped into a surreal universe. Everyone was smiling and dancing, and oranges flew through the air.
The Gilles’ feathered hats weigh a ton, and are easily damaged by rain — which is why only some of the men wore them on their heads that day.
Photos alone can’t describe the sounds and frenzy of Binche! (My coat is available here.)
We filmed a travel video, which we’ll release soon — but until then, check out my Instagram video clip of the parade. You can see children throwing oranges in all directions, and the men shuffling their feet to the live music in a funny “pas de Gilles” dance.
Funny how the festival had an avantgarde feeling, even though these rituals have been happening for hundreds of years.
If you are in Belgium during Mardi Gras, the Carnival of Binche is one party you don’t want to miss.
Much more from hip Brussels to come — including an S&M art gallery, a coffin bar, and the Rene Magritte museum. (I got my jacket in Belgium too; it’s by The Kooples brand.)
Finally, I owe you an explanation… When I announced that I was putting up most of my wardrobe for sale, I didn’t realize that it caused some people alarm. I got messages asking if I was quitting blogging, or if something was wrong!
Don’t worry, this isn’t the case. I am going full steam ahead, and have superb new destinations, photoshoots and travel filmings coming up for the summer. There are still lots of stories from Istanbul, Morocco, Vietnam, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and more going up in the next weeks.
As you can imagine — over the years, I’ve accumulated literally mountains of clothing from around the world. Many designs are from Japan Goth and Lolita brands, and unavailable anywhere else. For a long time, I wanted to make my wardrobe available to you, at less than 50% of retail price — but simply hadn’t figured out a good way to do it.
Now, thanks to Depop, I’m able to easily list and sell my fashion to you. A lot of items are already gone, so I encourage you to check out my shop listings ASAP and let me know what you want. (Email me at gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom). Once again, I’m happy to do a bundle discount, combine shipping, and include personal notes and photos in each package!
Shop La Carmina’s Goth Lolita wardrobe sale now!
My Goth fashion blogger closet sale on Depop! Selling Gothic Lolita, Japanese clothing & accessories.
Ever wish you had pieces from my wardrobe? Well, now you can — because I’ve launched a store on Depop!
I’ve listed hundreds of unique clothes and accessories for sale: including Gothic Lolita, pin-up, J-rock, kawaii styles.
Most of my items are rare, and found only in Japan. As a thank you for your support over the years, prices are low, and I’m willing to put together a bundle order for you at a discount. Email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom) and let me know what you’d like!
Ready to shop? Then come over to my Depop store – username “lacarmina” – and pick out your favorites! (I ship worldwide; contact me if you have any questions, I respond to everything myself, and can send items with a personal photo and note.)
Click to shop La Carmina’s closet sale now!
A lot of my clothing can’t be found anywhere else on the Internet. I’m selling designs by Japanese underground brands — including several that no longer exist (like Banana Fish, Peace Now, Sex Pot Revenge).
For example, everything in the above photo is for sale (dress by Banana Fish, coffin backpack by h.Naoto, shoes by Yosuke). You can find it all here on my Depop shop.
I’ve gotten many messages over the years from people who wanted to purchase my clothes — like the Miho Matsuda grunge dress above. However, I couldn’t find an easy way to list and sell items.
Depop solved my problem. It’s a free mobile app that makes buying/selling a breeze.
With a few taps on your cell phone, you can browse for goods (makeup, clothes, home decor) or put things up for sale. It takes me less than two minutes to snap a few photos, write a description and publish.
Above is a screenshot of my Depop store (lacarmina)! The app loads quickly, and has a fun visual layout similar to Instagram.
It’s easy to click on an item to see more photos, and read the description (size, construction, etc). You can browse by hashtag or use the fast-loading search, and find beautiful designs for sale from all around the world.
I’ve worn a lot of my clothing only once for photoshoots, so they’re in near-new condition.
Almost everything on my store is listed at 50%below the retail price, and I can ship to any address worldwide.
I’m selling a lot of my Gothic Lolita EGL dresses, skirts, corsets, accessories. These labels include Innocent World, Angelic Pretty, Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Alice and the Pirates.
I’ve put up a fantastic selection of alternative, Goth and pin-up fashion. This Iron Fist dress and heart purse are available!
Don’t worry: my store has clothes in all sizes, and I’m selling dozens of accessories starting at a few dollars. Skull bracelets, kawaii jewellery, purses from Japan and Hong Kong, and more.
In addition to tons of Gothic, Jrock and Gyaru styles, I have a range of fashion by international designers. Floaty summer dresses, bohemian tops, you name it.
I’m loving the experience of using Depop. Payments are easy and secure through the app (PayPal, credit card) and I can ship to any mailing address in the world.
I’m personally responding to all comments and messages through my Depop store, so it’s also a fun way for us to chat and interact!
Message me and I can put together a bundle order for you, at a discount. You’ll also save on the shipping cost for the package.
Items are going fast from my wardrobe sale, so I encourage you to check out my store before your favorites are gone.
This dress, that skirt… it’s all for sale now, on La Carmina’s Depop shop! You won’t find this fashion sold anywhere else online, and I’ve priced everything low.
I hope you enjoy my fashion blogger closet sale. Looking forward to chatting with you, and putting together a package for you — with a special signed note included!
Ready? Set? Let’s shop La Carmina’s closet now!
LOTR director Peter Jackson personally scouted this spot for his films, and had his team build a Hobbit village from scratch. These Shire scenes are some of his most memorable, and put New Zealand’s idyllic landscapes on the map.
The “Hobbit holes” were too cute to tear down, so Peter Jackson agreed to preserve them as an attraction. Today, fans from around the world come to frolic in the footsteps of Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf.
As you can see from these photos, it felt like I had stepped right into Middle Earth!
Read on for the scoop on how to visit Hobbiton, and photos of the famous set locations — including the Green Dragon Pub, Mill, and double-arched bridge.
First, a primer for those who aren’t familiar with Hobbits. These tiny, furry-footed creatures are a human-like race in the J. R. R. Tolkien fantasy novels: Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit. (These books are cult favorites, and I encourage you to read them all.)
In the 2000s, director Peter Jackson released three Lord of the Rings movies, followed by the Hobbit trilogy. The films were box-office successes and generally loved by fans. All of the outdoor scenes in the Shire (home of the Hobbits) were filmed right where I’m standing.
I’ve written before about the ease of travelling with Contiki, a travel company for 18-35 year olds. Our tour manager Monique gave us info on the best activities in the North Island, including Hobbiton. If we wanted to book, she did all the arrangements for us, including drop-offs and passes! Contiki’s prices are also lower than if you reserved the same tour on your own.
Most visitors come in from Rotorua, the Maori hot springs town about three hours south of Auckland. (We spent time here with Contiki; I’ll show you more in the next post).
The Hobbiton bus picked us up from our Rotorua hotel, and we enjoyed an hour-long drive through bucolic farms and the Kaimai Ranges.
If you want to drive here on your own, Hobbiton is located in Hinuera, Matamata. Note that you can’t visit the adorable set unless you join the official tour, so book early as the spots fill up quickly.
We met our energetic guide, and she took us on a two-hour tour of the twelve acre site. She told us juicy behind-the-scenes tales, and led us to every area of the Shire with lots of time to take photos.
I’ve been to some movie sets that feel like cheesy theme parks. Thankfully, Hobbiton is nothing of this sort.
I walked through these gorgeous gardens, basking in the patches of sunlight and scent of flowers.
The designers put remarkable thought into every aspect of the village, and never ruin the effect with modern incongruities or cash-grabs. (I’d die if there were a souvenir vendor in front of the Baggins’ home!).
Tolkien fans will appreciate details like this signpost, which shows the “farthings” or subdivisions of the Shire.
Some of the “Hobbit holes” have fences that prevent you from going into the yard, but you’re welcome to play with the props outside. Let me tell you… that wheelbarrow was heavy!
Check out the clothesline hanging above the house. Hobbits are about the size of human children, and their garments are adorable.
Hobbiton gives you a glimpse of daily life in the shire. Next to a pumpkin patch, there was a rack of (fake) dried fish.
How did this paradise come into being? Our guide told us that director Peter Jackson spotted this slice of New Zealand countryside from the air, as he searched the North Island for shooting locations. He immediately knew that Alexander Farm (as it was known) was perfect for Lord of the Rings.
Peter Jackson took up temporary residence in a nearby farmhouse, and oversaw the massive set transformation. His team of builders turned the bare Waikato farmland into a real-life version of Tolkien’s Shire.
The houses look outstanding in the films because everything was built at the highest standards. The wood, plants and glass are all the real deal.
But here’s something you might not know… Almost all of the Hobbit holes are only exteriors! There’s nothing behind the round doors, as the indoor scenes were filmed in a Wellington studio.
The Hobbiton tour does takes you to one red door, where you can duck your head and pop inside. (Since Hobbits are little, all the structures are sized down to fit them.)
Our guide pointed out where key scenes in LOTR were shot. She showed us the pond, and the fence that Frodo Baggins jumped over in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Outfit details: My “Great Wave” skirt from Black Milk Clothing is currently my favorite item in my wardrobe. The floaty material and Hokusai print are a stand-out.
I gained a new appreciation for Peter Jackson’s movies during the Hobbiton set tour. Our guide told us stories of the hard work that went into the making of LOTR. For example, the oak tree overlooking Bag End is actually a stump, which was hand-decorated with thousands of artificial leaves!
The film crew built about 40 Hobbit holes for the Shire scenes. I learned how they used tricks in perspective to make Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellen) seem much taller than Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his fellow Hobbits.
Close-up on my Alex Streeter claw and skull rings, and realistic-looking prop pots of honey.
As I previously mentioned, most of the indoor and special effects scenes were shot in Wellington. If you come to NZ’s capital city, don’t miss out on the Wellington Lord of the Rings Movie tour.
No special effects needed, to bring out the beauty of New Zealand’s fields. The cows and sheep are also the real deal.
Quite a few fans dress up in Lord of the Rings costumes, for the Hobbiton tour. While I didn’t do a full cosplay, I paid tribute to Middle Earth by wearing a dramatic cloak.
You can’t take the fake pastries home with you… but there’s a gift shop at the entrance, called the “Shire Store.” Inside, you can purchase a wide range of products like posters, action figures, and Gandalf’s wizard hat.
One of the most charming natural features of Hobbiton: there were butterflies everywhere! I saw white and colored wings fluttering over the flower gardens, and managed to take this photo of one drinking nectar.
Tip: bring both sunscreen and a light jacket, since the weather can change quickly. I encourage you to check the weather forecast on the day you’re visiting Hobbiton (and remember, it’s advisable to book your tour slot and bus ride well in advance).
And bring your best camera — you don’t want to miss out on the unbelievable photo ops! (These photos are taken with my favorite travel camera, the light but full framed Sony alpha 7, a mirrorless DSLR.)
I think author JRR Tolkien would be thrilled about how Hobbiton brought his world to life. We crossed the stone bridge and passed the Mill House, on the way to the Green Dragon Inn.
Hobbiton produces their own Southfarthing range of ales, ciders and ginger beers. This giant barrel was near the May Pole and party field.
At River Churn, we passed The Old Mill that was owned and run by the Sandyman Family, according to the fantasy novels.
Hobbiton does a wonderful job at creating an authentic setting for fans. There’s also a limited number of spots per tour, so the set doesn’t feel overly crowded with tourists.
The homes feel so real that I half expected Hobbits to pop out behind me!
(Photos by Salima Remtulla)
The scenes inside the inn were actually shot in the Wellington studios, but Hobbiton faithfully recreated the pub for fans to visit.
How charming are these messages left by Hobbits? “Lost, green cloak! If found, please return to the Ivy Bush.”
Everyone got a free Southfarthing beverage (ale, cider or ginger beer) and could order country fare at the counter (cheese scones, meat pies and more). From the dragon decor to the round windows, this is a perfect reproduction.
I was tempted to apply for the “Cooper Wanted” job, so that I could stay here forever…
What more is there to say? Hobbiton captured my imagination, and was one of the best moments on my New Zealand journey.
So grateful to Contiki for sending me to Hobbiton. I thoroughly enjoyed travelling with Contiki (on a bus with other millennials) on their Sun and Steam New Zealand trip. Be sure to check them out; they offer tours to destinations around the world.
Are you a LOTR fan? Have you heard of this Hobbit heaven before?
These otherworldly caverns, shimmering with blue pinpricks of light, are known as one of the world’s most dazzling natural wonders.
Before we descend into the caves, let me tell you more about my trip with Contiki, a tour group company for 18-35 year olds. They lead journeys all over the world — Southeast Asia, Europe, South America and more — in different lengths and styles.
Above is a pic of my NZ “Sun and Steam” squad! Most people came on the trip alone, and quickly made friends. I found my Contiki group to be very inclusive, especially thanks to the friendly tone set by our tour manager Monique and driver Dyson.
We traveled about three hours from Auckland to Waitomo, with rest stops and lunch. Instead of agonizing over routes and directions, I could just sit back, chat with fellow young travellers, and enjoy this mystical view from the Contiki bus.
After seeing this misty mountain view, I’d say New Zealand lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s most scenic countries.
I didn’t even have to waste time on checking in; tour manager Monique simply handed us a key. In Waitomo, we stayed in this cute treehouse-style hotel. (When you book the tour, you can opt to share rooms, or have a single to yourself.)
Every Contiki tour has a mix of included and optional activities. Before arriving in each destination, Monique gave us an entertaining overview of the various activities we could add on. She’d then make the bookings for us (once again, I had nothing to stress about).
Waitomo is considered one of the world’s “1000 places to see before you die” because of its glowworm caves. I joined the Ruakuri cave tour since you’re allowed to take photos inside. (In Maori, “Rua” means den and “kuri” means dog… making my blue puppy-faced bag an unintentional match!)
This cave was first discovered about 500 years ago by a young Maori, who was chased by a pack of dogs living inside (hence the name Ruakuri). Today, visitors can join a two hour walking tour that takes you deep inside.
We started by going down this spiral staircase: a scene straight out of the apocalyptic Silo novels. In the dim light, the people around me seemed like ghosts fleeting by.
Before entering, our guide encouraged us to take part in a Maori purification ritual: you run your hands under the falling water, and then touch your head with it, as a gesture of respect. Photographer Salima Remtulla shows how it’s done.
The further we walked, the more we felt like we had entered a subterranean alternate universe. Our guide pointed at underground waterfalls and explained the spectacular natural formations. He taught us a heuristic to differentiate stalactites and stalagmites; the former hangs “tight” to the ceiling!
These cave curtains look like they were sculpted by Michelangelo. In fact, they are calcite formations made over millennia, from water running down the roof of the cave. It’s remarkable how much these “speleothems” look like wavy sheets of fabric.
On the right: we got our first glimpse of the glow worms. The insect, Arachnocampa luminosa, is unique to New Zealand and dots the walls of the caves. In certain areas, you’ll see thousands of these creatures radiating blue luminescent light.
These “worms” are actually fungal gnat flies in a larval stage. Our guide shone a flashlight on a ledge, and we saw that each had dozens of long, sticky threads hanging down. These fascinating creatures emanate a blue light that attracts flying insects, which then get stuck on the lures and eaten.
It’s hard to capture the astonishing glow in photos, especially in the dim caves. To the human eye, they look like pinpricks of blue light, almost like constellations.
The glowworms produce “cold” light (with no generated heat) as the result of bioluminescence, a biochemical reaction using the energy-rich protein, ATP.
While I was on my walking tour, other Contiki friends signed up for Black Water Rafting, which also takes place in Ruakuri cave. In this adventure activity, they donned wetsuits and explored the caverns on rubber tubes. (Above photo by John Contompasis)
The Blackwater Rafters trekked and climbed through the passages. They took leaps over small waterfalls, and linked up to float through while looking at the glowing worms. (As mentioned before — Contiki has options for every type of traveller, including more adventurous folk).
Waitomo’s glowworm caves are a dazzling experience, and truly must be experienced in person.
If you come to Auckland, I encourage you to make the trip to Waitomo — an easy journey, thank to Contiki.
From the photo above, I think you can tell that my Contiki group bonded quickly! We still keep in touch regularly through a Facebook group; Contiki’s website also has meetup forums so members can connect before and after a tour.
Everyone was between 18 and 35 years old, and came from various parts of the world. Most of us were citizens of Canada, UK, Australia, and the US.
Most of the travellers came alone, and had different reasons for joining the trip to New Zealand. Some had just finished university, or were on a gap year. Others were going through life changes, and this was their opportunity to try something outside their comfort zone.
The Contiki motto, #NoRegrets, sums up this mindset — and is proudly plastered on the side of the bus.
As you can see, Contiki has top-of-the line buses. The interiors are new and clean, there’s great air conditioning, and even WiFi and charging stations.
Our tour manager Monique and driver Dyson made the trip a blast. They’re full of passion about New Zealand, and gave insight into every place we visited — along with a “dad joke” or two!
I’ve been on some tours where the guides keep to themselves, but Mon and Dys were the exact opposite. They joined our group dinners and nightlife excursions, and knew every single person by name. We shared a lot of laughs and bonding moments on our week-long road trip together.
Time flew by, as we rode from one destination to the next. Everyone chatted, played games, and listened to the music piped over the speakers.
Since we were all around the same age, it was easy to connect over shared interests. Quite a few had done Contiki trips before, and loved the experience so much that they were back for more.
Here’s a closeup on my Gothic dress. Black Milk also makes this in a Game of Thrones style.
My spooky rings and bracelet are from Alex Streeter, my favorite jewelry maker. His designs are inspired by outer space, animals, dark culture; perhaps you’ve seen his pentagram ring, worn by Marilyn Manson and J-rocker Hyde.
Alex Streeter is a legend in Japan, where he travels every year, and has a storefront in New York’s Lower East Side. I asked Glam Nail Studio (based in Vancouver, Canada) to create starry nail art inspired by his works.
I leave you with a close up of my Black Milk dress and cape.
What do you think of my Contiki trip so far? Would you join a group tour with young travelers, like I did?