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I spoke at Experience Bucharest conference! Travel influencers Romania tourism event, Bellu Cemetery vampire fashion.

gothic vampire japanese fashion goth

This little vampire had the best Halloween ever. I got to visit the ultimate Gothic destination… Bucharest, Romania! 

Since I was a teen, I imagined myself haunting Romania’s cemeteries. This dream became reality, thanks to the hard-working team at Experience Bucharest — who invited me to speak at their October 2017 travel and tourism conference.

designer vampire cape dracula

Over the course of several days, I got to meet dozens of fellow travel bloggers, influencers and industry professionals. We experienced the best of Bucharest through immersive activities (and some stayed on to see more parts of the country with Experience Romania).

Needless to say, I had the time of my life. I’m so excited to share these stories from the land of Transylvania –– starting with a waltz through Bellu Cemetery in my Japanese vampire cape. (All photography by Joey Wong.)

experience bucharest conference bloggers

For a long time, Romania has been an overlooked destination. However, the tide is turning thanks to Experience Bucharest / Experience Romania, the largest independent project to promote tourism in this fascinating country. The passionate team of volunteers invited 100 top travel bloggers, vloggers, digital influencers and media to discover Bucharest’s many attractions, as well as take part in a day-long conference.

Above, I’m with Tudor Maxim (founder and one of the chief organizers) and Jeanette Ceja (travel TV reporter and expert), who spoke on the social media panel along with me.

moi meme moitie gothic lolita egl dress

The conference took place at the Novotel Hotel Bucharest, which also hosted my stay. It’s located by Old Town, with a balcony that had this lovely view of the city’s classic architecture.

Hair: My new purple/red/blue ombre haircolor is by Chad Evans at Stratosphere Salon in Vancouver, Canada. He cut my bangs into a vampire V, and did a fishtail braid in the back. So happy with this new hairstyle!

Outfit details: I wore Gal Stern tights with a silver skull pattern, Alex Streeter pearl necklace, Sleevey Wonders sheer sleeves, and a Moi-meme-Moitie graveyard dress (designed by Japan’s Elegant Goth Lolita icon, Mana of the bands Moi-dix-Mois and Malice Mizer).

travel influencers panel event discussion

I spoke at the “The Future of Tourism in Romania” conference, which  brought together travel professionals from all around the world. This Eastern European country has modernized and opened up to visitors especially since 2007, when it joined the EU.

The local tourism organizers first shared success stories of tourism in Romania, highlighting the increasing interest of travelers in Sibiu (historical city in Transylvania), Mamaia (beach and resort destination on the Black Sea), Bucovina (scenic historic region on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains) and other areas.

experience romania conference speech

Next, I stepped onto the Experience Romania stage to speak about “Best international practices in tourism and social media.” I was a speaker on this social media panel along with leading travel Instagrammers Altug Galip and Laiza Souza, and Jeanette Ceja who comes from a journalism background.

For about an hour, we answered questions from the audience and shared personal advice on topics related to travel, digital media, press trips, sponsorships and tourism trends. It was fantastic to hear everyone’s perspectives from their various backgrounds, and have a conversation with an audience of hundreds who are passionate about traveling. 

 

I put together a few clips of my Q&A answers during the travel blogger panel. You can see the video above and here.

experience bucharest press trip romania tourism

Many thanks to the Travel Massive Romania volunteers and local businesses for welcoming us bloggers, and showing us the best of Bucharest!

We got to go on walking tours of the city, try various restaurants… I’ll be showing you much more of my explorations soon.

japanese elegant gothic fashion lolita

I wore Gal Stern tights, Alex Streeter accessories, Sleevey Wonders under-sleeves and a Moi-meme-moitie dress (the wind gave my skirt and hair a boost!).

More photos of this look at the end of this post, but first…

bellu cemetery bucharest romania

Is there any better place to wear a vampire cape… than in the land of Dracula?

I transformed into a bat and flew to Bellu Cemetery (part of the Bucharest Urban Adventures “Darkside Tour”). This graveyard, officially known as Șerban Vodă, is the largest and most celebrated one in the city.

romanian coffin dracula tour

Bellu Cemetery was particularly atmospheric during Halloween season, with autumn leaves on the dramatic coffins.

Address and access: Șoseaua Olteniței 3-5, București, Romania. If you’re traveling by subway, get off at the Eroii Revolutiei metro stop (two stops from Universitate Station in Old Town). Entry is free, and the graveyard is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm.

vampire dracula graveyard fashion outfit

I got to live out my Dracula fantasies in this photoshoot, surrounded by wooden stakes and dark tombstones. 

Outfit details: I’m wearing my Black Peace Now designer cape from Japan, and a Moi-même-Moitié dress. 

Șerban Vodă cemetery bucharest

The cemetery is located on a 54-acre plot of land, donated by Baron Barbu Bellu (hence the name). Many of the graves date back to the 1850s, when the Romanian graveyard was founded.

My friends and I enjoyed strolling through the many rows of tombstones, some with interesting and eerie statues.

putin gravestone tombstone tomb

We came across a memorial to someone named Putin, featuring two Sphinx-women carrying a globe on their backs. (Edit – actually, this actually translates to ‘a little’ and has a spiritism spooky story associated with it… see the first comment at the bottom for the history.) On the right, I half-expected a vampire to rise out of this thorny black coffin!

Many famous Romanians lie beneath the soil including writers, gymnasts and astronomers. Two of the most famous residents are the national poet Mihai Eminescu, and playwright / humorist Ion Luca Caragiale.

creepy scary bucharest underground

Count Dracula may have been imagined by Ireland’s Bram Stoker, but Romanians have long-established legends about the dead rising from the grave. According to the local folklore, these “strigoi” crave fresh blood and can transform into other animals, as well as turn humans into ghouls.

vampire fashion editorial outfit post

Nosferatu vibes… When you’re standing in Bellu Cemetery, it’s easy to understand why Romanian vampire legends have captured the imagination of millions worldwide.

cross tombstones bellu graveyard bucharest

I love seeing how nature enhances the beauty of the chains and crosses. The leaves add a splash of blood-red to these resting grounds.

weird bizarre alternative bucharest

When night falls, who knows what might rise from these coffins?

(Of course, I also visited Bran Castle in Transylvania, associated with Vlad the Impaler… there’s a giant article to come out soon about it.)

romanian cemetery, graveyard

Even if you aren’t captivated by vampire stories, you should spend time wandering in Bellu Cemetery. The local history, art and architecture are fascinating to behold here.

vampire v shaped bangs hairstyle

My V-bangs haircut and Black Peace Now cape helped me get into the spooky spirit. Bucharest’s graveyard is truly a Goth dream.

cat on coffin, graveyard

We saw several cats living among the dead. (Dracula’s fellow creatures of the night.)

dracula vampire fashion, cape

Vampira vibes, in front of one of the largest and most elaborate mausoleums in Bellu graveyard. It belongs to Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino, a 19th century Romanian politician and lawyer.

romanian goths, gothic attractions bucharest

Such a pleasure to tour this necropolis with my Romanian Gothic friends, Beatrice and Alex.

vampire travel tourism bucharest

In love with the historic architecture and dark decay of the mausoleums.

romania ghosts, srigoi legends

Most of the burial ground is Eastern Orthodox, with well-tended graves topped with crucifixes and angel statues.

vampire hairstyle hair color dye

“Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell / But every night I see the rubbery things / Black, horned, and slender, with membraneous wings / And tails that bear the bifid barb of hell.” – H.P. Lovecraft, “Night-Gaunts.”

bucharest haunted cemetery tombs

This photospeaks for itself… Bucharest’s Bellu Cemetery is one of the most beautiful I’ve visited.

halloween bucharest romania costumes

You can come here on your own, or join the Bucharest Urban Adventures Dark Side walking tour. It also takes you to other eerie parts of the city, including a serial killer’s alleyway and bloody buildings from the Communist era.

bucharest subculture, gothic goths

“To walk with me you must die to your breathing life and be reborn to mine.” – Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel

bucharest darkside tour urban adventures

Bellu Graveyard is tended by citizens, rather than the government. Many locals come here to leave flowers and offerings, and maintain the tombs in good condition.

japanese goth vampire fashion

Although this is a huge plot of land at 54 acres, the graveyard has been filled up over the past century and half. The paths between the rows are narrow, which make you feel close to the dead (or undead?)

designer black vampire cape

As you can see, Bucharest was everything this Goth girl imagined it to be… and far more.

experience bucharest organizers, event

I’m very grateful to the Experience Bucharest family for bringing me to their hometown, and having me take part in the conference’s 2nd Edition! (Above, with the lovely Anda Maxim who worked hard on the program, along with the other team members.)

Some of the invited bloggers stayed for an extra two weeks, and toured all around the country with Experience Romania. I’ll have to return soon to see more.

travel bloggers instagramers influencers conference

One my favorite parts of Experience Bucharest? Meeting dozens of fabulous travel storytellers, each with a unique niche and medium. (Facebook Live, LGBT, comedy videos, history blogs, desserts, you name it).

We hit it off with our shared love of travel; it’s such a joy to connect with others who walk a similar path. I left feeling inspired, and am sure I’ll meet up with many of these new friends somewhere in the world.

skull choker pearl necklace

I leave you with some close-ups of my jewelry. My Morbid Debutante white skull and pearls necklace is by Alex Streeter (who created the pentagram Angel Heart ring, most recently worn by Marilyn Manson on the cover of several music magazines).

vampire nail art, yohji yamamoto bracelet

My vampire nails were bloody perfect for the occasion. Dripping blood, bats, Dracula, fangs, coffins and skulls, rendered by hand in unbelievable detail.

As always, these gel nails are the work of Keiko Matsui at Glam Nail Studio in Vancouver. You can see a close-up of the nail art here on my Instagram, and I’ll post more images soon. (My bracelet cuff is vintage Yohji Yamamoto.)

dark red blue ombre haircolor

So thankful to Experience Romania / Bucharest for having me come to give a talk on the social media panel, and capture these stories and photos for you. (All photography by Joey Wong.)

bucharest haunted cemetery tours

“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” – Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”

asian vampire japanese girl portrait

This is only the first bite of Bucharest. Many more travel tales to come, including a visit to Bran Castle, and alternative street art tour. 

What are your impressions of Romania so far? Have you ever thought of visiting? If there was a land for Goths… I think it would be here!

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Osaka, Japan Gothic stores! Satanic Territory occult & witchcraft shop, Japanese tattoos, pentagram fashion.

tokyo photobooth, purikura machines

“Today is enjoy!” Since it’s still spooky season, I thought I’d release an updated guide to the Gothic and underground shops of Osaka, Japan.

The red pentagram hints at the theme of today’s post. We’ll delve into the Kansai Goth, occult and Satanic scene…

osaka halloween shop, goth store

… including exclusive photos of Territory, the devilish lair of Taiki-san. Read on for Osaka tattoos, taxidermy and absinthe as well!

japanese purikura, sticker photo machine

I thought I’d include these purikura (sticker machine) photos from Tokyo as well, since there are quite a few devil horns and pentagrams. Doing purikura with friends is a must when you’re in Japan. You’ll wind up with ridiculous sticker images (often with bizarre English) that you can decorate before printing out.

Outfit details: I’m wearing Killstar leggings and a top from Dead Gallery Iceland, by artist Jon Saemunder Audarson.

taito game center shinjuku

There are “sticker picture” photobooths around the world, but the most high-tech and bizarre ones are only in Japan. Go to any game center, such as Taito in Shinjuku, and you’ll find a handful or more “purikura” machines to pick from (as well as games galore).

kawaii sticker pictures japanese girls

Japanese purikura (short for “print club”) turns you into a big-eyed, stretch-limbed being. You can choose from all sorts of frames and effects, and digitally decorate the photos.

I especially love to do purikura around Halloween, since they release seasonal stickers (like the ghosts and pentagram stars above).

decorating purikura photo booths

After posing for about six photos, you can choose your favorites and decorate them side-by-side with your friend. There’s a digital pen that you can use to select various borders, stickers, text and effects (such as changing your hair color).

 

purikura shinjuku location

Purikura decorating is an art form — you want to achieve the perfect balance of ridiculous-ness in the image, without cluttering it up! I think Kanae and I did a pretty good job with these ones.

printed purikura stickers

In the old days, you had to use scissors to carefully cut up and divide the purikura prints. Now, you can choose to print out two copies, as well as send the images to your phone or email. What a world we live in!

territory osaka satanic shop

And now, let’s dive into the Osaka underworld. Most of the alternative / Gothic / underground shops are in the America Mura district — including this self-described lair of Satanism and Witchcraft, Territory.

The entrance cautions you to Beware. Only those with dark souls dare to cross this gate, guarded by skulls and other deathly figures.

On the Territory signboard, you’ll notice the Latin words “Non Serviam,” or  “I will not serve”. The phrase is generally attributed to Lucifer, and sums up the powerful spirit of this establishment.

satanic occult shop territory

Since 1996, Taiki’s Territory has garnered a devout underground following. Territory is well hidden, and not even many locals know about its existence. Go down to the basement level, and wander around until you find these skeletons and demons.

Address: 2 Chome-8-33 Nishishinsaibashi, Osaka Center Building B1, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Japan.

taiki territory dj black veil

I visited Territory’s mastermind, Taiki-san, with Dr. John M. Skutlin (cultural anthropologist and Japan specialist, who writes about subculture and tattoos in Japan). He shares Taiki’s story in this special report.

“The founder of Osaka’s Gothic underground event scene, it is said that Taiki gained his Satanic pedigree in 1996 when he visited New York City and studied the dark arts at a certain occult shop. He returned to Japan in the same year and opened his own shop of occult and Satanic antiques and merchandiseTerritory.”

japanese devils demons masks

“Meeting with Goth and occult luminaries on the scene like Voltaire and Paul Booth, he eventually became something of a regular in the New York’s Goth music scene during his frequent trips from Japan. This experienced helped inspire him to open his own Gothic music bar – the first of its kind in Japan – called Sabbat on Friday the 13th of October 1999.”

black veil osaka japan party

“Taiki began organizing Gothic events for the dark underground of Osaka around the turn of the millennium, including parties like Devil’s Christmas and later the long running Black Veil. His gatherings became yearly highlights that drew guests not only from Tokyo and other cities in Japan, but also from abroad. His events have featured major acts in the EBM and dark electro scenes such as Hocico and Combichrist’s Andy LePlegua.”

satanic shop japan

“While Bar Sabbat is no longer serving alcohol, his Satanic shop Territory is open for business in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi district, and Black Veil draws Goths from the dark corners of Japan three times a year around Walpurgis Eve, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve.”

japan satanic temple church satan

Taiki-san usually does not permit photography inside his spiritual shop, but made an exception for us. Taiki has a powerful presence, and surrounds himself with dark talismans. When you speak with him, you feel as if you’re in the presence of a wizard.

creepy weird osaka shops

Territory is not a Halloween kitsch shop. Everything here is of exquisite quality: dark art sourced from around the world, many with frightening backgrounds attached to them.

You can spend hours looking at all the small details within this museum collection (as not all items are for sale).

bizarre osaka japan

Taiki has a knack for finding works that seem to possess a malevolent spirit. Whether antique or new, these collections convey a sense of death and unease — which Goths like us find fascinating.

japan devil worship satan

Of course, there is plenty of Satanic iconography. The horned one sits next to a Iron Maiden torture device, while a witch baby doll looms in the shadows.

osaka haunted houses ghosts

Many items pay homage to Japanese “yōkai,” or monsters and demons in Japanese folklore. However, Taiki has items from around the world, especially relics from Germany and Europe.

osaka goth gothic shop

In addition to taxidermy and human skulls, Territory carries clothing and home items with the mark of the devil. I picked up a tote bag with the Church of Satan symbol.

You’ll either feel appalled by Taiki’s Territory, or eager to visit (and I hope you’re in the second category!) If you aren’t going to be in Osaka any time soon, you can also order items from his shop online.

osaka japan absinthe bar

In the same building is Fog, an absinthe bar that Taiki-san frequents. My friends and I adore drinking absinthe, and Fog has some of the finest bottles of “green fairy” from around the world.

Fog even carries several of the HR Giger absinthes, named after the Alien art designer (I’m so excited to visit the Giger bar in Gruyeres, Switzerland). We tried the H. R. Giger Wolfsmilch and Absinthe Brevans; the latter is named for Jacques de Brevans, author of a classic French liquor-maker’s manual.

fog osaka japanese absinthe

The bartender can help you choose from over 20 kinds of absinthe. He can suggest the best way to drink it (straight, on the rocks, or using the classic water drip over a flaming sugar cube). The bar carries other types of alcohol as well, and does cocktails.

gothic metal bar osaka

Fog is dimly lit, and until my eyes adjusted, I didn’t realize it was filled with watchful creatures. There was a real owl in one corner, which I thought was stuffed at first.

The walls are mounted with butterflies and insect specimens, as well as creepy deer heads in serial killer masks. 

japanese weird theme bars

Fog Absinthe Bar’s address is the same as Territory’s; both are in the maze-like lower level of Osaka Center Building.

Address: 2 Chome-8-33 Nishishinsaibashi, basement level, Chuo Ward, Osaka

witch wicca store osaka

We also stopped by Bleeding Maria, a special place protected by witches. (Address: 2-18-6 Shinsaibashi, 5th floor – it’s in a Americamura building with an elevator, filled with small shops).

Yukiro and I visited Bleeding Maria many years ago. This time, the witches had flown and we weren’t able to go inside.

japan bleeding maria tarot fortune teller

I encourage you to drop by this unusual establishment of witchcraft, runes and fortune-telling. The owner, Kaori, speaks English and German very well — so you can visit even if you don’t know Japanese. Perhaps you’ll have a chance to hang out in this spiritual haven, and meet her pet tarantula.

babylon body art osaka

If the words “Painful Pleasures” appeal to you, then you’ve got to visit Babylon. The name hints that this is not just a piercing / body art studio. There are twisted cultural and anthropological treasures to be found within.

Address: 1-16-7 Nishi Shinsaibashi, Osaka

piercings shop osaka japan

John sets the scene in this report: “Stepping into Babylon Body Art’s Osaka, which started off more than a decade ago as a bar in a different location, one is surrounded by stuffed and mounted animals and various taxidermic specimens. Shelves are filled to capacity with rare and unusual books in both Japanese and English, on subjects ranging from anatomy and zoology to bestiality and methods of execution.”

preserved snakes japan

“The glass cases are full of piercings from brands like Anatometal and Maya Jewelry. On the television, one can expect to find any number of macabre and unusual videos, such as the gruesome scenes of a VHS copy of the infamous Faces of Death shockumentary (directed by Conan LeCilaire, 1978).”

osaka piercers, tattoo artists

“The owner, Bonzin, admittedly revels in his own self-professed “bad taste.” Covered in tattoos (including a full back piece of the Senju Kannon bodhisattva) and sporting multiple implants (both subdermal and transdermal), he is not only a piercer but also a popular artist and DJ at Goth events, and has organized all of the major suspension performances in Kansai.”

japanese taxidermy shop

Bonzin sees his own body as a work of art, explaining he was initially inspired to modify his body in more extreme ways after seeing the decidedly Cronenbergian cyberpunk film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Tsukamoto Shinya, 1989). He claims to have transformed into the “Iron Man” that he set out to become.”

body piercing shop japan

I like how Babylon’s displays have a sense of absurd humor. The seal on a swing looks happy to be bopping noses with a piglet, while an armadillo crouches behind.

skeleton wearing gas mask

This skeleton models a cyber apocalyptic gasmask, wedged between two glass cases.

mice with devil horns

How kawaii are the stuffed mice, with gems for eyes and black ram horns coming out of their foreheads? Babylon is quite the kingdom of dark delights.

japanese devils tattoos drawings

Next, we paid a visit to Horitsuna, the revered tattoo artist at Desperado studio. (Center Bldg 6F, 2-10-29, Nishi-Shinsaibashi, Osaka.)

Horitsuna is self-taught, and specializes not only in Japanese wabori designs, but also tribal and other styles. Above are some design mock-ups featuring devils and daruma.

japan osaka tattoo parlor

John has interviewed Horitsuna extensively for his scholarly work, and explains, “He uniquely incorporates Japanese tattoo design elements like gakubori (background designs, such as waves, clouds, or fire, connecting motifs into a larger piece) with more Western design elements, including grotesque and occult themes.”

In a country where tattooing is heavily regulated, Horitsuna is one of Japan’s most prominent tattoo artists and owns two studios. He regularly attends the Hong Kong International Tattoo Convention, and has won awards at conventions in Japan, Thailand, France, and Finland.

osaka gothic lolita punk

All of these underground stores are found in Amerikamura or Ame-Mura (America Village). This remains the best neighborhood in Osaka to see Gothic, Lolita, Punk and alternative street style, including indie boutiques — a sort of equivalent to Harajuku in Tokyo.

pastel goth larme fairy kei outfits

To get to this Osaka youth district, take the subway to Shinsaibashi station, and then wander around. The shops change around all the time, and the district is not large, so it’s best to simply spend time here and see what you find.

osaka alternative streetwear

There’s a great mix of vintage and new street style in Amerika Mura. This time around, I spotted a whole lot of pentagrams / Satanic stars….

larme kei, harajuku fruits

This top like Miffy the bunny, with a similar X mouth. How funny to see her with bat wings, inside the star of the devil, yet in soft pastel colors! (I always knew Miffy had an evil side.)

tokyo pentagram shirts

Goth pastel Lolita meets horror Japanese fashion? Osaka’s Big Step department store has all your favorite EGL brands (Alice and the Pirates, Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Kera, Miho Matsuda).

angelic pretty Magic Amulet dresses jsk

The Magic Amulet collection from Angelic Pretty has several types of pointed stars on its JSK prints.

jewish star pentagram purses

Funny to see the Jewish Star of David… all over Japanese Gothic accessories! Perhaps the designers merely like the look of the six-pointed star.

marui annex jrock clothes

Spooky Goth meets Seinfeld… now that’s a Japanese street style I never thought I’d see!

666 store osaka japan

The devil is everywhere in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. I passed by the 666 store, on the way to Closet Child (the secondhand chain also found in Tokyo).

alucard osaka vampire theme restaurant

Theme restaurants abound as well. Here’s the entrance to Alucard, a vampire themed restaurant that is now closed (I guess they were a bit too successful at banishing vampires with wooden stakes). However, you can still visit the Tokyo Vampire cafe.

medical theme cafe osaka japan

John introduced me to Cafe Anamune, a medical themed cafe run by locals. I love the laid-back feeling of this little place, which has flasks and zombie nurses lurking around. Order the simple yet lovely Japanese curry, and enjoy the atmosphere.

Anamune Cafe address: 1-8-16 Nakanishi Building 501, Nishishinsaibashi, Osaka.

alice wednesday osaka gothic

Osaka’s Americamura / Shinsaibashi area is a district filled with funky art, alt culture and inspiration. Such as the Alice on Wednesday shop, which is dedicated to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. If you figure out the correct door and hidden keyholes, you’ll enter a boutique with a Queen of Hearts throne room, Mad Hatter party and more — selling everything from Eat Me candies to clocks.

Alice on Wednesday is found at 2-12-25 Asahi Plaza Shinsaibashi, Osaka

jr pass japan rail station

I leave you with this subway poster featuring Miffy the bunny, peeking out passengers! Huge thanks to JR Pass for making this Japan trip a reality.

I was able to travel seamlessly by train, from Tokyo to Osaka and other cities, using an unlimited Japan Rail Pass. Find out more about these rail passes on their site, and in my travel video.

cute purikura decorations

I hope you enjoyed our funny purikura escapades as well! If you’re in Japan, taking “print club” sticker photos is an absolute must.

For more offbeat travel stories from Japan, come browse my Tokyo blog category. There are tips for theme restaurants, underground shops and more, from 2007 to today. Here’s to more Gothic Japanese adventures soon!

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Mutter Museum in Philadelphia review: Gothic skulls & medical curiosities! Philly Goth travel guide.

mutter museum Philadelphia skull collection

Welcome to Goth heaven… oh so many skulls! (I think I’m checking my head to make sure it’s still there.)

I recently ticked another Gothic destination off the bucket-list: Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum. This is one of the world’s most renown medical museums; a mesmerising collection of bodily oddities, pathological specimens, wax models, and unusual skeletons. 

To get to Philly, I traveled from NYC by bus. It was an easy journey thanks to booking website Busbud, which lets you search for bus routes and compare prices/times/info in thousands of cities worldwide.

bizarre weird mutter museum philly

My bus ride was only two hours long, and took me to/from convenient downtown districts (meaning I could avoid long journeys to airports or train stations, and waiting times). Busbud turned out to be an affordable and sustainable way to travel like a local, which I’m all about.

Here I am in front of the Mutter Museum, psyched to see the “Disturbingly Informative” exhibitions. To match the occasion, I wore my skull-printed Gladnews dress,Disturbia bomber jacket, and Gal Stern Luxury Tights with gold skulls over the knees. (Photography by Ashley Yuen and me.)

(Shop more styles from Disturbia below, with a click):

college of physicians medical library

The museum is part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a non-profit institution that promotes both the heritage and future of health and medicine. The College was founded in 1787, is one of the oldest professional medical organizations in America.

The man behind the name is Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter. He convinced the College to establish this educational museum, and donated the original collection in 1858.

Fun fact: Dr Mütter added the umlaut (ü) to his name after his travels in Europe! On a more serious note, he pioneered many important innovations in surgery. The doctor made significant advances in plastic surgery, insisted on cleanliness in a time before germ theory was recognised, and emphasized pre and post-patient care.

human skulls medicine museum

Dr. Mutter believed in the advancement of biomedical research, and wanted a place to share the 1700 medical samples he preserved over the years. Today, the Mütter Museum’s collection has grown to more than 25,000 items that help the public understand “the mysteries and beauty of the human body, and appreciate the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.”

These curiosities include over 3000 osteological specimens, including these “skeletons in the cabinet” and a spinal segment of John Wilkes Booth (the murderer of President Abraham Lincoln).

Mütter Museum famous skulls einstein brain

Goths will adore the Hyrtl Skull Collection: there’s an entire wall that displays 139 human skulls! Joseph Hyrtl, a 19th century Austrian anatomist, put together this collection to show the diversity of cranial anatomy among various European groups.

Each of the bony rictuses seems to have a different personality. My personal favorite was the jolly-looking toothless skull of Geza Uirmeny, who “lived to 80 without melancholy.” He happens to be from Hungary or Romania, the country of Count Dracula.

gothic skull collection

Many of the skulls are inscribed with comments about the person’s age, place of origin and cause of death. The cards also convey this information (“Saxon, from Transylvania.”) Hyrtl built this collection to show the variations among Caucasians in Europe, in rebuttal to the claims of phrenologists (who believed race and intelligence/personality caused anatomical differences).

interior mutter museum college of physicians

I adored the Mütter Museum’s classic setting, which resembles a 19th century “cabinet of curiosities.”

The specimens can be on the morbid side, such as depictions of skin diseases, and preserved fetuses with deformities in jars. However, I found these displays fascinating, as I love seeing the “beauty in the grotesque.” I’d say the Mutter is the perfect museum for travelers who gravitate to unusual, alternative attractions. 

giant and dwarf skeletons, skull dress

I can’t measure up to “The Mütter American Giant,” who looms over me at 7 feet 6 inches and is the tallest human skeleton on exhibit in North America.

Quite the size disparity between him and the 3 foot six dwarf skeleton on the right, which belonged to Mary Ashberry.

ribcage skeleton corset effect

So interesting to see how various illnesses and trauma manifest on the human anatomy. From dental patterns to healed fractures, there’s a lot you can tell from a person’s bones.

Not everything is caused by genetics, injury or disease. Some of these “body modifications” are self-inflicted for various reasons, such as for the sake of beauty! On the right, you can see a regular ribcage compared to one that was narrowed by wearing a corset. The Mutter Museum also had preserved skin samples that show tattooing from the past. 

mutter museum chang and eng conjoined twins

One the museum highlights is a plaster cast of Chang and Eng, conjoined twins who were born in Thailand in 1811 (hence the term “Siamese Twins.”) They came to the US in 1829, and attracted large audiences as touring “freakshow” performers. The twins married sisters who later got into a fight — so the brothers spent three days at one wife’s home, then three days at the other’s!

Chang and Eng were joined at the sternum and had a fused liver, which is on display at the Mutter. Chang had a stroke and drank heavily, so his liver was large and deformed. He died after suffering a fall and bronchitis, and his brother followed three hours later.

Another famous resident of the Mutter is The Soap Lady, on the right. She’s encased in adipocere, an unusual fatty substance that formed because her burial environment was alkaline, warm, and airless.

gross skin diseases mutter philadelphia

The museum conveys medical information in different formats: photography, wax moulages, old illustrations, and even an interactive video re-enactment of a Civil War era amputation.

Skeleton of Harry Eastlack fused bones

Many come to see the articulated skeleton of Harry Raymond Eastlack (left photo). He suffered from  fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a rare condition that affects the bone repair process, and slowly turns healthy muscle and tissues into bone. By his mid-20s, his vertebra had fused together, and he was locked in this position. When he died days before his 40th birthday, his body had completely ossified.

mutter museum giant colon

Behold… the Mega Colon. This gigantic tract belonged to a 29-year-old man who suffered from Hirschsprung’s Disease. The nerve supply to part of his large intestine was damaged, making it extremely difficult to pass waste (he would be constipated for a month or more). As his condition worsened, the abdomen and colon swelled enormously, sadly leading to his death. Upon autopsy, the colon was 8 feet long and contained 40 pounds of feces! 

neanderthal prehistoric burial ground skulls

The exhibition visuals may be intense for some visitors, but I thought they were engrossing examples of pathology, intersected with history and culture. For example, above is a re-enactment of a prehistoric burial ground.

I’ve only shown you a small cross-section of the displays. You’ll have to  come for yourself to see pieces of Albert Einstein’s unusual brain,cephalothoracopagus (fetus skeleton with one head and two bodies), a jar filled with skin pickings (caused by mental illness), tribal shrunken heads, and a lady with what seemed to be a unicorn horn protruding from her forehead! (It’s actually a keratinous skin tumor that takes on the appearance of a horn.)

mutter museum podium doctors

Philly’s College of Physicians is also home to the impressive Historical Medical Library. The shelves hold comprehensive journals from past centuries, and more than 400 incunables (books printed before the year 1500).

It’s also possible to rent out the stately halls and rooms, for special events. I pretended to be a doctor, giving a powerful speech at this Gothic-looking podium.

synthwave drive print bomber jacket

The Mütter also has spaces for rotating exhibits relating to the theme of the museum. I enjoyed Lisa Nilsson’s “Connective Tissue” — contemporary works that use ornate quilled paper to create anatomical cross-sections.

In addition, you can come to the museum for special events including talks, film screenings (like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”), and an upcoming Halloween jazz speakeasy ball.

mutter museum garden, philadelphia gardens

In my first travel diary about Philly, I took you to the Magic Gardens. I discovered yet another magical green space, at the Mutter Museum. (Photography by Ashley Yuen.)

Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant herb Garden

This is the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden, named after the Philadelphia colonial doctor and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Rush helped found The College of Physicians in 1787, and wanted to establish a medicinal garden for natural healing ingredients. 

First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia courtyard

His dream didn’t come to realization until 1937, when the Mutter celebrated its 150th anniversary. Today, the Rush Garden has more than sixty different kinds of medicinal herbs, which give off a fresh scent as you walk through.

(The courtyard adjoins the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, pictured behind me.)

mutter museum gift shop coffee mugs

Don’t leave without a trip to the gift shop — it’s fantastic for those with a slightly morbid sense of humor! I picked up these two umlaut “mügs”, and squeezed a cute plush version of the megacolon. (You can also order items from the Mutter Museum online store.)

Above is a close-up of my Morbid Debutante necklace by Alex Streeter Jewelry. The white shell pearls and skull are the definition of Gothic elegance.

Hyrtl Skull Collection mutter

A deep bow to the Mütter Museum for inviting us to visit, and letting us take these exclusive photos! (Photography is not allowed inside the museum under regular circumstances, so this was a real treat.)

If you are visiting Philadelphia, this is a one-of-a-kind medical museum that can’t be missed. Check out the latest information on the Mütter website including admission fees, tickets, opening hours, special events and more.

franklin ice cream philly, bake shop

I’ll end with some bonus Gothic coverage from my Busbud trip. First, a shout-out to the food scene in Philadelphia — everything I ate here was terrific! For those with a sweet tooth, I recommend Franklin Ice Cream (I had the black raspberry), and The Bakeshop in Rittenhouse Square (the ricotta scone with rainbow sprinkles is addictive).

tarot card bronze art frames

If you’re looking for Goth and alternative shops in the city, there are quite a few choices. I loved browsing at Ritual Ritual; a boutique filled with occult / nature wonders like tarot card art and plants.

metaphysical gifts, jewelry philadelphia

Ritual Ritual has a magnificent selection of artisan, local, handmade jewelry. They carry accessories by 60 independent designers from all over the county.

Handmade jewelry store Ritual Ritual

Many of the designs have dark, edgy themes that caught my attention. I see the devil…

Ritual Ritual goth boutique philly

… and skull-shaped planters and flasks.

Philadelphia goth stores, shops

“Rebels & mystics” describes this Philly boutique well.

busbud greyhound travel influencers partners

These stories wouldn’t have been possible without Busbud, an innovative website that makes booking bus tickets a breeze. I could see all my routes and options for Philly-NY within seconds — saving me the time and stress of going through multiple bus sites.

Did you know of these alternative attractions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? PS, if you missed my first story, check it out: it’s about Philly’s Magic Gardens.

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Visiting Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens! Philly alternative offbeat travel guide, Busbud bus trip review.

philly magic gardens fashion blogger

Coming at you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania! This artistic, laid-back city is well worth a visit — especially as it’s only a two hour ride from New York.

Many tourists come for historic attractions such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall… but this isn’t your average travel blog. Let’s take a walk on the weird, artsy side of Philly instead, on my weekend getaway with Busbud.

spiral uk holographic backpack bag

In the first installment of this two-part series, we’ll wander through this wonderland known as Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. (Photography by Ashley Yuen.)

(My Spiral UK backpack matched the shimmering mosaic tiles that cover every square inch of the installation. More magical backpacks below):

busbud bus tickets review

I recently was in NYC, and wanted to travel somewhere nearby for Labor Day. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was a natural choice: I have good friends here, and love the creative feel of the city.

My journey was a breeze, thanks to Busbud — a website that helps you easily find, compare and book bus tickets! Their site lets you search thousands of city-to-city routes all around the world, so you can view the best prices, companies and departure / arrival times immediately on one page.

busbud travel blogger

Instead of spending hours on various websites, Busbud let me see all the New York City to Philadelphia round-trip buses available. After making my choice and booking through them, I received an email with clear instructions and the tickets attached. (Their customer service was extremely fast and helpful too.)

Traveling by bus turned out to be enjoyable: I boarded on time, settled into a comfortable seat, and had free WiFi for the two-hour ride. Bus travel is a great option if you’re on a budget, and it’s a more sustainable mode of transportation. I even made a fabulous new friend along the way: this lady and I connected over fashion, and she insisted on posing Japanese-style with me for photos!

greyhound busbud bus trip

Busbud’s cross-platform website and app let you search all the major bus lines, in your local language and currency. They cover routes in 16,000+ cities across over 60 countries… I’ll be using them again for sure, on my next journeys worldwide.

magic gardens mosiac stairs staircase

I’m sure you will be keen to visit Philly too… once you glimpse the mesmerizing Magic Gardens! I’m posing in front of the staircase, a favorite photo spot for Instagrammers.

Outfit Details: I wore some old favorites from my wardrobe. A Gladnews “Very Metal” dress from Japan, a Sailor Moon collaboration jacket from Hong Kong, and Linda Farrow x 3.1 Philip Lim  sunglasses that I’m now selling on my Depop (email me if you want them, or anything else in my store).

My skeleton leggings are Pamela Mann, from UK Tights. I’ve been a fan of their online store for years: they have a huge selection of stockings, socks and leggings, including many Gothic and kawaii styles.

isaiah zagar mosaic art

These whimsical mosiacs stem from the imagination of local folk artist, Isaiah Zagar. Located at 1020 South Street, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens currently fill three city lots, including indoor galleries and a large outdoor labyrinth.

tickets hours passes magic gardens

It was a joy to wander through these colorful tunnels with my cousin and photographer, Ashley Yuen. We passed by objects that made us smile (such as Japanese dolls), and took selfies using the shards of mirror embedded in the tiles.

I’m holding an iridescent metallic backpack by Spiral UK. Shop more unicorn bags below:

philadelphia magic gardens tunnels

Access and tickets: I recommend that you buy timed-entry tickets to The Magic Gardens in advance, from their site. The venue is growing more popular each year, and passes are often sold out or require hours of waiting before an available time slot. Hint: there are student and group discounts available.

holographic goth metallic fashion

Once you walk in, be prepared for this eye-popping sight! Isaiah Zagar’s 3D art surrounds you from all directions.

The mosaics made up of seemingly haphazard objects (kitchen tiles, glass bottles, bicycle wheels, china plates) — yet the colors and arrangements come together harmoniously. He was inspired by Latin-American art, and makes references to other visionary creators within the work.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens review

Look closer, and you’ll see visual references to the artist’s life, family, community and passions. In the photo above, you can also glimpse mysterious words integrated into the found art.

isaiah zagar artist tiles

What inspired Isaiah Zagar to create this garden of delights? The story begins in the 1960s, when he moved to the South Street area with his wife, Julia. The couple dedicated themselves to revitalizing this derelict area, by creating beautiful mosaics on neighborhood walls.

bizarre underground philly

He developed an imaginative style — constructed almost entirely from found and recycled objects. Zagar literally used every inch of his environment. Don’t forget to look down, or else you’ll miss the quirky details on the floor.

philly art hipster attractions

In 1994, Zagar started beautifying the vacant lots located near his studio. The sculptures grew, and the area expanded… becoming the Philly Magic Gardens as we know them today. Ashley and I spent over an hour here, exploring the various tunnels and grottoes, and taking in the uplifting details.

philadelphia hipster travel guide

In 2008, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens opened up to the public. The non-profit organization aims to preserve Zagar’s artwork in this district, and educate visitors with tours, interactive workshops, concerts, exhibitions and other community events.

alternative goth phillu

These photos show only a fraction of the 3000 square feet space. There’s also an indoor gallery space, which hosts international artists and puts the spotlight on fringe / outsider art.

weird strange bizarre Philadelphia travel

“99 bottles of beer on the wall….” So much detail and color in a single shot. To this day, Isaiah Zagar continues to create mosaic murals that brighten up the streets of Philadelphia.

If you like my Spiral UK backpack, shop it below:

philadelphia magic gardens basement

The Magic Gardens has a basement level as well, which is only open to visitors during guided tours. Some of the artist’s larger works live down here, including a cheerful skeleton. 

private tour events philly magic gardens

I’m all about unconventional, outsider and folk art — especially if it veers towards the weird side. Zagar’s playful and surreal visions were right up my alley.

I hope you’ll take a trip to Philadelphia Magic Gardens, and see these fantastic mural masterpieces for yourself.

le meridien philadelphia exterior

After our visit, we walked back to our hotel, Le Meridien Philadelphia. I’ve stayed with Le Méridien many times (including in Cambodia and Taiwan), as I love the modern design and ever-cheerful staff.

philly design hotels, view of city hall

We had a comfortable room decorated in mod black, white and red. The staff delivered champagne and fresh fruit plates to our room, which we immediately devoured.

How cool is this view from our window? Le Meridien is located right in front of Philadelphia City Hall, built in 1901 and topped with a bronze statue of William Penn (founder of the “Province of Pennsylvania”).

philadelphia art modern design hotels

The French-chic style extended to the lobby, featuring sleek metallic furniture, wood panel walls and a tiered chandelier.

amuse steakhouse philly cocktails

We had a spectacular dinner at Amuse, the classic French brasserie located in the lobby. The cocktail menu included hand-crafted creations named after female muses, such as Brigitte Bardot and Edie Sedgewick. Our mixologist, Victor, prepared some of the best cocktails I had in the city — including custom creations that perfectly matched my palate.

le meridien steak restaurant dinner

We had a hard time choosing from Amuse Restaurant’s menu, filled with French classics like onion soup gratinee and steak frites. After a surprise amuse bouche (raw tuna on a crisp wonton cracker), we feasted on a cheese plate and tuna and crab tower. Next came filet mignon, perfectly braised with sides of asparagus and decadent macaroni and cheese.

We ended with a trio of desserts (including apple tarte tartin and chocolate warm molten cake), and I had a Vieux Carre absinthe distilled in Pennsylvania. Our meal at Amuse was sensational, and the service was impeccable — bravo.

philly masonic temple lodge archway

I leave you with a spooky pose outside the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia, which is steps from the hotel. It’s one of the most elaborate Masonic lodges in the US… I can only imagine what rituals take place inside.

Did you enjoy Part 1 of my journey in Philly? Cheers to Busbud for making my bus trip a seamless experience, thanks to their easy and informative booking system.

Coming up next, I got an exclusive look inside the Mutter Museum… you’re going to love this treasure trove of medical oddities!

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