Category Archive for Art + Design
I’m very excited to share my latest travel video with you — about the vibrant culture of Brussels, Belgium!
In my view, Brussels is one of the best places in Europe to be a young creative. The city’s relatively low rents and large number of galleries have shaped a vibrant community for artists.
My team and I captured Belgian food, fashion, and festivals in this new travel show episode, published on Business Insider. Please take a few moments to watch it here and above. Did my “chocolate dress dance’ make you smile?
(Produced by Borderless Media, and all these photos are by them too).
Let’s take a deeper look at the travel attractions we featured in our episode, including two top restaurants, and museums dedicated to Rene Magritte (Surrealist master) and comic books.
(Above, I’m relaxing at Charles Home apartments. Loved staying in this hip abode, right in the historic district.)
Perhaps Belgium is most famous for its “chocolat.” To my delight, I got to learn how to make these delicacies by hand.
My film team and I went to visit one of the best chocolatiers in the city – Laurent Gerbaud — for a sweet cooking lesson. (Address: 2 D rue Ravenstein, Brussels 1000, Belgium)
I was thrilled to be the apprentice of this local master. He surprised me by asking: “Would you like to put on a chocolate dress?” Oui, naturellement!
Laurent had made this design for the Salon de Chocolat, which had a runway show with models in edible haute couture. This corset and bell skirt are made of brown fabric — and entirely covered in chocolate creations.
In our Brussels travel video, you can see me sashaying down the streets, and letting passersby eat chocolates from my skirt. Each of these edible disks is attached with string.
Back inside, it was time to learn how to make Belgian chocolates. Laurent a true artisan who creates everything by hand. He taught me the process from start to finish (with many tastings along the way).
First, I ran a chocolate mold under a stream of liquid chocolate. Then, I had to quickly press toppings into my squares before they set. As you can see, I had many high quality ingredients to choose from: pistachios, berries, ginger and more.
Laurent Gerbaud’s chocolates are melt in your mouth magnificent. This is as fresh and gourmet as it gets — and we got to take home several bags of our own creations.
His chocolaterie is open to anyone who would like a chocolate making and tasting experience. I hope you seek him out.
Now that our chocolate cravings were satisfied, it was time to step into the Rene Magritte Museum. I knew I was in for a surreal experience: this is the world’s largest collection of the Belgian artist’s works.
The Magritte Museum is dedicated to the work of the Belgian surrealist artist, René Magritte. (Address: Rue de la Régence 3, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium). It’s located next to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, as well as other sights in the City Center, so you can easily spend a day wandering around this area.
Hats off to René Magritte, whose surrealist visions were ahead of his time. I’m sure you have seen his famous works featuring pipes, clouds, bowler hats, apples and other “regular” objects — but in dreamy and bizarre contexts.
In addition to his Surrealist masterworks, there are rare collections of his early Impressionist paintings, photography, and experimental films. The museum displays about 200 original Magritte works from the early to mid 20th century.
I admire his thought-provoking surrealism. This seeming simple painting (of two coffins, bent and seated as if they were having a conversation) is imbued with wit and meaning.
I also enjoyed seeing Magritte’s lesser-known works in different styles, such as this pig in a suit.
“Ceci n’est pas une pipe” is one of his most recognised images. If you’re intrigued by this artist and Surrealism, I encourage you to check out this book about Rene Magritte.
Design is everywhere in Brussels. We loved the old world architecture of the city center.
(My leggings are Black Milk.)
And how cool is the modern interior decor of Charles Home apartments, where we stayed during our Brussels trip.
The location couldn’t be beat — the apartment was right by Central Station. Our Montagne two-bedroom had a huge kitchen and dining area, where we could make coffee and share late-night feasts of waffles and French fries.
Everything was provided in the apartment, including free Wifi, high end TV and speakers, and all amenities. Each room was done in tasteful, contemporary design: wood floors, a cozy fireplace, geometric lights.
Audrey Hepburn smiled at us near the entrance, and Bridget Bardot lounged over my bed.
I encourage you to stay at an apartment rental instead of a hotel, for a more local and spacious experience. If you’re coming to Brussels, check out the fabulous Charles Home apartments.
As you can tell, there’s so much art to see in Brussels. I posed with the Smurfs at the Belgian Comics Art Museum, which is housed in an Art Nouveau building. The exhibits celebrate both international and local comic book characters, such as Tintin..
Visiting the Miffy Museum in Utrecht, Netherlands! Nijntje Pleintje statue, traffic lights & Schiphol airport shops.
As a hardcore Miffy fan, it was a dream come true… to visit the Miffy Museum in Utrecht, Holland!
The recently-opened Nijntje Museum is dedicated to the X-mouthed bunny (that’s her name in Dutch). I took advantage of a brief Netherlands stopover to visit with Leyla, my fashion blogger and vlogger friend (who made a video of the trip on her LeylaFashion YouTube.)
Get ready for Miffy Madness. We’ll take you inside each room of the museum, as well as the Nijntje Pleintje plaza, traffic lights crossing, and gift stores dedicated to this adorable mascot!
We couldn’t resist posing with X-fingers to mimic her mouth. However Leyla’s son, Danny, seems ready to go inside…
Address and directions: The Miffy Museum is located at Agnietenstraat 2, 3512 XB Utrecht, Netherlands. Utrecht is the hometown of her creator, illustrator Dick Bruna, and a 30 minute train ride from Amsterdam. The museum is open every day except Mondays, from 10am to 5pm.
How to get here by train: I came straight from my stopover in Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam). I rode the train — track 1 or 2, direction Heerlen or Nijmegen — and arrived in half an hour at Utrecht Centraal Station. From there, you can walk 15-20 minutes or take a short bus ride. You can also come here direct from Amsterdam Central or any major station.
When you arrive, look for the giant statue of Miffy in a red sweater, and the sign “Nijntje Museum” next to a light-up outline of her head.
Earlier in 2016, the museum reopened after a significant renovation. Now, the two-level building brings Miffy’s universe to life, with colorful and interactive displays for kids and adults.
The human-sized statue is from the Miffy Art Parade in 2015, a project that celebrated her 60th anniversary.
Sixty artists decorated a gargantuan Miffy statue, in a variety of styles ranging from creepy Goth to rubber ducky. (There are photos of these statues at the end of this post, so keep reading). The works went on display all over the Netherlands and Japan.
Many people mistakenly think that Miffy is Japanese, because of her “kawaii” and minimal look. In fact, she’s Dutch and older than Hello Kitty. (Sanrio even got sued for copying her design; the court ordered them to discontinue their “Cathy the bunny” character.)
Her name, Nijntje, is a shortening of “konijntje,” which means “little rabbit.” Dick Bruna released his first bunny book in 1955, followed by over 30 more. She’s also the face of many fashion and home good products – shop a selection below.
Dick Bruna’s storytelling and bright drawings have proved to be timeless. Even today, children are charmed by the Miffy universe he created — including her family, Grunty the pig, and Boris the bear.
The Nijntje Museum puts his deceptively simple illustrations front-and-center. For example, the lockers are decorated with different drawn objects, for easy remembrance.
The Japanese characters spell out “yokoso,” or welcome — because visitors from Asia (especially Japan) are plentiful!
People from all over the world are flocking over to see Miffy’s museum, which has quickly become one of Utrecht’s most popular attractions. I recommend getting tickets online in advance, and arriving early to avoid crowds (doors are open from 10am to 5pm, Sunday to Tuesdays).
The Miffy Museum is designed as a series of magical miniature worlds. There are 10 rooms, which look like scenes from the picture books come to life.
In this one, her star-mouthed mother stands over the family kitchen. Children can pretend to cut vegetables, cook, and even climb through the cabinets.
There are all sorts of interactive displays for fans of all ages. Leyla and I snuggle up to the plush bunny and Snuffy the dog.
The museum’s displays encourage you to “play house” and let your imagination roam free.
We helped Miffy work in the garden. I must have done something wrong because her dad seems to be watering me with his can…
I’ve been a Miffy obsessive for years, but I developed a deeper appreciation for artist Dick Bruna after seeing his full oeuvre.
The museum’s figurehead is his white bunny, his most popular creation (her books are translated into 50 languages and sold more than 85 million copies).
However, Dick Bruna wrote more than 100 other picture books for children, and also did graphic design for organisations including hospitals. I got to see these lesser-known yet equally impressive works for the first time.
Dick Bruna is known to be a very kind man, and his children’s books promoted the acceptance of everyone, including those who are different or disabled — very progressive themes for his time. This room encouraged children to help others in need of medical treatments.
Dick Bruna was inspired by Matisse, and his works are tied together by simplistic forms and blocks of primary colors. This room shows his interpretation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (Danny loved running up and down the ramp!)
As we moved through the rooms, we got to see Nijntje’s evolution. In the first books, she looked a plush toy with floppy ears. From the 1960s onward, her face got rounder and her ears stood up.
The rabbit’s simple look and narratives are key to her appeal: anyone can project their imagination onto her. In my case, she’s a creepy-cute minimal Goth icon with her mouth sewn shut, hence the X!
Dick Bruna always portrayed Miffy as a regular little girl with universal experiences such as making a new friend (the brown bunny Melanie), or suffering the death of a grandmother.
The museum is full of play areas: matching games, puzzles, funhouse mirrors. As Bruna said in an interview, “The most difficult thing is keeping it simple, to leave plenty of room for the child’s imagination.”
Danny fell in love with this spacious room, beautifully designed with cars and trains that you can push or ride.
Bruna’s world keeps children engaged while helping them learn. He wrote a book about safely crossing the road, illustrated in minimal orange and grayscale.
But as you can see from our funny Instagram shuffle... navigating roadways is a lesson for all ages!
(There’s actually a working Miffy traffic signal, in Utrecht. Keep scrolling down to see the real deal.)
Whether you’re a toddler or grown-up, you can’t help but smile as you explore the Miffy Museum. Her world is all about creativity, positivity and imagination — expressed in bold primary paints and outlines.
On the upper level, there’s a space that represents a zoo and farm. These two parrots repeat your words when you speak into a microphone. Danny loved crawling through the cages and going down the slide.
Dick Bruna has a genius for conveying the essence of an animal, with only a few brushstrokes. His simple forms add up to a warm, minimal style that’s unmistakably his own.
The only negative about the Nijntje Museum… It’s hard to say goodbye! Leyla and I felt like this crying child, when it was time to go. We’ll simply have to come back again soon.
Thankfully, there are more Miffy sights to see in Utrecht, making it the ideal day trip from Amsterdam.
Right across the street from the statue is Centraal Museum, which features a range of artwork including by locals.
In the atelier of Centraal Museum, you’ll find an exact replica of Dick Bruna’s studio. Everything from his original workshop has been set up here, from his drafting table to a modern chair in primary colors.
The circular painting shows his simple yet powerful design of the black bears (zwarte beertjes).
I watched a fascinating video of Dick Bruna at work. To this day, he continues to draw with brush and ink: it takes many precise strokes to create the seemingly simple X of Miffy’s mouth. The slight shake in the hand-drawn forms results in what he calls “a line with a heartbeat.”
Dick Bruna always appreciated his fans, and kept displays of the mementos that they sent him. The studio let us get a closer look at his creative process, and I recommend visiting Central Museum too (it’s just across the street from the Miffy Museum).
You can’t leave Utrecht without seeing Miffy’s crosswalk. The bunny shows up as the pedestrian traffic signal: red for “Don’t Walk,” and green for “Go.”
Look for the rainbow colored crossing called ‘Regenboogzebrapad’, and you’ll find her directing traffic. (Location: it’s in front of the shopping mall at St Jacobsstraat 1A, 3511 Utrecht, Netherlands.)
A short walk away is Nijntje Pleintje, a dark Miffy statue created by Dick Bruna’s son, Marc Bruna. (Address: 1e Achterstraat 1, 3512 VL Utrecht, Netherlands).
Nijntje Pleintje is located in this little grassy square, at the beginning of the Van Asch van Wijckskade. It looks like a flat, black metal, cut-out Goth version of the bunny — which matches our style rather well.
(You’ll laugh when you see the Boomerang Instagram video we did, next to this statue!)
But wait — how can you take Miffy home with you? There are several Netherlands gift stores that you can’t miss — they even have vampire Gothic versions of the bunny. Keep reading the rest of the story below…
Housed in Brooklyn, this collection of strange medical wonders is dedicated to “the intersections of death, beauty and that which falls between the cracks.”
The Morbid Anatomy Museum also has an extensive research library. It’s open for anyone to browse (in a devilish mix of “Guilt and Pleasure”!)
The two-floor museum has both permanent and temporary exhibitions on display.
My friends and I saw the House of Wax: Anatomical, Pathological, and Ethnographical Waxworks from Castan’s Panopticum (Berlin, 1869-1922). It’s curated by Ryan Matthew Cohn of TV’s “Oddities.”
Yukiro, Jenny, Hiten and I couldn’t resist lining up on the staircase for this dramatic shot!
Visitor info: the Morbid Anatomy Museum’s address is 424-A 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (look for this logo at the corner of 7th St). By subway, take the F, G, or R to the 4th Ave / 9th St stop.
The exhibits and library are open from 12-6pm, every day except Tuesday. Admission fees, tickets and event announcements are found on their site.
Yukiro and I began our visit with a snack and coffee at the museum cafe. So many curiosities to see in the lower level gift shop.
(I’m wearing a faux fur coat from Alice’s Pig, an urban vintage-inspired clothing line from London).
I was enthralled by the Morbid Anatomy Anthology (edited by Joanna Ebenstein), a 500 page tome with lavish full color illustrations. I flipped through essays about demonic children and corpses.
(On a cuter note, my Scottish Fold rings are by PuraBobo. The designer custom-made them to look like my round yellow cat).
My spooky-occult nail art fit in with the theme of the day. (They’re by Glam Nail Studio; lots of nail art inspiration photos are on their Facebook.)
Yukiro looks like one of the gift store curiosities, with undead makeup and a monster-claw scarf.
Curiosities lurked all around the Morbid Anatomy cafe and shop. We spotted taxidermy mice in a Ferris wheel, and mysterious creatures preserved in jars.
(Perhaps these objects remind you of the ones found at Obscura Antiques in NYC. If you aren’t familiar with the TV series Oddities, you’ve got to watch episodes here.)
The Morbid Anatomy project is supported by scholars worldwide. Many have lent out their private collections, and anyone is welcome to donate a curiosity to the library.
The museum also has a Scholars in Residence program. Currently, the posts are held by Evan Michelson of Obscura Antiques and Oddities, and writer Salvador Olguín who specializes in death in Mexico.
We chatted with curator Spencer, who spoke with passion about the waxworks on display. You can tell that we’re hanging on to his every word, as he describes the eerie history of the Berlin Panopticum!
Spencer explained that these panoptica were used in Europe from the 18th to early 20th century. Back then, medical knowledge was difficult to share. Artisans created these anatomical wax figures in order to preserve information of diseases and procedures. (Above are reproductions of horrific skin pathologies.)
We felt like we were descending into uncanny valley, as we examined these life-like bodies. Some had exposed organs and fake hair, with fetuses peering out.
Talk about a cabinet of curiosities! We’re posing with a case of death masks, featuring murderers and celebrities.
Other wax busts showed people of different races, and performers that they considered “freaks.”
Some of the wax specimens only showed body parts, with disembodied hands lurking about. I think this is an example of how not to use forceps to deliver a baby…
Some of the artifacts were graphic, and you might feel disturbed by what you see. However, my friends and I adore collections like this one (the Mutter medical museum in Philly is another must-visit).
These anatomical waxes are a fascinating part of our history, and a forgotten method of sharing findings. These objects were originally meant to be private medical tools, but now we can look at them with a critical and even artistic eye.
We could have spent hours in the next room, a treasure trove of bizarre objects. Founded in 2008, The Morbid Anatomy Library contains thousands of books, ephemera, creepy art and other rarities.
This counter sums up what you’ll find here: dentures, religious candles, Day of the Dead skeletons, and a shrine to a Goth Emo boy!
Visitors are encouraged to pick up the objects. We couldn’t resist doing a tribute to “see, speak and hear no evil.” Jenny is holding strips of teeth, and I’m listening to a gorilla footprint.
Inspector Yukiro is on the hunt! The room is full of clues about how cultures worldwide represent death and the supernatural.
For those of you with a dark disposition, Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum cannot be missed. On their site, you’ll find announcements for upcoming openings and lectures.
I dare you to take a funny photo on the stairs like we did! (Photos by Joey Wong.)
PS: for more New York alt-travel suggestions — including clubs, clothing stores and restaurants — check out my NYC Gothic guides here.
Did you know that Tokyo has two temples… dedicated to lucky cats?
At Gotokuji and Imado Shrines, Japanese visitors make prayers and offerings in front of thousands of cat statues!
In this photo diary, I’ll show you both of these very special places, and provide all the travel information you need to visit.
Every cat-lover will be delighted by Gotokuji temple, which has more maneki nekos than you can count.
Imado Jinja is just as charming, with a platform where people can bow in front of two giant cat statues.
Both of these temples are dedicated to “maneki neko,” or fortune cat statues. You’ll recognize these kitties above, wearing a red collar with a gold bell, and with one paw raised in the air. (Some statues even have both paws raised, for extra luck!)
Maneki Neko translates to “beckoning cat” and is a symbol of good luck in Asia. People often place these cat statues or images in their homes or stores, to bring in business, money and other happy things.
Let’s begin our feline-worshipping journey at Gotokuji Temple, which has thousands of identical cat statues in different sizes. The address is: 2-24-7 Gotokuji, Setagaya 154-0021, Tokyo. Generally, the temple is open from morning to late afternoon, but double check the opening hours before you go.
How to get to Gotokuji Cat Temple: From Shibuya, it’s an easy journey by subway. Take the Odakyu Line, get off at Gotokuji station, and walk about 15 minutes.
If you’re visiting destinations all over the country, I highly recommend you pick up a Japan Rail Pass — which lets you travel on any number of JR Shinkansen bullet and local trains, all through Japan! It’s the best deal out there (unlimited 7, 14 or 21 day passes, shipped worldwide to you in 2 days), especially if you’d like to see Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya and other cities on your trip. The new JRailPass site also offers VIP train car access, along with itineraries, tips and more.
While you are in the station, I highly recommend connecting to the free WiFi and loading up a Google Map of the address, on your smartphone. The path to Gotokuji Temple is a bit complicated, and I had to walk around the complex before finding the entrance. With a GPS map, the journey is much easier.
As you walk through Gotokuji’s charming, quiet neighborhood — look out for cat art along the way. These creatures are peeking out at you from lamp posts and flags…
… and seen on posters. There’s even a lucky cat statue right at the subway station exit.
When I arrived at the entrance to Gotokuji temple, I was enchanted by this gate that opens into a peaceful garden path. The temple complex is quite large and filled with greenery, and beautifully maintained.
After going through the Somon front gate, you’ll find the towering pagoda and Butsuden Buddha Hall straight ahead.
At first, you won’t encounter any cats — the maneki neko statues are further inside. However, the giant incense burner has a lion with a big gold ball under his paw.
The temple also has an old cemetery with family gravestones, which adds to the quiet and reflective tone of Gotokuji.
Turn the corner, and you can’t help but smile when you see this family of cats! It looks like a mom and dad, and three children of different ages. All have their right paw raised.
Keep on walking, and you’ll come across this mind-blowing sight. Thousands upon thousands of Japanese cat statues, lined up and facing you!
Cute as they are, these kitties are not toys. Visitors treat the cat statues with reverence, and refrain from touching them. Since the shrine is outdoors, the bodies get a little muddied at times, but the groundskeepers clean and replace them regularly.
What’s the origin story of the Maneki Neko? There are quite a few legends, but one of the most popular ones dates back to the Edo period. A daimyo (feudal lord in Japan) was passing by a temple, when a cat raised his paw and beckoned him to enter. The daimyo followed him inside, and suddenly a powerful thunderstorm broke. Thankful that the cat saved him, the lord rebuilt the temple that is now Gotokuji.
Another version says that the Lord Ii Naotaka was doing falconry, and on his way back home when it started raining hard. He huddled under a tree near a temple, and then noticed a cat raising his paw. Naotaka went over to the cat… just in time, as lightning struck the tree that he had been standing under. Grateful, the lord became the benefactor of the temple.
Regardless of the historical truth, maneki nekos (and cats in general) have been tied to good fortune and the supernatural in Japan. Since Gotokuji is dedicated specifically to these cats, people make offerings here as a sign of gratitude when their wishes come true.
The cat stories are part of Japanese legends and folklore, rather than Buddhism or Shinto in particular. However, the cats fit right in since they are an important symbol in Japanese culture, and a way of giving thanks and strengthening intention.
Some visitors purchase one of these cat statues to take home. After the maneki neko has delivered with good fortune, they bring back the statue and add it to the shrine’s collection.
Shinto devotees also write out wishes on ema (豪徳寺), or small wooden plaques decorated with images from the temple.
The ema prayer boards or votive tablets are then hung up near the shrine, for the Shinto kami (spirits) to receive them.
At Gotokuji, the boards are painted with cats and Buddhas, with their right arms raised. The wishes written on the back might be for good health, overcoming challenges or anything at all.
At the gift store, you can purchase these prayer boards and cat statues of all sizes (these are the exact same ones found in the shrine). I bought a medium maneki neko to take home, and a prayer board to hang on my door. The proceeds support the temple, so it’s for a great cause.
Even though the legend of the beckoning cat goes back many centuries, these “maneki neko” statues probably only date back to the 18th century in Japan.
Nowadays, these cats are popular all over Asia, especially in Hong Kong and China. The beckoning cat is also the official mascot (Hiko-nyan) of Hikone in Shiga Prefecture, since that is the district that Ii Naotaka ruled.
Gotokuji visitors can also pull this long red rope and ring the bell, which looks like the one worn on the cat’s collar. Called a “suzu,” these bells bring in the good spirits (kami) and repel the evil ones.
Gotokuji Temple is not often visited by tourists, making it a lovely and unique place for contemplation.
If you’re a cat-lady, or simply interested in the fascinating spiritual culture and folklore of Japan, you must go to Gotokuji Temple.
But wait — there’s another location for cat-worship in Japan…
Imado Shrine in Asakusa! Here, you can make offerings and prayers in front of two giant cat statues: one white, and one with black spots.
When you approach the stand, it looks like these two cats are greeting you with fist-pumps in the air!
Now, how to get to Imado Jinja? The address is 1-5-22 Imado, Taito 111-0024, Tokyo. If you take a taxi, the address in Japanese is : 今戸神社 Japan, 〒111-0024 東京都台東区 今戸１丁目５−２２
Imado Shrine is a bit of a walk from Asakusa subway station, but on the plus side, you can make this a day trip and visit the famous Senso-ji temple as well. Take the Toei Asakusa or Ginza subway line, and don’t get off at Akasaka station by mistake! Once again, I suggest connecting to the free WiFi when you arrive (such as from 7-Eleven), and mapping out your route to Imado.
And likewise, double-check the opening hours as the temple usually closes by the early evening.
After navigating the crowd of tourists at Sens0-ji, and going through several small streets, you’ll find this little-known temple built in 1063. These two maneki nekos are here to welcome you. The male on the left is Nagi-kun, and has patterns. His mate is the white female Nami-chan.
Imado Shrine isn’t as large as Gotokuji, and has fewer statues of “lucky cats”. However, they have a larger variety of cats, mostly in pairs. I enjoyed visiting both equally, as they were special in their own ways.
I have many more photos to show you from these temples, so keep on reading below…