Category Archive for Art + Design
Morocco was one of my dream destinations for years. My team and I finally went this summer, and the trip turned out to be as rejuvenating as I had hoped.
This year, I’ve tried to put a greater focus on projects with meaning. I love sharing stories about travel, underground culture, and locals (especially women) who are forging unique paths.
When I spoke to Plan-It Fez Tours — a female-run independent business in Fez — I knew that their goals were exactly in line with ours.
Plan-It Fez collaborates with Moroccan women, and offers immersive activities that support their livelihood. It’s a win-win that lets travelers get a more intimate tour experience.
On the first day, we did a drum-making activity. This time, I’ll show you how we did a beauty workshop with women inside the Fez medina!
The ladies taught me Moroccan beauty secrets, and I got henna for the first time (a temporary skin art, using dye that comes from a flowering plant).
Then, we drove to a Berber village, where I made (and ate) the best couscous of my entire life. Be sure to read to the end, so that you don’t miss this adventure.
(Henna dyes have been used since Ancient Egyptian times, so it’s appropriate that I’m wearing an “Eye of Horus” dress from Pretty Attitude Clothing.)
The Fez medina is a sprawling market filled with the smell of spices, calls from vendors, and mysterious twisting corridors. Our guide led us to a low door, and we had to duck to go through the tiny pathway. Like in a dream, it opened up into a gorgeous circular space decorated with curtains, ottomans and tiles.
At the center was a table topped with herbs, argan oil, and flowers. These ingredients form the basis of beauty mixtures, which have been passed down throughout the centuries.
Our Plan-It Fez guide, Siham, introduced us to these local ladies. She translated for us, since they only speak Arabic.
“They are asking if you’d like to wear a traditional robe,” she said. Of course, filmmaker Melissa and I said yes. The women brought out a silky purple one for me, fronted with intricate beading, since it matched my hair color.
In Moroccan culture, the women care for their skin with natural products, usually mixed at home. The ladies let us participate the process from the start, with a base of dried henna leaves.
We learned about a “magic” lipstick that looks bright green — but when you put this henna tint on your lips, it turns red!
The family atmosphere and Moroccan decor made us feel as if we were transported back in time.
We looked up, and saw the matriarch waving at us!
The beauty workshop is run by three generations of women. The youngest showed us how to blend and then hand-mix a herbal paste that softens the skin. It had a light, earthy scent and felt soothing on the back of my hands.
Then, it was time for my first henna experience. This temporary body art / hair dye has been used for centuries in North Africa, the Middle East and India (where it’s also called mehndi).
Today, the mixture is still made in the same way, with crushed and liquefied henna. However, Moroccan women tend to use a modern syringe to apply the designs for ease.
The designs tend to have floral, natural, swirling motifs (above is a modern style, on Melissa’s hands). The women are experts and work quickly, completing a hand in as little as 10-15 minutes. They told us that they don’t plan out their drawings — they simply go with the flow.
Henna is traditionally used for special occasions like birthdays and weddings. However, it can be worn at any time, and women often bond by applying henna for each other.
We loved seeing how these women worked, and how the designs organically took shape.
Here are my finished hands, done in the traditional henna style. I was in awe at the amount of detail and variation.
Melissa also got “I’m allergic to nuts and white fish” written on her forearms, in Arabic!
It took about 30 minutes for the paste to dry, and then I left it on for most of the day before flaking it off.
The finished henna is a rust-orange color. If you’re careful, these designs last 1-3 weeks.
A big hug for Siham, our guide at Plan-It Fez, for taking us to this Moroccan beauty workshop.
Shout-out to Eric Bergemann of Borderless Media for running around and doing all the photography and filming, while we got our henna on!
Our cultural tour continued with a visit to yet another women-run business: a bakery and couscous shop called Fatima Zahrae (فاطمة الزهراء). It’s located in a Berber village about an hour’s drive from Fez.
We would never have gotten an authentic, participatory experience like this without Plan It Fez.
The little shop looked like something from a storybook. Inside, about ten women worked at different tasks.
It was wonderful to see how the bakery operated. The collective business lets them earn their own independent living, work alongside other women, and share the profits fairly.
I took off my shoes, and sat on the couscous-making carpet with this Berber lady (notice the henna dye on the soles of her feet). She taught me how to “roll” couscous, starting with moistened semolina flour.
Using these traditional tools, we rubbed the larger pieces in a circular motion, until they broke down to the right size and texture.
We shook the basket to bring the bigger pieces into the middle for further rolling. Of course, I caused a bit of a spill!
When the couscous was ready, the women steam-cooked it to the perfect fluffiness.
We continued the cooking lesson by seeing how the women prepared bread. They kneaded, shaped and “poked” the round flatbreads at an incredible speed.
Cooking classes are always a fun way to make memories and learn about the local culture — even if all you do for the “cooking” part is put the loaf into the oven!
The experience included lunch… and my jaw dropped when this Berber woman brought out a towering plate of couscous, topped with vegetables and chicken! (Note her pretty light-colored eyes).
Before coming to Morocco, I admit I wasn’t fond of couscous. It always came out of a box, and had a dry cardboard taste and texture. But let me tell you… the couscous at Fatima Bakery is a whole other species. Fluffy, nuanced, fresh. We ate together from the large plate, and I couldn’t stop taking more spoonfuls of the couscous!
When we ate our fill… the women surprised us with a second dish of chicken and olives! I could have dipped the warm oven-baked bread into the sauce all day long.
Finally, a fruit plate with local melons, grapes, and peaches. I’ve had a lot of memorable meals worldwide, but without doubt, this couscous cooking class ranks in the top ten.
Time to walk off our meal, with a stroll around the neighborhood. We saw women and children shopping and socializing.
How funny — in this tiny Berber village, we came across street art from the Japanese anime, Dragonball Z!
We ducked into the marketplace, which has a funny dolphin cartoon on the wall.
I try to do market visits wherever I go. It’s a great way to get a sense of the local daily life.
You might come across sights and smells that you find more difficult, such as this hanging rack of meat. I encourage you to keep an open mind, even if you may not be comfortable with everything you see. In my opinion, stepping out of your usual zone is one of the best aspects of travel.
Morocco can be a more challenging place to visit, and we’re so glad we did this journey with Plan-It Fez Tours. Thanks to our guides, we were able to directly meet local women who run creative businesses, and experience beauty and food through their eyes.
Have you tried henna tattooing before? What was your experience like?
Guide to El Raval, Barcelona hipster district! Street art, Marmelade restaurant, Karl Lagerfeld x Melijoe fashion line.
Ten years ago, if you visited Barcelona, people would warn you to stay out of El Raval. It had a red light reputation and was considered a dangerous place to wander into unaware.
Today, El Raval is one of the coolest neighborhoods of Barcelona, and a center of skateboard subcultures and gritty street art. Intrigued? Then let me give you a tour — and scroll to the end of the post, to see the new country I’m traveling in right now!
But first, speaking of colorful art… I wanted to share with you the new Karl Lagerfeld and Melijoe fashion collection! How sweet is this animation video above, starring the iconic couture designer and his white cat Choupette?
Karl Lagerfeld and Melijoe have released the cutest clothing line for children and babes — including hoodies with embroidered prints, knit caps with whiskers, and other adorable yet classic designs. Personally, I want to get my paws on the black purse with cat ears.
Check out more cat-inspired juniors fashion and pre-order items now on their website.
Back to my Spanish hipster tour. El Raval is located next to the Gothic Quarter — I’ll show it to you in an upcoming post — not far from Las Ramblas.
(I’m wearing a white dress with long sleeves, and a cut-out skull back, from Pretty Attitude Clothing.)
El Raval used to be one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. During the 1800s, it was a poor district peppered with brothels and bars.
Today, the area still has an industrial feeling, and a large immigrant population.
However, thanks to rejuvenation programs, El Raval has become a cool cultural center. It’s the best place in Barcelona to experience cutting-edge art, food and nightlife.
One of the most innovative restaurants / bars in this quarter is Marmalade. I spread my wings at the 1950s dapper decor, featuring angel-winged lamps and an illuminated Art Deco bar.
Address: Carrer de la Riera Alta 4-6, El Raval, Barcelona
I felt at home in the vintage New York meets Havana atmosphere. You can sit in the lounge, or reserve one of the long tables for a party with friends.
Marmalade has an extensive cocktail list. We couldn’t resist this generous goblet of sangria, made with red wine and fresh fruit.
Marmalade is known for creative burgers, including a ramen noodle burger. Diners also rave about the brunch offerings such as eggs Benedict. That evening, we ate up every last bite of the cheese plate appetizer and a warm goat cheese salad.
One of my local friends recommended their hip sister Milk Bar and Bistro too, decorated “like a millionaire’s drawing room.” I’ll be sure to check it out next time.
Marmalade is located near the Rambla del Raval, an open space lined with palm trees and benches.
This neighborhood felt like a breath of fresh air, compared to the tourist-packed La Rambla. We passed by eclectic street art, old-style buildings, and not a single souvenir shop.
There aren’t any “landmarks” or big attractions in El Raval. The pleasure comes from strolling around and encountering unexpected street art, like this Empatia and hearts on a brick wall.
If you’re doing an Instagram wall crawl, you’ll find plenty of backgrounds in El Raval. We saw intriguign murals on every street corner.
Cthulhu made his mark here, with a winding tentacle.
Even though El Raval is no longer a dangerous area, it still has an edgy, red-light feeling. You’ll find lots of bars and tattoo shops here.
Layers upon layers of posters, graffiti, and paint.
No wonder El Raval is the known as the most offbeat neighborhood of Barcelona.
(Shoes by YRU, dress from Pretty Attitude)
I found an Art Nouveau pharmacy with my name on it.
Those swirling moldings, and absinthe fonts… I got a new appreciation for Catatonia Modernisme after this trip.
In the summer, Barcelona’s best-known districts are filled with tourists, which put a bit of a damper on the experience.
Filmmaker Melissa and I stopped for a healthy snack, in this cute open-window cafe called Komo en Kasa. (All photos by Borderless Media)
There remains quite a large Moroccan and Middle Eastern population in El Raval.
An anarchist black flag hangs above the graffiti.
The Portlandia “Put a bird on it” has made it to Barcelona.
We filmed outside the MACBA modern art museum, located next to the Centre De Cultura Contemporanea. It’s become a gathering place for skateboarders to hang out and practice tricks.
Skaters zoomed around and used the long ramps to leap into the air.
Nearby, there was a skate shop. Love the custom skateboard with kittens and rainbows.
After spending the day exploring El Raval, we went back to our Art Nouveau hotel, El Palauet.
I was in the mood for something sweet, and found exactly that at a Xococake, a specialty dessert shop run by chef Albert Badia Roca.
Address: Carrer Gran de Gràcia, 17, 08012 Barcelona, Spain
At the front window, I had a hard time deciding on which gelato flavor to get. I wound up with a scrumptious dark chocolate, and can vouch that this is the best gelato in Barcelona.
Xocockae makes all sorts of desserts, from candies to fruit tarts to cakes. Everything is adorably decorated, and perfect for bring home to friends.
There was even a station for horchata, a hot and sweet drink made from tigernuts, water, and sugar.
Have you heard of Barcelona’s El Raval? What do you think of the current street art and hipster bars, in this formerly sketchy district of Spain?
Finally, I’m overjoyed to share my next travel destination… Siem Reap, Cambodia — home to the temple of Angkor Wat! (Photo above via Wikipedia Commons.)
I’ve been working long-term with Hong Kong Express Airways, and they are sending me there to capture the experience. I can’t wait to see the Tomb Raider temples for myself, and experience the warm Cambodian hospitality I’ve heard so much about. If you have suggestions for things to do and see in Siem Reap, please let me know with a comment.
PS: I’ll be sharing my journey live, on Snapchat (@lacarmina) and Instagram. Check me out on these social networks, to see behind the scenes.
Happy Halloween, pirates! Are you dressing up for the spookiest day of the year?
To celebrate October 31st, I’m pleased to share my latest magazine cover for Carpe Nocturne — shot on location at Whitby Abbey, the church that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula!
Photographer Joey Wong and I couldn’t resist shooting a vampire-inspired fashion editorial, right in the ruins that inspired the famous Dracula novel.
And here’s the cover, for the fall issue of Carpe Nocturne magazine! Thank you to the team for featuring me — they were kind and professional the whole way through. (You can order the issue through their site, link is above.)
Carpe Nocturne is a magazine dedicated to alternative subcultures and creativity. Their headline is “other than the norm,” which resonates with my whole approach to life.
Makeup details: I’m wearing decadent eyelashes from Velour Lashes — their quality is far and above regular plastic falsies.
I’m standing in front of Whitby Museum. Inside, you’ll find display of artifacts found in the ruins, and other objects linked to the British town’s long history.
My hair color is by the one and only Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Hair Salon in Vancouver, Canada.
Inside this issue of Carpe Nocturne, you’ll find more fashion photos and an extensive interview with me. Each of the Feature Editors asked me a question based on their section — meaning that I spoke about Art, Entertainment, Fashion, Film & Literature, Life & Style, Music, and Technology/Gaming.
My entire outfit is by Dracula Clothing, who came to Whitby Goth Weekend with me. I adore this black off-the-shoulder Victorian style dress, gold steel-boned corset with a Da Vinci design, and steampunk goggles.
I stood in front of Cholmley House, also known as Whitby Hall. Now a museum and reception area, this building dates back to 1672.
We continued shooting inside Whitby Abbey itself. One glance at the crumbling Gothic arches, and you’ll know exactly why it inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel.
Whitby Abbey is a protected historical site, and there’s an admission fee of about $10 US. Here’s the visitor info — be sure to note the closing times, since if you arrive too late, you won’t be able to get inside.
Could there be any better place to shoot this long-sleeved Victorian mourning top and tiered skirt? (They’re also from Dracula Clothing.)
Whitby Abbey dates back to 657 AD, when it was a monastery founded by the Anglo-Saxon king. The second version of this monastery was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540, and fell into ruin.
The Benedictine abbey was further damaged by storms, and a German naval shelling in 1914.
Despite the wear and tear, Whitby Abbey has retained its Medieval Gothic glory. The intricately carved arches and mouldings have stood the tests of time.
Whitby Abbey became famous for inspiring author Bram Stoker, who lived in the seaside village as he wrote his 1897 novel, Dracula.
In “Dracula,” the vampire is shipwrecked on his way to London on the Russian ship, Demeter. The vessel broke apart while near the coast of Yorkshire, England…
… so Count Dracula took the form of a big black dog, and climbed the 199 steps of the Abbey. And so, the terror and blood-sucking began.
The character Mina wrote a journal that described the ruins.
“Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes, and which is the scene of part of “Marmion,” where the girl was built up in the wall. It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows.”
(I didn’t see any white lady in the windows that day, but visitors got to see an Asian purple-haired lady lurking around!)
Tip: if you want to take photos at the Abbey, arrive as soon as it opens (we came at 10am). If you come later, there will be too many people mulling around and getting into your shots. Don’t bring a tripod, as it’s not allowed.
And be prepared for people to look at you and take their own snaps as you are shooting!
Walking around the skeleton of the abbey, it was easy to understand why Bram Stoker made this the setting of his horror classic, Dracula.
The location is as dramatic as Mina describes it, in the novel. Whitby Abbey stands on the East Cliff, overlooking the North Sea.
There are indeed 199 steps that you must climb, to reach Whitby Abbey from the town. It’s a steep but scenic trek.
Before you reach Dracula’s Abbey, you’ll come across the Church of St Mary. This graveyard also inspired one of the settings of the Bram Stoker story.
St Mary’s is a Norman church constructed around the year 1110, and modified over the centuries. The King of Bernicia, who signed the Magna Carta, is buried here among other notables.
Bram Stoker wrote: “For a moment or two I could see nothing, as the shadow of a cloud obscured St. Mary’s Church. Then as the cloud passed I could see the ruins of the Abbey coming into view; and as the edge of a narrow band of light as sharp as a sword-cut moved along, the church and churchyard became gradually visible… It seemed to me as though something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell.”
While it may be tempting to take fashion photos amidst the fascinating tombstones, the church and town asks you to respect this space and refrain from posing in the cemetery. However it’s okay to photograph the stones from afar, as we did.
After seeing the Abbey in person, it makes absolute sense that Whitby is a world-renown Gothic destination.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there were ghosts haunting the remains.
I hope you enjoyed this fashion editorial for Carpe Nocturne magazine. Let us know what you think of the photos.
I encourage you to visit Whitby and see the Abbey for yourself — especially if you’re a connoisseur of vampires and Victorian horror.
Don’t forget to say hi to the horses, as you descend the 199 steps back into town! I hope these photos get you into a Halloween mood. Comment below, and let me know what costume you wore this year.
Visiting The Alhambra in Granada, Spain: Royal palace & gardens of the Moors. Cover of Where Magazine.
Where in the world is La Carmina? Before I take you inside Spain’s Alhambra palace, let me share with you a recent milestone. I’m currently the cover girl for Where Magazine Vancouver, Oct/Nov edition!
This travel magazine is found all over British Columbia (such as in hotel lobbies), and contains guides to the best dining, shopping, entertainment and culture in Vancouver.
Where Magazine interviewed me about my work in travel TV and writing. Love what they said in the lead: “Never judge a book by its cover – or a travel blogger by her hair color.”
(I’m posing in a dress by Mister Zimi, a Bali-based label known for its vivacious prints.)
It’s an honor to be profiled by a magazine based in Vancouver, my hometown. In the cover story, I talk about my favorite Goth fashion boutiques, sushi restaurants, and places to relax in the city.
(Hair by Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Vancouver, and leggings by Kill Star.)
This blog tends to focus on far-off destinations, at the expense of my own backyard — but there’s so much to see in Vancouver. I should do more shoots and stories here.
Above is an image by Kristin Thorogood, taken in Stanley Park.
But for the time being, let’s fly away to the Alhambra, the famous fortress of Granada, Spain.
I wore my Mister Zimi dress here because I knew the pattern would complement the colorful zelig tiles.
As you can see, Granada has a very different vibe. This was the palace city of the Moors, the Medieval Muslims who came into Spain from North Africa. (Or, if you’re a Seinfeld fan as we are, you might call them the Moops!)
The Alhambra was the Moors’ fortress and royal palace. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and a gem of Islamic architecture.
If you want to visit the Alhambra, you can’t merely show up and get in. Tickets sell out well in advance, especially if you want to go inside the palace (and not just the gardens). I recommend making a booking at least several weeks in advance. Alhambra tickets are available through Ticketmaster Spain; you must choose an exact date and time slot, and if you miss it, chances are you won’t get to see “the Moops.”
We lined up under the sun (thankfully, I had my floppy hat and sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen). At our appointed time, the staff let us through the main entryway…
… and into this “pearl set in emeralds,” as the Alhambra was described by Moorish poets. When you see the painted tiles on the walls of the palace, it’s obvious why.
The Alhambra’s design is a mix of Islamic and Western. In one of the many courtyards, I admired the twisting arabesques reliefs and intricate mosaics.
We moved from room to room, taking in all the design details.
For me, one of the highlights was the “Court of the Lions.” The long outdoor pavilion has a fountain with twelve lions in a circle, each with a stream of water coming out of his mouth!
Much like a lion, the Alhambra has a calm, grand majesty. I let my imagination run free as I walked through the columns and arches.
A close-up on the carved Arabic words, set amidst swirling arabesques.
(My nail art has similar patterns — each stroke is drawn by hand, by Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, BC.)
When you leave the fortress, you end up in a labyrinth of gardens. The crisp hedges and flowers reminded me of the Red Queen’s garden in Alice in Wonderland.
I’m very glad my team and I went to see the Alhambra, an enthralling palace rich in history and beauty.
Granada, Andalusia has a very different feeling from Madrid and Barcelona. My team and I stayed in the ancient Albayzin district, which still looks like a scene from a bygone era.
Be prepared to do a lot of uphill walking, on cobblestone streets and steps that are closed off to cars.
Look for charming elements in the streets, such as tiny doors that seem to be made for cute mice! (Designer iPhone case from iPhoria.)
We always try to stay in unique accommodations, and were overjoyed to find Casa Alef — a 16th century Moorish house. Our host, Rob, lived several doors down and is fluent in English and Spanish. He went out of his way to help us, and gave plenty of local suggestions such as where to eat delicious tapas.
It was incredible to stay in a historic house that dates back to the era of the Moors. The owners preserved the traditional design, while renovating the amenities and putting in WiFi.
I looked over the inner courtyard, in my blue and white print dress by Mister Zimi.
With three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen and living areas, we had plenty of space to share. One room has a staircase that leads to a roof terrace, with glorious views of the Alhambra.
The Moorish vases and paintings added to the atmosphere.
Instead of staying in a generic hotel, I encourage you to rent unique houses such as Casa Alef for a more immersive experience. If you’re looking for accommodations in Granada, I encourage you to contact Rob for a stay!
Rob recommended that we have dinner at Restaurante Las Tomasas, rated one the top restaurants in Granada. The view of the Alhambra fortress alone gets 5 stars.
(Address: Carril de San Agustín, 4, 18010 Granada, Spain)
We started with wine, and unique tapas. I was all over the sardines, served with soft cheese and tomatoes on bread.
Food is so fresh in Europe… I always eat my fill while I’m on the continent, knowing that it simply isn’t the same anywhere else.
Las Tomasas restaurant serves the highest quality seafood, lightly prepared with local flavors. We chewed on an octopus tentacle, and I ate every bite of my squid-ink blackened rice.
What else is there to see in Granada? Tourists often go to the markets and city center. I preferred wandering around the historic Albaicin neighborhood and looking at all the architectural details.
I can never resist taking a photo with an epic door. I’m wearing a backless halter tank top, from Pretty Attitude Clothing.
● Do you like this look? Shop for dream catcher tees and tanks below:
As I walked around, I noticed that my name was everywhere. Why are there so many Carmens in Granada?
I found out that “Carmen” refers to a house with a lush garden. There were plenty of these in Granada…
The warm climate encourages cascades of leaves and flowers.
Details, details: tiled roofs, shuttered windows, and even star-shaped tiles beneath the balcony ledges.
Rob suggested that we visit the Sacramonte district, about a 15 minute walk from Casa Alef and the Albayzin.
“There are Roma gypsies living in caves here. It gets weirder, the further you go up,” he said. That was enough to convince us.
We passed a flamenco dance center, and some sketchy-looking individuals who made their home in the caves.
At the Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte, we learned the history of the people who made these natural caves into homes.
The Sacramonte Cave Museum had various displays that we could enter, to see how the Roma lived. Can’t believe that entire families could fit into these low-ceiling dwellings.
Have you heard of Granada, or the Alhambra palace? I hope this travel diary encourages you to visit this lesser-known region of Spain.
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