Category Archive for Art + Design

Princess Fairytale castles of Sintra, Portugal! Quinta da Regaleira, Palacio da Pena. Seacity Fitness workouts.

yoga fashion, workout clothing

Life update is long overdue… I’m sure you have sensed that a lot has been happening!

Read on for a recap, plus my next destinations for the summer: I’ll be in six exciting new countries.

miffy nail art, nail polish nijntje

After back-to-back trips during the first half of the year, I spent some downtime in Vancouver, working on my new shop. This is a project I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time, but I never had the time until now. It’s been wonderful to connect with so many of you, and I love seeing photos of you receiving packages from me! 

(If you’re not sure what I’m referring to: I’m selling most of my wardrobe here, come check it out. Lots of  Japanese Lolita, Goth and Harajuku fashion, Miffy kawaii clothing and more, at discount prices. Simply take a look at the listings, then email me and let me know what you’d like!)

live music dj yoga classes

During this catch-up period, I rebooted my fitness routine by joining a new studio, Seacity Fitness. (Address: 102-1500 Howe Street near Burrard, in downtown Vancouver, Canada).

Seacity has a gorgeous studio with glass doors that face the waterfront. They have unique classes not found anywhere else in Vancouver, including yoga with live DJ music! 

girls yoga poses as pairs

The studio uses innovative equipment such as stretchy bands and suspension rigs, to really work your balance, core, strength and cardio. I’ve been going regularly to their Pilates classes, boxing, and my personal favorite: mini trampoline. 

seacity fitness vancouver downtown studio

Seacity Fitness offers a free one-week pass that you can sign up for on their website, and is also part of Class Pass. The instructors are wonderful, and the workouts are both fun and challenging. If you’re in Vancouver and looking for effective exercise classes (as I was), I encourage you to shape up at Seacity.

(You may have noticed that I changed my hair recently... There’s a skull on the back of my head now! This new style is by Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio. All the details on my Instagram and Snapchat @lacarmina.)

Quinta da Regaleira sintra

Time to get packing again, as I’m off to travel to six countries. (All the details at the bottom of this post).

But first, let me complete my love-letter to Portugal — with a day-trip to the royal palaces of Sintra. I dressed up as a purple princess, and wandered through breathtaking fairytale castles.

sintra travel guide, churches, museums

Most tourists come from Lisbon to see Sintra’s most famous sight, Palácio da Pena, which bears resemblance to the Walt Disney castle.

But by far, my team and I preferred a lesser known palace, Quinta da Regaleira (pictured in these photos). Come inside with me, and I’ll show you why.

(By the way – my dress and princess sleeves are available for sale, on my Depop shop. Email me if you’d like to get them.)

portugal princess dress

First, the must-know travel information. How do you get to Sintra? From Lisbon (Lisboa), you can drive or take a bus, but the easiest method is taking a 30-minute train ride. Our Eurail train passes came in handy for this short trip, since we could simply hop in and ride.

Sintra is a popular destination, and can be packed with tourists. I recommend visiting during weekdays and off-peak seasons if possible, to avoid the crowds. Tickets are required to enter and lineups can be long, so look into getting advance passes (we had press access thanks to Visit Lisbon.)

fairytale castle tower, Quinta da Regaleira

If you visit only one attraction in Sintra, let it be the elegant 19th century palace: Quinta da Regaleira.

As you walk through the gardens, you’ll feel as if you’re a princess from a storybook fantasy. 

rapunzel tower castle, europe

The grounds of Quinta da Regaleira are enormous, and not as frequented by tourists — giving you free rein to explore.

Like in a storybook, I wandered through mysterious forest paths. I crossed a lake laden with stones, and ducked into a maze of tunnels. At the top of this stone tower, I pretended to be Rapunzel letting down my hair!

european famous castles, royal palaces

Commissioned by “Monteiro the millionaire,” the architecture is a tribute to Gothic-Renaissance romance. His estate and chapel are teeming with gargoyles, pinnacles and other ornamentation.

Adding to the enigma: we spotted Masonic symbols inside the church, such as an eye in a pyramid.

Quinta da Regaleira spiral staircase

Monteiro was a Freemason, and built underground “Iniciatic wells” for secret rituals such as the Tarot initiation.

Standing inside the narrow and damp pit and looking up at the light, you can feel the solemnity of these rites.

sintra portugal castle winding stairs

Quinta da Regaleira’s famous “wells” are more like inverted towers. A 27-meter spiral staircase winds around the structure like a snail.

sintra portugal castle, architecture

The stories of the Knights Templar are alive, in this Portuguese palace hidden with symbols and secrets. (Photography by Borderless Media)

princess photoshoot, sintra castles

Romantic and dramatic… Quinta da Regaleira palace in Sintra is well worth the trip.

moor castles in portugal

Sintra has many other historic sights, from museums to the hotel room where Lord Byron stayed.

We took in this soaring view of Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), which was built in the 10th century by the Moors. (Remember when I visited the most famous Moors palace, The Alhambra in Spain?)

sintra portugal palacio pena poseidon

Sintra’s most popular attraction is Palácio da Pena. It was constructed in the 19th century by Dom Fernando II, as a summer palace for the royal family.

Many say Walt Disney based his Magic Kingdom castle on this one (although there are other European palaces that claim to be his inspiration). Palacio da Pena does have a Disney-esque feeling, which I admit wasn’t to my taste… this Poseidon statue felt like the entrance to a theme ride, especially with the line of tourists waiting to go inside.

Pena National Palace, disney castle sintra

To me, the palace was like a painted movie set. It was difficult to enjoy the visit when there were so many tourists around. In fact, we could hardly take a photo without a dozen heads poking out from the balconies.

I think you can sense the different feeling of these palaces from the photos alone. For my team and me, Quinta da Regaleira was a far better experience.

portugal viewpoint, cabo da roca cliffs

On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped at the western-most point of Portugal, Cabo da Roca. This cliff edge is a popular viewpoint, high above the crashing waves.

belem portugal, monument to discoveries

We also stopped by the Monument to the Discoveries in Belém, which celebrates the explorers that led the Age of Discovery. Near this statue, a map shows former Portuguese colonies around the world, including Goa, Macau and Brazil. 

rua augusta arch light projections

My travel filmmakers and I got back to Lisbon in time for a spectacular light show, which was projected onto the Rua Augusta Arch.

Arco da Rua Augusta light show

Lisbon has a tremendous energy. A crowd gathered in front of the landmark, and DJs played electronic beats while lasers swept through the sky.

video mapping light show, lisbon portugal

With music and narration, the light show told a legend of how Lisbon was founded. We watched animation and film footage flow over the archway, depicting the love story of Ulysses and Ophiussa.

projection mapping lisbon arch

The 3D projection mapping was impressive, especially when each architectural detail seemed to move and crumble. At one point, the “Glory” statue at the top of the arch turned into a disco dancer, and gave her best Travolta impression!

Mercado da Ribeira market, food

Finally, we had a midnight snack at Mercado da Ribeira market. This modern, indoor space is brimming with food and drink vendors, serving all types of cuisine. I longed to try a bite from every stand…

portuguese market, street food

There’s a vibe here similar to that of food trucks: young indie chefs, experimenting with dishes and using the best local ingredients. I had several types of sardines, black rice, gooey sponge cake…

lisbon famous ice cream, santini

… and the best coconut gelato of my life, at Santini Gelati. This family has been making ice cream since 1949, and their creations are celebrated as the best in Portugal (if not the world).

Come see more of my Lisbon travel tips here. Portugal is now one of my favorite European countries, and I regret not visiting sooner.

depop sellers, fashion blogger shop

And now, I’m off on the road again. My travel film / photo team and I are working with Visit Slovenia, on a project in Ljubljana! I’ll also be stopping in the Netherlands (including Utrecht and the Miffy Museum, a dream come true). And we’ll be all over Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn. It’ll be my first time in these Nordic countries, and I can’t wait.

miffy cute bunny nails, nail art design

Starting today, I’ll be sharing these European escapades on my social media — stay tuned to my Instagram and Snapchat @lacarmina for lots of fun.

I got minimal Gothic Miffy nail art, to match the theme of the trip… Arigato Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, BC for the cute nails! They always do the most intricate, kawaii gel designs for me. (The skull and black diamond ring is by Sapphire Studios.)

pastel goth clothing store, shops

And don’t forget to check out my big wardrobe sale! Just added lots of new items to my shop – including Gothic Lolita dresses, Miffy fashion and some of my best clothing from Tokyo.

Check out all the listings here and email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom) with a list of items that you’d like to get. I can gladly calculate exact shipping for you, and do discounts on bundle packages. Please don’t feel shy about writing to me! It would be a pleasure to send you designs from my personal collection. Talk soon!

Shop La Carmina’s Pastel Goth Jrock Kawaii closet sale now!

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Brussels local fashion boutiques! Shopping in Dansaert, Stijl Belgian designers, Lunetier Ludovic.

brussels fashion shops, clothing stores

Can you tell I was delighted to be in Brussels? I got an inside look at the local fashion scene, thanks to the special arrangements by Belgium Tourism Board.

We filmed stories in three very different boutiques: glasses, jewelry, designer couture. I also found out why Brussel’s Dansaert shopping street is known as one of the coolest in Europe.

PS – if you want to buy this Miffy shirt, it’s available on my Depop shop along with many new items… Email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom)  and let me know what you’d like from my clothing sale, before it’s all gone!

Lunetier Ludovic glasses store

First stop on my Brussels fashion tour — a unique eyeglasses shop.

These days, glasses have become a style statement. Lunetier Ludovic is the vision of Ludovic Elens, a Belgian optometrist who crafts distinctive frames by hand.

belgian cool eyeglasses

We loved the vintage vibe of Lunetier Ludovic boutique (Address: Ernest Allardstraat 14, 1000 Brussel).

I’m a glasses-wearer myself (although you usually see me in contact lenses), and quite picky about frames. My favorite styles come from Europe — where the designs tend to have a minimal, modern aesthetic.

designer glasses brussels

Ludovic’s glasses stand out because of his handcrafted techniques and quality materials, sourced from around the world. I tried on a few frames made out of Buffalo horn and cellulose acetate.

cool hipster glasses boutique

Lunetier Ludovic’s storefront displays his own collection, as well as other indie glasses brands.

He is passionate about offering a bespoke experience for his clients. In the age of machines, Ludovic’s work is a throwback to the days when artisans used their hands and simple tools to craft spectacles, from raw materials.

handmade high end glasses europe

I loved the unique shape and speckled pattern of these eyeglasses.

Ludovic told me that he didn’t feel there was a single style that best suited certain face shapes. Instead, he aims to make glasses that reflect his clients’ personalities. 

optician factory, LUNETIER LUDOVIC lunettes

We went downstairs to his workshop. Ludovic showed me how to cut silhouettes from raw acetate slabs, and polish them to perfection on a spinning tool. He often spends weeks refining a single pair of glasses, as each order is individually made and customized to the client.

custom designing glasses

So cool to see the artistic process from start to finish, at Lunetier Ludovic. The Belgian designer has a knack for capturing the customer’s individuality through his handmade designs.

bel arte jewelry store brussels

The inspiration continued at Bel’ Arte,  a lively boutique run by a young couple. Everything here is made by independent Belgian designers. (Address: Rue de Flandre 53, 1000 Bruxelles)

belgian designer rings

Bel’Arte has the goal of highlighting local artisans, who often don’t have the opportunity to display their goods in stores. I browsed one-of-a-kind jewelry, leather goods, furniture, lighting and other design items.

dansaert jewerly accessories

Very impressed by the skill of these young Belgian artists. These twisty rings and earrings would be fantastic gifts, as they can only be found here.

(All photos by Borderless Media – and our travel video will be out soon.)

stijl fashion shop dansaert

I wore a Miffy outfit that day (it’s available for sale on my shop!), and found my bunny boyfriend at Stijl — a famous boutique for Belgian designers. (There are separate shops for men and women; the latter is at Rue Antoine Dansaertstraat 74, 1000 Brussels).

In the 1980s, this neighborhood had very few attractions. Stijl opened in 1984, and transformed Dansaert into the cutting-edge fashion destination that it is today.

brussels designers haute couture

I interviewed Sonia Noël, the founder and owner. She wanted Stijl to be a platform for young Belgian designers to show their works.

Thanks to her initiative, these little-known locals have become big names in the couture world: Dries van Noten, Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester and Raf Simons, to name a few.

stijl belgian fashion labels

Stijl carries the latest collections of these now-famous names. However, the store remains true to its original goal, and always gives space to up and coming Belgian designers. 

(Below are designs you can find at Stijl; click the images for details)

belgium local designers mode

I loved seeing the sleek couture of Maison Martin Margiela and the “Antwerp Six”, beautifully displayed in a single boutique. Stijl is a must-visit for those who appreciate fine fashion.

ancient belgian building facade

The entire Dansaert district is worth browsing. I spent hours looking at vintage and modern clothing stores, book shops… and even found this old building facade, next to Chicago Cafe.

brussels museum musical instruments

I’ll leave you with a look at the classic architecture in Brussels. The tourism board took us to lunch at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), known for its collection of over 8000 instruments.

You know I’m obsessed with Art Nouveau… what a treat to look out from the museum’s rooftop! This swirling steel and glass structure was built in 1899.

Restaurant Musical Instruments Museum

We had lunch by the windows: a feast of Belgian specialties like French fries, Liege meatballs and tartines (open face sandwiches).

bruxelles architecture

This is only an introduction to the spectacular food we ate in Belgium… There’s much more to come, including a video and a chocolate tasting.

Did the style scene in Brussels surprise you? Are you familiar with Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten and other local designers? (Shop a selection below…)

buzzfeed travel weird crazy japan

PS – Thank you to Buzzfeed Travel for featuring me in a big article about Tokyo bizarre travel! It went viral and trended for days.

PPS – Since there was so much demand, I’ve added new Japanese Lolita dresses, Miffy tops and more to my Depop shop. My best items are now up, so come take a look and email me quickly to let me know what you’d like. I’ll gladly do exact shipping, and discounts if you get more than one item. Have fun!

Come shop La Carmina’s wardrobe sale here.

Vietnam Buddhism & Tattoos! Hanoi tattoo shops & Tran Quoc pagoda, FAM or press trip.

buddha bodhi tree, tran quoc vietnam

I’m sad that this is my final dispatch from Vietnam… but we’re ending on a happy note in Hanoi. I’m sure I will be back soon, to see more of this peaceful country.

In this final post, we’ll visit tattoo artists with vampire fangs, a temple where people worship mothers, and eat pho with Pirate Miffy!

(And if you’d like to have the skeleton dress I’m wearing, it’s available on my Depop store — along with hundreds of alt clothes and accessories from my personal collection.)

vietnam night market, bokeh sony a7 camera

Thanks to our guide Bao at Vietnam Food Tour, John and I experienced the best of North Vietnam — including a cooking class with a family, and a boat journey thorough Halong Bay.

For our last days, we decided to explore Hanoi, known as the cultural capital of the country. We stayed in the Old Quarter, a timeless neighborhood that came alive with clubs and street food at night.

(Photos taken with the amazing Sony alpha7 mirrorless DSLR camera.)

vietnamese children balancing on motorcycle

I’m always interested in the juxtaposition of ancient and avantgarde in worldwide cities. We began our day by traveling back in time, and visiting the 6th century Trấn Quốc Pagoda.

Above: how many youths can fit on a motorbike? The footage you see on travel TV shows is true — the Vietnamese are masters of balancing an entire family on a single motorcycle.

coconut popsicles, tongue ring

It was a hot day, so we cooled off with fresh coconut water and coconut milk popsicles, sold right by the pagoda.

Foodie tip: When you’re in Southeast Asia, ingest fresh tropical fruit at every opportunity! You can’t mangoes and coconuts of this quality back home, not even at Whole Foods. Plus, these local fruits cost a fraction of the price.

hanoi famous buddhist temple, pagoda pond

Tran Quoc pagoda rises over Ho Tay (West Lake). It’s the oldest temple in Hanoi, and arguably the most picturesque. The Vietnamese flag, red with a yellow star, waves in the background.

vietnamese architecture, roof curve

Make sure that you visit the temple during its opening hours, which are generally from late morning to the early evening. To enter, we walked through these elegant gates with the distinctive Vietnamese curved rooftops. 

Trấn Quốc Pagoda, hanoi vietnam temple

I paused beneath the Buddhist Bodhi tree. It was a gift from the president of India, in 1959. Legend says that it grew from a branch of the same tree where the Buddha became enlightened. Our Vietnam Food Tour guide showed us how to walk counter-clockwise around the trunk, while reflecting and strengthening intentions.

(Here’s where you can get a similar skeleton dress or sweater — and the exact one I’m wearing is available via my wardrobe sale!)

kreepsville666 skeleton dress

Vietnamese Buddhist monks live in this temple, and are often seen in walking meditation. At the main shrine, visitors light incense and give blessings.

(My cat-eye wooden sunglasses are from Moat House Eyewear.)

vietnamese buddhist altar

I’ve been to Buddhist temples in various parts of Asia (including the Hong Kong Tian Tan statue, and Wat Pho in Bangkok). It’s fascinating to see the regional differences in the design and approach.

Inside this Vietnamese temple, we saw various incarnations of the Buddha depicted in ornate gold. On either side, there were shrines dedicated to folk heroes and ancestors. Many homes and shops — like Mr An’s house — have personal shrines that give reverence to all of the above.

buddha statues, pagoda hanoi

Outside, we admired the towering red pagoda. Each level held a white Buddha statue, sitting in the lotus position. Amazing that Tran Quoc dates all the way back to Emperor Ly Nam De in the sixth century.

鎭國寺 vietnam buddhism shrine

I noticed that many Vietnamese buildings are painted yellow — the color associated with gold and royalty.

hanoi park, pagoda temple on island

We were glad to have our Vietnam Food Tour guide with us, to answer questions and fill us in on the distinctive culture.

vietnamese mother worship, ancestor shrine

For instance, we were surprised to see locals praying in front of doll-like statues of women. Our guide explained that the Vietnamese practice “Dao Mau,” or the worship of mother goddesses — a folk ritual that dates back to the days before Buddhism.

I loved hearing about the local spirituality, which integrates folk and Buddhist traditions in a natural, personal way.

buddhist home decoration, shelf statues

We saw a different type of shrine later on that day. John Skeleton and I wanted to learn about tattoo culture in Vietnam, so we visited several top studios and interviewed the artists.

If you’re looking to get a tattoo in Hanoi, we hope you find John’s following report helpful.

tats studio hanoi tattoo parlor

Tats Studio (Address: 91 Ba Trieu Street, Hanoi)

To get to Tats Studio, you’ll need to follow a long corridor plastered over with tattoo designs in every style imaginable. It opens into the reception area, lined on one side by a wide variety of tattoo inks, needles, and other equipment — and by sofas and alcoves full of skulls and knickknacks on the other.

The studio’s logo is displayed prominently on the wall, flanked by a life-sized silver skeleton. We met head artist and owner of the studio, Tuan, who flashes a pointy smile made even more toothsome by a pair of vampire canines that, he claims, are real.

vietnamese folk art paintings, tattoos

We had heard from our tour guide and others that tattoos were viewed as something only for gangsters, playboys, and maybe a handful of rebellious youth in Hanoi.

However, Tuan impressed us with his strong desire to elevate tattooing to a higher level of appreciation in Hanoi, even working together with other Vietnamese artists to raise the overall level of artistry and technique throughout the country.

hanoi top best tattoo artists

Tats Studio’s business card says “We’ll Make You All Tats-A-Holic.” While the artists at Tats Studios can accommodate just about any range of style, Tuan specializes in portrait tattoos that are photorealistic down to the tiniest detail.

He also told us about the way he and his artists have been incorporating traditional Vietnamese folk paintings of tigers and other animals into their tattoo work to create something that is distinctly Vietnamese.

ninja ink tattoo studio, vietnam

Ninja Ink Tattoo Studio (Address: 35 Nghi Tam, Yen Phu Tay Ho, Hanoi)

Nini Beltran and Jack Bullard not only combined their names to form their studio’s appellation (NinJa Ink), they have also fused their talents to put a fresh new face on tattooing in Hanoi. While Jack was unable to join us at the studio that day, Nini filled us in on how she became involved in tattooing. Starting off in Manila with an Electronics and Communications Engineering degree, it wasn’t long until she realized that her true calling was in artistic pursuits.

hanoi tattoo artist, back tattoo

She specializes in colorful tattoos in numerous styles, but told us that she particularly enjoys photorealistic tattooing because of the technical challenge it represents. Jack’s works covers a wide spectrum, but often employs bold use of black line work to create traditional and tribal motifs, as well as more modern designs.

They are currently expanding their studio to accommodate more artists and clientele, and also offer henna skin art for those who aren’t quite ready to take the plunge into permanent designs.

tattoo studio, artists hanoi vietnam

Many of their clients are women, who trust the aesthetic judgment of the female tattoo artists. In a country where tattooing remains a Wild West (with no licensing requirements and little regulation), Ninja Ink sets the bar for high standards.

toy street hanoi, Luong Van Can

In between the visits, we paused on Luong Van Can, Hanoi’s toy street. Kids will go crazy for these stores, which are packed with stuffed toys.

fresh fruit juice hanoi drinks

Remember my advice to devour all the fresh fruit in sight? I got the best mango, avocado and banana smoothie of my life — and it only cost $1.50 US!

John continues with his tattoo studio report…

hanoi tattoo studio, parlor

Hanoi Tattoo (Address: 73 Hang Bo Hoan Kiem, Hanoi)

The first thing that struck us about Hanoi Tattoo, aside from the spacious and homey interior, was the prevalence of Japanese wabori-style designs — from Noh hannya masks on the wall to framed artwork of bodysuit tattoo designs.

japanese style chest tattoo

Head artist Đoàn Văn Quyền told us that Japan’s style of tattoo design was very popular in Vietnam, especially among older men who admired the elaborate bodysuit patterns seen in Japanese gangster flicks. However, with around 10 artists, he assured me that Hanoi Tattoo could take on just about any style of tattoo design for its customers.

japanese bodysuit back tattoo

While Vietnam’s tattoo renaissance has been slow in coming, his studio was one of the first to crop up in Hanoi, having been established in 2003.

He is a regular at the annual Vietnam Tattoo Convention, which, he tells me, is not about competition among artists. In fact, there is no “Best of Show” award, simply a plaque that each artist receives to show their participation, as the goal is mutual honing of the techniques and artistry behind the craft of tattooing.

Like the Tats Studio, Hanoi Tattoo is attempting to put tattooing, which was previously in the realm of gangsters and playboys, into the spotlight as a legitimate artistic medium in Vietnam.

maison d'hanoi boutique hotel

After all these interviews, it was time to relax at our hotel, Maison d’Hanoi Boutique Hotel. We were fans of the bright, modern meets traditional lobby.

vietnam boutique hotels

The staff always greeted us with big smiles. When we checked in, we got tea and welcome towels. Pirate Miffy gives that an “arr”!

old quarter hanoi hotels

We highly recommend staying in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This neighborhood seems frozen in time, with narrow streets cross-crossed by motorcycles, and vendors carrying big baskets of fruit. It’s also central, and has many restaurants and clubs within walking distance.

eating pho vietnamese noodle soup

At Maison d’Hanoi’s restaurant, we ate pho — the fragrant Vietnamese noodle soup. An absolute must-have, if you travel here.

Miffy’s expression may be unreadable, but she is bursting with joy on the inside!

pirate miffy toy bunny

A typical pirate, Miffy then plundered the rum at the hotel bar.

maison d'hanoi rooms

Tea and internet — John’s happy place.

It’s important to stay in a safe, top-rated hotel like Maison d’Hanoi, since I’ve heard of travellers getting their belongings stolen in sketchy hostels.

romantic hanoi vietnam hotel

The hotel is also a great choice for honeymooners and couples, since they decorate the rooms in this sweet way. Looks like a certain bunny is the third wheel… oh Miffehhh!

hanoi rock alternative bar, live music club

After dinner, we walked around our Old Quarter neighborhood. Locals and tourists gathered in the streets, drinking and socializing. (See this in action, at the end of our Vietnam travel video.)

We wandered into a rock music bar, RockStore, and had such a fabulous time that we went back the next evening. Drinks were buy one get one free, including a fresh mango and rum concoction that they made just for me.  The pizza was on point, and a live “Funny Band” featured an electric saxophone. We were able to request songs, so we turned the club into an 1980s Italo Disco fest. When you come, say hi to the awesome Benny (above) from us, and he might deliver free shots!

raining vietnam travel weather

What more can I say? Vietnam rocked our socks. John and I are already planning to go back to see the snake village, and fire bazookas on a range!

riding vietnam motorcycles in rain

We are so grateful to Vietnam Food Tour for these eye-opening experiences. The guides went above and beyond to customize our stay, and introduce us to Vietnamese cuisine. I hope you’ll consider traveling with them too (more info on their Facebook page).

The tour company is currently offering a FAM trip (press trip) to Vietnam for travel agents, journalists and bloggers! From Oct 16-26, 2016, they’ll take you to all the best spots including Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh city. If you’re a travel professional and interested in joining (all tour expenses are covered), check out the info here and let them know I sent you.

halong bay panorama view

I leave you with a few iPhone panoramas – and please don’t forget to watch our Vietnam travel video, which shows our adventures in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.

And don’t forget — you can shop my Japanese Goth Cute wardrobe right here, at discounted prices! Shoot me an email and I can put together a bundle for you.

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David Bowie Blackstar: mural & memorial in Brussels. Carnival de Binche with Gilles costumes!

david bowie blackstar mural

Bonjour from the David Bowie “Blackstar” mural in Brussels!

Earlier this year, I traveled to Belgium for a press project with the tourism board. My film team and I dove into the vivacious local art /culture of Brussels-Wallonia.

In this first post, I’ll introduce you to the young Liege artist who memorialized Bowie…

gilles costumes, carnival de binche

… and we’ll celebrate the Carnival of Binche, with feathered hats and Mardi Gras costumes!

(PS – If you’ve been wondering why I’m selling off most of my wardrobe, there’s a detailed explanation at the bottom of this post.)

David Bowie Mural Painting brussels

I know many of you are David Bowie fans… so we’ll start with this beautiful tribute by NOIR Artist.

The Belgian pop culture artist was commissioned to make this mural for the release of Bowie’s latest album, Blackstar (available here). The day after the painting was complete, the world learned that Bowie had died of cancer.

noir artist, david bowie memorial art

I interviewed 20-something year old Lucien Gilson, at the opening of his art exhibition at Mazel GalerieHis striking works are influenced by tattoos, Pop Art, Baroque and magazine covers.

noir artist belgium gallery paintings

He uses the pseudonym NOIR Artist because his paintings use only black pigment. You won’t find any shades of grey in his works.

mazel galerie bruxelles

His portraits of pop culture figures — Bowie, Edward Scissorhands, Darth Vader — have struck a chord with young audiences worldwide. NOIR Artist is very active on social media, and likes to take viewers behind the scenes, such as through time lapse videos of his murals in the making.

japanese face tattoos

That evening, Mazel Galerie unveiled an exhibit focusing on Belgian artists. I walked through the two floors, and was impressed by the range of striking, modern works.

david bowie memorial mural

NOIR Artist took me to see his now-famous mural, located near the gallery at Toison D’ Or shopping mall in Brussels.

It was commissioned by Sony Music Belgium for David Bowie’s Blackstar ★ album — and one day after it was completed, the legend behind Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane was gone.

(I’m wearing a hooded jacket by The Kooples, and sunglasses by Moat House Eyewear.)

david bowie street art, black star

Fans turned the David Bowie mural into a memorial, leaving flowers and gifts below, and writing messages on the wall. I left one too: “RIP, glorious space oddity.”

Words can’t describe what a powerful impact Bowie (aka Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust) has had on so many, especially those who feel like outsiders.

belgian mardi gras festivals

During our trip, we also got to take part in the centuries-old Carnaval de Binche, a quirky local take on Mardi Gras.

Every year, in early February, these celebrations occur all over Belgium. However, the most colorful parades are in Binche: a small town about a two hour drive from Brussels.

french mardi gras costumes

The Belgian Tourism Board arranged for us to visit a local family’s home. There was such a welcoming energy in the room, as everyone gathered to eat and drink, and dress up in the traditional costumes.

These “Gilles” outfits are handmade by artisans, and represent a “strong man” folk character. The participants stuffed their torsos with straw to create the effect — although we thought it made them look a bit more like “fat men”!

gilles costumes history

Binche Carnival’s origins are unclear, but likely date back to the 14th century. Only males from Binche can take on the role of a Gilles, and this tradition is taken very seriously. Many pass along the torch from father to son: we saw Gilles children marching alongside their grandfathers.

binche street confetti, logo

Around 3pm, we headed into the Binche town square for the parade. These celebrations take part over several days, turning the normally sleepy village into a drunken bacchanal. You know there’s a party going on, when you see rainbow confetti strewn all over the streets!

kids harlequin Pierrots costumes

Although only males can be Gilles, women can take part as other folk characters. These “societies” dress up and march together in the parade.

In a scene that looked straight out of a Wes Anderson film, we came across these pointy-hatted, pastel colored Pierrots. 

binche throwing oranges peasants

Here come the harlequins, with ruffled collars and diamond print suits. In between the brigades, musicians played a festive shuffle on horns and drums.

Did you notice that everyone is holding a basket of oranges? As they parade through the streets, these participants throw oranges into the crowd! 

belgian festivals parades

It’s considered proper manners to accept a offering of the fruit — and it’s good luck if you are hit by a lobbed orange. Although take it from me… this can leave a bump on your head. (My faux fur ombre coat is this exact one, on sale!)

Once again, the reasons behind this tradition are unknown. Perhaps it’s simply great fun to launch fruit at people.

young gilles parade binche carnival

Then, about a thousand Gilles appeared in their distinctive bonnets, wooden clogs and copper bells. This special costume can only be worn during the Binche carnival, and is forbidden to leave the city.

belgium wallonia gilles parade

I felt like I had stepped into a surreal universe. Everyone was smiling and dancing, and oranges flew through the air.

The Gilles’ feathered hats weigh a ton, and are easily damaged by rain — which is why only some of the men wore them on their heads that day.

Carnival of Binche costumes

Photos alone can’t describe the sounds and frenzy of Binche! (My coat is available here.)

We filmed a travel video, which we’ll release soon — but until then, check out my Instagram video clip of the parade. You can see children throwing oranges in all directions, and the men shuffling their feet to the live music in a funny “pas de Gilles” dance. 

brussels wallonia tourism travel

Funny how the festival had an avantgarde feeling, even though these rituals have been happening for hundreds of years.

If you are in Belgium during Mardi Gras, the Carnival of Binche is one party you don’t want to miss. 

blackstar david bowie album mural

Much more from hip Brussels to come — including an S&M art gallery, a coffin bar, and the Rene Magritte museum. (I got my jacket in Belgium too; it’s by The Kooples brand.)

Have you heard Bowie’s final Blackstar album yet? If you’re a fan, you may also enjoy my photos from the David Bowie cafe in Tokyo.

goth kawaii japanese fashion boutique sale

Finally, I owe you an explanation… When I announced that I was putting up most of my wardrobe for sale, I didn’t realize that it caused some people alarm. I got messages asking if I was quitting blogging, or if something was wrong!

Don’t worry, this isn’t the case. I am going full steam ahead, and have superb new destinations, photoshoots and travel filmings coming up for the summer. There are still lots of stories from Istanbul, Morocco, Vietnam, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and more going up in the next weeks.

As you can imagine — over the years, I’ve accumulated literally mountains of clothing from around the world. Many designs are from Japan Goth and Lolita brands, and unavailable anywhere else. For a long time, I wanted to make my wardrobe available to you, at less than 50% of retail price — but simply hadn’t figured out a good way to do it.

Now, thanks to Depop, I’m able to easily list and sell my fashion to you. A lot of items are already gone, so I encourage you to check out my shop listings ASAP and let me know what you want. (Email me at gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom). Once again, I’m happy to do a bundle discount, combine shipping, and include personal notes and photos in each package!

Shop La Carmina’s Goth Lolita wardrobe sale now!

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