Category Archive for Art + Design

Visiting the Miffy Museum in Utrecht, Netherlands! Nijntje Pleintje statue, traffic lights & Schiphol airport shops.

miffy museum, utrecht holland

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!

miffy museum netherlands

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.

nijntje miffy museum entrance sign

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.

miffy parade statues, 60th anniversary

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.

nijntje museum kids

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.

miffy family, bunny characters

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.

japanese miffy cafe, restaurant

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).

miffy exhibition, museum art

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.

big miffy stuffed toy rabbit

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. 

(PS: I’m selling some of my Miffy fashion and accessories here; email me if you’d like anything! My sandals are this Joanie Mule by Sorel Footwear.)

visiting miffy museum utrecht

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…

dick bruna, dutch artist illustrator

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).

dick bruna doctor nurse illustrations

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.

snow white seven dwarfs dick bruna

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!)

vintage retro miffy nijntne

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!

netherlands kids museum toys

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.”

dick bruna museum, exhibit

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.

miffy crosswalk, street lights

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.)

miffy museum shop, toys

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.

dick bruna animals, zoo lion

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.

utrecht netherlands tourism attractions

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.

miffy tshirt, fashion, clothing

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.

(My Miffy top is for sale on my Depop shopand my shoes are the Sorel Joanie Mule.)

miffy art parade statues amsterdam

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.

dick bruna's studio, workshop

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).

dick bruna drawing miffy

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.”

centraal museum utrecht

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).

miffy traffic lights, street pedestrian crossing

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.)

nijntje pleintje utrecht address

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).

black miffy statue, utrecht holland

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!)

goth miffy statue, art parade

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…

More here!

Visiting the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn: Medical anatomy wax statues & Library of Oddities.

morbid anatomy museum entrance

If you’re a fan of Oddities (the Discovery / Science TV show that I appeared in) — then I’m sure you are dying (get it?) to visit the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York! 

Housed in Brooklyn, this collection of strange medical wonders is dedicated to “the intersections of death, beauty and that which falls between the cracks.” 

goth taxidermy magazine

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”!)

oddities museum nyc

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.” 

Morbid Anatomy Museum, Brooklyn, New York

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.

weird museums new york city

The exhibits and library are open from 12-6pm, every day except Tuesday. Admission fees, tickets and event announcements are found on their site.

oddities bookstore, antique shop

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).

morbid anatomy anthology book

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).

occult witch nail art, nails

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.)

new york city bizarre, strange

Yukiro looks like one of the gift store curiosities, with undead makeup and a monster-claw scarf.

taxidermy animals nyc

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.)

creepy medical wax figures

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.

anatomical museum brooklyn

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!

medical wax faces

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.)

historic wax medical bodies

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.

wax heads horror effects

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.”

pregnancy dolls, giving birth

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…

This exhibit’s run has been extended, so you can still see it now. Appropriately, my shirt is by Disturbia – they make this outstanding Ouija board Goth shirt as well.)

weirdest museum, medical anatomy

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.

morbid anatomy library

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.

goth emo boy shrine

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! 

museum of medical oddities

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.

human anatomy museum

Inspector Yukiro is on the hunt! The room is full of clues about how cultures worldwide represent death and the supernatural. 

death candles, broken dolls

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.

visit morbid anatomy museum tickets

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.

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Tokyo’s Buddhist cat temples, Gotokuji & Imado! How to visit the Japanese Maneki neko cats shrines.

cat shrine jinja

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! 

gotokuji tokyo temple cats

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.

cat temple ema

Imado Jinja is just as charming, with a platform where people can bow in front of two giant cat statues.

setagaya japan cat temple

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!)

buddhist worship cat ema boards

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.

thousands maneki neko statues

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.

gotokuji cat art poles

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.

cat street signs, tokyo

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.

gotokuji cat paintings

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…

Gotokuji cat stores

… and seen on posters. There’s even a lucky cat statue right at the subway station exit.

gate entrance gotokuji shrine

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.

gotokuji temple shrine

After going through the Somon front gate, you’ll find the towering pagoda and Butsuden Buddha Hall straight ahead.

lion statue incense burner

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.

black lion japanese statue

The temple also has an old cemetery with family gravestones, which adds to the quiet and reflective tone of Gotokuji.

gotokuji maneki neko statues

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.

beckoning cat statues

Keep on walking, and you’ll come across this mind-blowing sight. Thousands upon thousands of Japanese cat statues, lined up and facing you!

豪徳寺 cats

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.

lucky cat statues temple

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.

birthplace of maneki nekos

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.

Temple Gotoku-ji

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.

cats Gotokuji Temple, Setagaya

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. 

biggest cat collection

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. 

buddhist prayer boards

Shinto devotees also write out wishes on ema (豪徳寺), or small wooden plaques decorated with images from the temple.

lucky cat ema

The ema prayer boards or votive tablets are then hung up near the shrine, for the Shinto kami (spirits) to receive them. 

buddhist cat temple, buddhism

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.

manekei neko souvenirs

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.

fortune cats shrine

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.

Gotokuji temple cats

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.

ringing bell gotokuji jinja

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.

Maneki Neko Beckoning Cat Temple

Gotokuji Temple is not often visited by tourists, making it a lovely and unique place for contemplation.

猫観音を祀る招猫殿

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 tokyo

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.

imado asakusa japanese cat temple

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

lucky cat temple tokyo

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.

imado jinja maneki nekos

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.

lucky cat statues asakusa

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…

More here!

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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