Category Archive for Art + Design
HR Giger Museum & Bar in Gruyeres, Switzerland: Goth sci-fi travel guide! Alien movie art, Necronomicon paintings.
Star Beast achievement unlocked. I made it to the HR Giger Museum and Bar in Switzerland!
While in Europe last fall, I made a weekend detour to Gruyères to see the museum dedicated to one of my favorite artists: H.R. Giger. I’m sure you’ll recognize his surrealist concept art for Alien, Species, Poltergeist 2, the never-made Dune, and other sci-fi horror films.
If you share my fascination with Giger’s biomechanical visions, then this travel story will make you want to drop everything and fly to Switzerland. Read on for a tour of the Giger museum and bar, including exclusive photos of his rare artwork inside the chateau!
This unassuming Swiss castle houses a motherload of dark biomechanical creatures. Open since 1998, the museum contains some of Giger’s most famous works, as well as rare early pieces and erotic art. We’re grateful to La Gruyère Tourism for the warm welcome and help with journalist access to the museum.
Outfit Details: It seemed appropriate to dress cybergoth for the occasion. My outfit is 100% Cyberdog: I layered their semi-sheer bodycon dress, alien “yogalien” tank top, and black mesh hooded long sleeved top. Cyberdog’s futuristic sci-fi fashion is sold online, as well as in their giant Camden Market store.
Giger museum access / How to get here: Photographer Joey Wong and I came from London, and it only took us 1.5 hours to fly to Geneva. We then traveled from Geneva to Gruyeres by train, using the First Class Swiss Travel Pass from Switzerland Tourism. This gave us unfettered access to the country’s trains, buses and boats; it turned out to be a beautiful journey through the countryside, which I’ll show you in an upcoming post.
Musee HR Giger address: Château St. Germain, Rue du Château 2, 1663 Greyerz, canton Fribourg, Switzerland. Gruyeres is a small town with only about 2000 inhabitants, so the museum is easy to find.
The cosmic horror begins outside the museum, which is flanked by several ominous sculptures. The front entrance has a metal adaptation of his painting Gebärmaschine (“Birth Machine”) from 1967. Giger created this work as a commentary on population growth.
The “birth machine” depicts goggled babies holding guns, sitting on bullets inside a larger pistol. Giger meant to convey that the babies would be shot out, but in fact, only their heads would be (the decapitated bodies would remain in the bullet casing). Somehow, that seems more fitting for this master of sci-fi terror!
On the left, the front staircase has the coolest handrail ever — a twisting alien spinal cord.
Starting with the exterior, the museum evokes a feeling of dark, otherworldly mystery that is quintessentially HR Giger.
(My silver futuristic hair clip is Hair DesignAccess by Sylvain Le Hen.)
These extraterrestrial figures convey Giger’s signature aesthetic, which he called “biomechanical.” The term describes his surrealistic approach, which fuses organic elements with the mechanical. Part human and part machine — melded together in a beautiful yet uneasy alien hybrid.
Giger’s forms tend to resemble human bodies, but with a deadly twist. It’s surprisingly powerful to stumble across these cosmic creatures in Gruyeres, an otherwise quaint Swiss village.
Science fiction, double feature. My magenta to purple ombre hair is by Chad Evans in Vancouver, BC.
My black leather Gothic shoes with silver buckles are similar to these boots; click below for more options.
This elegant building is Château St. Germain, which dates back to 1663. HR Giger visited Gruyeres several times, and had an exhibition in the village. He fell in love with the scenic region, and bought this Swiss castle in 1997.
Since there was massive demand, Giger turned St Germain Castle into a museum with architect Roger Cottier. In 1998, the H.R. Giger Museum first opened its doors. It remains the permanent home to most of his key works, as well as the largest collection of his furniture, paintings and sculptures from over the years.
Visitors aren’t allowed to take photographs inside, but we were lucky to have media access. Read on for exclusive images of Giger’s works within the museum. But first…
… let’s head next door to the The Museum HR Giger Bar, which opened in Gruyeres in 2003!
Step inside, and your jaw will drop — it’s like entering another universe! H.R. Giger designed the bar in a way that preserves the 400 year old Gothic architecture. He heightens the cavernous effect with dramatic skeletal arches that sweep over the ceiling.
Beneath these bony vaults are high-backed shell-like chairs. They were originally designed as a Harkonnen throne for the Dune film that never got made. (Keep reading to see another variant of the seats inside the museum).
I love how Giger turned the Medieval cathedral-like space into a bio-mechanical vision of the future. What an incredible feeling to curl up in one of these spinal chairs at the circular windows, and feel like you’ve been swallowed up by an intergalactic beast.
Tip: the Giger bar is extremely popular with tourists, so try to avoid lunch time and other peak hours. You may have to wait a while to get a seat at your preferred table. Above are photos from their website to give you a sense of the space and custom furniture; it was difficult to capture with all the visitors around.
The Gruyeres Giger bar is actually the fourth one ever built. Only one other location remains open: the H.R. Giger Bar in Chur, Switzerland (his place of birth), established 1992. The Chur interior has a similar backbone design, but it’s not as impressive as the bar beside the museum, which is the most famous one.
There was also a Giger Bar inside Peter Gatien’s legendary Limelight club in NYC, the site of many decadent Gothic and Club Kid parties. Sadly, when it closed in the 1990s, the bar did as well.
The earliest HR Giger bar was built in the late 1980s, in Japan! It was located in Shirokanedai, the Minato district of Tokyo. However, Giger grew dissatisfied with the Japanese builders and strict codes (for example, they couldn’t realize his idea of having private booths that doubled as individual elevators, moving up and down the bar). He ended his involvement with the Tokyo Giger bar, and it closed soon after.
As you can see from the menu board, Bar HR Giger serves drinks and small snacks, including themed items. You can sip a Giger mojito, or dare to order the mysterious “Dark Shadow.” My Gothic preference is the HR Giger Absinthe, whcih I tried in Osaka, Japan.
The most visually interesting dish is the Alien Coffee, which comes on a wooden tray with little meringues, and honey herb liqueur.
Ready to head inside Chateau St. Germain, and take a tour of the Giger Museum? Let’s do it.
Just beware… xenomorphs lurk in the ceiling corners, waiting to attack you!
So, who is this twisted genius behind these creations? Hans-Rudolf (HR) Giger was born in 1940 in Chur, an Alpine city in the eastern part of Switzerland east. He moved to Zurich to study architecture and industrial design, and became known for illustrations and paintings that fuse humans and machine.
H.R. Giger is best known as the concept artist behind Ridley Scott’s “Alien” movie, which came out in 1979 and revolutionized science fiction horror films.
Above is his visualization of the “face hugger,” the portion of the Alien’s life cycle where it attaches to your face, and implants larvae through your mouth. When the babies mature, they burst through the human host’s chest in a bloody explosion — and continue to mature and stalk more prey.
H. R. Giger was making terrifying imagery well before he joined the Alien movie. In 1977, he published a compendium of his art in a tome called the Necronomicon (much like HP Lovecraft’s collection of horror stories). During pre-production, director Ridley Scott got hold of the book, and immediately hired Giger to create the visuals for Alien.
The Gruyeres museum contains Spell IV, the gigantic work that graces the cover of Giger’s Necronomicon. It’s a painting of Baphomet the Sabbatic Goat, with Satanic pentagrams and serpents in his signature color palate.
Alien’s impact earned the Swiss artist an Academy Award in 1980, for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The Oscar statue is on display if you look closely, beneath one of the ancient staircases in the museum.
Ridley Scott liked Giger’s 1976 painting “Necronom IV,” which shows a being with an elongated skull, steel-like ribcage and pointed teeth. He asked Giger to create the alien based on the design…
… and so, Giger gave birth to Xenomorph XX121! (The name refers to the alien species, and translates to “strange form” in Greek).
The museum has several xenomorphs of various sizes, ready to pounce on you. The largest one stands tall inside this glass display case (but if you recall the Prometheus birth scene, that wouldn’t even hold a newborn alien for long…)
If you’ve seen the Alien series, you’ll know to watch out for the segmented blade-tipped tails, burning acidic blood — and double-jawed set of teeth that extend out to pierce your flesh!
As you walk through the museum and take in the wall-to-ceiling art, you’ll realize that Giger has an entire pantheon of dark creatures. Above is Li II, inspired by his lover at the time, actress Li Tobler. She tore up the original Li painting because she thought it made her look ugly!
The HR Giger Museum is larger than you’d expect from the outside. Since it’s located in a 17th century castle, there are unexpected stairwells, rooms and hallways to navigate.
I enjoyed seeing Giger’s earliest works, from the 1960s: biomechanical otherworldly forms in acrylic and India ink on paper on wood. He truly was ahead of his time.
These busts made me think of the Alien movie tagline: “In space no one can hear you scream.”
One section of the museum is adults only, and hidden behind a black curtain. Inside, the room is illuminated in red light and lined with his raciest works. Many of these sketches and sculptures have graphic imagery and Satanic overtones.
These cyborg fantasies were particularly shocking to conservatives of his time. Looking at his works today, it’s amazing to realize how much Giger has inspired everything from cyberpunk to tech design.
One of the largest rooms contains black Harkonnen Capo chairs around a table with biomechanical legs. This was one of Giger’s designs for Alejandro Jodorowsky, who was set to direct a movie adaptation of Dune, Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi novel (and one of my personal favorites). Unfortunately, the 1976 film never got past pre-production and eventually was passed on to director David Lynch, who did not use Giger’s conceptualizations.
Where did Giger’s demonic imagination come from? Partly from night terrors. The Swiss artist kept a sketchbook next to his bed, and would jot down these visions.
Giger (pictured above) was known to incorporate Satanic and occult imagery into his work. He even released a Baphomet Tarot card deck.
I channeled Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) and got into a close encounter with a Xenomorph… maybe too close. On the left, Giger’s concept art for Species, the 1995 movie starring Natasha Henstridge.
Giger had always worked with various media, but started focusing on sculptures in the mid-1990s. He’s even designed album covers and computer games over the years, always with haunting hybrids of human and machinery.
It was a treat to see Giger’s lesser-known works, including mirrors and light fixtures… and even giant wristwatches.
On the top level, there were these two portraits of the artist. HR Giger worked up to the end of his life in 2014, when he died from injuries after a fall on the stairs.
The top floor of the museum houses Giger’s personal art collection. There are works by Salvador Dali, mixed in with creepy totems picked up during his travels.
The H.R. Giger Museum Gallery also exhibits rotating works by contemporary artists, who share his love of fantasy and surrealism.
Don’t forget to look out the top floor window, for this gorgeous view of Gruyeres. No wonder Giger stayed in Switzerland and built his museum here, even though he could have lived anywhere.
As you leave, check out the Giger gift shop. It sells books, prints, cups, absinthe… or how about a giant alien head?
Mind blown after stepping into the dystopian world of Giger. It’s amazing to have so many of his seminal works in one beautiful village.
In the words of Alien director Ridley Scott: “At its essence, Giger’s art digs down into our psyches and touches our very deepest primal instincts and fears. His art stands in a category of its own.”
I hope you’ll have the chance to make the journey to Gruyeres, and take photos with his deadly star beasts!
For visiting info, here’s the website for the H.R. Giger Bar. Don’t forget to allow a lot of time in Gruyeres, as there may be a lineup. You can always hang out outside, and take photos with the alien-sculpted floor!
And here is more info on the Museum HR Giger website, including opening hours, admission rates, tickets and more.
I leave you with a line by HP Lovecraft, from his horror story “Pickman’s Model,” as I feel it captures Giger’s power.
He’s an artist who “knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear — the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper color contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness.”
Are you also a fan of HR Giger’s oeuvre? Would you want to visit his Swiss bar and museum? Coming up, I’ll show you more from Gruyeres, including the chateau and cheese.
If you enjoyed this in-depth post, I hope you’ll take a minute to share it on Facebook and social media. I appreciate it, and am excited to bring more travel stories like this to you!
Death & Rebirth on the River Ganges: A sunset boat tour of Varanasi. India cremation grounds & ghats.
As any Goth can tell you, there’s beauty to be found in death and decay. Traveling in India, Yukiro and I came face-to-face with these aspects every day– especially in Varanasi, on the River Ganges.
In my first post about this holy city, we visited Buddhist Sarnath and Hindu temples with Experience Varanasi tours. Now, we’ll join holy men at the banks of the Ganga, the famous river that flows throughout India.
Many parts of India are quite developed (especially Mumbai and New Delhi). However, Varanasi still feels like an ancient city, teeming with citizens and spiritual pilgrims. Life revolves around the River Ganges: every day, you can see dozens of men bathing in the holy waters.
The Hindu cremation ritual also takes place on the steps of the Ganges. I hope you’ll keep an open mind as we dive into this aspect of Indian culture (don’t worry, there are no graphic photos of the bodies). If you’re anything like us, I’m sure you will find these ceremonies riveting.
Yukiro and I arranged our India trip with Janu Private Tours. It made the world of difference to travel with our own private guide, car, and driver: we were able to see multiple cities in a short time, and never worry about the logistics. Mr. Janu and his guides were always on hand to answer our questions expertly, and with a smile.
Even for super-experienced travelers like ourselves, Varanasi (aka Kashi or Benares) is a challenging destination. It’s sensory overload: people and tuk-tuks everywhere, cows and garbage in the streets, and yes — you’ll encounter excrement at some point! It would have been very stressful if we had tried to come here and get around on our own.
Janu can arrange tours anywhere in India, and he linked us with Kunal Rakshit of Experience Varanasi for this final portion of the journey (since we had to fly one hour from Delhi). Kunal met us at the airport, and from the start, we knew we were in the best possible hands. He’s a gentleman, with a kind and thoughtful demeanor that was exactly what we needed for navigating this intense city.
Kunal is a great listener, and customized the tour to exactly match our interests and goals. As we drove through the city, he struck a great balance between delivering interesting information, answering our questions, and just letting us soak it all in.
Our driver, Ravi, was an expert at navigating through the “free for all” streets. We got off to walk through Godowlia Road, which is for pedestrians only and leads to the riverfront. Don’t expect a peaceful stroll: motorbikes honk and zip by you, cows block your path, and vendors come up to sell you goods. (But oh, what a way to dive into the heart of Varanasi, and live in the moment!)
We were surrounded by captivating sights, smells and colors. Kunal explained that these are pilgrims who journeyed to Varanasi; they wear orange, bear flowers, and paint their foreheads. Notice that all of these young men are barefoot!
In Varanasi, you’ll come across all sorts of unexpected scenes. We were glad Kunal was there to explain everything. For example, holding hands is merely a platonic, friendly gesture in India. (Although the government did establish the freedom of sexual orientation and the third gender, as I discussed in the Jaipur post.)
What’s the deal with the cattle everywhere? Cows are considered sacred by Hindus: they provide life-sustaining milk, and drawings show the gods and goddesses living inside a cow. As a result, “holy cows” roam freely in India, and can often block your path.
Elephants also have special status, and one of the Hindu gods — Ganesha — has the head of an elephant. What better place than Varanasi to wear my pink Lord Ganesh raincoat by Print All Over Me? (You can print a rain jacket with any type of design, or choose one from the site as I did.)
While you’ll certainly experience culture-shock, India is a safe country. Simply take precautions and be aware, and you won’t run into any difficulties.
For example: I didn’t get stomach sick at all! Our guides always recommended delicious Indian restaurants that prepared food carefully, as foreigners are not accustomed to the local water. We ate extremely well here, even though we avoided street food as a precaution.
Varanasi can be a shock to the system, but it was one of the top moments of our entire trip. I’ve traveled to 60+ countries, and I can genuinely say there is no place quite like this.
Yukiro and I enjoyed observing the fashion of the Indian women around us. Many come to Varanasi to visit Hindu temples, and take part in festivals and rituals.
This is an incredible city of spiritual power. We encountered holy men or “saddhus” who have renounced the worldly life. There are 4 or 5 million sadhus in all of India. Some wander naked, some take on pledges to never sit down, or other ascetic feats. I read about one renunciant who has held up his right arm for over 35 years!
Many people will stare or approach you. Simply say no thank you and move on, and you won’t run into any issues.
We reached the ghats, or steps leading into the Ganges river. I saw a man petting and feeding a cow, and putting a garland around its neck… they sure are treated like royalty here.
The Ganges is the most sacred river to Hindus, and it is worshiped as the goddess Ganga. You can understand how meaningful it is for these orange-clad pilgrims to journey to these waters.
I put together some clips of Varanasi / Kashi / Benares in this video, to give you a better sense of the colors and chaos.
There’s a palpable energy here. (We covered up our limbs to avoid mosquito bites, and wore raincoats as there was briefly a light drizzle.)
Look up, and you’ll see a radiant painting of Shiva in blue. The story goes that Lord Shiva turned blue because he drank poison to save creation from destruction. In India, blue-colored skin is also interpreted as the aura of a spiritual body.
Yukiro and I enjoyed getting to know our new friend, Kunal Rakshit. Born and brought up in Varanasi, he completed an MBA and worked in finance before starting Experience Varanasi. As a guide, he aims to show travellers the essence of the local culture.
It’s fascinating that Hindus consider the waters of the River Ganges to be purifying. At the same time, this has unfortunately become one of the most polluted bodies of water on the planet. Untreated sewage is pumped into the river, and bodies are burned and released into the waters.
About 400 million people live by the Ganges, and use it on a daily basis for bathing, washing, cooking, and more. If you grow up here, your body is accustomed to the contents of the water — and you won’t get sick. (We even saw a man scoop his hand into these brown waters, and drink from it!)
However, the increasing bacterial count and pollution levels are a major concern. Prime Minister Modi is leading a “Clean India” initiative to improve sanitation, but it’s difficult to change long-time behaviors.
As I mentioned before, simply be aware, keep an open mind, and take precautions — as foreigners are not used to the bacteria in these waters. We were careful to use hand sanitizer and wash our hands, and didn’t end up getting ill.
When you’re in Varanasi, it’s an absolute must to hire one of the rowers to take you on boat ride along the Ganga. Since we were with Kunal, the rowboat was already arranged, and we didn’t have to haggle over prices and hours.
Our rower did an impressive job of navigating the water currents, which can get strong. Kunal helped us buy these these offerings of flowers and candles as well, so that we take part in the local ritual.
You’ve got to love Indian ingenuity… It looks like someone’s math homework was recycled to make this pretty offering! We made a wish and placed it into the waters, for the goddess Ganga to carry away.
The boat took us to Manikarnika Ghat, one of the oldest in Varanasi and dating back to at least the 5th century. This is where bodies are cremated, and the remains are put into the River Ganges.
We were able to take photos from afar (out of respect), and then pull up a little closer to see the cremations. We were glad to have Kunal with us, to speak with us about what we were witnessing.
We saw groups of men carrying a body wrapped in cloths down to the banks, on a bamboo stretcher. The chief mourner pays the mortician for the holy fire. The body is set onto the wooden pyre and burned in the flames, while the mourners perform other rituals.
The area is heavy with smoke and ash, but it blew in the direction away from the waters so we could watch from the boat without trouble. Kunal discussed the significance of Varanasi as a place for liberation from the cycles of birth and death. Many come to the Great Cremation Ground, or Mahashmshana to die, as many believe this results in “moksha” (release). Others bring ashes here and place them into the holy waters.
Death is hidden in Western culture, but it’s up close and personal in Varanasi. It’s not easy to see the Hindu cremations, but I encourage you to put aside any reservations and experience this ceremony for the dead.
After, the “chief mourner” bathes publicly among many others, in another part of the River Ganges. Washing in these waters helps to cleanse and purify one’s karma.
As the sun began to lower, our rowboat reached the Dasaswamedh ghat where the “aarti ceremony” takes place every sunset. As you can see, many others from all over India have come here to witness it too.
The aarti ceremony is a devotional to the goddess Ganga. Of course, there are other gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon that are worshiped here too. These black and white posters show the “lingam” of shiva, and Kali (goddess of death) with her outstretched tongue. And Varanasi is the permanent abode of Lord Shiva.
Tip for those of you allergic to mosquitoes, like me: there are so many of these little buggers at dusk, especially by the water. Make sure you cover up entirely, and spray yourself with DEET (the natural stuff simply doesn’t work). Yukiro and I used copious amounts of Bens 100 mosquito spray and remarkably, we didn’t get bitten that night.
Rather than jostle with the crowds on shore, we could watch the aarti performance from our private boat. We saw young priests take the stage, and chant invocations to the Mother Goddess Ganga. They then held up incense, candelabras of fire, and peacock feathers, moving them to the rhythm of the beat.
Our boatman brought us back to the main ghat, and we walked back to our car in a daze. Varanasi at night is straight out of a lucid dream. What goes on in the mind of this dreadlocked holy wanderer, skin smeared with ashes from the pyres?
What can I say but… Holy cow! Varanasi is a destination that blew my mind — and that’s hard to do these days, considering how much I travel.
Namaste Janu Private Tours for showing us all these enthralling aspects of your country. If you come to the holy city on the Ganges, please reach out to Kunal at Experience Varanasi to take you around. He was an outstanding guide; we were glad for his deep knowledge and calming personality, especially when we saw challenging places such as the funeral pyres.
And that’s all for the land of Vishnu and Shakti, until I return again. For more, you can revisit our entire journey with Mr Janu (through Delhi, Utter Pradesh, Rajasthan) — all my India travel stories are here.
A Gothic Halloween in London, UK! Viktor Wynd cabinet of curiosities, absinthe bar, horror-themed afternoon tea.
Happy Nightmare before Christmas!
I’m not much of an X-mas person…. so in the spirit of Jack Skellington, this post is going to be about how to celebrate Halloween in London, United Kingdom!
Ye ol England was one of the original centers of Goth subculture, and remains one of the best cities for Gothic, bizarre and underground festivities. I spent Halloween 2017 with my friends in London, and it turned out to be one of the best All Hallows Eves yet.
Our dark bacchanal included the Black Devil Disco Club with the Satanic Temple (above), seeing The Exorcist stage play, enjoying monster-movie themed afternoon tea, and drinking absinthe at a cabinet of oddities. Keep reading for details of these London Halloween bars, events and parties!
But first, a peek at my Nightmare Before Xmas outfit. You won’t catch me wearing red and green this season. Instead, I like to layer faux fur during the winter, and break out my Sorel knee-high boots. (Click below to see where I got these items.)
Tis the season… for unique stockings and socks! My go-to source is always UK Tights — they ship worldwide, and have the largest online selection of legwear, including fishnets, patterned and luxury hosiery.
Since it’s now too cold to go barelegged, I’ve been reaching for above-the-knee or thigh-high socks. I love the alternative look of these Girardi Meredith hold-ups, especially when paired with a short black skirt and sweater. The faux leather cuff at the top stays securely, and is decorated with an adorable bow.
You can find these socks and other fashion legwear from my friends UK Tights. I’ll be wearing these and more all winter.
– Here’s a different spin on this look. I’m accessorizing with a holographic Cyberdog backpack, and Moat House wood sunglasses.
– My faux fur jacket is from Pretty Attitude, similar to this furry and this ombre jacket.
– I’m wearing these exact Sorel boots (the After Hours no tongue lace-up boots in redwood leather). For more info, click below.
Now, let’s descend into the London Underworld. When you see Baphomet and a pentagram… you know you’ve entered the den of the British Satanists!
This pre-Halloween event was organized by The Satanic Temple London & UK. It was the first edition of their “Black Devil Disco Club,” which brings together two of my favorite things (the devil and disco).
Established in 2016, The Satanic Temple’s mission is to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, to reject tyrannical authority, and to advocate practical common sense and justice.”
The members are atheist, and advocate for fact-based science, and marginalized communities. Everyone I met at the event was kind and inclusive.
At the Black Devil Disco night, the DJs played tracks by Patrick Cowley, Giorgio Moroder and other Italo Disco heroes. Between boogieing, you could get a tarot reading or “leave something witchy” in the candlelit back room.
The Satanic Temple of London and UK hosts gatherings like this year-round. Check out their chapters’s Facebook page to see what’s coming up next.
I wanted to do some “only in London” excursions, such as seeing a play in the West End. I’m not a fan of cheesy musicals, so I didn’t come across anything appealing… until I learned The Exorcist was opening at the Phoenix Theatre!
I reunited with my friend Vanessa, and we went to one of the first showings of The Exorcist. I was keen to see how they’d adapt William Peter Blatty’s horror novel and 1970s movie, for a live stage production.
We weren’t allowed to shoot photos during the performance, so I’m doing my best impression of Regan, the little girl possessed by a demon (voiced by Sir Ian McKellen.) The cast nailed their parts, especially during the battle against the evil spirit Pazuzu.
The Exorcist’s lighting and set were outstanding, especially the spooky candlelight confessions and blood writings on the wall. There were jump-scares, and fantastic effects — let’s just say, they’re literally hair-raising and head-turning.
If you’re in London and a horror fan, The Exorcist is the play for you. Tickets and info here — this is a limited run show, which ends on March 10, 2018.
What else is a rather British activity? Afternoon tea.
There are many London venues for tea and finger sandwiches. However, when I read that Royal Lancaster Hotel was offering a Halloween afternoon tea, I knew I’d found my place. (Address: Lancaster Terrace, London W2 2TY, UK)
I entered the recently-renovated modern hotel, and was delighted to see that the tearoom was decorated in the theme of 1960s horror movies! Royal Lancaster nailed the classy details: everything is in black and white, with celluloid-printed menus and a clapboard that read 666.
Out came a black-and-white themed tray, with a fog of dry ice! Royal Lancaster’s ArTea set included a mix of creatively-designed, delicious savories and sweets.
My favorites included the cucumber and pumpernickel sandwiches, sushi with black caviar, a scotch egg with black crust, and popcorn in a coffin (a nod to the film theme). The macaroons and checkered cake went perfectly with our pots of tea: we ordered a selection, including classic Earl Grey, and a ginger medley.
Royal Lancaster chose a 1960s classic horror theme since this year is the hotel’s 50th birthday. The tearoom set the mood with black-and-white footage from Hitchcock’s Psycho.
I loved the imaginative, classy take on the theme (this doesn’t feel like a kid’s kitschy Halloween experience). All around the room, there were carnivorous plants in homage to Audrey, the Venus fly trap from Little Shop of Horrors.
We ended our monochrome meal with freshly-backed black scones, with clotted cream, marmalade, and cake pops. Royal Lancaster ArTea offers seasonal afternoon teas year-round, but their Halloween one is especially a treat.
Also open year-round is the mysterious Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities. The glowing exterior looks like something out of a Victorian fantasy novel — and that just about sums up the experience of visiting Viktor’s lair. Push open these doors, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by bizarre, macabre and kitschy oddities from around the world.
(Viktor Wynd / Last Tuesday Society address: 11 Mare St, London E8 4RP)
Viktor leads tours that are a mix of story-telling and performance art. The space is a throwback to Wunderkabinetts of past centuries: mesmerizing collections of taxidermy, natural phenomena, tribal art, and other esoteric wonders.
In addition, the museum is home to East London’s Most Curious Cocktail Bar. A giant lobster overlooks the bar, stocked with tinctures for pre-Prohibition drinks.
My friends Zoetica Ebb and Trevor cuddled up with the top-hatted lion, and we enjoyed absinthe with a sugar cube and water drip. Behind them, you can see spellbinding works from the temporary “Of Shadows” exhibition on loan from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. (Next time, I’ll share our photoshoot in Highgate Cemetery.)
The charismatic Viktor leads his guests down a winding spiral staircase, and into a basement filled with thousands of strange objects. He begins at a glass case dedicated to dandies such as Quentin Crisp and Stephen Tennant. He especially admires Sebastian Horsley, and keeps his Saville Row suit and nails from his crucifixion down here.
The theme of decadence, excess and self-creation carries through all the cabinets of wonders. Viktor Wynd’s collection includes shrunken heads (he spoke of spending time with the tribes of New Guinea and Congo), Happy Meal toys, rare and perverse books, mermaid skeletons…
You can interact with many of the objects, and ask Viktor about their origins. True to the mad dandy personality, he’ll probably answer with a cryptic tale that has you thirsting for more.
For a dark dining experience, you can rent out the room on the right for a private meal. Guests sit on crimson banquettes, under a preserved sea monster, and feast on a sarcophagus table with a skeleton inside!
On the left, Viktor sits at a table that was once used for secret occult rituals. The Gnostic Temple of Agape was discovered beneath an old building, and brought here for preservation.
He writes in his guidebook (which everyone on the tour receives for free): “For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, The Temple, under the guardianship of the initiates, has been used as a place to celebrate the divine gift of love, to create spells, practice alchemy and summon angels and spirits from the other world.” The book of magic sits outside, beckoning you to decipher its spells.
Let your imagination soar at Viktor Wynd’s Museum of Curiosities and The Last Tuesday Society. Check out their site for special events, and I encourage you to come for a glass of absinthe and tour with Viktor for a delightfully bizarre experience.
London turned out to be one hell of a destination for Halloween! There was plenty of spooky decor, food and attractions all around the city (I didn’t get to check out the London Dungeon or Jack the Ripper walking tour, but both were also recommended by local friends).
I leave you with some snaps from Chelsea. Skeleton and skull cookies from Gail’s Bakery, and a staring statue of Lucifer.
And how fabulous is this Ouija board box of chocolate, from Artisan du Chocolat? They also had pumpkin-shaped and flavored chocolates.
I still have another Gothic post from London to come, about Highgate Cemetery. And if you’re looking for Goth and alternative shopping, check out my Camden Market and Shoreditch guide.
Did you know that London had these dark attractions? If I missed out on anything, let me know in the comments and I’m sure I will be back in Britain soon.
Alternative Bucharest: a hip, street art walking tour! Rick & Morty Romania mural, travel influencers press trip.
Dark greetings from Bucharest, Romania! As you can see from my vampire fangs top, I was excited to be in the land of Dracula for the first time.
In Part 1 of my Bucharest series, I shared a Gothic photoshoot in a graveyard, and my speech at Experience Romania conference. This event invited travel influencers / bloggers / writers from around the globe, to discover the best of this Eastern European nation.
During the three-day event, the volunteers organized optional activities — including small-group walking tours led by Urban Adventures.
Photographer Joey Wong and I signed up for the “Alternative Tour of Bucharest,” a three-hour walk that let us discover street art, emerging artists, and abandoned buildings in this beautiful city.
Our guide took us to historical gems like the Grad Na Capitol Cinema / Summer Theatre. It opened in 1912, but was damaged by a 1977 earthquake and then abandoned. Thankfully, the theater is now being re-vamped. I was glad to see the building maintain its classic arches and carvings, while looking to the future with alien-like street art.
(My hair got a makeover as well… love my slasher synthwave undercut by Chad Evans at Stratosphere Salon in Vancouver, Canada.)
Outfit of the Day: Since I was going to be in Dracula’s homeland, I couldn’t resist picking up this bloody vampire fangs cut-out top from H&M’s Halloween collection. This was only available during spooky season, but you can find a similar style vampire shirt here.
The sun was shining (in late October!), and Bucharest’s walls were a rainbow of street-art… The perfect conditions for a photoshoot.
I’m standing in front of one of my personal favorites. Who knew Romania had Rick and Morty mural? (This is the Adult Swim cartoon that follows genius scientist Rick and his not-too-swift grandson Morty on misadventures throughout the universe.)
Once again, we had an enthusiastic, knowledgeable young guide who showed us Bucharest’s hidden and offbeat sides.
Our guide Elena pointed out works by local creators, which you can spot on walls all throughout the city. This adorable pig-puppy creature is by AEUL.
Urban Adventures always incorporates local flavors into their tours. At the start, Elena handed us each a “covrig,” or Romanian pretzel to try. A bit like the simit I had in Istanbul, this is a delicious fresh-baked bread topped with poppy or sesame seeds. No wonder it’s a favorite snack among locals.
“Quick Morty, **** did another one!” Looks like the drooling Rick Sanchez made a stop in Bucharest, between his space-flights to alien galaxies.
(If anyone can decipher the name of the artist who made this Rick & Morty Romanian mural, please let me know in the comments. Wubalubadubdub!)
I was pleasantly surprised by Bucharest’s street art, which is colorful, edgy and well-executed. Urban Adventures took us to this stretch of wall with panels by different artists.
(If you’re digging my sunglasses, see more below)
A safe space for teens, with heavy metal upside-down crosses… rock on.
Call me the Queen of Pentacles. (All photography by Joey Wong.)
Romanian street art gets an A+ from me. The paintings on this wall were beautifully rendered.
Even the graffiti tags around Bucharest add a vibrant energy to the city. (My black jacket is faux fur, as always.)
The artists do a fantastic job at incorporating the natural landscape into their works. One of the most iconic Bucharest murals is this one by Sweet Damage Crew (Point Art Space, on Eremia Grigorescu street). It spans the side of an old residential building, and creates the illusion of a tree growing out of the painted trunks!
Our guide showed us the exteriors of a few abandoned residences, which are a common sight around Bucharest. These crumbling urban ruins are fascinating examples of “beautiful decay,” which is the topic of another Urban Adventures walking tour.
I think I “dressed for the occasion,” wouldn’t you say?
💖 If you’re looking for Gothic / alternative clothes like mine, click here. 💖
You know you’re in the lair of Count Dracula… when a pedestrian walk sign becomes a vampire-hunter holding a wooden stake!
Speaking of monsters… it appears Bucharest has been infested by baby aliens with toes for limbs.
These little guys are hanging out and waving to you from various vantage points. They’re creepy-crawling over this hipster warehouse.
Bucharest’s creative street art even has 3D components. I noticed a morbid noose hanging down, next to a sign that says The Void.
In addition to modern urban art, we also got a taste of Romanian history. Elena took us to Revolution Square, framed by a statue of King Carol I riding a horse.
She pointed out bullet holes and fire damage on buildings, caused during the Revolution of 1989 that overthrew the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. Quite the moment to stand here, and see the balcony where Ceausescu gave his last speech.
Is that… a speared, burned potato? An egg on a skewer?
It’s actually the Memorial of Rebirth: erected in 2005 to commemorate the people’s sufferings during the 1989 Romanian Revolution. Many complained that the pillar was too abstract to convey the meaning of the memorial.
In 2012, someone showed his/her frustration by throwing up a balloon of red paint, which stained the pillar. The “dripping blood of the pierced potato” remains there today… and adds a vampire vibe, if you ask me!
Bucharest’s architecture is full of enticing Gothic elements. These spooky faces are carved above windows and doors, to scare away evil spirits including strigoi (the blood-sucking dead that inspired the story of Dracula!)
This devilish, horned face in a circular plate caught my attention.
Someone gave this creature an orange eyeshadow makeover. Classic architecture meets glam rock: I’m into it.
Such a great way to see Bucharest’s hip, underground culture — and with a group of fellow travel bloggers / journalists / vloggers. Very grateful to Experience Bucharest for organizing this influencers press trip, which included three days of food, parties, tours and networking activities.
I had the wrong image of Romania as a dark, somewhat unfriendly “Soviet / Communist” place. Bucharest reversed my expectations entirely. The city has a contemporary, cosmopolitan, European feel; much of the architecture is inspired by French and classical styles.
I was especially delighted by Bucharest’s public parks and gardens. They’re lush and beautifully designed — I couldn’t think of a better place to relax outside on a bright day.
However, to my great pleasure… Dracula lurks in the shadows! I enjoyed seeing Goth elements like this black crucifix door handle to an Eastern European church. So death metal.
As a “Dracula aficionado,” I got vampire nail art to match the theme of my journey. I spy a bat, coffins, fangs, bloody gradients, the evil Count, a skull… Bravo to Glam Nail Studio (award winning Japanese nail salon in Vancouver, Canada) for the intricate designs! These gel nails were painted by hand, by owner Keiko Matsui.
(By the way, feel free to Pin any of my photos to Pinterest. Just link back to my blog, and I’m @lacarmina on Pinterest.)
Our final stop: a peek inside Bucharest’s architecture school (UAUIM, Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism). Founded in 1952, the building has a modern design with a winding central staircase, and light fixtures reminiscent of honeycomb.
Urban Adventures filled us in on a little secret… the back patio / rooftop area is decorated with giant murals. The helix and mathematical themes fit in well with school of architecture.
I relate to the little emo black cloud. Aren’t these Romanian artists talented?
My blood-dripping fangs shirt hints at only one aspect of Bucharest. I was glad to discover that this is one bright, artistic, hipster city.
Thanks to Elena and Urban Adventures Bucharest for the engaging underground tour. They also offer tours with food tastings, biking, dark side legends, history, and much more.
A few of us were craving caffeine, so we went to hang out at T-Zero Coffee Shop. A delight to sip a flat white, beneath these spooky hanging mannequins (they have a Saw horror movie vibe).
I wanted to know if Bucharest had a weird, hipster, underground side — and was pleased with everything I found.
Cheers to Experience Bucharest and all the volunteers who made this tourism event possible. They brought in a hundred travel / digital media leaders from around the world, to see what Romania has to offer. Shout out to S-Club Bucharest and Nomad SkyBar for hosting two of the group dinners and parties.
It was a dream to finally come to Romania and sink my claws into the vampire legends. Next, I’ll share stories of Vlad the Impaler, and a visit to Bran Castle in Transylvania.
“Mortyyy!” I hope my street art walk revealed an unexpected side of Bucharest. Now it’s your turn to travel here, and “get schwifty” with Rick Sanchez!