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Category Archive for Cape Town + Africa

10 Things I Love about Cape Town: Wine, jazz, drag queens! South Africa travel show episode.

I’m leaping in the air because our Cape Town video is out!

In this latest episode of my travel show — published on Business Insider Travel — I encounter lions, drag queens, penguins…

…street art, and color everywhere.  (Above, I’m posing with the rainbow homes of the Bo-Kaap district – outfit details and more here.)

Please take a few minutes to watch our episode above and on Business Insider.

It was hard to edit all the fantastic footage into a short video. I could go on for hours about why I love this city — but I’ll boil it down to 10 things I love about Cape Town.

Stellenbosch winery cape town

 1. South African Wine Tastings

South Africa’s wines have been getting attention in recent years, especially those from the Stellenbosch region. I’m no wine expert, but I can tell you that these are some of the best I’ve tasted (and I’ve tasted a lot).

Our driver took us about an hour outside of Cape Town to Steenberg, a modern vineyard and farm. The staff poured us a selection of white and reds, including the smooth and complex Magna Carta. I wish I had a glass of it in my hand, as I’m typing this!

petting a big pig

Outside, we ran into Pumbaa the warthog! This rotund creature really looks like the African pig in the Disney movie, The Lion King. Of course, filmmaker Melissa had to sing Hakuna Matata and pet his bristles.

girl and warthog pig

Somehow, the Asian peace-sign pose is appropriate here. Pumbaa was the only animal who didn’t bite her during our journey. (Remember she got nipped by a peacock, penguin and dassie… and I got pecked by an ostrich.)

publik wine bar, cape town

2. Cape Town Wine Bars

Another glass? Yes please. I got tipsy at Publik, a laid-back bar that serves local wines along with cheese, rye with quince, and smoked free-range meats. If you usually dislike a certain varietal, they might surprise you with a delicious version that makes you think twice. The goblets and high counters make this an easygoing experience — there’s no snobbery here.

jazz safari, Hilton Schilder

3. Jazz Safari with Local Musicians

I love getting to know locals wherever I go. One night, we joined a Jazz Safari tour that took us inside the homes of local musicians. We ate dinner together, and then listened to a private home performance.

african Mouth Bow instrument

Musician Hilton Schilder’s wife prepared us a hearty curry with rice, and it was one of the best meals I had in Cape Town (along with Faldela Tolker’s Cape Malay cooking). Hilton plays multiple instruments, and performed experimental pieces on piano, guitar  and this African mouth bow. I enjoyed hearing about his inspiration, such as how he composed a 15 minute song called “Rebirth” by visualizing a keyboard on the ceiling, as he was lying in bed recovering from an illness.

township jazz musicians, cape town

Next, our guide Michael drove us to one of the townships. We saw some metal shacks on the outskirts, but most of the residents lived in small houses. Not nearly as ominous as you might imagine.

TA Blaques performed energetic compositions on trumpet, with his friend on guitar. Cape Jazz is a local style that mixes Western and African influences, with plenty of improv. We tapped our feet along as they played a mix of “Pata Pata” and “In the Jungle.” What a memorable night.

beefcakes cape town gay club

4. Beefcakes Gay Bar & Drag Queen Show

Now, for a very different type of nightlife… What is the gay scene like in Cape Town? I must say, pink and fabulous! The gay bar Beefcakes has a double meaning: it serves burgers, and the waiters are all beefed-up studs!

south africa gay bar, beefcakes

Beefcakes has frequent “boogie nights” that bring in LGBT and alternative performers. The bar is a favorite destination for girls nights too. We saw a bachelorette doing a “body shot” off a waiter’s six pack.

fat drag queen

But that evening, all eyes were on drag queen Champagne le Roux. She took the stage, and made snide but light-hearted comments about people in the audience. At one point, my cutesy lion backpack was the subject of her interrogation.

beefcakes drag show

After some song-and-dance numbers, it was time for “Bitchy Bingo.” Champagne ordered a “ball boy” to come on stage and pick out bingo numbers.

cape town theme bar

Our friend Vicky won! She had to go onstage to dance with the queen, and then got awarded prizes like a Beefcakes calendar and a bottle of warm beer.

beefcakes muscle men waiters

“Macho macho man…” Crazy to think that I’ve seen drag queen shows in so many parts of the world now, from Israel to Tokyo. (Photography by Melissa Rundle, Eric Bergemann and La Carmina.)

eat african animals menu

5. African Cuisine

Speaking of meat, Cape Town Tourism organized some outstanding meals for us. At Africa Cafe, I tried pap for the first time — a mushy, gluey staple carb made from ground maize. The menu offered African exotic meats, including springbok, impala, crocodile, and warthog (alas, poor Pumbaa!).

Cap Classique bubbly wine champagne

6. Drinking Cap Classique

Alcohol is a big part of my Top 10 list, isn’t it? At Hallelujah, I tasted a selection of Cap Classique “champagne,” a bubbly wine from South Africa.  It was apparently a favorite of Marie Antoinette and European royalty.

hallelujah asian restaurant, cape town

Hallelujah also serves outstanding Asian street food at like prawns with hot steamed buns and coleslaw. Melt-in-your mouth dishes designed for sharing, inspired by dim sum and Asia comfort foods. I didn’t realize Cape Town had such hip restaurants and bars.

house of machines bar

7. The House of Machines

A lot of locals recommended a bar called The House of Machines. Once we got there, we saw what all the buzz was about. This space is a mix of motorcycles, men’s fashion, art and cocktails.

cape town hipster bars

They make a mean dark and stormy cocktail, and the music (indie rock, dance, local) is spot on. The next time I’m in Cape Town, I’ll be heading straight here.

8. Handmade Local Fashion

Missibaba is a women-run leather studio that stays true to its Cape Town origins. Many of the accessories take inspiration from African art, such as purses with tribal patterns.

A devotee of “slow fashion,” Missbaba employs local craftswomen who make almost all of the designs by hand.

Lead designer Chloe Townsend is passionate about “slow fashion” and supporting South African women. Her workshop employs craftswomen from an underprivileged township, and she donates a portion of proceeds to local empowerment programs.

9. Young Design Studios

Remember my trip to Woodstock Exchange, a modern art hub? You can’t leave Cape Town without exploring the cool studios inside.

I interviewed designer Atang Tshikare of Zabalazaa about his urban illustrations, which he custom-creates on skateboards and other surfaces.

He shares a space with Jasper Eales, a product designer who won awards for his eco-friendly design solutions, like a clever surfboard storage rack.

10. Powerful Political Art

Cape Town has a tumultuous history that is often contemplated in its local art. Ralph Ziman’s photos symbolize the devastation caused by arms trading. He photographed street vendors holding AK-47 guns, created out of African beads and wire.

His team showed us “Resistance”, a 100-meter long installation of a broken gun made from wheat paste. The weapon is wrapped in world currencies, symbolizing the international complicity in the arms trade.

If you’re intrigued by this art scene, take a look at my post about the street art in Woodstock. And don’t forget to view our Cape Town travel video, to see it all in action.

africa warthog, pumba

I leave you with this smiling warthog from the vineyard. He seems to be humming Hakuna Matata.

Did this post open your eyes to South Africa’s wines, LGBT nightlife and restaurants? Please let us know your feedback on the video, and where you’d like us to see us travel next!

Asia pop culture tours, African safari & Owl cafes: my top fashion & travel memories of 2014.

tokyo tower glowing at night

I’m glad you enjoyed the first half of my Year in Review! In this post, we’ll look back at the last six months of 2014, which took me to eight different countries for various work collaborations.

We’ll begin with this magic moment, in front of the glowing orange Tokyo Tower. I’ve lost count of how many times I have been to Japan, but each time, I fall in love with the country once again.

pechakucha speaker, presentation

This year, I began working with Odigo.travel — a startup that lets travelers plan “exceptional journeys” to Japan, by creating trips and getting offbeat tips from insiders like me.

In June, Odigo flew me to Tokyo to give a speech in front of hundreds at PechaKucha. I spoke about my bizarre journey from blogging to TV presenting, writing and traveling worldwide. << Curious about my presentation? Watch my Pecha Kucha speech.

japan owl theme cafe

I’m excited for the official launch of Odigo early next year, and invite you to get a sneak peek here. Odigo lets you discover the coolest attractions in Japan — such as the adorable owl cafe — and put together a customized trip with all the addresses, maps, hours and info in one place. You can also contribute your own write-ups and images; take a look at Odigo, and I hope you’ll enjoy using the site.

teal lace party dress

As part of my mission to find Asia hotspots, I flew to Taipei for the first time. Here’s a Nanette Lepore outfit post from Taiwan’s Humble House boutique hotel.

taiwanese modern art

Taipei’s cheeky, modern art scene impressed me. Looks like the resident caveman (at Le Meridien) is trying to apologize to me. Perhaps he tried to steal my cat… << All the photos and outfit details here.

hello kitty friendship festival

Did you think “kawaii” cute culture was found only in Japan? In fact, Hello Kitty is possibly even more popular in Taiwan. She has a theme cafe in Taipei, and Sanrio had an interactive exhibition while I was there. (I haven’t blogged about this yet — I know, I’m always backlogged — but you can peer inside the Hong Kong Hello Kitty cafe.)

travel writer, travel magazine writing

I keep busy with a variety of different projects. I was in Hong Kong for a big TV shoot with Pro Sieben (German television). Can’t say much about this yet, but I’ll show you the photos and clip when they air next spring.

I wrote a number of articles for magazines this year, like Sunday Times Travel UK. I also have my own column in each issue of Hong Kong Express Airways’ in-flight magazine (scans above).

fashion blogger modeling posters billboard

As I mentioned in the last post, my focus is now on coverage I find meaningful — hence the stories about travel and underground culture worldwide. I’d feel empty if I followed the typical fashion blog format: outfit photos, consumption-oriented roundups, and little else of substance.

Nonetheless, I’m still passionate about style when I can express it on my own terms. I love to support designers who do things differently: slow fashion, alternative styles, eco materials, vintage. Moat House’s sunglasses are a perfect example, and I was honored to model their frames on a life-size poster in Paris.  

upper house hotel room

I returned to Hong Kong, which remains one of my favorite cities thanks to my friends and relatives here. I organized an influencers dinner for Odigo, and took Yukiro around to my favorite boutiques and restaurants.

luxury hotel bed

Things got Miffy-crazy in our Hong Kong penthouse, at the Upper House Hotel… You’ve got to see this epic blog and video, if you missed it!

wwf panda bears exhibit

My Pirates and I went to the new art center: PMQ in Central. At the time, there was an exhibition of 1600 panda bear statues. A powerful (and cute) way to get word out on the WWF, and their work in protecting endangered animals.

japanese sashimi salad

Oh, and the delicious food we ate in HK! Above was one of the best meals of the year, a melt-in-your-mouth sashimi salad by Harlan Goldstein at Sushi To. << Check out all my Hong Kong restaurant reviews.

eat your kimchi youtube studio

My Asia journey didn’t end there. I went to Seoul for the first time in over a decade, and it’s changed so much. Fortunately, my friends Eat Your Kimchi gave me pointers on where to see the best of K-pop culture. << Wander inside the EYK YouTube studio.

kpop beauty fashion blogger

I couldn’t get enough of the youtful university district, Hongdae, filled with coffee shops and Kpop fashion shops. I posed with the modern art in Itaewon

dongdaemun design plaza, seoul

… and got beamed up into the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Now that’s what I call space disco architecture!

cape town bo kaap street

This year, I realized more than ever: you only live once, and opportunities may never come again. So when Cape Town Tourism invited my film team and me to go to South Africa, we had to say yes — even though it was happening during an insane travel period. We weathered a sleepless schedule, trans-continental flights, lost luggage, and other fiascoes along the way.

But as soon as we stepped out onto the colorful streets of the Bo Kaap, I knew we made the right choice. We had so many wonderful moments on this trip — jazz in townships, Stellenbosch wines, street art, hanging out with local artists.

yawning lion, south africa safari

I also went on my first safari, and it was as magnificent as I imagined. We took photos of elephants, rhinos, zebras and this pride of lions.

aquila safari, game reserve

Perhaps you’ve been wondering: who is “we”? Or rather, who goes on these trips with me? Since my jobs require high-quality photos and videos, I’m not a solo traveler.

For the most part, these comrades are Eric and Melissa, my close friends and seasoned filmmakers. With each project, we aim to improve the quality of everything we produce. I hope you’ve been enjoying the recent visuals and stories — we’ll keep on upping the ante in 2015.

yuan chonghuan, 袁崇煥, 袁崇焕

In the late summer, I was honored to be the cover model for Kirameki Magazine, wearing a Moi-meme-Moitie dress. << See all the photos and credits from this shoot.

Also, fun fact: I found out I’m a direct descendant of 16th century Chinese military leader, Yuan Chonghuan (袁崇焕)! His story is rather heavy metal… In the Ming Dynasty, Yuen was a revered commander who twice defeated the Mongol army, but was later betrayed and killed via Death by a Thousand Cuts. His enemies in Beijing rushed to buy and eat his body parts, but his loyal friend She managed to rescue the head. For the past 300 years, She’s descendants have been guarding my ancestor’s decapitated head. I’m not sure where it is today, but my family still has an ancestral plot of land in Dongguan, his southern Chinese hometown…

philippines traffic, driving

After a bit of sunshine in Vancouver, I was back on the plane to a new Asian destination… Cebu in the Philippines! The streets were a jumble of colorful jeepneys.

white hippie dress

This time, my Pirates and I were collaborating with sáv Hospitality. I judged the Miss Scuba beauty pageant, a competition that gets the word out on ocean conservation…

goth model, lace dress

… and we did a showcase of their gorgeous Pacific Cebu Resort (travel video to be released soon).

travel blogging, beach destinations

Jet lag, what’s that? The small annoyances are all worth it, when you get to experience a near-perfect day like this one. << Look back at my boating and beach adventure in Lapu Lapu. 

the bund, shanghai skyline

We flew a few hours north, and wound up in what seemed like completely different universe: Shanghai, China. Here’s the glowing Bund, which captures how fast the city’s developed in recent years.

cachet hotels china

I went to the mainland a few times when I was growing up, and it never looked anything like this. I still have more to show you about Shanghai’s young design scene, hip restaurants, and French Quarter. << For now, here’s an outfit post from Cachet Boutique Hotel.

purple blue red hair color

Before the end of the year, I made two final trips: to New Orleans, and San Francisco for a TV shoot with ABC Nightline. I haven’t had a chance to post about these adventures yet, but here’s a preview at my new hair color (a blue-purple-magenta ombre by Stephanie Hoy). You can look forward to these stories and several new travel videos, beginning in January.

Middle East, Africa, Asia… what’s next? I hope you’ll continue to join my journey in 2015, since I have big plans up my kimono-sleeves! Check out @lacarmina on Instagram for day-to-day images, and to hear announcements like reader meet-ups. 

Thanks for being with me on my journey — I read all messages and comments, and am grateful for all the love you give. It’s amazing to connect with like-minded people who believe in what I do. See you next year. Let’s make it the best one yet!