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A cheesy trip to Gruyeres, Switzerland! Traveling by Swiss trains to see Medieval castles & culture.

fashion blogger poses legs

Ready for part 2 of my Gruyères, Switzerland journey? I’ll warn you, it gets a little cheesy…

Last fall, I went to La Gruyere to see the H R Giger bar and museum (the dark artist behind the Alien movies). As you can gleam from my emoji sweater, I’m a die-hard fan.

gruyere Fribourg suisse

However, there are many more reasons to check out Gruyeres. Located in Switzerland’s canton of Fribourg, it’s one of the most scenic destinations that photographer Joey Wong and I have ever seen.

(And it’s the birthplace of Gruyeres cheese, which happens to be my favorite!)

medieval architecture gruyeres switzerland

We were surprised at how much we enjoyed this little Swiss village, with pastoral landscapes and a Medieval castle.

swiss travel passes train journey

First, how do you get to Gruyere? Most travellers start in Geneva, the capital of Switzerland. From there, it’s about a two-hour journey by train.

Joey and I used First Class Swiss Travel Pass from Switzerland Tourism, for unlimited rides on any of the country’s trains. The system works like clockwork, with efficient timetables and connections. (No wonder the Swiss are known as master watch-makers.)

swiss cows pasture farmland

We stayed in a hotel in Geneva, and did a day-trip to Gruyeres (you can also stay in the village overnight, if you wish to spend more time here).

There are two railway routes you can take from Geneva central station: go to Romont and change at Bulle, or take the scenic ride to Montreux, and change at Montbovon.

lake geneva beach water

I’d opt for the Montreux itinerary. As you can see, the view out the window is spectacular! For most of the journey, you can see the crystal waters of Lac Léman (aka Lake Geneva), one of the largest in Western Europe.

swiss sheep grazing

Our jaws dropped at the scenes that passed by our train window: quaint churches with steeples, furry sheep grazing, green hilly landscapes.

gruyeres chapel church

When you arrive at Gruyeres Station, you must walk up a path to reach the village itself. Take your time to enjoy the sights along the way, including this cute chapel with a bell tower.

sheep farm switzerland

We said hello to these hungry sheep, with bells ringing from their collars.

la Gruyère tourism

“The hills are alive, with the Sound of Music!” This view of the Alps made me want to dance around like Maria Von Trapp.

gruyeres village square tourists

And then, we arrived at the village of Gruyeres: home to only about 2000 people. However, behind the charm lurks aliens… (as you can see in my article about the H. R. Giger museum and bar.)

gruyere cheese fondue restaurants

Gruyeres is in the French region of Switzerland, so most of the signs are in this language. Cheese is the main industry here, along with culture tourism — people come here from around the world, to soak up the old-time charm of this little town.

The town is named after the founder, Gruerius. He captured a crane and made it his symbolic animal (in French, the bird is called a “grue”).

St. Theodul catholic church gruyeres

No matter where you point the camera, La Gruyere is a stunner. We strolled by St. Theodul’s church (Église Saint-Théodule), which dates back to 1254. The Counts of Gruyeres are buried under the altar of St. Michael, in this Catholic church

alien emoji sweater aliens

However, this Goth was more interested in the Satanic underbelly of this town! (My alien emoji sweater hints at the occult world of HR Giger. See more styles below:)

gruyeres quaint village switzerland

La Gruyere is especially vibrant in the fall, when the leaves are fiery red.

gruyeres museums attractions

For those who love culture, there are several artistic attractions in the village, including a Tibetan art museum. 

goth sweaters alien shirt top

Fans of the Alien movie series make pilgrimages here, to behold the H. R. Giger museum. Gruyeres is home to the largest collection of his works.

château de Gruyères

We started at one of the main sights, the Castle of Gruyères. This fortress from the Middle Ages now holds a museum, art exhibitions, and theatrical showings.

labyrinth maze gruyeres castle

Gruyères Castle was built in the late 13th century, with a distinctive Savoy square layout. With a labyrinth and garden beneath the Alps… this is a picture straight out of a fairy tale.

gruyeres mountains, moleson, dent de broc

Many travel to this region to hike in the nearby mountains. Moléson-sur-Gruyères and Dent de Broc are ranges in the Frebourg pre-Alps, overlooking the lake of Gruyère.

gruyeres swiss castle chateau

History and culture-lovers flock to Switzerland to see the famous Medieval castles. (We also visited Chillon castle at Montreux, which you can see here.)

lucifer baphomet devil art europe

This sculpture, located at the entrance of Chateau de Gruyères, caught my eye. It’s called “Le Bouclier de Mars”, and appears to be an ancient carving. However, in fact, it was created by Patrick Woodruffe in 1993.

gruyere patrick woodruffe Le Bouclier de Mars

Leave it to me to find the devil, wherever I go! (There was also a “heaven” circular panel next to this one.)

alien outfitters clothing fashion

Woodruffe’s work is based on his 1979 illustration, The Vicious Circle (1979). It depicts war as a closed circle of destruction and futility.

medieval weird sculptures art horror

If you look at the imagery up close, you’ll notice alien sci-fi motifs — not unlike Giger’s visions.

patrick woodroffe fantasy science-fiction art jabberwocky

The castle was hosting an exhibition of Patrick Woodruffe’s fantasy art. His works are surreal and unsettling; this one is a riff on Jabberwocky from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

gruyeres city walls fortress

Gruyeres was once completely surrounded by protective stone walls. Parts of this Medieval battlement still stand.

gruyeres mountain ranges

No matter where you walk, you’ll come across spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

gruyeres castle walls gates

It’s about to “get cheesy”… Around lunch-time, the entire village smells of delicious fromage! Diners come from afar to feast on Gruyere’s iconic product, especially in the form of fondue.

most scenic beautiful place switzerland

This Swiss cheese is as fresh as it gets. You can even spot the cows that provide the milk, in the nearby fields.

chalet gruyere cheese fondue restaurant

After a long afternoon, we sat down for an immensely satisfying meal at Chalet Restaurant. (Above is an image from their website, since the space was packed with people and it was difficult to get clear shots.)

Joey and I devoured the fondue (melted cheese in a communal pot, eaten by dipping bread, pickles and other crudites into the hot liquid). We also tried raclette for the first time (semi-hard cheese heated on a special device at the table, and scraped off), and the local herbal liqueur “Grande Gruyère”. We ended with a decadent dessert: double cream and raspberries.

switzerland sunset pink skies

My Swiss cheese feast at Chalet was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in Europe. We literally were in a food coma after, and dozed off on the train ride back! Fortunately, we woke up in time to make our connections back to Geneve, and capture this psychedelic sunset.

swiss travel fashion blogger

Merci La Gruyère Tourisme and Switzerland Tourism for welcoming us to this adorable Alpine town! If only I had room in my suitcase, to bring back a big hunk of Swiss cheese.

PS: For a look at the sci-fi side of Gruyeres, check out my article about the H R Giger alien museum and bar here.

PPS: If you’re coveting an extraterrestrial sweater like mine, click the image below!

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Cuba vintage car tour with Havana Urban Adventures! Renting a classic convertible, Callejon de Hamel Santeria.

rent american classic car havana

When you think of Havana, Cuba — do classic cars come to mind? These sleek, 1950s-era automobiles are the only rides on the road in this fascinating country, where time seems to have frozen.

My dream was to ride down the Malecon in a vintage convertible… and this came true thanks to Havana Urban Adventures!

red vintage convertible cuba

Urban Adventures offers one-of-a-kind, offbeat experiences in cities worldwide. These aren’t your typical tours; they’re small group or private adventures that let you dive deep into local life. 

Read on to see how I cruised through Havana in this slick red “almendrón” (the Cuban word for antique auto)…

callejon de hamel havana

… and learned about Santeria (the Afro-Cuban religion of divine spirits), at the art-filled Callejon de Hamel. 

(Photography by Asta Mail and me.)

havana urban adventures car tour

In my first post about Cuba, I wrote about the joy of staying in a “casa particular” (Prado Colonial) and supporting local businesses. (You can read the full review here; definitely reach out if you’re looking for an authentic place to stay in Old Havana.)

When we made a booking with Urban Adventures, we received vouchers with confirmations of the start time, location, contact details and other info. In our case, the classic car came straight to our front door to pick us up for the 2 hour ride.

cuba urban adventures local guide

“Best day ever” is accurate, when it comes to their tours. As you may recall, I also linked up with Urban Adventures in Athens and Bucharest. I’m impressed by how their guides are always full of passion for their hometowns. In this case, Armando (Mandy) greeted us with a smile, and whisked us off on an adventure.

yellow cuban taxi, old cars

While the driver navigated, Mandy filled us in on the colorful sights around us. We rode through Habana Viejo and Miramar, where we glimpsed colonial architecture, monuments, and the glamorous Fifth Avenue. Such a joy to ride through these streets in an antique car, and soak it all in.

plaza de la Revolución cuba

Our first stop: Plaza de la Revolución, or Revolution Square.

Behind me, you can see a memorial to Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the four leaders of the Cuban Revolution (along with Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Che Guevara). Manny explained that “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine) refers to the supportive comment he made to the leader during his speech to the people.

che guevara memorial havana cuba

Next to him is this iconic counterculture portrait. I’m sure you recognize the face of Che Guevara, the guerrilla revolutionary! Che’s slogan, “hasta la victoria siempre” (Until victory always), exemplifies how he always strove to the fullest in his quest to help the people of Latin America.

José Martí Memorial, havana Revolution Square

On the other side of Revolution Square rises José Martí Memorial. It’s a tribute to this 19th century national hero of Cuba, and consists of a statue of Marti, a star-shaped tower, and gardens.

Camilo Cienfuegos Ministry of Interior building

Cuba has a fascinating political / cultural history that is unlike any other country (and very different from its neighbors in the Caribbean).

I was keen to learn more about the Communist takeover from a Cuban perspective, so I later visited the Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolucion) in Old Havana. It’s filled with black and white photos of the leaders, and facts / records that may surprise you. I recommend it to all my fellow history buffs.

girl with antique cuban car

Onward to Vedado, a more modern and residential district of Havana. We drove through neighborhoods with beautiful homes, and then stopped in Havana Forest to take photos.

Outfit of the Day: Do you dig my Goth 1950s look? My hooded mesh black top is Cyberdog, my long floral skirt is from Hong Kong, and I’m wearing these exact John Lennon round sunglasses.

rent hire classic cuban cars

Asta and I were surprised to see this jungle area, in the middle of busy Havana! We took a moment to explore this lush park, featuring a river and waving trees.

havana forest, park jungle cuba

Many Santeria practitioners come here to perform rituals in the stream, including animal sacrifices. Keep an open mind, and if you see worshipers dressed in white, don’t point a camera at them.

(There’s more on this Cuban religion further down in the post, so read on.)

colon cemetery havana cuba graveyard

We passed by the sprawling Colon Cemetery, founded in 1876 in the Vedado neighbourhood. Named after Christopher Columbus, there are over 500 mausoleums covering 140 acres. I’ll have to come back next time to walk through this impressive graveyard, packed with white tombstones.

havana coches americanos

There’s truly no better way to get into the spirit of Cuba than by taking an old American car tour. What’s the deal with these antique vehicles everywhere?

urban adventures havana car tour

In 1959, Fidel Castro banned foreign vehicle imports, making it impossible to purchase cars from abroad. Since then, pretty much the only wheels on the road are remnants from this era, when American expats cruised through Havana in hot rods.

malecon cuba sunset

Our Urban Adventures vintage car tour ended with a drive along the Malecon, as the sun was setting. We sat in the back of our cherry red convertible, and took in the soft breeze and warm light…. pure Cuba bliss.

classic antique cars havana driving

I loved spotting cars with space-age “tail fins”, a 1950s signature. So many classic American names on the road here: Chevy, Plymouth, Buick, Ford, Oldsmobile.

sunset silhouette havana cuba seawall

The Malecon is Cuba’s seawall, which wraps along the coast for 8 km (from Old to Central Havana, and ending in Vedado). You’ll see locals hanging out on the stone wall at all hours, but the scene is most beautiful at sunset.

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba

We ended the journey at The Hotel Nacional de Cuba. It’s a grand, historic hotel that was the favorite of 1930s American gangsters, famous crooners, and silver screen stars.

havana Yuri Gagarin monument

Inside, we looked at a display that celebrated National Hotel’s most famous guests, including Yuri Gagarin, the first human in outerspace (who met Castro in 1961, and was celebrated in Cuba). Such a cool spot to drink a Mojito and reflect on the old days.

old car tours havana review

I think these photos say it all… Urban Adventures’ vintage car tour is the sweetest way to explore the neighborhoods of Havana! More info here on how you can book a ride with them in an antique American convertible. (You can even put in a request for a specific car color.)

urban adventures afro cuban religions tour

Asta and I loved our Urban Adventures tour so much that we did another the next day. We met guide Yanet for the Afro-Cuban religions tour, which let us explore Santeria and the local spirituality. As always, our experienced guide enabled us to get insider access to a subculture.

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona afro cuban art

The journey takes place at Callejón de Hamel, a hub filled with alleyways of bright murals and sculptures. The artist, Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, began this project in 1990 to renew the surrounding neighborhood, and create a space for the Santeria community.

cuban street art murals callejon hamel

We admired the colorful paintings by Salvador, mixed in with works made from scrap objects like bathtubs, pinwheels and mechanical tools. The eclectic vibe reminded me of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

I wore a rainbow-witch outfit that day. You can find many of my clothes for sale here on Depop; contact me if I can send you anything from my personal wardrobe!

santeria community cuba

Our guide, Yanet, explained the installations and spoke about the roots of Santeria. This Afro-Cuban religion has origins in the native spirituality of Africa, and became syncretized with Catholicism during colonial times (when slaves were brought to the New World).

cuban witchcraft voodoo dolls art

Cuba’s spiritual practices are a mix of local customs, folklore, and beliefs from various sources. Some people mistakenly associate Santeria with voodoo, but these two are very different (voudou is a syncretic religion practiced mainly in Haiti.)

callejon de hamel artist salvador

Callejon de Hamel is free for anyone to visit. It’s hard to imagine that this once was a sketchy, desolate area: Salvador has transformed it into an inviting, positive space. You can often catch musicians and rumba dancers performing in these alleys.

afro cuban god elegua

Yanet taught us about the orishas, or gods of the Santeria pantheon. One of my favorites is Elegua (on the left), represented as a playful child or old man. Visitors leave Cuban cigars in his mouth to keep this trickster happy.

afro cuban religion rituals

There’s also a god of war (Changó), goddess of love (Oshún), a mother figure (Yemayá), a hunter (Ochosi), healer (Babalú Ayé) and more.

santeria cuban religion beads

Santeria translates to “worship of the saints,” as there is a creator god and a number of lesser deities. These orishas rule over various aspects of human nature and endeavor, and you can call upon them depending on your particular situation.

catholic saints afro-cuban gods

When the colonialists shipped Africans to the Caribbean to work as slaves, they also baptized them as Catholics and banned their tribal faiths. However, the Africans still worshiped their orishas in secret, by associating them with Christian saints like St. Christopher. Santeria therefore developed as a unique syncretism.

santeria altar to african gods

We met a babalawo, or priest. His role is to be a spiritual adviser, and help people in various ways — including by fortune-telling with the tossing of shells.

Urban Adventures has special permission to enter the home of Salvador (the artist) and his family. We got to see their personal shrines to the orishas, where they make offerings of food, and bow in a way that touches each elbow to the ground.

santeria water goddess

In Santeria, each practitioner is associated with one protector deity (which you determine through ritual and the advice of the babalawo). This family member’s orisha is Yemaya, the fierce mother of the seas — hence the blue decorations, shells, fish and other objects related to her.

cuban gothic goth death skulls

These personal shrines stay with them their entire lives. When Iku (the deity of death) arrives, the babalawo consults the spirits to find out what to do with the objects (burn them, bury them, etc).

havana festival parade stilt walkers

We loved learning about Cuban spirituality and culture up-close. If you simply walk through the streets of Old Havana, you’ll come across colorful aspects — like this costumed parade of stilt-walkers. 

colonial doors old havana

The colonial legacy is everywhere to be seen, especially in the dramatic architecture and tall doorways.

colorful buildings havana

Havana is a safe city, and “chill” is the best word to describe the residents. You’ll see locals hanging out on doorsteps, and chatting with their neighbors.

weird havana fashion

Headwraps and bright clothing are a common sight.

cuban women costumes

I came across a fortune teller, clad in white and with strands of beads draped around her neck.

hemingway cats cuba

Havana is also associated with author Ernest Hemingway, who lived here from about 1940-60. Many tourists visit his favorite bars, La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio, where he drank daiquiris and mojitos. (I didn’t visit, as I was more interested in seeing the romantic gardens all around Havana.)

yulier rodriguez cuban street art

We ran into more street art by Yulier Rodriguez. His provocative, signature style is unmistakable.

che guevara revolutionary murals havana

How fitting to find a motorcycle, in front of this mural of Che Guevara! When he was a young medical student, Che rode 5000 miles through South America (as documented in his book “The Motorcycle Diaries.”) The journey opened his eyes, and stirred his dream of seeing a united Latin America.

On the right, we see “Estudio, Trabajo, Fusil” (Study, Work, Rifle), the motto of Cuba’s Communist Youth Union.

cuban communist posters revolution art

It was interesting to learn the Cuban point-of-view of historical events and figures. They highlighted achievements such as the excellent medical and educational system, which is open to all Cubans regardless of their income.

live band havana cuban music

Without doubt, Havana is a city of music and color! Where else can you pay 2 CUC ($2) for a mojito, and enjoy an energetic rumba?

cuban bed breakfast hotel

These silly boys welcomed us back to our casa particular, Prado Colonial. I’m all about supporting small local businesses, and staying with a casa is one of the easiest ways to do so. (More info and photos of our hotel here.)

old havana vintage cars

Gracias Havana Urban Adventures for making my “greased lightning” goals a reality! If only I could take this classic auto home as a souvenir…

Have you been to Cuba? Planning a trip? Feel free to leave a comment if I can help you with travel tips, and I’ll gladly reply.

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San Francisco Gothic culture! Death Guild club, metaphysical shops, Hutch Oakland & Herlen Place restaurants.

san francisco fashion blogger sf

Let’s continue my adventures in San Francisco — with a look at the Gothic and occult subculture!

I’ll take you inside Herlen Place cafe and Hutch Bar & Kitchen, and out to the Goth club Death Guild. I even got to shoot exclusive photos inside “Loved to Death” boutique (of Oddities fame), as you’ll see.

san francisco goths, goth clubs

My friends and I had a mini-reunion in San Francisco. You might recognize Caroline, Trevor, John, and Lauren from Tokyo club nights way back in the blog. None of us live in Japan any more, but we’ve stayed in close touch and continue to meet up regularly around the world.

(Everyone’s stayed in sync over the years… as you can see from the unplanned red and black color scheme! Talk about #squadghouls.)

goth girls cyber fashion gothic

The “ghoul gang” met up at Clift Hotel before a night out on the town. (If you missed our fun hotel photoshoot, see it here.)

OOTD: My dress and mesh hooded top are by Cyberdog, and my Wolford three-quarter length hold-up tights are from UK Tights. (Photo by Lauren Levitt, who you can spy in the mirror!)

skull absinthe chocolate

Xiomara Entropy always shows up with spooky and sweet treats, made by hand. This time, she brought us delicious skull-shaped chocolate with green absinthe filling. When you crack the head open, it looks like zombie brain matter!

gold sparkle glitter boots

Clift Hotel is filled with funky designer chairs. I took advantage of this mirrored one, for a closeup on my sparkly gold ankle boots by Le Babe.

(More of Le Babe’s shoe designs are below:)

san francisco gothic clothing, parties

The lobby of Clift Hotel is made for taking photos. My ghouls clamored onto Philippe Starck’s “Big Chair.” (Look underneath the seat, and you’ll see a child sticking his tongue out!)

starck big arm chair hotel clift

Starck’s giant chair actually serves a function (other than providing seating for giants). He designed it to balance the negative space in the two-story high lobby.

clift hotel horned sofa, chairs collection

Clift Hotel’s fabulous furniture collection includes Michel Haillard’s Horn Sofa (above), made with ostrich leather, dark wood, bronze, and horns. The devilish sofa is the perfect seating for a quartet of Goths. (For more of my stay at Hotel Clift, see this post.)

hutch oakland restaurant, interior

We went to Oakland to dine at Hutch Bar & Kitchen, a relatively young restaurant dedicated to Southern cooking and cocktails. The staff treated us to warm American South hospitality from the moment we sat down at this long table, lit by an iron chandelier and Edison bulbs.

Chef/owner David King named the restaurant after his family patriarch, Byron Monroe Hutchison (“Hutch”). The vibe pays tribute to Hutch’s zeal for life, and love of good food, drinks and fellowship.

hutch oakland bourbon cocktails bar

We were intrigued by Hutch’s bar selection, which included dozens of American ryes, bourbons, and other spirits. If you’re a whiskey connoisseur, try the 3-drink flight that lets you try varieties from different US regions.

The cocktails put a tasty twist on American South classics. You can’t go wrong with the Good Ol’ Fashioned, or the Two Jacks Sazerac with High West double rye, Peychaud’s, and St George Absinthe.

southern food restaurant san francisco

One of my favorite cocktails was the Hutch Sour with 4 Roses bourbon, egg white, lemon, lime, and angostura bitters. All the drinks were beautifully crafted, as you can see from the presentation and foam.

For starters on the lighter side, we dove into a mixed winter greens salad and bourbon-cured trout. The perfect, clean first courses… before the comfort food rolled out of the kitchen!

hutch san francisco southern dishes menu

My friends and I were impressed by the spread of Southern classic dishes, prepared with finesse. We especially loved the shrimp and grits with spicy Creole sauce, seasoned pork chop, and catfish with hush puppies, coleslaw and remoulade. David King’s recipes are chock full of tenderness and flavor, yet not overly heavy.

It’s difficult to choose from the selection of side dishes, but Hutch’s creamy, golden cheese grits are among the best I’ve had (and you’ll recall I ate my away around New Orleans!) We also passed around the delicious collard greens, mac and cheese, roasted butternut squash and black eyed peas.

Leave room for dessert, as the passionfruit cheesecake and bourbon bread pudding (with chocolate sauce and ice cream) were stand-outs. I would come back in a heartbeat, especially with a group of friends, for Hutch’s outstanding Southern cooking.

death guild goth night san francisco

Time to dance at Death Guild, the longest running weekly Goth Industrial club night in the country (and second oldest in the world, at the ripe age of 25!) The Gothic party usually takes place at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge, but that Saturday, it was at Uptown Oakland.

Alas, Yukiro couldn’t be with us… but we had his lovely cousin Pontus, who rocked a darkwave style.

goth club san francisco nightclub

As you know, I love checking out Goth culture worldwide; each city has a unique expression of the dark subculture.

Death Guild Uptown has two rooms that play a mix of Gothic, Industrial, synthpop and other dark music. At the bar, we watched the Japanese monster-fighting CGI film Gantz:O, while sipping on speciality cocktails and grooving to 80s music. In the dance area, the DJs got us moving to Kate Bush, Garbage, old-school Goth tracks, and more.

san francisco gothic clubbing death guild dna lounge

Upstairs, Death Guild has a “Dark Market” where vendors sell hand-made spooky items. We browsed a fine selection of jewelry, homewares, custom art, and crochet creatures of the night.

(For more Goth party info, check out my previous San Francisco Goth clubbing guide — it includes reports of Wicked Grounds, Cat Club and T-Shack.)

loved to death haight ashbury shop

A Gothic cultural trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without a visit to Loved to Death in the Haight district. John and I wanted to get everything in this store, which you may recognize from the Oddities SF television show.

The window display hints at the darkness within… Antiques, taxidermy, Victorian memento mori, skeletons and other delights fit for a cabinet of curiosities.

(Loved to Death address: 1681 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA)

baphomet statue, satanic shrine altar

It was a pleasure to see owner Audra Kunkle again, who remembered me from my last stop-in. As always, Loved to Death has a riveting selection of odd and perhaps disturbing objects from around the world.

We especially loved the skull with Cthulhu tentacles, and Baphomet the Sabbatic Goat statues (John got one). He brought me a Miffy grey plush bunny from Hong Kong, and she fit right in with these Satanic icons. Hail Miffy!

loved to death san francisco oddities tv show

Wouldn’t you like a two-headed baby skeleton in your home? An antique bicorn hat? Or how about a poisonous spider in a glass jar?

taxidermy bizarre goth shop san francisco

Creep over to the Oddities San Francisco shop in Haight-Ashbury, and see these critters for yourself. (For more photos inside the store, check out my blog post about Loved to Death from 2014.)

sword and rose garden san francisco

Trevor grew up in SF, and suggested that we visit The Sword and Rose, a hidden metaphysical shop. (From the street, all you see is a narrow walkway… which opens up into this spectacular garden). At The Sword & Rose, seekers come for tarot card readings, and mystical supplies like incense, gemstones, crystals and candles.

Address: 85 Carl St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

spiritual metaphysical shop san francisco

San Francisco is one of the world’s biggest hubs of new age / metaphysical / spiritual culture. Some of the shops veer on the tourist side, but not The Sword and Rose: as soon as you step into the little hut, you can feel a special energy. The staff welcomes people from all walks of life and spiritualities.

san francisco tarot readings

The mystical shop is small, and contains several altars that celebrate Egyptian gods and other spirits. The Sword & Rose has many regular visitors; some came with their dogs, who added to the joy of the space.

sword & rose incense shop, hippie stores

In the back shelf, you can see over 90 oils and incenses, all ritually made by hand. The staff helps you choose a fitting one according to astrological aspects, ceremonial purpose, intention, or deity.

san francisco occult metaphysical shops

John got this blue “El” powdered incense, as well as a small burner.

tarot reader san francisco

Since 1985, San Franciscans have come here for warm and attentive tarot readings. This is a wonderful space with a sense of community, and we’re glad we wandered in.

herlen place brunch cafe san francisco

We ended the San Francisco getaway with a final brunch at Herlen Place. This smiling owl welcomed us into the modern, chic cafe / wine bar, located right by Chinatown’s Dragon gate. A relaxing, Zen-like spot to enjoy a leisurely meal.

Herlen Place serves up a healthy and fresh menu, highlighting organic produce, seasonal herbs and vegetables, and bio-dynamic wines.

eggs avocado brunch menu herlen place

The photos speak for themselves… this is brunch heaven! I wish I could order Herlen Place’s Eggs Avocado every day, accompanied by sundried tomato pesto and baby arugula. Be sure to order one of the delicious espresso drinks, and a chocolate croissant. The Eggs Benedict and Farn Fresh Eggs on the other tables also looked delicious.

healthy san francisco brunch lunch restaurant

We dove into the lunch menu: a crisp tuna salad and hearty cauliflower soup, paired with a sparkling mimosa. Cheers to Herlen Place for its healthy, sustainable, vegetable-centric menu that is quintessential San Francisco.

ganesha mural hippie san fran haight

Namaste to the city by the bay, until I come again (I’m here at least every two years or so).

For more San Francisco alternative culture guides, click here. This is my collection of stories over the years, including a stay at the SF Zen Center, drag queen shows, and cat cafes! I hope you find these travel tips helpful for planning a trip here.

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Snowman New York designer puffer coats, Underground England boots. Off to South America with LATAM!

snowman ny alex city snow coat

If the Ice Age arrives, I’m ready to face the cold in style.

Introducing my sweet Snowman New York coat in a photoshoot by the beach (Spanish Banks in Vancouver, BC).

And I’m thrilled to announce my next destination, which I’ve been dreaming about for years…

easter island head statues

Hail, stone heads! Soon, I’ll be on this alien-like island that looks like a level from Mario World.

Read on to see where I’m heading this spring, on a dream journey with LATAM Airlines!

slim fitted designer luxury puffer

First, some photos from home. I’m always on the search for stylish coats that keep me warm. Down-filled puffer jackets are the most functional option, but they tend to be bulky and unflattering.

What a relief to discover Snowman New York. (I’m wearing this exact coat.) The NY-based indie brand creates luxury outerwear with slim, flattering lines and fashion-forward detailing. At the same time, these coats are filled with 90/10 premium down that will keep you feeling toasty.

snowman new york luxury outerwear

I’m wearing theAlex City Snow” by Snowman NY. The 3/4 length coat is animal-friendly, and comes in both black and white. I adore the knit sleeve hems and large collar, which I can wrap around my face and secure with a snap button.

designer winter down coats

Close-up on their cute logo, which looks like an abstract snowman! The coat shell is made from water-resistant nylon, with a low feather shed and both zipper and snap button closures.

snowman new york winter coat

I’m glad to finally find a puffer with an hourglass waist and modern detailing, and no added bulk. Snowman’s edgy designs also go well with street-style and Gothic outfits. It’s amazing that I can wear a t-shirt underneath, and not feel cold.

See more designs from Snowman New York here. 

japanese post punk tshirt top

I styled my jacket with round, minimalist sunglasses by Edwardson Eyewear. They’re a French-Swiss independent brand that creates high-end glasses.

My hat and skirt are by Long Clothing. If you can read katakana, you’ll know my top says “Post Punk” in Japanese. It’s by Underground England — I’m also wearing their shoes…

underground boots petrol patent dogstar

Underground’s petrol patent Dogstar Jungle boots are my current favorites! I can’t get enough of the iridescent, oil slick look. At the same time, these stomper ankle boots are easy to walk around in, and match all types of outfits.

The Jungle collection comes in a variety of skins, including silver, white, and vegan. I have the Petrol Patents; as you can see in my Instagram video, the light reflects different rainbow colors! 

underground england goth shoes boots

Underground Shoes was established in Manchester, UK in 1981. Their designs are influenced by the thriving local subcultures and music — particularly punk, post punk, Gothic and New Romantic.

To this day, they produce eye-catching alternative footwear like creepers, platform sneakers, steel caps, winklepickers. Underground England also makes apparel, and can customize shoes with special finishes.

underground shoes patent leather creepers

These boots are part of Underground’s “soundwave” collection, inspired by the oscillation of musical patterns. This visualization comes across in the shape of the sole, with a signature oversize cleat and tread.

Fancy a pair of shoes from this company? Find out more below:

rainbow goth fashion dolls kill

Since we’re on the subject of alt fashion, I thought I’d share some of my favorite new designs for spring. As the sun comes out, it’s a great time to refresh your wardrobe with rainbow colors. Wouldn’t these be perfect for a fairy kei, pastel Goth or kawaii decora look?

1 – Rainbow cardigan (these links lead to where you can get them!)
2 – Sugar Thrillz metallic moto jacket
3 – Pastel furry coat – vegan friendly!
4 – Colorful platforms – sneakers with a colorful heel.

Plus more below; just click the thumbnails to see:

demonia trinity rave gothic boots pink yellow

Also, a public service announcement: these Demonia Trinity platform boots just got released! With a 5.5 inch platform heel and buckle straps all along the front, these are the OG of Goth footwear. Which would you wear — candy rave or classic Gothic?

1 – I want the pink platform boots
2 – Yellow Demonias for me
3- Can’t go wrong with black knee high boots

nintendo fashion boo ghost shirt

Finally… it’s-ah me, Mario! I’m a life-long Nintendo fan, so this new collection is giving me life.

1 – Boo ghost top (this is my favorite character)
2 – Power-up mushrooms shirt
3 – Princess Peach purse (love the pixel design)
4 – Yoshi egg cap

easter island moai stone statues

And now, I’m off on possibly the most epic trip of my lifetime. Believe it or not, I’ve never been to South America, and I’ve said a million times that my dream destination is Easter Island.

This April, it’s happening! I’m partnering with LATAM Airlines to bring you travel stories from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile — including the isle of the mysterious moai statues. (Cue the Easter Island emoji 🗿 )

rio spaceship building museum brazil

South America has been on my radar for a long time. I’m curious about the futuristic architecture of Rio and Sao Paulo (above, the Niteroi contemporary art museum designed by Oscar Niemeyer… or extraterrestrials). I can’t wait to discover the street art and youth culture of Santiago, Valparaiso, and Buenos Aires.

And how crazy will it be to stand in front of the stone faces of Easter Island? (Above photos via Wikicommons.)

elizabeth wurtzel writer author cancer

I’m looking forward to traveling in Brazil with my long-time friend, Elizabeth Wurtzel. Can’t wait to catch up and explore.

(If you haven’t read her works, check out her latest book Creatocracy, as well as the bestsellers Prozac Nation, Bitch, and More, Now, Again.)

silver goth dress gold lipstick

If you have travel tips for us, please let us know in the comments. I’ll be sharing daily updates from my LATAM South American journey on Instagram stories; add me here @lacarmina for the first look. Til then, adiós!

(Photos above from my Auxiliary Magazine cover shoot. Thank you to photographer Patrick Parenteau, makeup artist Jennifer Little, hair stylist Stephanie Hoy; dress by Iron Fist.)

Finally, I updated my travel TV show hosting reel — see it above or here. My TV host / presenter / production demo clips include NHK Japan (Kawaii TV, NY Wave), Discovery (Oddities), National Geographic (Taboo, Roam), Food Network (World’s Weirdest Restaurants), Travel Channel (Bizarre Foods, No Reservations promo, Could I Live There), “CBS The Doctors,” “NBC Today Show,” “CNN”, “ABC Nightline” and international networks (Canal Plus, Pro Sieben, Norway TV).

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