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De Pijp, hip neighborhood of Amsterdam. Halloween travels & speaking at Experience Bucharest tourism conference!

whitby abbey dracula castle uk

Get your fangs out… Halloween 2017 is going to be bloody fabulous!

This year, I’ll be in three European countries famous for Vampires, Alien, and Jack the Ripper. (Any guesses? The reveal is below.)

vampire steampunk victorian fashion

First, I’m excited to officially announce: I’m off to the land of vampires, Transylvania! I was invited to attend and speak at Experience Bucharest, the largest project ever to promote tourism in Romania’s capital and beyond. For several days, worldwide travel influencers will be gathering to see the capital through the eyes of its passionate residents.

It’s been my long-time dream to visit the ultimate Goth destination, and experience the dark underground culture. I’m honored to be speaking on at Travel Massive’s “Future of Tourism in Romania” conference, on a panel about travel and social media.

Follow along my social media @LaCarmina and hashtag #experiencebucharest to join the fun, including a visit to the castle of Count Dracula. (Above, photographer Joey Wong captured me in front of UK’s Whitby Abbey, an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel.)

giger alien bar gruyeres interior

While in Europe, I’m also teaming up with Switzerland Tourism and La Gruyère Tourisme… to visit the H.R. Giger bar in Gruyeres! 

Fans of the Alien movies will immediately recognize these eerie bio-mechanical works, which form the backbone of the art design in the series. I’m fascinated with Giger’s imagination, and can’t wait to see his sci-fi bar and museum. (Images above by Kristin Thorogood Photography).

london camden market lolita store

Finally… I’ll be in London, England for the first time in ages! Time to reunite with spooky friends, and check out the many dark Halloween events in the city. If you have suggestions for what to see and do (around the end of October), please let me know in the comments.

(To get you in the mood, here is my friend John’s London Goth travel guide. His photo above shows a store in Camden Market.)

moroccan middle eastern bathroom tiles

Since I’m off to Europe again, I thought it was nigh time to release my final article about the Netherlands.

A while back, I shared my tour of Noord, the artistic district north of Centraal Station. Now, I’ll take you around De Pijp, another Amsterdam hipster neighborhood.

De Pijp translates to “the pipe,” for reasons that are unclear (perhaps it refers to the winding streets, or a former gas company with that name). In line with this spirit, the borough has a funky, good-humored vibe. Both travellers and locals come here for the bustling Albert Cuyp market, and to dine in ethnic restaurants.

Restaurant Bazar Amsterdam

My friends and I went for lunch at Bazar Restaurant, which was recommended by several people. The word “bazaar” aptly describes the tw0-level space filled with Middle Eastern decor and music to delight the senses.  When I walked in, I was transported back to the time I visited the markets of Morocco. 

(Address: Albert Cuypstraat 182, 1073 Amsterdam, Netherlands)

De Pijp District hip restaurants

The bathroom situation is straight out of 1001  Arabian Nights! Photographer Arina Dresviannikova had fun taking photos of Leyla (Dutch fashion / mommy blogger) and me, reflected in the many mirrors.

gypsy warrior alien sweater

– I love my alien sweater, which looks similar to the keyboard emoji. There’s a similar alien shirt here, and more sci-fi fashion below:

bazar restaurant Albert Cuyp market

I began with a cup of fresh Moroccan mint tea, while Leyla perused the gluten free menu. Bazar has options for everyone, including vegan and vegetarian plates.

As you can see, we ordered a bit of everything! Bazar’s dishes take inspiration from the cuisine of North Africa and the Middle East — everything is moderately priced, and perfect for sharing with a group. I particularly loved the grape leaves, garlic sauce and falafel that came in one of the mixed platters.

alien shirt top, gypsywarrior

A visit to Bazar feels like stepping into a Far Eastern fairy tale. I lounged under the high ceilings, next to these spectacular hand-painted tiled walls.

cool morocco bathrooms, mirrors

The vibrant spirit continues right outside Bazaar, at Albert Cuypmarkt. Six days a week, this street is packed with vendors selling everything from hippie skirts to stroopwafels.

alien shirts, sweaters clothing

I think we fit in rather well with the creative spirit of De Pijp! (My alien top is similar to this one; browse more styles below:)

hipster neighborhood amsterdam netherlands

De Pijp was once a working class quarter, and home to residents of many nationalities. Today, the neighborhood remains filled with color. Leyla spreads her wings on Gerard Doustraat, a street lined with indie shops. 

De Kinderfeestwinkel party store

These rainbow flags beckoned us into De Kinderfeestwinkel, a store for kid’s party goods.

toy shop amsterdam kids

Doesn’t this feel like a Wes Anderson dreamscape? Masks and gadgets and hats everywhere!

stuffed uniforn plush toy

Arina couldn’t resist taking home this magical stuffed unicorn. My attention went to the rack of Miffy books, of course.

cute ghost lamp, 3d printed octopus

The smiling ghost light stole my heart. We wandered past a 3D printing shop, and saw these “octo-pussycat” designs.

hip clothing fashion stores amsterdam

The other “hipster district,” Noord, is more for experimental art and murals. If you’re looking for indie fashion and cafes, De Pijp is the place to be.

anna + nina amsterdam boutique

Case in point: Anna + Nina, a shop with eclectic jewellery and old-world home accessories that reflect their love of travel.

silk floral white kimono gown

The boutique is filled with textures: a floral silk dressing gown, golden leaves, fresh blossoms.

curved mid century modern lamp

If I had more space in my apartment, I’d set up a curving mid-century modern floor lamp like this one. Many of the stores in De Pijp sell both clothing and interior decor, mostly by local designers.

michael jackson face mask costume

Pick up a cactus, or Michael Jackson’s glittery mask… that’s the humorous spirit of De Pijp!

supperclub amsterdam restaurant

In the evening, my friends and I had dinner at Supperclub. The restaurant is designed like a nightclub, with flamboyant light projections and quirky performances throughout the evening.

dining on beds supper club

All of the diners get to lounge on beds while eating dinner! Between the courses of the set menu, we watched dance and art performances right in front of us. My favorite was a woman with a giant eyeball for a head — she came up to each bed and interacted with guests, in funny ways.

(Watch Leyla’s travel vlog about Supperclub for footage of this unique dining experience. All our Amsterdam videos are in this playlist that she created on her LeylaFashion YouTube.)

supperclub menu food amsterdam meal

Later in the evening, the venue turned into a dance club. Cheers to the fantastic staff, for keeping our wine-glasses filled and making this night a delight.

amsterdam rows of bicycles

I leave you with some snaps from our walks around Amsterdam. I was drawn to the city’s modern architecture, and never-ending rows of bikes. 

nunc home interiors shop

Amsterdam is great for wandering around and popping into stores. Arina is peering into Nunc, which carries handmade, fair-trade and recycled products.

sugar skull cats

We saw cute skeleton cats and robots in one window…

miffy toys collection

… and posse of Miffies in another. (Psst: I wrote this guide to Miffy stores in Amsterdam, which includes De Winkel Van Nijntje, Mr. Maria studio and a chocolaterie).

amsterdam red light district graffiti

We couldn’t leave without a stroll through the Red Light district, home to brothels and marijuana cafes. Note: it’s forbidden to take photos of the girls in the glass windows. If you attempt to take an image, you’ll get shooed off by their security.

casa rosso red elephant club

Tourists can see live erotic entertainment at venues like Casa Rosso, which has a cheeky red elephant mascot.

i amsterdam iamsterdam card pass

Dank je to Hotel The Exchange and Lloyd for hosting us, and to iAmsterdam for the City Card (which provides unlimited public transportation, and access to the top museums).

If you’re planning a visit to Amsterdam, here are all my Netherlands offbeat travel tips on a single page. I hope you find them helpful.

amsterdam canals friends tourists

I had such a great time with my friends in Amsterdam, and I’m sure we will be back soon.

And now, time to prepare for London, Bucharest and Gruyeres! If you have travel advice for me, or know of events happening in these cities at the end of October, please let me know in the comments. Here’s to the bloodiest Halloween yet.

Osaka, Japan Halloween shops! Japanese weird beauty products, costumes, makeup. Auxiliary Magazine modeling.

hong kong fashion model modeling

It’s getting close to Halloween! To get you in the mood, I’m doling out two Treats from Asia. (And no Tricks, promise.)

1) Scroll on to see dozens of cute photos of Halloween shops in Osaka! As you’d expect, Japan celebrates the October holiday in kawaii-scary style. Read on to see the spooky beauty products and costumes found only in Japanese stores.

2) And… I’m thrilled to finally release my Hong Kong photoshoot, which was published in the spring issue of Auxiliary Magazine!

lush halloween 2017 bath bombs pumpkns

Bonus treat: isn’t the new Lush Halloween collection to die for? I’m excited to try them all (I’ll share snaps on my Instagram stories @lacarmina).

I look forward to taking a black cat bubble bath, and fizzling the glitter pumpkin, monster and “Lord of Misrule” bath bombs in my tub.

Also perfect for Goths: the Black Rose lip scrub and gloss (which appears black but turns pink), and Goth Fairy shimmer bar. The Hedgewitch and Magic Wand soaps promise to leave you with “boo-tiful, spellbinding skin!” There’s a video on my Instagram with close-ups of Lush’s spooky collection — which one is your favorite?

chinese model hong kong magazine

Now, let me share one of my favorite photo editorials to date. The images are by the brilliant Hong Kong based photographer, Rose Conway.

As always, my hair cut and color are by Stephanie Hoy (you can tell that we took these photos a while back, as my hair is pink and longer now).

Outfit details: I’m wearing this exact Michi Onyx bra, and a crescent moon silver necklace.

disturbia lovecraft shirt top

We shot these photos in – where else? – the streets of Hong Kong. I’m standing in front of a Buddhist temple in Kowloon. 

I’m wearing these exact Michael Kors black suede pumps. More items from my outfit below:

old hong kong streets

Hong Kong truly has a Blade Runner vibe: alleyways lit by neon lights, juxtaposed with old Chinese signs. My Lovecraft “Necronomicon gate” top is by Disturbia Clothing.

hong kong fashion blog, street style

It was an honor to have these photos appear in the Spring 2017 issue of Auxiliary Magazine.

hong kong chinese herbal medicine store

An absolute pleasure to work with HK based photographer Rose Conway.

lgbt gay hong kong china

We looked for interesting storefronts and colors to shoot. This Chinese shop sold statues of folk gods, incense, and other ritual items. The flamboyant owner insisted on coming out to pose for a photo!

hong kong heavy metal hard rock

Red and gold are the signature lucky colors of Hong Kong. (The brick wall matches my devil horns as well).

china goth subcultures gothic

I’ve been going to Hong Kong since I was a child, and certain scents and images are quintessential to the city. The Chinese butcher, with BBQ duck hanging under bright lights, for example.

hong kong top style blogger

I like how you can see “real world” Hong Kong in these images. Citizens live in close quarters, and carry themselves with an upfront attitude. It can seem brash at first, but you grow to love it for what it is.

best hong kong fashion bloggers

Kawaii culture and street style are as popular in Hong Kong as they are in Japan. I paid tribute with a cat-ears headband and a white tulle skirt.

chinese fashion influencer

A curtsy for a hunk of meat? (Find my Michi top here.)

auxiliary magazine alternative model

Perhaps Lady Gaga got her “meat dress” from this Chinese street market vendor!

hong kong alternative goth clothing

Major thanks you to Rose Conway for photographing me in Hong Kong! Hair is by the fabulous Stephanie Hoy, and makeup / styling is by yours truly. You can get copies in print in the current issue of Auxiliary Magazine (and stay tuned for the next one… I’ll be doing something more with them!).

If you like what I’m wearing, click below to shop my look:

pompompurin sanrio halloween

Now, let’s get you excited for All Hallow’s Eve — the best time of the year! When I was in Osaka last September, I took lots of snaps of the ghoulish-sweet items found in Japanese stores. 

The Sanrio store puts a whimsical Halloween twist on Hello Kitty and Friends. Above, you can see Dear Daniel as Frankenstein, and Hello Kitty and Pompompurin (the yellow dog) as witches!

sanrio halloween collection hello kitty

Sanrio’s favorite “kawaii” characters get a spooky makeover, while retaining their adorable look. On the right, Kuromi yells “Noooo!” while surrounded by smiling pumpkins, and Chococat with a cobweb.

"osaka

The usually sweet bunny Cinnamonroll transforms into a red-eyed vampire. Pom Pom Purin gets a sewn-up skeleton look, and a deathly green pallor to his fur.

vampire hello kitty cinnamonroll

Sanrio releases a special Halloween collection each year in Japan. However, the store continues to sell its regular pastel cute merchandise as well. Witness Gudetama (the lazy egg) in many forms, and what appear to be… My Melody Crocs meets Uggs slippers? 

my melody kawaii japanese souvenirs

Many of these designs can be only found in Japan (they aren’t sold online, as they are produced here). If you’re a rabid Hello Kitty fan, it’s reason enough to make a pilgrimage to Japan.

halloween ghost pumpkin nail art

I went around to various Osaka beauty / 100 yen stores, especially in the Amerikamura and Umeda districts (two of my favorite shopping hubs). Since it was mid-late September, there were lots of Halloween designs available — such as these “come on!!” Halloween stick-on nails.

disney evil queens makeup japan

Fancy eyelashes and colored contact lenses remain very popular among Japanese youths. When I saw the Disney “Evil Queens” collection on the right, I thought of Yukiro.

halloween makeup beauty

I love how creative Japanese makeup can be. In spooky season, there are tutorials on how to use “hypersharp eyeliner” to create Day of the Dead, spiderweb and undead effects around the eyes and lips.

etude house halloween makeup korea

The Korean makeup brand, Etude House, is big in Japan as well. How sweet are the heart-eyed pumpkins and pink skulls, which contain product inside? The panda and kitten keychains also stole my heart.

kawaii japanese halloween makeup nails

More examples of Halloween cosplay makeup. This time: how to be a cute cat, or a Snow White witch.

japanese gyaru halloween costumes

Disturbed, yet cute as a button. That’s the spirit of Japanese Halloween! (These female models are showing off glitter and rainbow face / body tattoos.)

japan halloween makeup costume

From bloody wounds to fake blood, Japanese dollar stores have you covered.

stick on fake moustaches japan

Jelly moustache, anyone? For 450 yen ($4), why not.

crazy japanese cell phone cases

My friends and I tend to stock up around Halloween, such many items (like the dark eyeshadows) can be used year round. Not sure about the impractical stuffed animals clinging to the smartphone cases though…

halloween food tokyo japan

Japan also gets into the Halloween mood with themed food. At Chococro, the addictive chocolate croissants come in a haunted house box.

japanese halloween desserts

Namba-Land (the Osaka arcade and amusement park) has Halloween celebrations each year. Above, the same flyer advertises a pumpkin pudding and tart that made my mouth water.

osaka vintage gothic lolita secondhand

Now, let’s look at some street fashion in Osaka. The neighborhood America Mura is your best bet for Gothic Lolita and underground styles. There are several secondhand stores dedicated to these style tribes here…

gothic lolita halloween print pumpkin dress

… as well as department stores that cater to youth fashion. Snoopy on the left; pumpkin-printed Sweet and Goth Lolita outfits on the right.

menhara kei japan pastel fashion

Follow the white rabbit to cute stores. Oversize pastel and monochrome garments are everywhere recently.

bizarre crazy japanese clothing

No matter how many times you visit Japan, you’ll undoubtedly encounter something that leaves you scratching your head. At Funky Fruit, I was perplexed to see sweatshirts… with giant, heavy nooses around the necks! 

japanese noose, funky fruit fashion

You saw it here first. Hangman-chic. 

silver ring chokers japan

Funky Fruit carries all sorts of fetish-Gothic fashion, like these chokers with silver rings. 

bondage harness skirts japanese

Punk and fetish influences, combined with sportswear. Weird.

japan skull print sweaters

Around Halloween, many of the Goth / Lolita / Kawaii labels put out spooky-themed garments. The Jack-o-Lantern print top on the left caught my eye.

rydia world wide love

Rydia / World Wide Love remain one of my favorite designers. I tried on the “Night Wander” devil-ghost on the left, and left a note in the black cat post office box on the right!

osaka street style department stores

Vampire fangs, floating ghosts, crescent moons, plaid and leopard print. You can tell why I’m into Rydia / World Wide Love.

antique vintage kitty purses

I also made a stop at EST, the Umeda department store by Hep Five and the Osaka Ferris wheel. Inside EST, you’ll find indie boutiques with out-of-the-ordinary items — like these vintage-style cat carpet bags.

est mall osaka, hep stores

Near the entrance, I found this eccentric pop-up.

osaka hipster shops, boutiques

These colorful critters have chains through their nostrils… more creepy than cute, in this case.

halloween hair ties earrings accessories

Trick or Treat — Halloween in Japan is sweet! Did you enjoy these snapshots from my trip last year in Osaka? Have you stocked up on any bat, ghost, zombie, Dracula or pumpkin goodies yet?

halloween cosplay costumes japanese sale

PS: If you’re looking for a Halloween costumes — I have some of mine for sale on my Depop! Above are some of the many available (size small), which you may recognize from past Halloweens. If you’d like any, shoot me an email at gothiccarmina (att) gmail (dott-comm) and I’ll send it to you. More details and prices here on my shop; lots of clothes available.

Here’s to the spookiest time of the year!

Visiting Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens! Philly alternative offbeat travel guide, Busbud bus trip review.

philly magic gardens fashion blogger

Coming at you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania! This artistic, laid-back city is well worth a visit — especially as it’s only a two hour ride from New York.

Many tourists come for historic attractions such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall… but this isn’t your average travel blog. Let’s take a walk on the weird, artsy side of Philly instead, on my weekend getaway with Busbud.

spiral uk holographic backpack bag

In the first installment of this two-part series, we’ll wander through this wonderland known as Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. (Photography by Ashley Yuen.)

(My Spiral UK backpack matched the shimmering mosaic tiles that cover every square inch of the installation. More magical backpacks below):

busbud bus tickets review

I recently was in NYC, and wanted to travel somewhere nearby for Labor Day. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was a natural choice: I have good friends here, and love the creative feel of the city.

My journey was a breeze, thanks to Busbud — a website that helps you easily find, compare and book bus tickets! Their site lets you search thousands of city-to-city routes all around the world, so you can view the best prices, companies and departure / arrival times immediately on one page.

busbud travel blogger

Instead of spending hours on various websites, Busbud let me see all the New York City to Philadelphia round-trip buses available. After making my choice and booking through them, I received an email with clear instructions and the tickets attached. (Their customer service was extremely fast and helpful too.)

Traveling by bus turned out to be enjoyable: I boarded on time, settled into a comfortable seat, and had free WiFi for the two-hour ride. Bus travel is a great option if you’re on a budget, and it’s a more sustainable mode of transportation. I even made a fabulous new friend along the way: this lady and I connected over fashion, and she insisted on posing Japanese-style with me for photos!

greyhound busbud bus trip

Busbud’s cross-platform website and app let you search all the major bus lines, in your local language and currency. They cover routes in 16,000+ cities across over 60 countries… I’ll be using them again for sure, on my next journeys worldwide.

magic gardens mosiac stairs staircase

I’m sure you will be keen to visit Philly too… once you glimpse the mesmerizing Magic Gardens! I’m posing in front of the staircase, a favorite photo spot for Instagrammers.

Outfit Details: I wore some old favorites from my wardrobe. A Gladnews “Very Metal” dress from Japan, a Sailor Moon collaboration jacket from Hong Kong, and Linda Farrow x 3.1 Philip Lim  sunglasses that I’m now selling on my Depop (email me if you want them, or anything else in my store).

My skeleton leggings are Pamela Mann, from UK Tights. I’ve been a fan of their online store for years: they have a huge selection of stockings, socks and leggings, including many Gothic and kawaii styles.

isaiah zagar mosaic art

These whimsical mosiacs stem from the imagination of local folk artist, Isaiah Zagar. Located at 1020 South Street, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens currently fill three city lots, including indoor galleries and a large outdoor labyrinth.

tickets hours passes magic gardens

It was a joy to wander through these colorful tunnels with my cousin and photographer, Ashley Yuen. We passed by objects that made us smile (such as Japanese dolls), and took selfies using the shards of mirror embedded in the tiles.

I’m holding an iridescent metallic backpack by Spiral UK. Shop more unicorn bags below:

philadelphia magic gardens tunnels

Access and tickets: I recommend that you buy timed-entry tickets to The Magic Gardens in advance, from their site. The venue is growing more popular each year, and passes are often sold out or require hours of waiting before an available time slot. Hint: there are student and group discounts available.

holographic goth metallic fashion

Once you walk in, be prepared for this eye-popping sight! Isaiah Zagar’s 3D art surrounds you from all directions.

The mosaics made up of seemingly haphazard objects (kitchen tiles, glass bottles, bicycle wheels, china plates) — yet the colors and arrangements come together harmoniously. He was inspired by Latin-American art, and makes references to other visionary creators within the work.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens review

Look closer, and you’ll see visual references to the artist’s life, family, community and passions. In the photo above, you can also glimpse mysterious words integrated into the found art.

isaiah zagar artist tiles

What inspired Isaiah Zagar to create this garden of delights? The story begins in the 1960s, when he moved to the South Street area with his wife, Julia. The couple dedicated themselves to revitalizing this derelict area, by creating beautiful mosaics on neighborhood walls.

bizarre underground philly

He developed an imaginative style — constructed almost entirely from found and recycled objects. Zagar literally used every inch of his environment. Don’t forget to look down, or else you’ll miss the quirky details on the floor.

philly art hipster attractions

In 1994, Zagar started beautifying the vacant lots located near his studio. The sculptures grew, and the area expanded… becoming the Philly Magic Gardens as we know them today. Ashley and I spent over an hour here, exploring the various tunnels and grottoes, and taking in the uplifting details.

philadelphia hipster travel guide

In 2008, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens opened up to the public. The non-profit organization aims to preserve Zagar’s artwork in this district, and educate visitors with tours, interactive workshops, concerts, exhibitions and other community events.

alternative goth phillu

These photos show only a fraction of the 3000 square feet space. There’s also an indoor gallery space, which hosts international artists and puts the spotlight on fringe / outsider art.

weird strange bizarre Philadelphia travel

“99 bottles of beer on the wall….” So much detail and color in a single shot. To this day, Isaiah Zagar continues to create mosaic murals that brighten up the streets of Philadelphia.

If you like my Spiral UK backpack, shop it below:

philadelphia magic gardens basement

The Magic Gardens has a basement level as well, which is only open to visitors during guided tours. Some of the artist’s larger works live down here, including a cheerful skeleton. 

private tour events philly magic gardens

I’m all about unconventional, outsider and folk art — especially if it veers towards the weird side. Zagar’s playful and surreal visions were right up my alley.

I hope you’ll take a trip to Philadelphia Magic Gardens, and see these fantastic mural masterpieces for yourself.

le meridien philadelphia exterior

After our visit, we walked back to our hotel, Le Meridien Philadelphia. I’ve stayed with Le Méridien many times (including in Cambodia and Taiwan), as I love the modern design and ever-cheerful staff.

philly design hotels, view of city hall

We had a comfortable room decorated in mod black, white and red. The staff delivered champagne and fresh fruit plates to our room, which we immediately devoured.

How cool is this view from our window? Le Meridien is located right in front of Philadelphia City Hall, built in 1901 and topped with a bronze statue of William Penn (founder of the “Province of Pennsylvania”).

philadelphia art modern design hotels

The French-chic style extended to the lobby, featuring sleek metallic furniture, wood panel walls and a tiered chandelier.

amuse steakhouse philly cocktails

We had a spectacular dinner at Amuse, the classic French brasserie located in the lobby. The cocktail menu included hand-crafted creations named after female muses, such as Brigitte Bardot and Edie Sedgewick. Our mixologist, Victor, prepared some of the best cocktails I had in the city — including custom creations that perfectly matched my palate.

le meridien steak restaurant dinner

We had a hard time choosing from Amuse Restaurant’s menu, filled with French classics like onion soup gratinee and steak frites. After a surprise amuse bouche (raw tuna on a crisp wonton cracker), we feasted on a cheese plate and tuna and crab tower. Next came filet mignon, perfectly braised with sides of asparagus and decadent macaroni and cheese.

We ended with a trio of desserts (including apple tarte tartin and chocolate warm molten cake), and I had a Vieux Carre absinthe distilled in Pennsylvania. Our meal at Amuse was sensational, and the service was impeccable — bravo.

philly masonic temple lodge archway

I leave you with a spooky pose outside the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia, which is steps from the hotel. It’s one of the most elaborate Masonic lodges in the US… I can only imagine what rituals take place inside.

Did you enjoy Part 1 of my journey in Philly? Cheers to Busbud for making my bus trip a seamless experience, thanks to their easy and informative booking system.

Coming up next, I got an exclusive look inside the Mutter Museum… you’re going to love this treasure trove of medical oddities!

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Jaipur, India: private culture tours with Janu, Rajasthan tour expert! Meeting Hijra, the Indian third gender.

jaipur city palace doors

“Jai ho!” Do that Bollywood shake… because Yukiro and I made it to Jaipur, India! 

We were traveling with the ultimate Rajasthan tour expert, Janu Private Tours. Owner Mr. Janu is from Jaipur, and he knows his hometown like the palm of his hand.

With his signature enthusiasm, Mr. Janu took us through India’s “pink city” filled with artistic marvels such as a peacock doorway, and a floating water palace.

hawa mahal jaipur

Jaipur is part of the “Golden Triangle” route that many travelers take, when they visit Northern India. (New Delhi and Agra / Taj Mahal are the other points of the triangle.)

For those of you who love art, culture and palaces — Jaipur is a royal city that captures the imagination. Janu Private Tours took us on a day trip to the most famous attractions, such as the Hawa Mahal with its mysterious windows (above)…

hijra indian intersex transgender

… and even arranged for Yukiro and me to meet “hijra,” the third recognized gender in India! These two non-cis beauties invited us into their home, and taught us the “tools of the trade” — including how to cup one’s hands and make a loud clapping sound. Keep on reading to find out more about their fascinating way of life.

peacock door jaipur palace india

But first, an intro to Jaipur — nicknamed “The Pink City.” With my rosy hair and matching Indian outfit, I felt right at home here.

To welcome the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1876, Ram Singh II painted the entire city pink. This is traditionally an Indian color associated with hospitality, and also mimics red sandstone. To this day, the tradition has been preserved, and all structures inside the Old City are blush-colored.

janu private tours jaipur

While it’s possible to travel alone in India, I highly recommend having a guide. India is a safe destination, but tourists can get scammed if they aren’t careful. A local expert takes the stress out of the trip: they know how make the best arrangements for hotel / food / attractions, and figure out transportation within and between cities.

Our friend and guide Mr. Janu always had our backs. He and his drivers are fluent in English, and picked us up each day on time in a comfortable and well-stocked car. As the slogan on the rear window reads, “A good traveller is one who does not know where he is going, but has the trust it will be great.”

india driver guide janu shabbir khan

His company, Janu Private Toursprovides travel experiences throughout the entire country. Guests can personalize a private tour, with an itinerary that suits their exact interests.

In our New Delhi intro post, I shared Janu’s inspiring story of how he started out as a tuk-tuk driver who barely spoke English. With perseverance, he gradually built up his team to the success it is today. Janu Private Tours is now one of the leading local-run tour companies in the entire country, with a top TripAdvisor rating.

jaipur best exotic marigold hotel

Janu is full of energy, and you can tell he genuinely loves welcoming travelers and offering them the best possible hospitality.

He took us to see his exciting new project: Janu has built a hotel, called “The Marigold Inn”! He worked on the local production of the hit movie, “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and it inspired him to create the real deal.

In one month, Jaipur’s Marigold Inn will open its doors! You can soon stay in this pink hotel, which has every modern comfort, yet a community feeling. Congratulations to Mr. Janu on the grand opening, and I’d love to come stay here soon too.

indian hermaphrodites hijira

Janu never fails to fulfill his guests’ requests, no matter how offbeat they may be. Yukiro and I were curious about “hijra,” the recognized third gender in India — and within a few hours, he had arranged for us to meet two of them in their home!

There isn’t an entirely accurate English translation of the word… but for the most part, hijira are born intersex and/or don’t identify as male or female. 

Perhaps you may be surprised to hear that Indian government has declared freedom of sexual orientation as a fundamental right, and gives residents the option to choose “third gender” on passports and official documents.

india 3rd gender hijiras

It’s fascinating that Indian society is overall quite conservative, yet recognizes “hijra.” The term dates back to the days of antiquity, and was mentioned in the Kama Sutra. Janu explained that Indians realized long ago that hijra were “born this way” — so instead of disparaging them for something they did not choose, they created a space in society where they could thrive. 

We had a chat with these two Jaipur ladies (hijra generally present as women), who welcomed us warmly and told us about their lives via translation. We learned that for the most part, hijra are identified at birth. They can choose to either grow up at home with their families, or in a community with others like them.

hijras jaipur india

When they reach adulthood, hijra typically decide to live together in a community. In this case, the ladies share a house with the children and pets that they adopted.

Hijra are considered to be lucky, so they make a living by offering blessings. We learned that they lead auspicious ceremonies for newborns, and dance at weddings and other special occasions. I couldn’t help but smile when our new friend gave us a blessing by wiggling her fingers near her temples, and wagging her head side-to-side!

intersex transgender indians

Yukiro and I formed an instant connection with our new friends, who are cheeky, spirited and kind individuals. You can see us interacting in this video; they showed us how to clap!

They generously gave us two saris as a gift, which we wore to the Taj Mahal (that post is coming out soon). We’re grateful to Janu for introducing us to hijra — I can assure you that no other tour guide would have been able to make this visit possible.

jaipur royal city gate

Now, let’s see more of Jaipur’s most fabulous attractions. This is Janu’s hometown, so he knows all the little secrets of the city.

We struck a pose at the entrance gate to the pink city, with three magnificent arches.

tuk tuk hire car jaipur

I loved looking out the car window in India, and taking in sights that were strange to my eyes. Tuk-tuks zig-zagging everywhere, Sanskrit writing, Hindu shrines in the middle of roads…

india barber haircut in streets

… and how about a haircut, right on the sidewalk? There was a whole row of barbers who set up grooming stations, on a street in Jaipur!

lassiwala jaipur best lassi

Janu was excited to take us to Lassiwala, as they make the best lassi in Jaipur. Yukiro and I are fans of this Indian probiotic drink that can be served plain, or blended with salt, spices, or fresh fruit.

indian lassi jaipur drink

At Lassiwala, the drink is tangy and creamy, and served in a disposable clay jar. I would have to agree: this is next-level lassi.

jaipur india travel tour

We drank it in the alleyway, and took in more bizarre sights (a nest of electrical wires, a poster with Hindu swastikas and what looked like a Halloween pumpkin).

palace of winds jaipur

Onward to the Palace of Winds, Hawa Mahal — a magnificent arrangement of screened windows, set in sandstone. This facade was built so that the women of the royal family could watch festivals from the windows, while remaining hidden from the public eye.

Jaipur building many windows

What an imaginative work of architecture! The 5-story exterior looks a bit like a honeycomb, and features 953 small windows decorated with elegant latticework. In true “form follows function,” the design also lets cool air in while keeping the ladies hidden.

jaipur city palace entrance

Now to City Palace, built in the mid-18th century by Sawai Jai Singh II. This was the seat of the maharajahs, who ruled Rajasthan from Jaipur.

sculpture indian elephant and rider

The entrance arch is guarded by two white carved elephants. (You’ll see elephant rides being offered around Jaipur, but these hurt the animals — instead, please support an ethical elephant sanctuary like we did at Elefantastic.)

mubarak Mahal india palace

Across the way stands Mahal Mubarak Mahal, meaning the Auspicious Palace. The architecture is inspired by Islamic, Rajput and European styles, hence the distinct “fusion” look. Toady, it’s a museum that holds art and textiles.

city palace decorated doors

That day, I wore a “salwar dress” or Punjabi dress that I got in an Indian store. It consists of long, billowing pants with a tapered leg and drawstring waist, a sleeveless dress with a long slit down the sides, and a matching silky scarf.

It so happened that the green from our outfits matched the imperial door of the palace.

Chandra Mahal jaipur

We’re in the courtyard of Chandra Mahal. Photography isn’t allowed inside, but you can imagine majestic throne chairs, lush carpets, giant fans made of feathers,and portraits of the royal rulers of Jaipur throughout the ages.

jaipur peacocks doorway arch

We were speechless when we saw the peacock gate at the entry of Jaipur’s Chandra Mahal. There are four gates in total, each dedicated to a Hindu god or goddess and intricately decorated.

peacock feathers gate india

The four doorways represent the seasons as well. Yukiro is vogueing in front of the Lotus Gate, which has a vibrant flower petal motif to indicate summer, and is dedicated to Lord Shiva-Parvati.

jaipur city palace interior inside

We strolled through the Diwan-i Khas, or Hall of Public Audience, featuring a marbled floor and chandeliers. On one side stood two gigantic silver vessels, measuring 1.6 meters. Our guide explained that when Maharaja Singh II traveled to England for Edward VII’s coronation, he insisted on only drinking Ganges water — so he brought it with him in the giant urns!

amer fort jaipur

Time to visit another royal stronghold. Janu drove us to Amer Fort, located high up on a hill. This ancient settlement was revamped and developed by Jai Singh I.

courtyard jaipur india amer fort

Amer Fort is divided into four main sections, each with an entrance gate and courtyard. We went through the Sun Gate to Jalebi Chowk, the first main courtyard where the armies would have victory parades after coming home from battle.

arches pillars inside amer fort

Amer Fort is designed in a Hindu architectural style: lots of curving pillars and arches that resemble the lotus flower.

decorative walls carvings amer fort

We visited each of the four levels and courtyards, each different and filled with opulent details. Just look at the decorative tiles captured in this mirror shot.

no thank you backpack stella rose

The fort overlooks Maota Lake and green hills. The visibility from all directions helped the armies spot invaders.

(A lot of tourists asked to take our photo… “No Thank You”! It was fun to point to my pink backpack with this font, by Stella Rose in collaboration with Print All Over Me.)

amer fort gardens india

It’s easy to feel like a royal queen of Rajasthan, when you’re surrounded by such splendor!

Vrihat Samrat Yantra jaipur

There’s so much to see in Jaipur, and we were able to make the most of it thanks to Janu. He knew I am fascinated by Indian astronomy instruments (remember my visit to Delhi’s Jantar Mantar?)

Jaipur has an even more impressive collection of nineteen astronomical instruments, built by king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734.

jantar mantar jaipur astrology

These strange looking structures appear to be built by aliens! In fact, they are designed to observe and measure astronomical positions.

sundial jantar mantar jaipur

Jantar Mantar Jaipur is an UNESCO heritage site. It contains the most advanced and best preserved instruments for measuring the stars, from this era. One of these is the world’s largest stone sundial. 

indian ancient sundial

Yukiro’s rainbow umbrella lined up with the radiating lines of the sun dial. (In his car, Janu provides his guests with cold bottles of water, hand sanitizer, parasols, snacks, WiFi, phone chargers… everything you might need to survive!)

astrological tools india jantar mantar

The function of each instrument is rather complex, and very advanced for its time. We learned that Jai Prakash Yantra is a sundial with marked marble, with shadows that can measure altitudes, azimuths, hours and declinations.

leo yantra jantar mantar

One section consisted of Rasivalaya instruments, which corresponded to signs of the zodiac. The mysterious curves and staircases are quite the sight to behold.

jaipur zodiac jantar mantar lion

Yukiro and I are both Leos, and found this illustration under the arch of our instrument. The lion is the fiercest zodiac sign, that’s for certain!

weird strange bizarre jaipur

Is it a slide? A skate ramp? A stairway to heaven? None of the above: this is Vrihat Samrat Yantra, the world’s largest “gnomon sundial,” which has markings along the sides, and measures time with the shadow cast from the sun.

Jal Mahal palace, Man Sagar Lake Jaipur

Jaipur truly is a city of imagination. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the Water Palace, Jal Mahal. This summer palace is only reachable by boat and appears to float on the surface of Man Sagar Lake.

india floating palace

This isn’t Photoshop… Jal Mahal is real, and it’s spectacular. The floating water palace was built in the 18th century by Maharaja Jai Singh II, as a royal summer retreat and party island. The building actually has five levels — four are submerged beneath the waters.

jaipur floating palace, Rajasthan

India’s Floating Palace was abandoned when it began to leak, and remained neglected for 200 years. However, it’s recently undergone some restoration, and visitors can travel by boat to see it once more.

jaipur tailored clothing shop

It’s amazing how much we did that day. We even stopped by Heritage Textiles to get custom-tailored clothing (you can choose a fabric, and have anything designed and sewn to fit you perfectly, within a few hours). The owner gave us a demo of hand-block printing, the traditional process of pressing designs on fabrics with rich natural colors that don’t fade.

shahpura house hotel jaipur

Finally, time to unwind at our palatial hotel Shahpura House. The staff treats everyone like royalty: when we arrived, this man in uniform held open the door, and the concierge hung orange floral garlands around our necks.

jaipur palace luxury hotel

Janu always puts his guests in this regal manor, which hearkens back to the days of the Raj.

unique boutique hotels india

We enjoyed exploring this quirky nook, an outdoor pool, and a large breakfast hall (with Indian dishes prepared fresh to order, as well as an international buffet).

rooftop shahpura house dancer

Shahpura House offers activities such as spa treatments and yoga lessons. At night, the rooftop bar has free musical / cultural performances for guests.

jaipur culture performance dance

This dancer performed “bhavai,” a folk dance popular in Rajasthan where the performer balances large numbers of earthen pots on her head.

india underground subcultures alternative

Namaste Janu Private Tours for this eye-opening tour of Jaipur! This is a day that we will never forget — I feel like I’m still processing everything that I encountered, from the hijra subculture to the peacock feather gates.

Janu offers customized tours like this all throughout India, and will soon be opening his Marigold Inn in Jaipur. If you’re looking for a travel experience as incredible as ours, reach out to Janu here — you’ll be in the best possible hands with him.

Coming up next: the River Ganges of Varanasi, and the Taj Mahal at sunrise. India… what a country, right?

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