Category Archive for Fashion

Iceland guided nature tour: elves, waterfalls, horses! Custom 4×4 jeep adventure with Salty Tours.

iceland horse face, icelandic horse

Who ya calling horse-faced?” This fuzzy selfie pretty much sums up the incredible fun I had exploring Iceland, on a customized excursion with Salty Tours

Anyone who travels to Reykjavik should spend at least a day exploring the gorgeous, varied terrain outside the city — like geysirs, waterfalls, sulfuric hot pots, and black sand beaches. What’s the best way to visit all these places, if you don’t have a car?

salty tours iceland, 4x4 tour guide

Photographer Joey Wong and I highly recommend a private 4×4 Jeep journey, wih Salty Tours. We got to ride at our own pace, and get off-the-beaten-path with two experienced guides. A far better experience than getting on a big bus and seeing the typical Golden Circle attractions with 50 other tourists!

Aren’t our guides adorable? Salty Tours is an indie company run by two locals: Thorsteinn Gunnar Kristjansson (love that his name is Thor!) and his partner Anna Margrét. They picked us up at our Reykjavik hotel, and took us to insider spots all day long. Joey and I wanted to focus on dramatic, visually-interesting places…

iceland elf park, elves

.. so Thor and Anna took us to Hellisgedi, the Elf park in Hafnarfjordur! They told us stories of the elusive “Huldufólk” in Icelandic folklore, which many locals still believe in.

elf garden iceland

The elves supposedly live in the rocks and hills of this park. I didn’t see any little creatures that day, but can understand why the lore resonates among Icelanders.

elves park, Hellisgedi

There’s a palpable energy in Iceland’s natural surroundings. These moss-covered lava rocks, and desolate yet living landscapes, can be found nowhere else in the world.

iceland dried fish racks

Next, Salty Tours stopped by this… slightly pungent display. Can you tell what these are?

weird strange iceland food

The fish-face is a hint. I’m standing under an enormous rack of dried cod and other local fish!

outdoor dried fish heads

Also found in Hafnarfjordur, these rows of wooden racks are strung with fish heads and other parts. The perfect stop for someone who loves bizarre foods and spooky attractions.

iceland bizarre foods, fish

Anna did a fabulous rendition of Hamlet. with Yorick the fish-head. (You’ll see it in our upcoming video.)

All day, our Salty Tours guides were upbeat and fun. They shared stories of growing up in Iceland, and how Thor used to be a fisherman. The whole experience felt like going in a roadtrip with friends.

iceland horse riding tours

Since we were a small group in a 4×4 vehicle, we could go on side roads and visit special places… like this herd of Icelandic horses.

petting icelanndic horses

Fuzzy-wuzzies! These horses are a special breed that developed in isolation on this island, hence their unique look. Descended from Norse ponies, these animals are short, and the cold weather gives them a layer of fat for extra plushness.

iceland horse show, tour

Anna also leads horse-riding tours, an amazing way to get close to these horses and trek through the land.

private 4 x 4 jeep tour

I was stunned at how the landscape changed, only hours from Reykjavik. We drove past rocky hills, farms and snow-peaked mountains.

Iceland is known as photography heaven, due to the natural features and clear light. Joey says: “From a photographer’s perspective, doing a customized tour is the only way to go. Most people stick to the Golden Circle route, but that’s as generic as you can as you have limited amount of time at each spot, and the sites have been photographed ad nauseum.”

custom driving tour, iceland rental car

“Iceland is so vast with varied terrain, it’s all about quality over quantity. If you want the right shots, you have to know the right sites, hence why Thor was such a great guide. In our case, we had a vision for what we wanted our shots to look like (Game of Thrones, black sand beaches, etc), and Thor was able to bring us to exactly where we wanted.”

iceland ogre cave

For example, he showed us a secret ogre’s cave! The opening can barely be seen by the side of road, and this cave is so little-known that I didn’t even find any information about it online. Joey took this photo of the creepy creature that lives inside.

iceland game of thrones outfit

We wanted to do an epic, fashion photoshoot on the famous black sand beaches. Thor took us to the ideal spot, at Kleifarvatn.

(I’m dressed in a Game of Thrones inspired outfit, since the HBO show is partially filmed in Iceland. We’ll show you the resulting editorial photos once they are ready.)

black sand beaches, iceland

Our guides told us the story of this rock, which looks like an Indian man’s head in profile, complete with a mohawk.

black sand iceland Kleifarvatn

You can’t find a more Gothic beach than this. The black sand is the result of hot lava hitting the water.

salty tours, reykjavik best tour guides

Our Salty Tours guides are the sweetest. They even brought “Black Death” (Brennivin) vodka and fermented shark (a stinky traditional dish) for us to try. The shark wasn’t as bad as I expected, though I was grateful for the alcoholic shot to wash it down!

iceland sulphur pools

We drove only minutes away, and the scenery morphed yet again. These are the sulphuric geothermal springs at Seltun.

sulfur spring, rocks iceland

So many fascinating details to photograph, like the boiling-hot sulfur bubbling between the rocks.

south iceland driving roads scenery

Iceland has experienced devastating volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Here, nature is unpredictable, powerful and always in flux. For example, in the summers, you’ll have 24 hours of daylight.

nature tours iceland, golden circle bus

With the island’s historic isolation and a strong sense of cultural preservation, Iceland can’t be compared to any other place on Earth.

iceland vacation house, landscape

Iceland is not as cold as you might imagine. In the summers, locals often spend time in vacation houses by the water.

winding roads iceland drive

We learned that there are winding roads because the locals don’t want to disturb the homes of the “hidden folk,” or elves!

While we drove, Thor played music from local indie rock bands. I’m sure you’ve heard of Iceland’s Bjork and Sigur Ros. The music scene is incredible here, partly because the artists have plenty of opportunity to stay indoors, practice, and experiment without outside influences.

Oxararfoss waterfall iceland

A lot of tourists go on the “Golden Circle”, or day-long loop through the most popular attractions. The downside is that many of these places are over-exposed and crowded with people, making quality photography difficult.

With this in mind, Thor took us to a less-known but equally dramatic waterfall, Öxarárfoss, instead of the big Gullfoss. We were able to get right up close, and take photos — will show you more from Oxararfoss soon.

golden circle geysir

Finally, we stopped by one of the Golden Circle attractions, Strokkur geyser in Haukadalur. Every 10 minutes or so, the hot water erupts high into the air.

iceland geysir, hot springs

To be honest, we weren’t so impressed by the tall geyser… and the area was not very photographically intriguing. We were grateful that we went on a custom journey with Salty Tours, instead of going to the usual tour stops.

famous waterfall iceland

Thor took us to another obscure waterfall, which can only be accessed by a car — so there were no buses or tourists around. Now that’s what we are talking about.

iceland private escorted tours

Huge thank you to Salty Tours for the personal, attentive day trip in Iceland. We loved becoming friends with this couple, and highly recommend their small-group 4×4 tours. They have a 5-star rating on Tripadvisor, and deserve it!

If you have a short layover in Iceland, Salty Tours can even take you on a guided jeep tour for a few hours. Find out more on their website, and tell Thor and Anna we sent you.

Iceland Excursions, day tours, activiites

Did you enjoy the photography by Joey Wong in this post? Are you as fascinated by Iceland as I am?

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Japanese Goth clubs: DecabarZ Tokyo & Suspiria horror bar! Odigo travel blogging class, Wave Gotik Treffen 2015.

One of the most frequent questions I get is: “Where are the Goth clubs and parties in Tokyo?” Over the years, I’ve covered events and compiled all the best ones in my Japan Gothic nightlife guide.

However, there are always new places popping up. Let me take you into the recently-opened DecabarZ in Kabukicho, a Suspiria-themed horror bar, and more!

My friend Jen also shares her recommendations for Wave Gotik Treffen 2015, at the end of this post. (Sadly I won’t be there, but above is a memory from WGT a few years ago.)

dj sisen, cyber japanese hair

Japan’s alternative fashion crowd still gathers at Decadance Bar, which used to be located above Christon Cafe in Shinjuku. Now, owner Adrien le Danois has opened up his own place, not far away in the heart of Kabukicho.

How to get to the new DecabarZ? The address is 5F Shinko Building, 1-2-13 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Here’s a link to the map.

To get to Decabar z, go out Shinjuku Station east exit, and walk straight until you hit the main road Yasukuni Doori. Turn and walk down the street with the Mr Donut on the corner. Stay on the right side (across from Shinjuku Ward). It’s on the 5th floor of the Shinko Building.

decabar z, shinjuku goth party

You can’t miss the entrance — there’s a huge, neon-colored mural in the style of Dragonball-Z, which is where the new club takes its name from. All of the regular DJs and performers have their faces immortalized here: Chihiro, DJ Sisen, Maya, Selia.

gothic punk bar, club tokyo

On most weekends, DecabarZ has special themed events. We were there for the 1980s Visage tribute, hence Yukiro’s retro-Goth look.

ghostbusters costume, cosplay

The new Decabar Z is more spacious, and illuminated in cyber colors. Some people dress casual, while others go all-out. Cosplay, Victorian, Ghostbusters… you’ll see it all here.

ganguro girl makeup, hair

The staff is always rocking underground fashion. This lady wears ganguro makeup, the tanned and white-highlighted look popular in Shibuya in the 90s.

polka dot face makeup

I’m digging this bartender’s bowler hat with a polka dot veil, and military jacket with shoulder pads. (More amazing Goth fashion below – click to shop!)

american horror story tshirt

On the dance floor, a TV broadcast cartoon episodes of Jem and the Holograms. (Love the American Horror Story shirt.)

japanese djs, tokyo goths

DJ Ray Trak and Zin-Francois Angelique spun the best synth-80s tracks. We went wild for Real Life “Send Me An Angel“, Berlin “The Metro” and Europe “The Final Countdown.”

decabar z club, kabukicho

There was also a mix of post-punk, rock and other underground sounds from the past decades. When the DJs played the Ghostbusters theme, this cosplayer stood on a ledge and waved around his proton pack! 

dj chihiro, decabar mural

This bar is open most nights – so what are you waiting for? For upcoming DecabarZ theme nights, check out their Facebook event listings.

cambiare, suspiria theme bar shinjuku

Now, for more horror and darkness. On the recommendation of John Skeleton, we visited Cambiare — a Shinjuku drinking hole inspired by the Dario Argento B-horror film, Suspiria! 

Address: 1-1-7 2F Kabukicho, Shinjuku. This is located in Golden Gai, the cluster of tiny bars that line several streets. It may be hard to find, so look up to see the Cambiare sign in spooky writing.

suspiria bar, golden gai tokyo

The interior is full of references to the 70s cult film, such as the stained glass window where the girl falls through (below), and the evil-eyed cat. Even the wallpaper mimics the one in the movie (which has one of the coolest sets of all time).

suspiria stained glass window

We drank the homemade sangria and watched the slasher movie on the TV screen. The bartender has seen it over 100 times, and we chatted about the bloodiest scenes.

If you’re a fan of Dario Argento’s works, then a visit to this Suspiria themed bar is a must. (More info on the Cambiare Facebook.)

shinjuku goth mistress snack bar

Time to check out yet another Gothic hangout. Also in this same Kabukicho district is Mistress Maya’s new snack bar, Tsudoi (now Dalkima)For a “nomihoudai” all-you-can drink price, she’ll serve you sake and beer, and feed you her homestyle Japanese cooking.

Address: 3F Chipupura Plaza, 2-23-7 Kabukicho, Shinjuku

small local japanese bars

Tsudoi is the perfect place to get to know others in the Japanese underground scene. Maya speaks fluent English, and will introduce you to her colorful friends who are regulars at her bar. She’ll spin Goth and EBM music (she takes requests), and play movies like David Bowie’s Labyrinth in the back.

teaching travel writing workshop

I love discovering alternative spots like these, and sharing them with you on my La Carmina blog. Can you believe I’ve been doing this since 2007?

While I was in Japan, I shared what I learned in a travel blogging / writing workshop with Odigo. My team and I taught about 30 students how to start and grow a blog, get your name out, interact on social media, apply SEO and much more.

travel blogging course, lessons

I spoke for about three hours, and loved teaching students about every aspect of blogging. My site may only seem to be a collection of photos and words, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye. I spoke about backend matters like CSS, loading speeds, cloudfront, hosting providers, design and image-tagging – to name a few. (My top is by Black Milk.)

travel photography class, teachers

Filmmakers Eric and Melissa, who travel with me on most of my projects, also spoke expertly about camera equipment, settings, video production and other technical aspects. We also talked about travel TV hosting and production. Again, there’s a lot of work that goes into the videos and visuals you see here.

how to be travel blogger lessons, workshops

One of the students, Lori of the Spendy Pencil, wrote a review of our travel blog workshop that you can read here. She says “They were friendly, extremely organized, and direct about their experiences. I’ve been to a lot of different classes and this was the best presentation I’ve attended about blogging and social media.”

Thanks to Odigo – a Japan travel planning site – for inviting us to teach this special class. We’re so happy that our attendees found our course helpful, and want to keep offering it all around the world! Stay tuned for announcements, and how you can join our next travel blogging, video and photography lessons.

tokyo police cute mascots

Time to celebrate a successful day, with dinner in Roppongi. Can you believe these kawaii mascots… are for the Tokyo Police Station? Truly, everything is cute in Japan.

roppongi hills spider statue

We moseyed around the Roppongi Hills courtyard, inhabited by the giant “Mother” spider sculpture. I don’t usually hang out in this district, but there are some cool spots like the Mori Museum gift shop (selling toys by Nara, Murikami and Kusama) and Moomin theme cafe.

roppongi top japanese restaurant, fine dining

There are some incredible dining options near Roppongi station. We can’t stop raving about Hassan (八山 六本木), a shabu shabu and sushi restaurant. This fine-dining establishment first opened in 1979, but the interior was recently renovated with elegant Edo-meets-modern craftsmanship. 

(Address: B1F Denki Building, 6-1-20 Roppongi, Tokyo)

hassan shabu shabu restaurant

Hassan’s ambiance was the perfect complement to its authentic, lovingly presented cuisine. Although you can order a la carte, most diners choose one of the all-you-can-eat menus, which include Wagyu or Kobe beef shabu shabu, tempura, sushi, drinks and dessert. We dipped the thin cuts into the boiling hot pot, and they melted in our mouths.

personal sushi chef, japan

And what a treat: we had our own personal sushi chef, who set up station in our private dining room! He prepared sea bream, tuna, sea urchin, mackerel and other delicacies — paired with real wasabi and homemade sauces. I washed it down with the highest quality yuzu and umeshu (plum liquor with real pulp in it), and finished with green tea mochi and gelatin. 

I’ve eaten at a lot of phenomenal Japanese restaurants, but this ranks among the best experiences I’ve ever had. Hassan in Roppongi is a meal you’ll never forget.

tokyo travel instagram to follow

I’ve experienced so many marvels in Tokyo… it’s impossible to blog them all. However, you can see my daily inspirations on @lacarmina Instagram — such as a lucky cat tile mural in Shibuya, Sanrio cafe pancakes, a rainbow dreamcoat in Harajuku, and smiling Murakami flowers.

And now, I’ll turn it over to my friend Jen Hoffert. She goes to Wave Gotik Treffen (the world’s biggest Goth festival) every year in Leipzig, Germany. (Remember when I went with Yukiro and our Japanese friends?) The events start this Friday, so if you’re going, I hope you’ll enjoy her top recommendations for WGT 2015.

wave gotik treffen victorian picnic

Jen writes: It’s nearly Wave-Gotik-Treffen time again. In less than a week, over 20,000 goths, rivet-heads, lolitas and other dark souls will arrive, turning the streets of Leipzig Germany into a shimmering sea of black.

With over 150 bands playing in 30 venues over 4 days, WGT is recognized as the largest international music festival for wave and gothic music. It’s not just about the music. Treffen means “meeting” in German and that’s a vital part of this festival. In addition to all of the concerts, parties and official cultural offerings at Leipzig’s museums, opera and symphony hall, many visitors arrange their own meetings with friends in the city’s parks, cafes, and nightclubs.

One of the largest of those events is the “Victorian Picnic”, started in 2008 by Viona Ilgens. The first few years attracted a few hundred costumed visitors, but since 2010, the picnic has been held at a central city park and become an enormous event which draws in plenty of curious onlookers. Although the picnic is so well loved by so many, it will go on without Viona this year because she is organizing a Viona’s Victorian Village including a Victorian Market,  “Thé Dansant” and exclusive concerts in a more secluded location. Our good friend Courtney of Atropos Threads, a talented seamstress and jewelry maker, will be vending her wares there.

For those who would rather continue the picnic tradition there are several options, the newly re-christened Neo-Romantic Picnic at Clara Zetkin Park on Friday, the Steampunk Picnic at the Palmengarten or the Blaue Stunde picnic at Parkschloesschen on Saturday. “Die Blaue Stunde” also hosts one of the most intimate and incredible farewell parties on the last evening of WGT, the traditional “Romantischen Tanznacht”. Their site is only available in German, but the hosts and party-goers are an international mix and everyone is welcome.

wave gotik treffen goth style, clothing

Another offering of interest to visitors of the festival is the IMAGO Camera, a mobile large format camera currently located at the Spinnerei in Leipzig. Holger and I had a portrait made (see above left image). This is a unique opportunity to capture a one of kind image of your beautiful dark self. You can contact Susanne directly at s.kraus@imagocamera.com to book a session. (All other WGT photos in this post by Seventh Sin.)

combichrist, front 242 bands singer

WGT includes a broad range of music beyond “gothic” and “wave”. (Above: Mera Luna photos of Front 242 and Combichrist.) The big names playing this year span from EBM (Front242, DAF, Combichrist) to classic dark rock (Fields of the Nephilim) to neo-classic (Deine Lakaien) and neo-folk (Sol Invictus, King Dude).

Some of lesser known, but promising acts include Harm Joy, an EBM/synth-pop band fronted by our friend Dan Von Hoyel, The Essence (Holland’s answer to The Cure), Evi Vine (Post Rock, Ethereal), Orphx (cult Technoid-Industrial), Last Dominion Lost, a project from former members of the Industrial pioneers SPK, lauded as “guaranteed 101% glow stick free!” and a special ritual performance by Zeena Schreck.

gothic festival clothing, dolls kill, killstar

PS – What to wear to a Goth festival? Here are some devilish picks to get you started, including this sigil jacket, Ancient Egypt dress, and studded vegan leather jacket. Below are links to more places to shop.

Are you coming to Leipzig this week? Got questions about Wave Gotik Treffen? Let us know in the comments, and Jen hopes to see you there!

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon: Gothic swimwear & metallic tattoos! Reykjavik hip restaurants, RuPaul Battle of the Seasons.

Iceland’s peculiar culture and apocalyptic landscapes have always stirred my imagination. I was curious to know — what is the island of Bjork really like?

Last month, I spent a few days in Reykjavik and found out for myself. Let’s start by dipping into the Blue Lagoon, eating Icelandic cuisine

… and mingling with RuPaul’s Drag Race queens? That’s right — I saw Pandora Boxx, Alaska 5000, Sharon Needles and others perform in this most unexpected of places.

We’ll open with a few words from photographer Joey Wong, who went on this adventure with me.

“Iceland always felt like a far-flung destination … it’s a place that everyone has heard about but very few people have been. However, now is the time to go because it’s actually not that far, expensive or inconvenient (less than 6 hours from NYC, and 7 hours from Seattle).”

We traveled on Iceland Air, which offers a free stopover (in Reykjavik, before continuing on to Europe) for up to seven days. The airline will soon offer more direct flights from US cities, including Vancouver and Portland, making this a great deal.

We were hosted by the CenterHotel Thingholt or “Þingholt,” a stylish boutique hotel with decor inspired by the surrounding nature. Loved the contemporary lobby — I’m standing in front of a stone wall with water flowing down, reminiscent of Iceland’s many waterfalls.

Pretty Attitude sent me this fabulous astrology tank top, and Goth swimsuit with pentagram-like straps! They have an enticing selection of edgy, romantic fashion in both black and white — including cut-out bikinis, fringe jackets, and doll dresses. Check it out on the Pretty Attitude online shop.

I glammed up my look with silver and gold metallic butterflies, from Tattoo You. This indie company carries designer temporary tattoos by famous artists like Dan Smith, BJ Betts, and Myra Oh. All the designs are of the highest quality — they stay on for a week, even if you go into the Blue Lagoon! — and the “ink” ones look 100% real. I had a hard time choosing from the many designs on the Tattoo You site.

Now that my outfit is ready, it’s spa time! How to get to the Blue Lagoon?

Visit Reykjavik arranged for a FlyBus to pick us up from our hotel, and take us to the Lagoon. It’s located in Grindavík (near Keflavik airport), just under a hour from the capital city, so this is most cost-effective option unless you have a rental car. (More info about how to get here is on their site).

The Blue Lagoon has different types of passes, ranging from standard to luxury. They recommend booking in advance through their site, since during busy times, only a limited number of visitors are allowed in. The Blue Lagoon provided us with a towel, bathrobe, locker access (with a wristband to secure your goods), and free drink. If you get the most basic option, be sure to bring your own towel and robe, or you’ll turn into a Popsicle after coming out of the water!

When I stepped outside, the windchill hit me — but as soon I got into the steaming pastel blue bath, the feeling was heavenly. The lagoon is man-made, and the warm water comes from a nearby geothermal power plant. Underground layers make the Blue Lagoon rich in sulfur and silica, minerals known to soothe the skin.

(Shop for Gothic / Alternative one-piece swimsuits and bikinis below!)

Unlike hot tubs (which I despise), the waist-deep water feels soft and natural. The temperature is not so hot that you’ll feel lightheaded or overwhelmed; my friends and I waded around for 1-2 hours before taking a break.

I gave my Tattoo You temporary tats the ultimate soak-test… and they stayed on perfectly, the whole day! The golden rose is from the Myra Oh metallic pack, available here.

How do you like my Gothic swimsuit from Pretty Attitude? My dark purple lip gloss is from Anastasia Beverly Hills.

A lot of locals come to the Blue Lagoon with yearly passes, so this isn’t only a a tourist destination. The venue does a great job at keeping everything hygienic and not over-crowded.

An important note about hair! I read that the Blue Lagoon’s sulfuric waters will mess with hair color and texture. So as soon as we finished taking these photos, I tied back my hair and put it in a shower cap. It was worth covering up my hair, since the steam will seep in even if you tie it up. If you have brightly colored hairstyles like us, we recommend bringing a sturdy plastic shower cap, even if you end up looking a bit goofy!

The Blue Lagoon also provided us with in-water massages. My friends were bundled up onto floating boards and rocked back and forth, like alien babies in a womb… It’s not for everyone, but apparently quite the experience! As for me, I didn’t want to put my head in the water, so I opted for a seated massage in the corner of the pool.

After several hours in the restorativewaters, we were ready to eat. The Blue Lagoon is home to LAVA Restaurant, run by a top Nordic chef. The second floor has a viewing area of the Lagoon.

LAVA is known for its contemporary dishes, made from local Icelandic ingredients. The restaurant served us a four-course tasting menu that began with arctic char.

I’ll let the photo speak for itself: cod and roasted langoustines, with fennel, pear, and dill. I’ll show you more of Iceland’s tasty food later in this post, but first…

… let’s dive into the fabulous side of the city! I’m posing at the rainbow entrance of Kiki’s Queer Bar. 

Joey writes, “There really is no LGBT ‘scene’ or gay bar hopping in Reykjavik, but the approach that I’d use is that it’s because gays are widely accepted in Iceland so there is no need.”

“But there still are alternative events that will surprise and excite people: like RuPaul’s Battle of the Seasons.” Our favorite drag queens from the TV show were on a world tour — and had a show in Reykjavik while we were there.

Above — I’m chatting with the drag queen of Halloween, Sharon Needles! I met her and other fan-favorites during the VIP meet and greet before the performance.

Pandora Boxx wore the most beautiful, customized skull and roses corset. She has such a sweet and gentle energy, which comes across both in person and on the LOGO TV show.

Jinkz Monsoon gives her best snarl. She’s dressed as Debbie Jellinsky, the evil wife from the Addams Family.

I’ve seen a lot of drag shows around the world, and  the Battle of the Seasons takes the cake, in terms of pure “extravaganza.” Competitors from various seasons of the reality show took the stage, one after the other, and lip-synched for their lives. Judge Michelle Visage introduced the acts and took part in them too.

Some sang their own songs, like the sassy Alaska 5000 who brought the house down with her hit, Your Makeup is Terrible.” Nobody can strut and give attitude like her!

My Goth friends and I cheered on Sharon Needles during her RuPaul’s Drag Race season, and were overjoyed when she won. She didn’t disappoint with her first act, where she popped out of a vampire coffin. (Watch this in my video compilation of the show.)

Her dark, surprising acts are a welcome departure from typical drag artists. Sharon Needles did a moving rendition of “Everyday is Halloween (a Ministry cover from her PG-13 album), while wearing a mask that transformed her into an old hag. For anyone who grew up relating to the spooky side of life, this was a performance that gave goosebumps.

I was in awe at the talent of all the queens. Ivy Winters did a quick-change act, and flew above the crowd as a butterfly on stilts. Pandora Boxx made us laugh with her frenetic ditz-girl comedy, and everyone cheered when she burst into Iceland native Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quiet“.

The drag queens also performed numbers together, and did a “Snatch Game” while impersonating celebrities like Anna Nicole Smith and Liza Minelli. The costumes were out of this world, like this tutu that lights up when you press on the “buttons.”

For footage from the Reykjavik battle of the seasons, check out my video compilation above and here.

I can’t wait for the next “condragulations” tour! The Ru Paul BOTS site has info about tickets and upcoming tour stops.

And now, as promised, a food tour of the best restaurants in Iceland. One of the benefits of being an isolated, northern country is that you have the freshest air and waters, and hands-on farming where animals are raised ethically. All this makes a difference in the quality of the food.

We can’t stop raving about dinner at Apotek, where the cuisine is influenced both by Icelandic ingredients and Argentinian preparations. The phenomenal cocktails pay tribute to the building’s former incarnation – a 19th century pharmacy – with categories like  painkillers, stimulants and even placebos.

I couldn’t believe the fresh, crisp flavors of this Arctic char on a pink Himalayan salt block, sprinkled with poppy seeds.

Beautiful presentation and creative ingredients, without fuss — I can vouch that Apotek is one of the best restaurants in Reykjavik.

For a more casual but equally delicious experience, we are huge fans of Icelandic Fish and Chips. We were treated to this Viking-worth array of salads, three kinds of battered fish, cauliflower and broccoli “tempura,” and nine dips including tahini and avocado flavors.

Joey says, “The light batter and the variety of dips are what set it apart, showing that Iceland can succeed by elevating “normal” foods with their own Icelandic twist.”

The bistro put its heart into preparing organic, healthy, fresh fare. These desserts are handmade with ingredients like coconut shavings and nuts. (On a side note, I’m obsessed with Skyr, the high-protein thick yogurt that is an Icelandic specialty.)

Matur og Drykkur is a new restaurant is led by a young chef, who wants to preserve the cuisine of the past while making it accessible to today’s diners.

The ever-changing seasonal menu and small plates are ideal for sharing with a group of friends. We tasted homey lobster soup, and tried unusual fare like goose hearts and cod chips with butter (above).

Joey writes, “Despite the increased popularity of fusion in many world cities, you can still enjoy unique and traditional Icelandic food at Matur og Drykkur – such as horse, which was amazing.” We encourage you to come with an open mind, and experience food and drink that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

There’s still a lot more to share from my Iceland journey. I hope this post gives you a glimpse of the colorful, fascinating, unexpected culture — and encourages you to visit!

Are you surprised by Reykjavik’s food and gay scene? Would you visit the Blue Lagoon?

(Below – here’s where you can find a Goth swimsuit like mine.)

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Joy Division & The Smiths tour: Manchester Music Tours! Factory Records, Salford Lads Club, Ian Curtis grave.

salford lads club, the smiths manchester

I’m wearing Joy Division tights, and posing like Morrissey — in Manchester, England!

For years, I’ve wanted to make a pilgrimage to this British city, which is one of the birthplaces of Goth and Post-Punk. But as Ian Curtis sang in “Disorder” — “I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand / Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”

The answer is yes, yes, yes. Manchester Music Tours took me on the perfect customized Joy Division / New Order / The Smiths journey…

factory records manchester building

… which included stops at Factory Records (above), Ian Curtis’ grave and home, Salford Lads Club, and Manchester Cathedral. Read on for the photos and stories!

(But first — if you aren’t familiar with these bands, I suggest you scroll to the end of this post, and hit “Play” on the musical widget. It contains a selection of their songs, so you can listen as you read.)

manchester music tours bus, craig gill

Manchester Music Tours is run by Craig Gill, drummer of rock band Inspiral Carpets. I couldn’t have found a more passionate and knowledgeable guide. Craig has lived and breathed the local music scene since he was in his early teens. All day, he riveted me with stories of the Mad-Chester rave days, Noel Gallagher auditioning for his group (and getting rejected), and personal tales of growing up in this gritty city.

Craig offers both bus and walking tours, themed around famous Manchester bands including the Stone Roses and Oasis. He also does bespoke tours, and customized one for me around my personal favorites: Joy Division and The Smiths.

afflecks music tiles, famous manchester bands

We started at Affleck’s, an alternative fashion center in the Northern Quarter (I’ll take you inside, in an upcoming post).

The exterior has tiled murals dedicated to Manchester luminaries. On the far right is a tribute to Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover — notice it’s the same pattern on my leggings and skirt.

manchester music walk of fame

Nearby, there’s a Manchester musical walk of fame. I’m standing on a tribute to the Twisted Wheel Club, a 1960s and 70s nightclub for Northern Soul. (Craig’s band has a triangular plaque on this street too!)

joy division outfit, leggings, shirt

We hopped back on the bus, and drove to Factory Records — the label of Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and other British indie bands. (I did my makeup in 80s Goth style, to commemorate this era!)

● Outfit Details ●

– LovelySally leggings and skirt, featuring the Unknown Pleasures album cover print. This brand has many unique prints, including forest scenes and galaxies.
– Skull t-shirt from Iceland’s Dead Gallery. In an upcoming post, I’ll take you inside artist Jón Sæmundur’s studio.

Shop for Joy Division fashion and accessories below.

mr manchester street art, tony wilson

Nearby, we found a stencil of “Mr Manchester” by street artist Stewy. That’s the nickname of Tony Wilson, founder of The Factory and energy force behind the Manchester music and nightlife revival.

Tony Wilson is portrayed brilliantly in the movie 24 Hour Party People — I encourage you to watch it, if you haven’t already.

the factory nightclub uk

Today, this is building is home to FAC251, or the Factory Manchester nightclub. It’s co-owned by Peter Hook, bassist of New Order and Joy Division.

joy division manchester tour

Thanks to Craig’s distinctive yellow bus, we were able to visit many famous spots in the course of a day. Photographer Joey Wong and I wanted to re-create famous visuals of the bands, so we stopped by Epping Walk bridge for a quick photoshoot.

joy division manchester bridge photoshoot

This is the footbridge where Kevin Cummins took the iconic photo of Joy Division (above), in the late 1970s.

unknown pleasures shirt, leggings, skirt

So cool, to be standing in their footsteps! The feeling of the bridge remains the same, over 40 years later.

(Although for some reason, the city replaced the original streetlamps and placed them on the other side. It appears they’ve added a safety hand rail too.)

the smiths salford lad clubs, morrissey

Next, we drove to Salford to pay tribute to this famous photo, from the sleeve of The Smiths – Queen is Dead album.

smiths fans music tour, coronation street

Since 1903, the Salford Lads Club has run sports and recreational activities for young men (and now women). Today, the community is still going strong thanks to volunteers.

I did my best to imitate Morrissey‘s smug mug for the photos.

salford lad clubs smiths landmark

Located at the corner of Coronation Street, the Club has become one of the most famous musical landmarks. Fans from all over come to pose between the rounded arches.

smiths exhibition, fan club

Inside, I saw an old wood door marked with “The Smiths.” Inside, I found Leslie Holmes putting up photos and notes from devotees! 

In 2004, Leslie led a project to turn the weightlifting room into a shrine for The Smiths. He loves meeting visitors from around the world, and puts his heart into maintaining this room for them.

ian curtis mural, tiles

He invited me to send in my photo taken outside the Salford Lads Club, which he’ll add to the wall. (Look for La Carmina, if you visit…)

The wall includes album covers, signed photos, and the original Affleck’s mosaic featuring Morrissey.

salford lad club smiths room, tshirt

So happy to have Craig as my enthusiastic guide. He was fantastic at answering my questions, and sharing stories of the bands.

wizard of edge inn, restaurant

Since this was a customized tour, we could move at our own pace. We stopped for lunch at The Wizard Pub at Alderley Edge. What a special place: the inn dates back to the 16th century, and the surrounding countryside is the site of Merlin legends.

wizard alderley edge restaurant food

Still dreaming of that ricotta and spinach pie… (In an upcoming post, I’ll show you how Manchester’s food scene pleasantly surprised me, and defied stereotypes about British cuisine.)

Macclesfield Cemetery, joy division graveyard

It took about 45 minutes to reach Macclesfield, the town south of Manchester where Joy Division’s vocalist grew up. I loved seeing the peaceful, green countryside outside my window as Craig drove us to Macclesfield Cemetery, where he is buried. 

ian curtis grave location, memorial stone

Ian Curtis was cremated here in 1980. Fans continue to visit his curbstone, leaving photos and gifts for this beloved musician.

(The original memorial stone had a more Gothic font, but it was stolen in 2008!)

ian curtis crematorium, cemetery

Perhaps you recognize this view from the movie Control. The final scene pans out to show the chimney where he was cremated. 

Macclesfield graveyard, manchester

This Victorian-era graveyard is beautiful — the perfect resting place for the man who many consider to be the first Gothic musician. 

ian curtis home, Macclesfield house

Manchester Music Tours also took us to the Macclesfield home that Ian Curtis shared with his wife (and where he ultimately committed suicide, in the kitchen). The house was recently sold to an unknown buyer. Let’s hope he or she is a Joy Division aficionado, and will preserve the rose-stained door

control movie, hate jacket

Also in the movie Control, you’ll see the actor playing Ian Curtis walk from this exact home to his job nearby, as an employment agent. The back of his jacket reads “Hate.”

juveniles ian curtis workplace

While working here, Ian witnessed a woman suffering a seizure, inspiring the lyrics of the Joy Division song “She’s Lost Control.”

Craig Gill and I posed in front of the Juveniles sign (there’s a plaque for the band on another wall). We seem to be imitating the “dancing girls” emoji pose.

joy division manchester cathedral photoshoot

For our last stop, we drove back to Manchester and stopped by the cathedral where the band took these shivering pictures

goth travel, gothic music landmarks

That’s as Gothic as it gets. (If you dig what I’m wearing, below are links to Joy Division shirts and more).

manchester cathedral architecture, gargoyles

Love the Gargoyles perched on the pillars.

manchester music tour, new order band

Manchester Cathedral has a history that dates back centuries. Today, it holds poetry readings, musical performances and more.

joy division fashion, clothing, outfit post

I can’t thank Manchester Music Tours enough for this inspiring journey! Goth / post-punk music fans, I urge you to join one of Craig’s tours (schedules and more info are on his site). Having a passionate, easygoing guide like him was invaluable, and let us visit multiple locations in just half a day.

(Below is a bonus photo of The Hacienda, Tony Wilson’s happening club and music venue. Today, it’s an apartment complex but the name remains.)

echo and bunnymen tour, hacienda apartments

Craig’s band, Inspiral Carpets, recently released a new studio album that you can pick up here. Psychedelic organs, spoken word, and dark beats — I’ve been listening to it on loop in my car.

Manchester’s music scene continues to rock hard. Inspiral Carpets is performing with Echo & The Bunnymen, Gang of Four and other indie bands on May 23rd at Manchester Academy (I wish I could be there.) Tickets are available online.

morrissey tour, the smiths salford

I leave you with a final shot of the Morrissey room at Salford Lads Club. “Farewell to this land’s cheerless marches / Hemmed in like a boar between arches…”

Wouldn’t you love to go on Goth music adventure like mine? Thanks to Visit Manchester for making these travels possible.

(For a taste of the bands featured in this Manchester Music Tour, click on the player below.)

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