Category Archive for Fashion
Walks of Turkey: historical guided tour of Istanbul! Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Cistern, spice market.
Dark angel over Byzantium! If a single image could sum up my feeling about Istanbul, it would be this one.
It was my first time here, and I wanted an in-depth look at the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and other ancient wonders.
As you’ll recall, I came to Turkey as a guest of the World Tourism Forum. After the travel conference, I stayed a few extra days to explore.
I met my Walks of Turkey guide in the Sultanahmet area, where these cultural landmarks are located within easy walking distance of each other. The city may be now be called Istanbul, but you still feel the grandeur of Constantinople (as it was known during its heyday).
From the start, we knew we were in good hands. Our guide, Kamil, understood our photography goals — and used his personal connections to bring us to the best viewpoints, like this one. He also customized the tour to suit our interests and pace. The entire time, it felt like we were on a walk with a friend.
(Hair by Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Salon, Vancouver BC).
As you can see from this video, Walks of Turkey delivered the ideal, customized tour! The company has a five-star rating because of its expert guides and small private tours. You can just relax and enjoy the personal experience, and there are never surprises such as hidden costs along the way.
Kamil started his tour at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, which is marked by two obelisks and a Serpentine Column. He brought the ancient scene to life, describing the spirited sporting events that took place here, and pointing out the tracks of horse chariots.
Above is a close-up of the obelisk that Theodosius the Great brought from Egypt in the 4th century. I couldn’t believe how well the hieroglyphs stood the test of time. The owl looks like he was carved yesterday.
Right next to the Hippodrome is the glorious Blue Mosque. Our Walks of Turkey guide explained that this is a nickname, and that locals call it the Sultan Ahmet. This blue-tiled, six-minaret achievement was built in the early 17th century, during the rule of Ahmed I.
We admired the peaceful courtyard, with a hexagon fountain for ablutions in the middle (which is now dry).
Before entering the mosque, everyone must remove their shoes (they provide a plastic bag, so you can carry them with you). The women must cover their heads with scarves, and put on a blue skirt (even if you’re wearing leggings, you’ll be asked to wear one). This is out of respect to the Muslims that attend the mosque for prayers and services.
I was prepared: I had my arms covered, and brought my own scarf.
Walk into the Blue Mosque, and look up. You can’t help but be captivated by the heavenly domes, which are made with over 20,000 Iznik ceramic tiles.
These intricate designs merge into floral patterns, diffused by the light from over 200 stained glass windows and glowing chandeliers.
The tablets on the walls are inscribed with the names of caliphs, and verses from the Koran. The Blue Mosque is a brilliant example of how Islamic architecture uses delicate touches to create a magnificent effect.
I saluted the Blue Mosque’s six minarets, or towers. Before electronic microphones were invented, the muezzin had to climb a narrow spiral staircase five times a day to do the call to prayer!
Our Walks of Turkey tour guide then took us to the Basilica Cistern, and used his special pass to skip the line.
Photos alone can’t convey the mysterious mood of the ancient water supply, known aptly as the Sunken Palace. I heard the drip-drip of the water as we walked through the paths, and noticed fish swimming in the pools (an old-fashioned way to test for poisons).
Built in the 6th century by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, Basilica is the largest of several hundred cisterns that supplied Istanbul with water. Two columns have bases shaped like the heads of Medusa; these stones were re-used from Roman sculptures.
What could possibly top this? The Hagia Sophia, a 6th century Christian church that became an imperial mosque. Today, it’s a museum — so you don’t need to abide by a dress code in order to enter.
We were in Istanbul in February, which is the off-season for travelers. On the plus side, you won’t encounter as many tourists. However, the weather is still quite chilly during this time of year.
Once again, we were grateful to be with Walks of Turkey, as we could skip lines and breeze right in.
The Hagia Sophia is considered the height Byzantine architecture. Every detail was so tremendously executed that Emperor Justinian reportedly exclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!”
I would have to agree — I was mesmerized by the feeling of the Hagia Sophia. Our guide gave us insight into the Arabic symbols, which mixed with Christian references — such as paintings of seraphim.
As we walked through the two floors, Kamil pointed out details we would never have known. He showed us the Hagia Sophia’s “official cat,” who greeted President Obama and roams the museum freely. He also showed us the “Face of Satan,” a marble panel that happens to look like the devil.
Looking up, the Hagia Sophia’s dome appears to be levitating, thanks to the light from from 40 windows surround its base. An incredible architectural achievement, especially considering that it was built in the 6th century.
As I mentioned before, our guide made sure we had access to the best scenic locations. He took us to a rooftop by the Grand Bazaar, which only locals know about. I climbed up on the dome for this epic shot.
(Find my dress and morebelow):
The last stop was the Istanbul Spice Market, a hall of sensory delights. At one of the stalls, we tasted apple and pomegranate tea, and samples of Turkish Delight.
I usually don’t like Turkish Delight, but it’s made fresh here, with the highest quality fruit and nuts. After trying the real deal, I get why the confectionery has its delightful name!
Our Walks of Turkey guide made sure we never felt pressured to buy anything. We could take our time to shop, and ask all the questions we liked.
I wanted to take home all of the teas, made from fresh flowers and herbs, and served in a tulip-shaped glass.
There’s so much to see in the Sultanahmed district. We walked through the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest covered markets in the world.
Again, it was named Grand for a reason. I was dazzled by the labyrinthine of shops. Fine jewelry, magic carpets, pottery, handicrafts, leatherworks — you name it.
These glowing rainbow lanterns made me feel like I had gone back in time, and was wandering the Grand Bazaar of the 15th century.
Topkapı Palace is a short walk away. It was the sprawling home of the Ottoman sultans, between the 15th and 19th centuries.
Today, it’s a museum that holds Muslim holy relics like Muhammed’s sword, and more bizarre items like his wooden stick and bits of beard. The rooms also have displays of Ottoman furniture, Islamic calligraphy and other art.
We’re so happy we spent the day with Walks of Turkey: the expert guides put their hearts into making your tour special. With Kamil’s help, we got an in-depth look at Byzantine culture, and were able to access photography locations known only by insiders.
Walks of Turkey offers a variety of tours, including food excursions and Bosphorus cruises. They’re a team to be trusted, and I hope you’ll let them be your guides when you visit.
I leave you with a ceiling shot from a small mosque. Long live Constantinople.
All the photo and video credit goes to the uber-talented Joey Wong. Please take a moment to watch our Istanbul video here — we hope it gives you a taste of our travels.
And if this post gave you wanderlust, we’d appreciate if you could share it on Facebook or your social media. Teşekkür ederim, or thank you in Turkish!
Singapore Street Food & Temples! Old Airport Road authentic hawker center, Little India & Chinatown.
Singapore’s multiculturalism has always fascinated me. Unlike in other Asian metropolises, the population is a true mix, with the major groups being Chinese, Malay and Indian. It’s amazing that such diverse cultures and religions live together in tiny country, known as one of the safest in the world.
Perhaps part of the reason is that, as people joke, the “true religion” of Singaporeans is food. I knew this was a foodie mecca, but still, I was surprised by the huge number and range of dining options here.
Last summer, I was excited to taste-test Singapore’s famous hawker centers, and visit the colorful temples of Little India and Chinatown.
But first… I’m thrilled to announce my next destination: beautful New Zealand!
It’l be fun to meet other young travelers, and road-trip all over the North Island. My itinerary includes nightlife, Maori culture, and the famous glow-worm caves. There are also optional excursions like a visit to Hobbiton, where you can pose with Lord of the Rings movie sets.
Contiki takes care of all logistics such as the driving, guides, and hotel bookings — so I can just hang out with new friends, and enjoy the ride.
The above New Zealand images are by Kristin Thorogood, a photographer based on the South Island (check out her Instsagram @kristinthorogood). I’ll only be in the North this time… but after seeing this cute furry seal, I’ll have to make a return journey!
Be sure to follow my Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat (all @lacarmina) and Facebook to see my upcoming New Zealand adventure with Contiki! There are drag queen adventures on my Snapchat right now, so check them out before they disappear.
Now, back to my Singapore story. I always try to visit local temples wherever I’m in Asia. I think they give a unique glimpse into the culture of the destination.
Photographer Ken Yuen and I stopped by the Buddha Tooth Relic temple. (Address: 288 S Bridge Rd, Singapore)
(Shop my outfit of the day below:)
The architecture is based on the Chinese Tang dynasty style, although the building itself is new (the grand opening was in 2005). This temple houses the tooth relic of the Buddha, which was found in a Myanmar stupa in 1980.
A volunteer hands out sarongs and scarves for visitors to cover their limbs, before going in. This Buddhist temple is an inclusive one, with elements from the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajayana traditions.
We watched people kneel and give incense offerings at the entrance.
The six-storey temple includes a Buddhist Culture Museum, Sacred Light Hall, and theater for cultural performances and talks.
The Universal Wisdom Hall is covered in thousands of statues of Bodhisattvas and “Zodiac Protectors,” which represent the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac.
I felt an uplifting atmosphere in this temple, and bought a mantra bracelet to remember it.
In the Jalan Besar neighborhood, we came across a Tibetan Buddhist temple, called Thekchen Choling. (Address: 2 Beatty Lane) The entrance had dangling rainbow fabrics and bells, which chimed when the wind blew.
Talk about “Electric Nirvana!” I saw an altar glowing with neon lights, and a huge gold prayer wheel.
The Tibetan temple gives back to the community with free medicine distribution, acupuncture, meals and other support, with an emphasis on helping the poor and elderly.
Singapore’s Hindu temples are equally colorful: I wonder how many statues of gods and creatures live on the roof. This is the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, constructed in the South Indian Tamil style.
This place of worship is dedicated to the fierce Hindu goddess, Kali. On the right: you wouldn’t want to be the moustached man.
The gate is decorated with an Om, the symbol of the absolute.
I also visited the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, Sri Mariamman (Address: 244 South Bride Rd).
On a single road, you might see a heritage Chinese building, an Indian temple, and an avantgarde skyscraper like IM Pei’s “The Gateway”. That’s Singapore for you!
The “Lion City” could be called the “Rainbow City.” Outside the temples, I found these amulets of the elephant god Ganesha.
Walk around Little India, and you’ll see plenty of colorful architecture. I came across multiple buildings where the shutters were painted the shades of the rainbow.
Little India is accurately named. I encountered scents, markets and vendors that made me feel like I was in a mini version of New Delhi (or so I imagine, as I haven’t gotten to India yet.)
The British ruling days left charming colonial facades all over the city. Singapore’s laws help to preserve heritage buildings like these.
We walked around the “hipster” area Jalan Besar, a former swampland that later housed a pig slaughterhouse… and now is home to quirky dessert shops.
The Tiramisu Hero is full of interactive fun, from a raccoon mask to a riddle. Solve it, and you’ll get a free iced tea. (Address: 121 Tyrwhitt Road.)
How “cat-tastic” is the interior design? The mascot is Sir Antonio the Italian cat, who wears a black cape and is on a quest to find the perfect tiramisu.
Two young friends, a financial planner and blogger, opened this shop together. The Tiramisu Hero serves savory food in addition to their signature dessert, which is made with various flavors. Our original tiramisu came in a cute superhero cat jar, and went down smooth.
Since it was our first time in Singapore, we also stopped by Clarke Quay. This entertainment area is known for its river boat tours, restaurants and nightclubs. The Quay is touristy, but there was recently a Goth dance party held here — so I wouldn’t write it off!
Yes, Singapore is as clean and organized as you hear. The street art in this underground walkway was officially authorized.
After a long walk, it was time to eat! Every traveller needs to experience the famous Singapore hawker stalls, where vendors serve up inexpensive, local dishes in small stations. Like everywhere else in the city, there are high standards of sanitation for the food preparation.
Our local friends told us to avoid the touristy Newtown Food Centret. Our friend Jacob had a car, so he drove us to the far more authentic Old Airport Road hawker center. (Address: 19 Old Airport Road)
Yes, those prices are real, and portions are generous! I recommend coming with friends and ordering a lot of unfamiliar dishes to share. It’s a great opportunity to try new local flavors, and even if you don’t enjoy them all, you’ll only have spent a few dollars.
I enjoyed the satay, and the char way teow (flat fried noodles). However my favorite by far is laksa, or spicy curry soup with rice noodles. Laksa is one of the famous Peranakan dishes, which combine influences from Chinese and Malay cuisine.
Not many tourists experience prata shops, which are inexpensive eateries popular among students. Most prata menus have hundreds of listings, but roti is the staple dish, dressed up in a myriad of sauces. Our friend ordered a Milo dinosaur, a Singaporean drink with a scoop of Milo (chocolate malt powder) mixed with ice, and another undissolved scoop on top.
On another day, I satisfied my laksa addition at Sungei Road (Address: 27 Jalan Berseh). There’s always a long lineup to what is considered the top laksa shop in Singapore. The seafood curry soup base is cooked over a charcoal fire burner, infusing it with a unique smokey flavor. I can vouch that this is the best laksa I’ve ever had — and it was only $2 a bowl!
I leave you with a few more snaps of the vivid architecture in Singapore.
And here’s a last glimpse at Chinatown.
Did you know Singapore was such a “rainbow city,” in terms of diversity and architecture? And now, time to pack my bags for yet another fascinating destination… New Zealand!
Shop my outfit of the day below (all items are from Chaser the Brand):
Visiting Cheung Chau Island by ferry! Hong Kong cute character stores, FoFo Spanish restaurant, Bindaas Indian.
Believe it or not… the above photo was taken in Hong Kong!
The city is known for its tall skyscrapers and hectic atmosphere. However, you can escape into nature — simply by taking the ferry to several nearby islands, including Cheung Chau and Lamma Island.
(My top is by Disturbia. More fashion by this Gothic brand below.)
I’ll also show you some of the newest restaurants and kawaii pop culture in Hong Kong, such as this Sailor Moon makeup collection at SaSa.
One of Hong Kong’s icons is the Star Ferry, this open-air boat that runs from Tsim Sha Tsui (on the Kowloon side) to Central Pier. From there, you can hop onto ferries that take you to the outer-lying islands.
The most popular islands are the beach-y Discovery Bay, and Cheung Chau (home to the annual bun festival, where brave or foolhardy participants climb up a giant tower made of Chinese buns). It takes about 40-60 minutes for the ferry to reach these islands.
As you sail, you’ll get to take in spectacular views of Hong Kong’ skyscrapers. However, be prepared for choppy waters that can rock you off your feet.
I recommend visiting the lesser-known Lamma Island, which has a relaxed hippie vibe. Lamma is home to a cat museum (or Mewseum), small seafood restaurants, and plenty of secluded natural spots for swimming and hiking.
I also went to the larger Cheung Chau island for the first time. This is a popular day-trip destination for both locals and tourists, as it lets them escape the “Hong Kong hustle” for a fishing village atmosphere.
When you step onto the boardwalk, you’ll see rows of little shops selling island specialties: dried squid, fish balls on a stick, and the famous stamped buns.
At this grocer, we spotted a cat in a Superman costume. “It’s a bird… it’s a plane… It’s Super-Maoo!”
It’s possible to walk around Cheung Chau — but the winding paths around the island are made for cycling. There are plenty of stores that rent out bicycles and canopy-covered tricycles.
It’s a must do. I had so much fun zipping around and taking in the ocean views. With a bike, it’s easy to stop by landmarks such as the Cheung Po Tsai pirate cave.
I enjoyed my island getaways, as a way to slow down and relax in nature. However, there’s no place like Hong Kong to get your cute shopping on!
Causeway Bay remains the best neighborhood of Sanrio goods, and all things kawaii. (Here’s my comprehensive guide to shopping in Causeway Bay.)
Is there anything as cute as a basket of squishy-faced kittens? Whenever I’m in the Causeway Bay district, I stop by this cute cat store (more info and photos here.)
It’s the best concept ever. All of the cats inside this store… have flat faces!
There’s always a Scottish Fold and Exotic Shorthair in there. You can say hi to them, and pick up cat toys or food.
As you’ll recall from my Causeway Bay travel guide, this area is known for its Japanese malls.
Laforet always has changing themed displays. When I went, it was covered with pictures of Sanrio’s Little Twin Stars.
The pastel shades of the 1980s are back in style. Kiki and Lala haven’t aged a day.
In Hong Kong, Sanrio characters are everywhere — and they’re not only for kids. You’ll find high quality purses, wallets, shoes and clothes with subtle designs featuring the characaters. ANS and KiLaRa are two Asian brands that often collaborate with Sanrio.
Kawaii is sometimes a bit twisted, in Hong Kong. Everywhere you go, there are cute-meets-weird signs and public displays.
You know I’m addicted to Miffy the bunny… Arome Bakery has dozens of location around the city, and this season, they carried Miffy moon cakes that came in tin boxes.
Arome has a new dark chocolate truffle Miffy cake with gold eyes and an X mouth. It’s scrumptious: layers of moist pudding and cake, spongy and not too sugary.
Isn’t it funny how Miffy, a character from the Netherlands, has taken over Hong Kong? In Japan and Korea, you won’t find nearly as many Miffy toys and products — and there are no such cakes.
One of my favorite stores is Homeless, the interior design shop with locations in Central and Sha Tin. They sell lots of Miffy goods — I picked up “Nijntje” keychains (that is her Dutch name).
In the Hung Hom mall next to Harbour Plaza Metropolis hotel, I stumbled upon a holiday display.
Since this is Miffy’s 60th anniversary, the bunny with the X-mouth is everywhere. (She currently has Miffy cafe and big displays at Hysan Place and other Causeway Bay locations.)
Every time I’m in Hong Kong, I stop by the Miffy TwoPercent fashion boutiques. I usually go to the Miffy shop in Causeway Bay’s WTC, but saw these backpacks in The One TST. (I’ll do a full report about this mall soon.)
Japanese kawaii designs are found in every part of Hong Kong — and usually for much lower prices. I couldn’t resist getting the fat mouse from the MiniSo store. Each toy is about $4 US.
Minions is currently the rage in Hong Kong, and I saw their smiling faces on lattes.
Cats remain popular as ever. You can find maneki nekos (fortune cats) everywhere for sale. These ones have both paws raised, for extra luck!
Another reason to love Hong Kong: the international dining. I had a magnificent dinner at the award-winning Spanish restaurant, FoFo by el Willy (address: 2-8 Wellington St). The smiling chef, Alex Fargas, skillfully designed the menu with influences from his native Barcelona and travels abroad.
I felt at home in the minimal space, decorated with rows of white penguins on the shelves and chandeliers. The server introduced me to a cute, round bull statue and explained that he is the mascot — since the word “fofo” means plump!
From the 20th floor window, we had a fantastic view of Central’s bright lights. Our server walked us up to the laid back rooftop, where people lounged and enjoyed cocktails. (I loved the rose sangria, with fresh cut strawberries and apples.)
The chef is a master at traditional Spanish dishes, which he delivers with a contemporary execution. We ate up every bite of the “bikini” sandwiches made with the finest cheese and Iberian ham, and juicy paella with seafood (above).
El Willy gets especially inventive with its tapas, or bite-sized shareable plates. I popped a “Salmon Explosive Air Bag” in my mouth, and the pastry burst into a delight of truffle sour cream and smoked salmon. Also home runs: paella crackers with sea urchin, and scallop ceviche with avocado and crispy shallots.
The desserts hit the spot with a freshly baked apple tart, churros with dark chocolate dipping sauce, and a creative “mojito” made with mint, jelly and sorbet.
With a laid back atmosphere and exceptional cuisine, FoFo is now on my short-list of favorite restaurants in Hong Kong.
The chefs recently came here from India, and brought their expertise to each dish. Nothing is heavy-handed: the ingredients are fresh, and the spices are a delight to the palate.
At the same time, Bindaas is not afraid to get creative, and excels at fusion. Their naan pizza is a must eat: it comes with several varieties of toppings, and brilliantly merges two comfort foods into one.
Bindaas also serves wonderful original cocktails with Indian flavors, such as yogurt lassi. (Photos from this restaurant by Sniper Chau)
The seafood curries and tandoori dishes are stand-outs, and the small plates are great for sharing with a group of friends.
Bindaas is brilliant at Indian fusion, and is a welcome entry to the Hong Kong food scene.
Do these food and cute cat photos make you want to visit Hong Kong? In the next post, I’ll announce my April destinations, so stay tuned…
Goths on the beach. Even in bright sunlight, Yukiro and I maintain our vampire attitude!
Karisma Hotels invited us to spend a day at El Dorado Maroma, their boutique oceanfront resort. It turned out to be our favorite property. We loved relaxing on this private beach so much that we delayed our leave by several hours!
(My pentacle top is this exact one by Rat Baby, a dark / alt clothing brand.)
Located in the Riviera Maya, El Dorado Maroma is for adults only, and cultivates a laid-back feeling. The grounds are filled with tall palm trees, giving the impression that you’ve stumbled upon a beach paradise.
Yukiro and I had our own mega-suite, with sliding doors that opened into our private terrace, and a quiet swimming pool.
Shop for Gothic swimwear and dresses below:
Things got a little crazy when the staff delivered two “Coco Locos” — a tropical cocktail of coconut, banana, rum and magic.
To top it off, they decorated the coconut shell like a monkey’s face!
I’ve never had a better welcome drink than this one. At Karisma El Dorado resorts, all food and drink are inclusive — so you can order a dozen Coco Locos if you pleased.
Strike a pose, vogue.
El Dorado Maroma is the only property with thatch-roofed overwater bungalows (similar to the 5-star huts found in the Maldives and Bora Bora).
We had our very own palapa beach bed, so we didn’t have to worry about other guests taking our prime spot by the ocean.
A staff member came around and offered sunscreen and margaritas. Yes to both.
We got to preview El Dorado Maroma’s new overwater bungalows — perfect for a romantic honeymoon.
As you can see, the sand and waters were pristine. I was a happy girl, wading in the ocean.
(Closeup on the criss-cross straps of my Gothic swimsuit. Shop more styles with a click):
Meal time! Karisma Hotels are known as “gourmet inclusives” because they put great care into their restaurants.
We hit it off with our cheerful server, who insisted that we try his grandmother’s special coffee (dark, with a brush of cinnamon). He then brought us green and red chilaquiles, a layered tortilla dish known as a hangover cure.
This kitty-cat was pleased with the authentic Mexican dish. It was one of our favorite meals of the entire trip.
After, we walked down the long private beach. There’s nothing like listening to the sounds of the ocean, and looking out at the horizon…
… and making friends with pelicans.
El Dorado Maroma is a quiet and exclusive space. Perfect for those who want a true beach getaway.
The resort will soon be home to 58 new “palafitos”, or over the water suites. If you’re dreaming of visiting Tulum, it’s good timing for a stay at El Dorado Maroma, a beachfront resort, by Karisma.
Paulina said we would love Le Lotus Rouge bar — and once again, she was spot on. (Address: 35th Avenue & Calle 2, Playa del Carmen, Mexico)
The Red Lotus is run by a French lady, who decorated the rooms to reflect her love of the arts. From the moment we stepped in, we felt at home in this eccentric, fabulous and slightly creepy space.
Le Lotus Rouge is infamous for its karaoke nights. Anyone can choose a song from the computer, and belt it out on microphones.
I have to say… Yukiro and I tore down the house, with our rendition of the 1980s Styx hit, Mr Roboto!
Glowing with lanterns and secret spaces, the Red Lotus one magical spot.
Playa del Carmen and Cancun tend have touristy nightlife — which is why we were pleasantly surprised to find this artistic bar, frequented by locals. The cocktails and food are also wonderful here.
There are multiple theme rooms, each decorated with whimsy. This one has a tribal theme.
Disco dreams come true, when Yukiro is around.
Boudoir furniture and skeletons are found all throughout Le Lotus Rouge.
I hope these photos show you an unexpected side of Playa del Carmen, which is typically associated with tourists and spring breakers.
Gracias to Loco Gringo for the insider tour of Tulum. More photos to come, including a visit to a cemetery and Day of the Dead art gallery.
Until then, you can check out all my Mexico travel guides here. Have you been to Riviera Maya before?