Category Archive for Fims + Videos
Hosting a Travel Channel TV series in Tokyo! Using Happn app to meet new people through everyday coincidences.
Tokyo remains one of my favorite cities on the planet. There’s always something new (and usually cute!) to discover here.
I recently filmed in Japan with a new Travel Channel TV series, and am delighted to finally share behind-the-scenes from the shoot.
As we whiz through Tokyo’s coolest districts, I’ll also introduce you to a fabulous French app called Happn, which seizes everyday coincidences and lets you meet the people you cross paths with!
(“Tokyo’s Cute Culture” airs again on March 29th at 8:30am. Soon, the show will be available for download on Amazon.)
The Travel Channel team and I filmed all over Tokyo. Can you imagine how many people I must have walked past, during this TV shoot alone?
I snapped this photo in busy Akihabara, and it made me think. People are always on their phones, and yet, it can be hard to start up a real-life conversation.
I was excited to learn Happn was launching in Japan, as it’s a brilliant way to bridge these gaps.
This free app lets you give a second chance at a first encounter. It first launched in Paris in 2014, and is now is in over 35 cities worldwide.
Happn is all about facilitating real-life connections. Every time you cross paths with another user, their profile appears on your app: a starting point for getting to know someone new.
On a busy day like my Travel Channel TV shoot, I’m sure I walked by or near tons of interesting people. (The app connects you with users within a 250m radius.)
However when we’re caught up in work, or in a hurry to reach the next location, there’s no time to interact.
We filmed an intro at Hachiko dog statue, near the busy Shibuya crossing. As many as 2500 pedestrians cross this street every time the light changes!
So many people gather here in Shibuya — but are often too shy to strike up a conversation.
Happn lets them see the number of times they’ve crossed paths with someone, as well as the time and approximate location of the last encounter.
Wouldn’t it be fun if the fellow behind me was checking his phone, and finding me on Happn?
If there’s a user who you want to get to know better, you can Heart their profile (the person doesn’t get a notification, so it’s private). If that person Hearts you too, you can then start up a conversation.
You never know… one of the people you cross paths with could be a special guy or girl destined for you!
I love how Happn lets me meet new friends with common interests. As you know, I’m an animal lover… and was in my element when we filmed at Deco’s Dog Cafe.
Owners bring their puppies here to dine on gourmet food, and see other dogs.
In Japan, locals can be reticent about conversing with people they don’t know. An app like Happn breaks the ice.
“Hi, I was at Deco cafe too! Where did your poodle get her cute dress from?”
“Perhaps we can exchange cooking tips for organic dog food!”
I have a feeling Happn will be especially popular in Akihabara, the high-tech otaku district.
Maid cafes are big here, since they let customers talk to the staff about manga, anime and other “nerdy” interests.
No need to be shy when you can first chat about shared hobbies on the app.
As you can see, I went to all types of neighborhoods for my Travel Channel shoot. We filmed a segment at the Odaiba hot springs, Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari.
The final “decision scene” took place at a verdant Shinto temple.
In the end, did my “relocation” clients decide to move to Japan? You’ll have to tune in to find out. (“Could I Live There”? airs regularly on Travel Channel.)
I think anyone new to Japan would have fun using the French app Happn. It’s a charming way to meet people, from real life encounters.
Who knows — you could bond over your passion for kawaii mascots, creepy accessories, or a heaping plate of pasta!
Perhaps you’ll even cross paths with me! (If you’re intrigued, here’s where you can find out more about Happn.)
Hearts for all of you — I wouldn’t have these opportunities in Japan without your support. More Tokyo coverage to come, and I hope you enjoy the Travel Channel show that I hosted.
There’s no better place in the world to wear a skull cut-out dress… than the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.
My filmmakers and I got to explore this fascinating neighborhood, thanks to Visit Spain and Eurail. As we walked through the narrow streets, we came across Star Wars stormtroopers, twee murals, and retro indie fashion.
From Las Ramblas in Barcelona to the Alhambra of Granada, watch as I dive into the country’s art and culture.
Produced, filmed and edited by Borderless Media. I’m always amazed at how they capture our adventures and make them come to life.
Perhaps you’re eyeing my outfit of the day. I adore this dress from Pretty Attitude Clothing, featuring a white cobweb print, lace skull cut-away back, and dangling bell sleeves.
My necklace is from an LA company, Vidakush Jewelry. The pendant is the word “universe” in Sanskrit.
Most tourists start at Las Ramblas, the main shopping street of Barcelona that holds the famous market (Mercat de La Boqueria, or St Joseph’s Market). It’s worth checking out Ramblas, but I found it too tourist-driven and commercial for my taste.
Instead, I encourage you to explore two of my favorite Barcelona neighborhoods: El Raval (see my travel guide here), and the spooky-named Gothic Quarter.
To get to the Gothic Quarter, you can start at Plaça Reial square near Las Ramblas, and keep on walking east.
This grand, “royal” plaza was designed in the 19th century, and features lanterns by Gaudi. Many people meet up at Placa Reial, and the atmosphere is especially abuzz at night.
We wandered into the El Barri Gòtic, the center of old Barcelona. Many of the walls and buildings date back to Medieval times, or even further back when the Romans occupied the city.
The Gothic Quarter is famous for its narrow, labyrinthine, cobblestone pathways. It’s great fun to stroll around, and take in the stone walls and art nouveau buildings on the way.
Similar to El Raval, there’s an artistic, indie feeling to this district. We spotted cheeky street art on the century-old walls.
These old-fashioned Roman door knockers got the graffiti treatment, next to a striking mural that makes use of the doorway as a canvas.
The Gothic Quarter is my favorite area for shopping. It’s filled with quirky, independent local boutiques — especially on the street Calle Avinyo.
Instead of commercial brands, you’ll find innovative design shops. Like this one, which lets you customize your own lamp from a rainbow of colorful balls.
The artists turned unexpected materials, such as basketballs, into hip lighting fixtures.
We popped into artisan shops that sold handmade purses, crafts, and other design objects. I think Spanish Cubist artist Picasso would be pleased with the creative scene here.
The Force is alive and well… in the Gothic Quarter! This clothing shop paid homage to Star Wars.
Have you ever seen Stormtroopers looking so fabulous?
I spent the afternoon browsing Spanish retro and vintage fashion boutiques. Their items are one of a kind, and not expensive.
My Pretty Attitude lace dress would fit right in with the cool fashion found here.
With an edgy creative culture and skull street art, the Gothic Quarter lives up to its name.
And now, we have to say “adiós”… because this is my last post about Spain, at least until I visit again! If you missed my previous stories about Barcelona and Granada, see them all here.
Gracias for watching our Spain travel video here!
Watch me on Travel Channel’s new TV show: Could I Live There? Karisma El Dorado restaurants, cooking classes.
Welcome to a new edition of my Mexican travelogue. Yukiro and I ate like queens at Karisma Hotels & Resorts… I hope you’re hungry, as there are a lot of food photos ahead!
(I’m sure you are curious about my Basil Farrow cat top (above). It’s by LA-based designer Lili Chin, who custom-makes shirts and drawings to look like your pets! There’s info on her site, and I’ll be posting more images soon.)
But first, some quick updates about my upcoming TV appearances and travel destinations.
Perhaps you’ll recall that I was in Tokyo last spring, to shoot a show with Travel Channel. Now, I can officially reveal details about the series, called “Could I Live There?“
In each episode, a couple considers moving to a new country — and makes the decision after exploring it with a “relocator”. I’m the on-camera host for the Japan show, titled “Tokyo’s Cute Culture.” Above is a scene from a Shinto temple, where I took the pair before they decided whether to stay in the US or move to Tokyo.
I had a terrific shoot with the production team, and hope you’ll tune into Travel Channel to watch me on TV! “Could I Live There? – Japan” premieres Monday, February 8 at 9:30 pm (8:30 pm Central), and repeats the next day at 12:30 am (11:30 am Central).
If you’ve been following my Instagram and Snapchat (@lacarmina), you’ll have seen me in Los Angeles.
Now, I’m boarding a flight on Turkish Airlines… and heading to Istanbul for the first time! I’ve dreamt of visiting “Constantinople” for years, and finally got the chance to go — thanks to a generous invitation from the World Tourism Forum. I’m honored to be one of about 20 international bloggers chosen to participate in the event. Can’t wait to share images of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and more.
Right after, I’m excited to be doing a project with Brussels Tourism! My filmmakers Borderless Media and I will be shooting travel stories in Belgium, including coverage of the decadent Binche carnival. I’m looking forward to a taste of chocolates, surrealism, street art and underground culture.
(Above is a still from their Rene Magritte inspired video featuring cats taking over the city.)
And now, back to our Riviera Maya escapades at Karisma El Dorado. As I mentioned in the first article, Yukiro and I had full access to their three resorts.
We found this Ganesha elephant god statue in a little garden, hidden between the Casitas and Generations properties.
My t-shirt of the Hindu god, Shiva, turned out to be the perfect match for this mural! It’s by 1991NewYork, a newly launched clothing line by designer and tattoo artist Hiten Damodar. The striking style pays respects to his Indian background, but with an Americana feel.
Hiten says: “We chose the name 1991NY because that is the year my family and I moved to this country. The style is influenced heavily by my tattoo background as well as imagery from mythology, religion, and symbolism.”
In addition to Shiva the Destroyer, 1991NewYork has eye catching t-shirts featuring Ganesh, Kali and more. Everything is made in the USA and sure to turn heads. Pick out your favorite shirt here and check out @1991newyork on Instagram.
Now that our fashion vogue-ing is complete, Yukiro and I are ready to eat!
Each of the Karisma resorts has a different focus (Casitas is for couples, Generations Riviera Maya is for all-ages and families). We enjoyed aspects from each of them.
There’s a suite and experience for every type of traveller. At the newest property, Generations, guests could walk right out into their own balcony swimming pool.
Between El Dorado Royale, Casitas and Generations… we had over a dozen all-inclusive restaurants to choose from!
The cuisine offerings included: Caribbean, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, American. Yukiro looks like he’s strangling himself out of amazement.
I knew that Karisma had a reputation for excellent food. However, I confess I didn’t expect their restaurants to be quite this good.
Wine Kitchen (at Generations Riviera Maya) set the mood with chandeliers and candles. We loved the amuse bouche with watermelon and spices, and the special wine pairings that came with each plate.
When everything comes at no extra cost, you can live out your foodie dreams. We ordered a large range of plates to try… and dessert, always.
If only we had time to try each Karisma dining room! Jade Restaurant has an Asian menu, and the decor to match.
Karisma encourages guests to participate in the food experiences. At the Jade “tea bar,” you could create your own unique blend of tea.
The resorts had several entertaining “dinner theaters” where you could watch guest chefs prepare meals — and take part in the cooking too. Several volunteers came up to help create Mexican dishes, which we then ate with pairings from Jackson Family Wines.
Fuentes Culinary Theater is one of the most popular attractions. The venue is set up like a Food Network TV show, and the chef riffs and jokes around with the audience — which teaching them how to make authentic Yucatan dishes.
On the two big screens, we could see close-ups of the ingredients. The chef walked us through each step of the preparation. As soon as he finished making the dish, a team of servers came out and served it to each table.
That evening, his menu was based on traditional Yucatan Peninsula flavors. To start, we had a fantastic soup made from avocado, octopus, radish, apple, and X’catic pepper.
I particularly enjoyed the segment where the chef introduced us to masa (corn dough), and showed us how to build it into tortillas, tamales, pupusas and more.
After three small bites inspired by street food, we devoured the mahi mahi (with pumpkin seed puree, corn, beans and crispy achiote tortilla). Above is the pork loin marinated in charred chilies, sweet potato and tamal. We had never tried these types of flavors and combinations before — what a meal to remember.
Karisma also had dozens of all-inclusive bars. We took the advice of this swing — “Enjoy” — and cooled down with salt-rimmed margaritas.
Since we were in Quintana Roo, Yukiro and I mainly ate Mexican food. We particularly are fans of avocado, mahi mahi and ceviche (raw marinated fish),
All of the above were on the menu at “La Carreta” in El Dorado Royale. Once again, if all the food is included, why not order one of everything…
… and a double serving of the outstanding ceviche?
We ate our fill of fresh berries, including in this strawberry dessert with avocado cream.
For lunch, we usually hit the Health Bar. In North America, I always cringe at the price of a fresh green juice (usually around $7-10). But at Karisma, everything is included… I think we must have ordered 25 smoothies and juices between the two of us!
The Health Bar had a long list of drink concoctions, and we also could create our own. We paired them with fresh salads and sandwiches made with whole grains.
Thanks to Karisma El Dorado, we were able to relax and enjoy the Riviera Maya.
No need to stress over anything… it’s all taken care of here.
I hope you are enjoying these Mexican posts. Don’t forget to watch me on Travel Channel (Feb 8), and check out my Snapchat and Instagram @lacarmina for the latest updates from LA, Istanbul and Brussels.
No Instagram filters needed, when you’re traveling in Ha Long Bay. The humidity naturally gives you a blurred vignette effect.
Vietnam remains one of my favorite destinations of 2015. I got to live my dreams of being a Pirate… by taking a boat trip through Halong Bay, with Vietnam Food Tour!
We had our very own private ship, thanks to Hoa Binh Cruises. Keep on reading to see how we climbed the mast, dined on seafood, and drifed through Vietnam’s misty mountains.
I’m sure you have seen photos of Ha Long Bay before. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its green, funny-shaped islands.
The name Halong translates to “descending dragon bay” because legend says it was created by a charging dragon.
Shop more Gothic fashion by clicking below:
If you’re in Hanoi, going east to Halong Bay is a must (it’s a 3-4 hour drive away).
We recommend hiring a reputable driver and guide, as we did with Vietnam Food Tour. They arranged everything for us — the car, hotel, boat tour, activities. It’s absolutely worth it. We could sit back and soak everything in, without having to haggle or stress about logistics.
Since we were on a food-centric tour, we began by visiting the local outdoor market. Like on our Hanoi tour, we saw vendors selling all sorts of fresh seafood that came straight out of Halong’s waters.
A colorful group of vendors. Our guide, Bao, told us about the special squid pie sold here. She picked up a few specialties for us to try during our cooking boat cruise.
Motorcycles zipped around us, as we took in all the colors and action.
The wet market section was full of live oddities from the sea. Locals come here to pick up the catch of the day.
This view is even more majestic in person. Ha Long Bay is dotted with thousands of limestone islands like these.
We saw Vietnamese boat people refilling their supplies of water. They live and work in these floating homes.
We learned that according to another legend, a family of dragons spat out jewels, which formed these islets and protected Vietnam from invaders.
My mate John Skeleton and I took photos non-stop — Ha Long Bay is the definition of photogenic!
(This skull print scarf protected me from the mosquitoes.)
We were looking forward to the boat tour of the bay, on a Hoa Binh cruise. However, we were amazed to find… that we had the entire Pirate boat to ourselves!
Vietnam Food Tour is all about custom, personal experiences — so they book their clients on private boat tours. Now that’s the life for a Pirate.
Spreading my arms wide as we sailed, I felt like Captain Carmina. The only other people onboard were Long John Skeleton, our first mate Bao, and a few cabin members who served food and drink. (And actually steered the ship.)
“Yo ho, there be a pirate’s cove of treasure ahead!”
John climbed the mast, all the way to the top — as you can see in our fun travel video!
Before long, our boat was nearing these jewel islands. We prepared for plunder.
(My tank top is by Rat Baby Clothing — more picks below.)
Most of these islands are uninhabited, and lush with tropical vegetation. I imagined them to be hidden with secrets and chests of gold. We docked on Driftwood Island, climbed up the path…
.. and found ourselves in the famous Dau Go Cave (Wooden Stakes Cave).
The humongous grotto is filled with hanging stalactites. The shapes seemed like something from a sci-fi movie, reminding us of bones and Giger’s Alien.
Different parts of the cave are dramatically lit so that visitors can admire the details. Or in this case, “Hail Miffy!”
That’s me at the bottom, arms raised. Like a bat in a cave.
My tiny scale of the photo conveys how grand it feels to be inside this grotto, which dates back to the Pleistocene era around 2 million years ago.
Doesn’t this look like the set from an alien horror movie?
Vietnam Food Tour organized our visit so that we came during a less busy hour– so we were able to avoid the tourists.
I flew our flag, upon exiting. I hereby claim these caves for my crew!
A hook for a hand. Arr, there’s nothing like the Pirate’s life.
We continued to explore Halong Bay. Our boating adventure is among my favorite memories of the entire year.
Time to plunder the ship’s seafood. Our crew helped us to grill fresh clams, prawns, sea snails and other delicacies of the ocean.
What a treat, to dine on fresh seafood while taking in these grandiose views of Halong Bay.
For a closer look at the grottoes, we piled into a kayak.
What can I say? It’s an absolute dream to paddle right up to these mysterious islets, and duck through hidden tunnels that open into lagoons.
But let’s give credit where it’s due… John did pretty much all of the rowing work!
(Watch our Pirate cooking cruise in action, above and here in this video.)
Some visitors choose to stay overnight on a boat cruise. We chose to only do a day tour, and spend the night at the top-rated Halong Plaza Hotel.
I was glad to sleep on a stable surface, and in a spacious room. We also enjoyed hanging out at the hotel’s lobby bar, which offers a nice selection of cocktails.
Halong Plaza also had an impressive buffet breakfast, which was included with our stay. I tried the steamed rice noodles, a traditional way to start the day.
The restaurant also hangs garlic to keep vampires away!
John took a dip in the outdoor swimming pool. The large hotel also has a sauna and gym.
Our room had a magnificent view of the bay and bridge, which lights up with rainbow lights at night.
The manager took us to the rooftop — what a view!
For dinner, our guide took us to a classic seafood restaurant. As always, Vietnamese food was full of fresh, healthy flavors. We had soup with ginger and this small fish found only in Ha Long Bay.
Then, we went to the Halong Bay night market to shop. The night market has a new location, with a modern setup.
The vendors sell everything from Vietnamese loose tea, to beaded Hello Kitty purses…
… to a stuffed goat head! Mr Skeleton shows his appreciation for the horned one.
The goat was a bit too large to take home, so he decided on this green skull. Pop the top, and there’s a space to keep treasures.
Thanks to Halong Plaza Hotel for the excellent service and big rooms. They’re one of highest rated hotels in Ha Long Bay for a reason.
And of course, to our guides Vietnam Food Tour. Their Savor Vietnam package, which includes sailing around Halong Bay, let us see the best of Northern Vietnam.
Have my Vietnam travel stories convinced you to come here yet? If you have questions about traveling, or anything at all, please let me know in the comments!