Category Archive for Nightcrawling
Jump for joy — I’m heading back to Tokyo for the launch of Odigo! Wouldn’t you like to join me?
There’s a rare chance. On Feb 28, I’m hosting an exclusive travel blogging workshop in Tokyo. We’ll teach you all we know about travel blogs, journalism, TV, video, photography and more.
Read on the for details, and photos from the bloodiest, strangest, craziest theme bar ever!
I’m excited to announce the official launch of Odigo, a site that lets you plan an exceptional journey to Japan. You can search for offbeat attractions — such as kawaii stores, theme restaurants — as well as more traditional spots. Odigo links everything together in an optimized itinerary, which lets you get from place to place with ease.
I invite you to sign up to be a contributor — anyone can share their finds on Odigo! And if you’re in Japan… come to my travel blogging workshop on 2/28. My professional photo/film team and I will give in-depth advice on travel writing, photography, TV and video production, social media, working with sponsors, finding a niche, and much more.
When: Saturday, February 28, 1:30-4pm (followed by a round-table and reception). Matador U is giving a workshop before us (see all details on the Facebook invite and MeetUp)
Where: Ryozan Park, 6F, 3-36-7 Otsuka, Tokyo (here’s a map. It’s a few minutes walk from Otsuka station on the Yamanote line).
Cost: Free if you sign up on Odigo and submit writeups for 10 spots. For everyone else, 5000 yen per person. Limited to 25 spaces, including lunch, resources and networking.
Thanks to Odigo, you can easily find info about the most bizarre and obscure places in Japan. For example, I did a writeup about Kabukicho bar, Guinea Pig. Look for a plain building with a winding staircase, and take the elevator up to a door with a barely visible sign.
This underground bar is for those with a bloody disposition. The decoration consists of such nightmares as chains, baby mannequins, and horror movie art.
So, how do you get to Guinea Pig? The address is: 2-41-2 Leo Kotobuki Building 3-A, Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku, Tokyo (all this info is on Odigo!) 1000 yen cover. Opening hours vary; generally from 8pm to early morning. Phone: 03-3209-3455
The bar’s decor is inspired by b-horror movies: zombie hands reach down from the ceiling, and a mannequin in chains sits at a table.
The owner, a flamboyant fellow named Roxy, is hilarious and will make you special cocktails. He’ll also dare you to play with his live pet snake.
Our friends ordered Bloody Marys, while Yukiro and I got his specialty, a mix of grapefruit, rum, and maybe some voodoo potions.
Strange art hangs on the walls. It’s a unique mix of dread and humor in this bar.
And here are all of my posts about bizarre theme restaurants, in Japan and elsewhere.
Some of these bars are one-act novelties, but I can go to Guinea Pig again and again. It’s a subculture hub — there are always interesting people drinking at the small counter.
If you’re a fan of Japanese horror films, and fetish is your idea of fun, then I have a feeling you’ll dig Guinea Pig too. You can look up more spots like this on Odigo.
All of these photos are by Tokyo-based photographer Said Karlsson. He took these candid snaps of Yukiro and me dominating the neon streets of Shinjuku.
No, we’re not posing… we always cross the street like this!
Every dark creature must stop to curtsy in front of evil queen Maleficent.
We couldn’t resist climbing this Japanese kids playground equipment, and striking a pose. Funny, we did something similar in Berlin.
Antics in the convenience store. I’m not sure what we were doing in the magazine section…
We ended up getting special edition rose and sakura flavored Haagen Dazs ice cream. The pink looks nice against my Totoro nails.
In heaven, people feed each other rice with chopsticks. In hell, I suppose they survive on pink ice cream!
Have you been to any of Tokyo’s crazy theme bars? Which ones are your favorites?
I hope to see you at my Odigo travel bloggers workshop, on February 28 in Tokyo! Info is at the top of the post, and feel free to leave a comment if you have questions.
I’ve always been fascinated by how themes of life and death are expressed so vividly, in New Orleans. This is a city where locals party hard, and play jazz in the streets. At the same time, NOLA is famous for cemeteries, haunted houses, voodoo shops and vampires.
To celebrate Mardi Gras, we’ll climb the Tree of Life…
… and then wander through the French Quarter’s dark side. At the end, we’ll take a frank look at the Katrina aftermath, and the struggle to rebuild neighborhoods destroyed by the hurricane.
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My friends and I rode the historic St Charles streetcar to the Garden District, about 20 minutes from the stop near the Hotel Modern. It’s a scenic ride that costs only $1.25 each way.
We passed by grand Southern houses (some photos at the bottom of this post), the Eiffel Society, and the Loyola and Tulane university campuses. We got off at Audubon Park, and found ourselves surrounded by majestic trees and lakes.
“I’m like a bird…” A variety of creatures make the park their home. We spotted a Great Egret soaring above the water, and a mother duck with a row of babies swimming behind her. Do you see the squirrel on my left?
This land was once a plantation. In 1871, the city purchased it, and made it into a park. It’s named after John James Audubon, an artist / naturalist who lived in New Orleans at the time.
The more time I spent in New Orleans, the more sides I saw of the city. I wish I could have stayed longer, to explore more of the outer neighborhoods and nature sites.
Like Elaine from Seinfeld, I don’t use the word “breathtaking” lightly… but it seems like the right word to describe this pathway, shaded by Southern oak trees.
The twisting branches and soft, mossy canopies are a quintessential part of Louisiana’s landscape.
After walking for about 15 minutes, we reached the Tree of Life. This immense oak is the size of a building, and the branches dip to the ground — the ultimate invitation for climbing.
Beneath these powerful, century-old branches, you can’t help but admire nature’s grandeur.
I braided part of my hair, to show the contrast between purple and blue, over red. My hairstylist is Stephanie Hoy at Vancouver’s Stratosphere salon.
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The Tree of Life is a popular spot for couples to get married. According to legend, someone planted this tree to honor his new wife, during the days when Audubon Park was a plantation.
Molly (who took the photos of me in NOLA) says “I know nothing about Audubon Park from a history angle, but let’s just discuss how much fun I had climbing that tree.”
– I turned of the knobs into a make-shift hanger for my handbag. (It’s by Paule Ka and available here.)
Molly tried out some pole and yoga moves on the branches.
Nature makes the best seat in the house.
The trailing fringe from my dress mimics the strands of Spanish moss, hanging down from the trees.
Next to the tree of life is Audubon Zoo. The giraffes are so tall that you can see their heads poking out from above the fence!
It’s disappointing when visitors to New Orleans never leave the French Quarter. Less than 30 minutes away, Audubon Park is a joyful place that shows a different slice of life.
The surrounding homes are stately antebellum mansions with columns and gardens. Since the Quarter and the Garden District are located on high ground, these upscale areas escaped the devastating flooding from Hurricane Katrina.
Molly and I felt it was important to see the areas of New Orleans that were most heavily hit by Katrina. Taxi driver David Hammer gave us a 3-hour personal tour, which took us to the Lower 9th Ward, the breached levees, and more. (To arrange for one of his city tours, phone David: 503 931 0323)
A local who is versed in the history of New Orleans, David didn’t shy away from speaking about the ongoing problems with rebuilding. We saw homes marked with “X-Codes” or “Katrina crosses,” which rescuers used to indicate if there were hazards or deaths within.
Ten years after Katrina, many of these neighborhoods remain destroyed. Some homeowners came back and tried to rebuild, but lack of funds forced them to abandon their properties. We drove on bumpy roads, warped by the water. We passed overgrown and empty lots, followed by temporary housing, followed by ghost-houses like the one above — hazards for vermin, squatters and other dangers.
Molly reflects, “It was really painful to see a house, then a space where a house used to be, then a house, then more space. I kept thinking about what it must be like to come home to a house next to a space. Was it lonely? Scary? Do you wonder if Katrina will happen again? I used to not understand why someone wouldn’t come home if you could, but now, I think how do you come back to a place that completely fell apart? Aren’t there times where you just have to start over?”
“So, I guess what I mean is that both the spaces and the rebuilding make sense to me.” Yet there is still so much that needs to happen, before these neighborhoods are livable again. There’s a lot more one can say about the impact of Hurricane Katrina, but I’ll wrap up with the photo above: a reconstruction attempt that was abandoned probably due to lack of funding, and left as a decaying shell.
That feeling of life, death and all the areas in between come to the forefront at night, in New Orleans. Not far from Jackson Square, you can buy a hot buttered rum to go (alcohol is allowed in the streets here), and walk right up to the banks of the Mississippi River. Yes, that’s a rainbow on the top right.
The streetlights give off an eerie glow. They illuminate the history of the city, from old rail tracks to new hotels.
The castle-like Saint Louis Cathedral is the oldest in North America, established in 1720. A horse and carriage raced across, taking us back several centuries.
The spirit of Mardi Gras haunts the city all throughout the year. A feathered mask peers out of a window.
I was keen to learn more about voodoo, which has roots in African spiritual/folk traditions, and took on a life of its own in Louisiana. We popped into Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo shop (723 St Peter St), which offers readings and rituals.
Gris gris (talismans or amulets), voodoo dolls, and powerful queens like Marie Laveau are part of this tradition. While some of New Orleans’ voodoo shops have a touristy feeling, there is a tangible power in the masks and dolls we saw..
I was in my element, visiting these occult, spiritual, witchcraft and esoteric shops.
Another way to experience the darkest side of New Orleans is by joining a ghost, vampire, cemetery and voodoo tour. Some are on the cheesier side, so I recommend doing your research and looking for niche tours run by insiders.
How spooky is this image of New Orleans? It’s a marble statue of Jesus with hands aloft, casting an ominous shadow onto St Louis Cathedral.
Don’t be surprised if you run into skeleton hands and witchy-women, in the streets of the Quarter.
Vampires are a major part of the culture of New Orleans. This city is not just a setting, but almost a character in the novels of Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, Queen of the Damned) and Poppy Z Brite (Lost Souls).
We visited Boutique du Vampyre (709 St Ann St), a collection of all things bloody (fangs, candles, handcrafted gifts).
There’s also a strong vampire subculture here in New Orleans. Members belong to Houses, and some engage in ritual blood-drinking.
I leave you with the stray cats of Jackson Square. Quite fitting that cats are associated with witches and the spiritual world.
I hope you’ll come to New Orleans, one of the most fascinating cities I’ve ever encountered. Joyeux Mardi Gras, everyone!
New Orleans is one of the world’s most haunted places… so a Goth girl like me fit right in!
Let me be your guide to the spooky side of NOLA. In this post, I’ll take you to a Jack Skellington burlesque show, Krampus devil party, and boudoir bar. I’ll also tell you about the time I ate alligator, and discovered a new appreciation of grits.
Put on your devil horns, and walk this way.
My friend Molly and I were invited to an underground costume party at Siberia (2227 Saint Claude Avenue). This neighborhood, St Roch, is outside the quarter and home to quite a few artist abodes.
To match the evil theme of the night, I wore a Kill Star dress with trailing fringe sleeves. My pointy black hat is handmade by Blablahospital. Run by my friend Ako, the brand makes deconstructed, eccentric “medical punk” fashion.
At the door, we were greeted by a colorful, alternative bunch. The Candy Girl was a sweetheart!
Why is everyone so “horn-y”? Because this is a Krampus party, held in honor of the holiday folklore devil. St Nicholas rewarded good children with presents, while the Krampus gave the naughty ones a good old spanking.
When I took the photo above, I thought to myself, “New Orleans surpassed my expectations.” I wasn’t able to come here for Halloween, but I didn’t feel like I missed out. The city is always up for a crazy costume party.
(But I would certainly come back for All Hallow’s Eve. I’d love to attend the famous annual events, including the Anne Rice Vampire Ball and Witches’ Ball.)
Music is everywhere in the city. That night, we saw several indie and rock performers…
… and a painful sideshow act. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Above, the man has Christmas lights staple-gunned to his skin, and the woman is stringing wire from her nose to her mouth.
Molly puns, “People went whole hog or whole hoof on their outfits. Amazing. This town can do costumes like nobody’s business, and for that, it has my eternal devotion.”
She’s right — the partygoers wore impressive handmade costumes, which represented the horned and hooved Krampus. Several went on stage for the costume contest, and this scary lady won.
… like a Nightmare Before Christmas burlesque show! Jack Skellington never looked so good. I love seeing local, niche theater like this. (Remember when I saw the Tim Burton musical in Portland?)
New Orleans could certainly be nicknamed Halloween-Town. In the French Quarter, outside the dive bar Molly’s, I stepped on this smiling pumpkin-face.
I’ll say it again: avoid Bourbon Street, which reminds me of a sticky beer-coated frat party.
Goths and alternative types like to hang out in the less raucous streets of the French Quarter. When I asked for recommendations, quite a few of you suggested Pirate’s Alley Cafe, purveyors of dark spicy rum and absinthe (two of my favorite drinks), and decorated like a scurvy ship.
Aunt Tiki’s (1207 Decatur Street) is another favorite hangout for Gothic and metal music fans.
Death haunts the entrance of Aunt Tiki’s. Go ahead and ask the bartenders for local recommendations — they’ll steer you the right way.
Frenchman Street is all about live jazz clubs. Our favorite was the The Spotted Cat (623 Frenchman – try to come on weekdays, since it gets crowded on weekends).
Molly muses, “I think bad dancing is contagious, but here, I couldn’t sit still. I felt like we stumbled into another world or era or something that was close to magic. How can that level of talent just be playing jazz in a tiny place with no cover?! The music made me want to dance all of the way home that night.”
Between dancing with devils and jazzmen, we rested at the hip Hotel Modern (936 St Charles Ave). It’s our kind of place: we received a cocktail upon check-in, saw several film stars in the lobby, and said hello to Miss Scarlet the Eclectus Parrot.
Since The Hotel Modern is located at Lee Circle (about a 5 minute taxi ride from the French Quarter), we were close to the action, yet got a quiet rest at night. Molly says, “The staff was really good about answering all of my questions, and the bird seemed to have a good life too. Even though the rooms were simple, I really liked how the hotel felt like you were staying with people you could be friends with.”
We made new pals at Tivoli & Lee, which doesn’t feel like a typical “restaurant in a hotel.” Chef Marcus Woodham was a culinary artist, whipping up creations on the spot to suit our tastes. Molly ate here several times, and calls this her favorite restaurant in New Orleans, hands down.
I didn’t realize I was a fan of Louisiana food, until I came to Tivoli and Lee. We dove into a “new Southern” catfish roulade, beet salad, and the creamiest crème brûlée. Molly says, “Our waiters were super cool. It made me feel like I was having dinner in a friend’s home that happened to make some of the best food I’ve eaten in quite a while.”
Bellocq cocktail bar also resides in the Hotel Modern. Molly reminisces, “I want to paint a room in a future home that shade of red… probably a bedroom. That bar was straight up sexy.”
I’m not kidding you — if I could teleport to any bar right now, it would be this one. The roomy, boudoir atmosphere is my type of hangout. And the drinks! The bartenders made me an absinthe cocktail, and a rum daiquiri that fit my tastebuds to a T (I love dark spicy rum, citrus, bitters). It’s probably the best drink I had all year.
Molly and I also enjoyed the bar’s historical connection. The concept is inspired by E. Q. Bellocq, a 19th century photographer who took images of red light district workers.
Let’s wrap this up with a few more Southern food recommendations. I ate jambalaya, gumbo, grits and more comfort favorites during jazz brunch, at the Court of Two Sisters. It felt like a scene out of a novel, dining under the canopy of trees, in an elegant Louisiana courtyard.
Molly says, “Again, like all things in NOLA, this should have felt douchey and Disneyworld-ish, but it was delicious food in a beautiful place. Our waiters were attentive and the live jazz was fantastic. All brunch should be like this, particularly including grits.”
Kingfish Restaurant took a modern spin on casual Southern cuisine, and succeeded. I sipped a strong Sazerac (a New Orleans cocktail) and we dined to the sounds of live piano.
Look, we ate grits… and alligator wings! It tastes like chicken, perhaps with a milder and sweeter flavor. I’m not kidding you, I’d eat this regularly if I had the chance.
Sobou at the W Hotel has a hip vibe – we saw a lot of younger people hanging out here. The entrance plays with light, mirrors and rows of bottles.
The Creole cuisine gets experimental at times, such as duck beignets topped with powdered sugar, and tuna ice cream cone appetizers. Molly says, “I want one of those now. This place surpassed my expectations, in that it was as good as the food was elegantly displayed. I was also wow-ed by how they helped us celebrate my friend’s birthday so smoothly, with a chocolate flourless cake decorated with her name.”
Finally, one can’t leave NOLA without sampling the famous beignets (donut-like fritters) and cafe au laits, at Cafe Du Monde. After walking for hours, we were relieved to sit down for a snack, and people-watch (Jackson Square is across the road).
Modern Southern cuisine, and an eccentric Goth scene… Now you know why New Orleans stole our hearts! More stories coming up, featuring vampires and graveyards. (All my NOLA coverage is located here.)
PS: Thanks to Qantas Airlines magazine for the Travel Insider interview! The article calls me “one of the best-known names in the blogging world, having authored three books and hosting travel segments for international television networks….”
I’m leaping in the air because our Cape Town video is out!
In this latest episode of my travel show — published on Business Insider Travel — I encounter lions, drag queens, penguins…
…street art, and color everywhere. (Above, I’m posing with the rainbow homes of the Bo-Kaap district – outfit details and more here.)
Please take a few minutes to watch our episode above and on Business Insider.
It was hard to edit all the fantastic footage into a short video. I could go on for hours about why I love this city — but I’ll boil it down to 10 things I love about Cape Town.
1. South African Wine Tastings
South Africa’s wines have been getting attention in recent years, especially those from the Stellenbosch region. I’m no wine expert, but I can tell you that these are some of the best I’ve tasted (and I’ve tasted a lot).
Our driver took us about an hour outside of Cape Town to Steenberg, a modern vineyard and farm. The staff poured us a selection of white and reds, including the smooth and complex Magna Carta. I wish I had a glass of it in my hand, as I’m typing this!
Outside, we ran into Pumbaa the warthog! This rotund creature really looks like the African pig in the Disney movie, The Lion King. Of course, filmmaker Melissa had to sing Hakuna Matata and pet his bristles.
Somehow, the Asian peace-sign pose is appropriate here. Pumbaa was the only animal who didn’t bite her during our journey. (Remember she got nipped by a peacock, penguin and dassie… and I got pecked by an ostrich.)
2. Cape Town Wine Bars
Another glass? Yes please. I got tipsy at Publik, a laid-back bar that serves local wines along with cheese, rye with quince, and smoked free-range meats. If you usually dislike a certain varietal, they might surprise you with a delicious version that makes you think twice. The goblets and high counters make this an easygoing experience — there’s no snobbery here.
3. Jazz Safari with Local Musicians
I love getting to know locals wherever I go. One night, we joined a Jazz Safari tour that took us inside the homes of local musicians. We ate dinner together, and then listened to a private home performance.
Musician Hilton Schilder’s wife prepared us a hearty curry with rice, and it was one of the best meals I had in Cape Town (along with Faldela Tolker’s Cape Malay cooking). Hilton plays multiple instruments, and performed experimental pieces on piano, guitar and this African mouth bow. I enjoyed hearing about his inspiration, such as how he composed a 15 minute song called “Rebirth” by visualizing a keyboard on the ceiling, as he was lying in bed recovering from an illness.
Next, our guide Michael drove us to one of the townships. We saw some metal shacks on the outskirts, but most of the residents lived in small houses. Not nearly as ominous as you might imagine.
TA Blaques performed energetic compositions on trumpet, with his friend on guitar. Cape Jazz is a local style that mixes Western and African influences, with plenty of improv. We tapped our feet along as they played a mix of “Pata Pata” and “In the Jungle.” What a memorable night.
4. Beefcakes Gay Bar & Drag Queen Show
Now, for a very different type of nightlife… What is the gay scene like in Cape Town? I must say, pink and fabulous! The gay bar Beefcakes has a double meaning: it serves burgers, and the waiters are all beefed-up studs!
Beefcakes has frequent “boogie nights” that bring in LGBT and alternative performers. The bar is a favorite destination for girls nights too. We saw a bachelorette doing a “body shot” off a waiter’s six pack.
But that evening, all eyes were on drag queen Champagne le Roux. She took the stage, and made snide but light-hearted comments about people in the audience. At one point, my cutesy lion backpack was the subject of her interrogation.
After some song-and-dance numbers, it was time for “Bitchy Bingo.” Champagne ordered a “ball boy” to come on stage and pick out bingo numbers.
Our friend Vicky won! She had to go onstage to dance with the queen, and then got awarded prizes like a Beefcakes calendar and a bottle of warm beer.
5. African Cuisine
Speaking of meat, Cape Town Tourism organized some outstanding meals for us. At Africa Cafe, I tried pap for the first time — a mushy, gluey staple carb made from ground maize. The menu offered African exotic meats, including springbok, impala, crocodile, and warthog (alas, poor Pumbaa!).
6. Drinking Cap Classique
Alcohol is a big part of my Top 10 list, isn’t it? At Hallelujah, I tasted a selection of Cap Classique “champagne,” a bubbly wine from South Africa. It was apparently a favorite of Marie Antoinette and European royalty.
Hallelujah also serves outstanding Asian street food at like prawns with hot steamed buns and coleslaw. Melt-in-your mouth dishes designed for sharing, inspired by dim sum and Asia comfort foods. I didn’t realize Cape Town had such hip restaurants and bars.
7. The House of Machines
A lot of locals recommended a bar called The House of Machines. Once we got there, we saw what all the buzz was about. This space is a mix of motorcycles, men’s fashion, art and cocktails.
They make a mean dark and stormy cocktail, and the music (indie rock, dance, local) is spot on. The next time I’m in Cape Town, I’ll be heading straight here.
8. Handmade Local Fashion
Missibaba is a women-run leather studio that stays true to its Cape Town origins. Many of the accessories take inspiration from African art, such as purses with tribal patterns.
A devotee of “slow fashion,” Missbaba employs local craftswomen who make almost all of the designs by hand.
Lead designer Chloe Townsend is passionate about “slow fashion” and supporting South African women. Her workshop employs craftswomen from an underprivileged township, and she donates a portion of proceeds to local empowerment programs.
9. Young Design Studios
Remember my trip to Woodstock Exchange, a modern art hub? You can’t leave Cape Town without exploring the cool studios inside.
I interviewed designer Atang Tshikare of Zabalazaa about his urban illustrations, which he custom-creates on skateboards and other surfaces.
He shares a space with Jasper Eales, a product designer who won awards for his eco-friendly design solutions, like a clever surfboard storage rack.
10. Powerful Political Art
Cape Town has a tumultuous history that is often contemplated in its local art. Ralph Ziman’s photos symbolize the devastation caused by arms trading. He photographed street vendors holding AK-47 guns, created out of African beads and wire.
His team showed us “Resistance”, a 100-meter long installation of a broken gun made from wheat paste. The weapon is wrapped in world currencies, symbolizing the international complicity in the arms trade.
I leave you with this smiling warthog from the vineyard. He seems to be humming Hakuna Matata.
Did this post open your eyes to South Africa’s wines, LGBT nightlife and restaurants? Please let us know your feedback on the video, and where you’d like us to see us travel next!