Where am I? And even… who am I? The answer seems to vary every day — but for this post, you can call me Alice in Wonderland.
During my Manchester stay, I got to experience the British ritual of high tea… in a Tim Burton meets Lewis Carroll environment. Come down the rabbit hole with me, and we’ll journey through the city’s vibrant Gay Village too.
Photographer Joey Wong thought our rental penthouse at the Light Aparthotel was aptly named — because the windows and sheer curtains created the perfect soft-box for portrait photography. Each day, before heading out, we shot images here.
I’m wearing decadent eyelashes from Velour Lashes (the quality is far and above regular plastic falsies). My lip gloss and eyeshadows are from Anastasia Beverly Hills (get it here). I swear by my Sigma Beauty makeup brushes, which come in travel size and let you blend and contour like a pro.
I wanted my look to be a tribute to Alice in Wonderland, without doing a full-on cosplay. (My haircolor is by Stephanie Hoy – ask for her at Stratosphere Hair in Vancouver.)
My outfit is a little tip of the hat to Disney’s Alice, who wears a light blue dress with a similar skirt shape. The white rabbit necklace is something I made — with a tag from the Miffy store in China!
I met my friends at Richmond Tea Rooms — isn’t this the most adorable English traditional tea house?
The tea rooms are connected to a cocktail lounge, decorated with quirky fixtures like antique clocks and taxidermy animals.
Walking through the entrance, I couldn’t help but feel like I was living in the storybook. The decor takes inspiration from the Queen of Hearts’ royal garden, and the White Rabbit’s pocketwatch.
Inside, a case of homemade cakes and the signs “Eat Me” “Drink Me” hint at what’s in store for diners.
The smiling waiter took us “that way” to the prime tea enclosure, decorated like a garden patio draped in vines and birdcages.
Richmond Tea Rooms was at capacity when we arrived, so I recommend reserving a table well in advance. Ask for this semi-private area, especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion.
Now, the hard part — what to order, from the extensive menu?
The strawberry milkshake was an easy decision, as was the Earl Grey tea. (My steampunk clockwork nail art is by Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, Vancouver.)
There are a few variations on the high tea sets, with names like Queen’s Tea and Alice’s Tea. The chefs can prepare vegetarian and gluten-free options for you. The stacked trays are ideal for sharing, and include both savory and sweet treats, like rainbow layer cake!
All the little details — like a chain of playing cards — make the Wonderland experience come to life. It also helps that everyone around me was speaking in British accents, and pouring tea with their best Victorian manners.
Afternoon tea is something you can’t miss if you’re in England. I was all over the scones, clotted cream and jam.
Cheers to Richmond Tea Rooms, which executes the Alice in Wonderland theme with flair! You can tell that the owners and staff genuinely love the stories.
Japan has an Alice in Wonderland theme restaurant (see photos), but it feels like a commercial enterprise. This, on the other hand, is the Mad Hatter’s tea party come to life.
In addition to the tea sets, you can order a-la-carte items. It’s an opportunity to try traditional English dishes like Yorkshire Pudding and Welsh rarebit (melted cheese and vegetables on bread).
Miffy is my white rabbit for life.
Perhaps you can come here with a group of friends, all dressed up! The staff would welcome you warmly.
Thanks to Visit Manchester for bringing us here. There are so many gems to discover in this city…
… such as the Gay Village, which is where the tea room is located. I didn’t realize Manchester had such a big LGBT scene, center around Canal Street.
Did you know Queer As Folk was set in Manchester? The Gay Village is full of energy — we saw colorful clubs and murals at every turn.
If you’ll recall from my Northern Quarter post, Manchester has a wonderful indie / alternative scene in general.
Every year, the Pride parade takes over, proving why Manchester is one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities.
The sign says it all… G-A-Y, in bright lights! Every weekend, the balcony is packed with revelers dancing to pop music.
The Molly House is more my scene — a vintage-styled, laid back pub that serves cakes, ales and wines. The playlist veers to the indie side, and the music is kept low enough so that you can converse.
Manchester’s city center is unexpectedly small, and it’s easy to get around by walking. From the Gay Village, it took us only about 15-20 minutes to reach New Wakefield Street, an area known for funky murals like this one.
There are entire bars under the bridge, like Black Dog Ballroom. I recommend coming to the New Wakefield area for a walk around.
After a long day, we were glad to head back to our luxe apartment at The Light ApartHotel. It’s a few paces away from Affleck’s Goth/alternative shopping center, and other cool spots in the Northern Quarter. We thoroughly enjoyed this view from our giant window, and free tea and cookies in the lobby.
More from Manchester — including my New Order and Joy Division music tour — in my England category.
And if you’re intrigued by the Alice in Wonderland teahouse, here are my stories about theme restaurants around the world!
Ah, there’s no skyline like Singapore. I’m still catching up on posts from my recent trip to Asia (I was in Tokyo to filming with Travel Channel TV, and also Bali and Singapore). But things are about to heat up some more… as I’m now heading to three new countries on two continents.
Morocco, Portugal and Spain — here we come!
Spain Tourism is sending us over to capture stories of cool culture. I went to Barcelona years ago, but never Granada and other parts of this gorgeous country. We’re also partnering with Eurail again and riding their trains around Spain, and to Porto and Lisbon. Finally, we’re heading south to Fez, Marrakesh and Ouarzazate with Plan-It-Fez tours, to support women-run businesses and get immersed in Moroccan culture.
But for now, back to the pink skies of Singapore. Some travelers make the effort to wake before dawn, in order to shoot photos in the first light. However, I’m not a morning person, and never managed to make this happen. The only reason I was able to capture these sunrise images for you… is because I took an overnight flight to Singapore, and landed around 5:30am!
When you step out at the airport after a red-eye, disheveled and jet-lagged, the last thing you want to do is struggle with transportation.
I was invited to try out Blacklane Limousines, and booked a driver to pick me up and take me to my hotel. I was impressed by the seamlessness of the process, from the online reservation to the meet-up. Blacklane texts you to let you know your driver is on the way and gives you his cell number, so I never had to stress about a missed connection. Each time, the driver was waiting at our exact meeting point, holding a sign that said “La Carmina.”
Blacklane’s service is a splurge but worth it. It’s a relief to have a calm, direct car ride after a long flight, especially if you have to travel a long distance to your hotel (such as from Narita to Shinjuku, which can take two hours in traffic.)
Blacklane’s drivers are a class act. My Singapore driver offered to stop by Merlion Park on the way to my hotel, so I could take these images of the famous fountain. He also gave me a bunch of local travel tips.
The mythical Merlion is the symbol of Singapore. The fish body symbolizes the city’s humble origins as a fishing village. The lion head refers to its original name, Singapura, which means ‘lion city’ in Malay.
Across the bay, I spotted the unmistakable Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, and the ArtScience museum shaped like a lotus flower. Marina Bay Sands hotel stands to the right (I’ll take you inside, in an upcoming article.)
When I was a child, my family and I never went to Singapore (even though it’s a short flight from Hong Kong) because it wasn’t considered a “must-see” destination. All this has changed, and tourism has boomed in the past years. Believe it or not, the Ferris wheel, MBS hotel, Gardens by the Bay and ArtScience museum opened only in the 2000s! Yet they’ve completely altered the cityscape, and are now as iconic as the Merlion fountain (which was established in 1972 by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew).
My driver stopped at a different look-out point so that I could see the Merlion from across the water, surrounded by skyscrapers. Crazy to realize that none of these buildings existed a few decades ago.
However, Singapore is not just about high-tech architecture. The government puts careful attention into preserving historic, colonial homes and ethnic neighborhoods.
My hotel is in Chinatown / Tanjong Pagar, a hip area for restaurants and bars. The entire street consists of heritage buildings with charming shutters. (This is the view across the road.)
Naumi Liora turned a 1920s Chinese townhouse into a 79-room boutique hotel that maintains the original Peranakan elements. Double-leaf doors, French style windows and lattice patterns give character to the lobby and rooms.
However, the comforts of the modern world abound! Air conditioning, modern amenities — even free ice cream, lattes and snacks in the lobby. No wonder Naumi Liora is a hit among 20-something travellers.
We were steps away from one of the city’s coolest and best-rated restaurants: Tippling Club (Address: 38 Tanjong Pagar Road). Look for the sign Bin 38, which refers to their new test kitchen and private dining space.
My white cut-out dress is from Chaser the Brand. The bunny-ears Japanese headband is from WeGo Tokyo.
Tippling Club’s interior is modern eye candy, and hints at the fun-house meal awaiting you. The hanging bottles over the bar are both for form and function.
The cocktail menu looks like a map, with drinks sitting on a continuum: sweet, sour, fruity, dry. I loved the Occiton, created for “Diageo World Class 2015,” which puts together gin, pineapple vermouth, thyme, basil.
Tipping Club is famous for its cocktails, which come with a cheeky presentation. I ordered the bubble tea with melon and mangosteen infused gin — and it had a dome of giant bubbles on top, made with a fish tank air pump! The Panda’s Escape (left) creatively combined rum and coconut water with Southeast Asian pandan, with two panda cookies on top.
Tippling Room wins my award for “coolest lights.” The upper level is a private dining space, which lets diners sample new creations straight from the test kitchen. Many of these experimental dishes later become part of the main menu.
Each creation is paired with wine from Penfolds’ celebrated Bin series. I’d love to have a party with my foodie friends here.
Downstairs, British born chef Ryan Clift works his molecular magic right in front of you. We sat at the open kitchen counter, and tasted over a dozen small bites.
As you can see from the photos, Chef Clift’s amuse bouches are playful and aims to defy expectations. He began with bite-size twists on bar snacks, anointed with flavors squeezed from droppers. I bet you’ve never had a white truffle cracker that looks like Styrofoam, and is served on the material itself!
Tippling Club is often described as molecular gastronomy, but it goes beyond that. Take the Singaporean curry (top right) with puffed rice and curry coconut foam. Although made with molecular twists, it captured the flavors of this traditional local dish.
Same goes for their roasted monkfish with green curry and lime tofu. (Photos by Ken Yuen)
Don’t miss out on their signature charred red pepper with a soy wasabi dipping sauce (right), and mango and togarashi sorbet white chocolate Meteorite for dessert (left).
Chef Clift gets especially whimsical with his desserts. There are cheesecake pills served in a prescription bottle, and a rainbow Fizz Bomb packet that bursts on your tongue like Pop Rocks candy. On the right: a beetroot and blackberry sorbet sandwich came impaled on a moving metal rod, which I had to catch in my mouth.
The word “memorable” gets tossed around a lot, but it truly applies to Tippling Club. A must-try if you’re in Singapore.
I couldn’t leave without checking out the legendary Raffles Hotel and drinking a Singapore Sling. Established in 1887 and named after Singapore founder Stamford Raffles, the hotel maintains a feeling of colonial-era grandeur. (Address: 1 Beach Road)
My dress is from Alice’s Pig. and I got the cat-ear sunglasses at Parco Shibuya in Tokyo.
Outside, anyone can wander through the courtyard gardens — you’ll feel like a member of the old gentry, on the way to a decadent ball. Raffles now has a row of high-end shops outside.
Inside, only guests of the hotel are allowed. I was invited to peruse the lobby and tea rooms, and it felt like The Grand Budapest Hotel come to life.
I couldn’t resist taking a photo with the doorman in a colonial Raj military-style uniform.
We were invited to visit the revamped Long Bar, which is now being more geared to locals.
The staircase shows the hotel’s rich history over the years. Ah, to be a flapper in Singapore!
Inside, the architecture retains the old-time feeling, with a 1920s spiral staircase.
The Long Bar’s row of rattan fans is a throwback to the days before air-conditioning. This is probably the only place in Singapore where littering is encouraged. Every table has a bag of peanuts, and it’s tradition for customers to throw the shells onto the ground.
(But what if you have a peanut or nut allergy? Then you can wave around this “no nuts or I’ll die” sign, which Naomi made to help out travellers! Just print out a copy of this helpful peanut allergy poster.)
Raffles is the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, a pink cocktail made by Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. In these olden times, it was considered uncouth for women to drink alcohol. The bartender skirted these rules with a girly-looking mix that still packed a punch (ingredients include cherry liqueur, pineapple juice, Cointreau).
The Long Bar is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Sling with mixology classes and other events, making this is a good year to visit.
I leave you with a few more glowing photos of the Singapore Flyer…
.. and skyscrapers over the water.
Doesn’t Singapore have a fascinating history? I’m glad I finally got a chance to travel here.
PS: Please let me know your suggestions for Spain, Morocco and Portugal — and add my Instagram and Snapchat (@lacarmina) for previews of this trip!
As much as I travel, I can’t be everywhere at once. This year, I sadly wasn’t able to make it to Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig (the biggest Gothic festival in the world).
Thankfully, my friend Jen was at WGT with her camera, and put together a special report for us! Read on for her German Goth stories, including images of the Victorian Village, flamboyant fashion, and industrial bands.
If I went to the festival, I would have worn these eye-catching steampunk shoes from Hades Footwear! Their Harajuku boots are my current favorites — such a striking design, with a metal heel and vintage-looking buckles. You can get these exact boots here.
Shop my outfit below:
I’m a huge fan of Hades Footwear, a California-based shoe company that specializes in alternative, Goth, Victorian and steampunk styles. They make unique designs like studded stilettos or thigh high boots — you won’t find these in regular stores!
(Click the photos below to browse more Hades Footwear styles.)
Now, let’s hand the keyboard over to my friend Jen (pictured above left, with her favorite corset maker Ludwig Lilienthal). Enjoy her diary of Wave Gotik Treffen 2015 with photos by Seventh Sin, the event photography company that she co-owns.
At the end, Jen invites you to submit photos and memories of Wave Gotik Treffen for a museum exhibition. I hope you’ll consider taking part in this historical project.
Jen writes: We skipped the traditional Friday afternoon picnic at Clara Zetkin Park in favor of checking out a new Friday afternoon event, Viona’s Victorian Village, held at the stunning Arena am Panometer. The Village features not only a grassy area to picnic, but also vendors, DJs and concerts.
Lolita style is no longer as prevalent in Germany as it was a few years back, but the girls who do it go all out.
We saw metal artist Pawel Athanasios Lickas working live at the Village.
There was a vague dress code to encourage to guests to participate rather than merely goth-stalking, but as you can see from the crowd photos, everyone who made an effort no matter what their personal style, was welcome.
This made for a lovely atmosphere where we were able to relax and find old friends among the crowd, and have conversations without being trampled by overzealous onlookers.
The left photo shows Courtney of Atropos Threads and a friend from Paris, in front of Courtney’s stand at the Victorian Village.
Diverse examples of the decadent personal style seen at Wave Gotik Treffen — from feathered collars to braided wigs.
The smiling participants and winners of the costume contest.
One of the best places to meet with friends and look around for new trends is the Agra, the main venue of WGT where the campground, market, and largest concerts are held. The “Black Market” is a huge hall where people can buy dark fashion and accessories.
Schnitt Muskel‘s macabre fetish and cyber inspired cuts and misappropriated materials seemed like a stark contrast to puderblonde‘s fashion and accessories in steampunk, gothic, shabby chic style. Nonetheless, the two small designers were working their booths together at the market.
I admired Benito Alesio’s stunning work for The Original Atelier…
… and these spooky-hawaii figurines from Pandemonium Crafts.
Romantic jewelry and headdresses from Nox Aurum, decorated with antler horns and lace fans.
As much fun as these events were, the main draw of the weekend was the 224 concerts and many dance nights on the official program. Our cat Hugin did his best to hide the schedule and keep us home, but in the end, he decided that having so many guests to fuss over him and fluttery black clothing to play with was actually pretty awesome.
This year we focused on meeting up with friends and catching smaller, less known acts. We saw Dan and Olaf of Harmjoy make their WGT debut (above)…
Did you know that next year will be the 25th Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig? WGT has grown from its humble beginning with 6 bands and one venue, to an event that brings in over 20,000 visitors and offers events all over the city. WGT has had its growing pains, but remains true to its ideal as a meeting point for goth subculture.
(These “classic Goth” photos by Armin Kober were taken at the first Wave-Gotik-Treffen in 1992!)
I’m thrilled to be working with the City History Museum of Leipzig to present the story of WGT and the goth movement in Germany, in an exhibition that will open next spring. If you’ve been to WGT we would be very interested to hear your stories and see your photos and videos.
We’re also looking for “objects” to display: such as clothing or shoes that you wore, signed albums or posters from bands you met at WGT, or handmade memorabilia. We’re also looking for people willing to be interviewed about their WGT experiences and featured as part of the exhibit, so please drop me a line if you’re interested.
(La Carmina’s note: I hope you’ll consider taking part in this Goth museum exhibit, and will do my best to see it next year!)
Last but certainly not least, I’m honored to reveal… I’m on the cover of FlyMe360° Travel & Lifestyle Magazine!
This new magazine is the brainchild of three friends and frequent travellers, who felt they could improve on the current travel publications in the market. FlyMe360° emphasizes personal, genuine travel stories that connect with all types of readers. The inaugural issue is an entertaining mix of first-person accounts, gadget reviews, photography tips, finance and health articles, and more.
FlyMe360° puts a special focus on travels in Asia. I contributed a story about my experiences last year in Cebu, Philippines. Above is a peek at the pages.
I encourage you to subscribe to FlyMe360 for free! You’ll get access to all of the first twelve issues (including my article), and perks such as prizes. The magazine invites you to contribute your own travel stories too — you can find out more and contact them through their site
(And if you’re still thinking about my Hades steampunk boots — here’s where you can find these shoes.)
The Ritz-Carlton Bali hotel, Nusa Dua: Indonesian culture meets luxury. Infinity pool villas, beaches!
Bali is one of those places that you have to research carefully, if you want to “do it right.” I know people who went to the most touristy areas, and were dismayed by the trash-covered beaches and frat party atmosphere.
I was determined to avoid this scene, and dive into the heart of Balinese culture — I had heard so much about the island’s warmhearted people and unique spirituality. Thanks to the Ritz-Carlton Bali, I was able to experience all this magic and more.
The Ritz-Carlton Nusa Dua is not your typical resort. Rather than closing you off from the outside, the Ritz encourages you to fully experience local life. They offer guests a variety of immersive activities: cooking classes, market tours, art making, temple journeys.
I’ll show you all these adventures in my Bali series. For the first post, let’s hop into my spaceship and see where I stayed! (This futuristic alien pod is actually the Ritz’s wedding chapel).
As I mentioned, location is everything if you’re coming to Bali. I recommend avoiding Kuta and Seminyak, which are packed with tourists and disruptive vendors. Ubud is the cultural center, and I loved making a day trip here. However, Ubud’s city center is a massive traffic jam, and you’ll see Polo clothing shops and Starbucks next to temples. It’s not exactly an “untouched, peaceful beach” oasis.
The Ritz-Carlton Bali is in Nusa Dua, on the south tip of the island. The island’s highest-rated resorts are all here, and for good reason: you wake up to the sounds of the ocean, and a paradise view like this. (Address: Jl. Raya Nusa Dua Selatan Lot #3, Sawangan, Nusa Dua, Badung, Bali)
I couldn’t have dreamed of a better home base. Ritz Nusa Dua is less than an hour from Jimbaran fishing village and Uluwatu temple, and it’s easy to take a a day trip north to Ubud. Between these cultural explorations, I thoroughly enjoyed soaking in my private infinity swimming pool!
From my Sky Villa pool, I saw the sunset over the Indian ocean. (Seeing the “spaceship” always puts a smile on my face.)
Ritz-Carlton has luxurious cliff and ocean-front villas, in addition to their regular suites. You can find details of their various accommodations here.
The moment I stepped into the open lobby, I felt calm. An ocean breeze cooled the air, and a girl brought me a refreshing lemongrass drink. She did the hotel check-in in while I lounged on the couch, taking in the 180-degree view from my cliff top perch.
With my tastebuds satisfied, I listened to the pleasant, live sounds of the Saron. This Balinese xylophone forms the backbone of the Gamelan, or traditional Indonesian orchestra. (Later, I’ll take you to a performance.)
My eyes took in traditional art, like these wooden sculpted figures.
And a basin gave off the fragrance of white and yellow plumerias, an Indonesian flower used in offerings and wellness treatments.
The Ritz-Carlton Bali is a brand new property, which officially opened earlier this year. The architects did a great job at integrating the structures with the raw landscape.
My friends and I loved riding the glass elevator to the beach level, and seeing decor inspired by Balinese art.
The design was inspired by a famous Indonesian water temple, and the layered terraces of rice fields.
Such a joy to experience the Ritz with my friends Cohica Travel, who took these photos. (They’re passionate about responsible and sustainable travel, and currently chronicling their trip around the world on their site.)
The hospitality here is among the best I’ve experienced. Whenever I walked around, staff greeted me by name, and made efforts to make my stay even more special. (Above: inside the Ritz Kids villa.)
The staff was great at anticipating needs, such as handing towels to guests getting out of the pool, and asking if they needed a buggy ride back.
The main swimming pool and lounge are pretty fantastic…
… but I have to say, I loved having my own personal infinity pool, located high up in my Sky Villa!
On this private balcony, I could disco to my heart’s delight. (My hat is available here.)
Remember that I mentioned that Kuta (and other tourist districts) has crowded and disappointing beaches?
In stark contrast, the Ritz-Carlton gives you the Balinese beach that you’d see in movies…
… untouched and uninhabited.
The private, white sand beach is only steps away from your hotel room.
I dipped my feet into the ocean foam, and left messages in the sand.
The Ritz-Carlton Bali equips all guests with sunhats, robes, and beach bags (I’m carrying mine, and got to bring it home with me.)
My t-shirt is from Chaser the Brand, and features the Hamsa palm symbol. For Hindus and Buddhists, this symbolizes the interplay of the five chakras and elements.
All these energies are brought into balance, at the Ritz Bali spa.
The wellness treatments are rooted in ancient Balinese practices. My friend and I enjoyed an hour long, full body massage with oils made from local plants and flowers.
In August, the full Ritz-Carlton Spa will be launched, for an even larger selection of tranquility treatments.
As I mentioned, The Ritz-Carlton encourages guests to learn about Balinese culture, and take trips to different parts of the island.
However, between these excursions, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed relaxing in my living room…
… sleeping in this giant king bed,
… soaking in my marble bathtub,
… and taking in this spectacular view.
Bali was the perfect destination for wearing my Sanskrit Hamsa top from Chaser, a fashion line inspired by music and travel.
I was excited to eat Indonesian food, and Ritz Bali’s six restaurants did not disappoint. At breakfast, we had a huge spread of international food including local specialties like nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles).
We loved the fresh fusion sushi at their Japanese restaurant Raku, and took part in a cooking class at their Indonesian restaurant Bejana. (I’ll do an entire post about this adventure next.)
The staff treated me to an in-room champagne breakfast, delivered right to my Sky Villa.
Nothing like lobster and caviar omelet, pancakes, mimosas and fresh tropical fruit to start the day.
One evening, we went down to the Beach Grill for just-caught seafood. The restaurant had set up the oceanfront gazebo for a romantic dinner, right by the waters.
I received a bouquet of red roses as I sat down. A memorable meal of tuna, Wagyu, and strawberry millefeuille dessert.
The spaceship chapel looks particularly cool at night! Grateful to my friends Cohica Travel for the photography and good company.
I hope this story conveys the healing, spiritual, cultural side of Bali, and helps you plan a trip to the island.
Thank you to the Ritz-Carlton Bali for the lovely experience. It was everything I had hoped for.
Are you fascinated with Balinese culture, as I am? Would you want to make a trip here?