Alternative Austin travel guide! Archer Hotel, Elysium Goth club, Sixth Street hot sauce, Congress bridge bats.

austin congress bridge bats flying

“Keep Austin Weird” is the motto of the Texas capital… and I think we certainly lived up to it!

I’ve long been curious about the Goth / offbeat attractions in Austin, Texas. Lauren and I took a weekend trip to visit our friend Sarah, and take a walk on the weird side of the city.

grim reaper hot sauce bottle

Looking for a Goth travel guide to Austin, Texas? Then read on…

We’ll court death at the Tears of Joy hot sauce store (above), watch the bats fly from Congress Bridge, encounter biker gangs on W.6th Street, and nightcrawl at Gothic music club Elysium.

austin archer hotel midcentury modern

Austin has become a young travel destination in recent decades, thanks to SXSW and startup culture. It’s a liberal, independent city in an otherwise conservative red state. As the saying goes, “Austin’s a blueberry in the tomato soup of Texas.”

Lauren and I had a magnificent stay at Archer Hotel, which perfectly captures the laid-back, artistic vibe of Austin. We instant fell for the boutique hotel’s mid-century modern meets Southwest decor.

hotel archer domain northside lobby

Hotel Archer opened its Texas location only 8 months ago (they also have a New York property). All the spaces are beautifully designed and the staff was lovely, especially the concierge Steven.

(Address: 3121 Palm Way, Austin, TX 78758)

archer hotel austin texas decor

We loved the eclectic, modern Texan interiors (note the cow skull pattern pillows), and fun touches — such as the random elevator music that ranged from disco to soft rock.

austin hip boutique hotels

Que paso? What’s happening in this neighborhood?

A lot, as the Archer Hotel is located in The Domain Northside. It’s an up-and-coming area lined with hipster shops and restaurants, and not far from the historic downtown. (I’ll give you a tour at the end of the post; make sure you scroll to the bottom).

austin design art hotels

The boutique hotel has 171 luxurious and fully-stocked rooms, which we loved coming back to after a long day of sight-seeing under the sun.

austin texas hipster hotel archer

I’m wearing a vintage dress, which is for sale on my Depop shop. (Feel free to browse, and email me if you’d like anything you see listed.)

My midi tote purse is by Strathberry, and my clog sandals are by Lotta from Stockholm. See more about my bag below, with a click:

austin sixth street murals

From our hotel, it was only a short Uber or Lyft ride to West Sixth Street — the famous Austin entertainment district. We were greeted by kitschy murals and men on motorcycles… our trip happened to coincide with the ROT Rally biker festival!

austin rot rally bikers motorcycles

Bikers from all over gathered to hang out in downtown Austin. On W.6th Street, there are plenty of tattoo parlors, bars and pizza joints to keep them happy.

museum of weird 6th st austin

Also nicknamed “Dirty Sixth,” this street is the go-to for raucous nightlife and live music.

For fans of quirky oddities, there’s a lot to see on this strip. We stopped by the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (historic theater dating back to 1929), and popped into the Museum of the Weird. 

coffin shelf gothic furniture bookcase

As a fan of spicy flavors, I was excited to visit the Tears of Joy hot sauce shop! (Address: 618 E 6th St Austin, TX 78701)

This family-run business stocks hundreds of salsas and sauces, which are fantastic for souvenirs (I picked up all the spooky bottles on the left). As you might guess from the coffin-shaped bookcase above, some of these can be tongue-burning hot.

tears of joy hot sauce austin

It’s a joy to browse through all the labels: the names / images range from frightening (Satan’s Rage) to goofy (Buhba’s Butt Blaster). Tears of Joy carries hot sauces from around the world, with a focus on rare items made in small batches with natural ingredients.

goth satanic death hot sauces

I’ve never seen such creative bottle designs, all in once place. Some entice you with skeleton and spider toys attached to the labels.

I gravitated to the scary spices, and made my final selection with the friendly input of co-owner Brian Rush.

coolest hot sauce bottles, texas

He had a spread of tortilla chips and hot sauces in the back table, which anyone is welcome to try. We even dared to try The Source, a pure extract and one of the hottest sauces on the planet… Try one dot on the tip of a toothpick, and you’ll be reeling!

I encourage you to stop by Tears of Joy, for a date with the Reaper. They make their own products as well; the Red Fang is my favorite, and is sold on their online store along with many others.

treaty oak tree austin texas

On that note: nearby is the Treaty Oak, a sprawling tree that was the center of a poisoning mystery. (It’s located at Baylor St between 5th and 6th Streets).

This majestic Southern oak tree was the last survivor of the Council Oaks, a grove of 14 sacred trees where two native tribes would meet. In 1989, locals suddenly discovered that the tree was slowly dying… as it was being poisoned by someone. 

treaty oak poisoned tree

The city banded together to save the Treaty Oak. After an investigation and trial, Paul Cullen was sentenced to 9 years in jail for poisoning the tree (he served three, and maintains his innocence). Today, the oak stands strong, although it no longer has a branch span of 127 feet.

sunset congress bridge austin

As the sun sets, it’s time to release the bats! Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in North Americas (the bats live in the crevices under the bridge). Every evening, they fly out in search of prey — although the best time to see them is in spring and summer.

bats flying congress bridge

Some visitors gather at Austin-American Statesman Park to see the bats, or take a boat ride into the waters. Lauren and I chose to stand on the bridge, and found a great spot right on the railing, above one of the posts in the center. 

As the sky darkened, tiny Mexican free-tailed bats began to whizz out from under us. Don’t worry: these little brown creatures won’t hit you in the face.

austin skyline flock bats

Look out over Lady Bird Lake, and you’ll see an ominous dark cloud floating over the skyline. The bat colony is out on the hunt for insects. Quite the “Gotham City” sight, wouldn’t you say?

elysium goth club austin

The bats got us in the mood for a Goth party. On the recommendation of many locals, we went to Elysium Goth club for a night of dark dance.

This is the top Austin venue for Gothic Industrial dance music, bringing in DJs and live bands. Founded in 2001, Elysium is a large club with multiple spaces and old-school purple-blue lights.  (Address: 705 Red River St, Austin, TX 78701, USA)

blakk glass goth synth band

Elysium has various themed nights and special events. That evening, we watched Blakk Glass perform (energetic darkwave from Seattle).

hexheart god module band

The concert headliner was Hexheart, a new project from Jasyn Bangert, the grandmaster of God Module.

hexheart concert Jasyn Bangert

The audience loved Hexheart’s mix of darkwave, synth and post-punk. Between the sets, the DJs played Gothic tracks for people to dance on the sunken floor.

elysium gothic nightclub

Spooky selfie. (My top is by Disturbia Clothing.)

domain northside austin

Finally, let’s talk a walk around the Domain Northside, where our hotel Archer is located. This is a newly developed northern area: most of the shops only opened a couple of months ago, with more on the way.

north austin restaurants, the domain

The Domain is becoming a one-stop shopping and dining destination in Austin. The public spaces are lovely, and the surrounding streets carry both local and national brands (such as Warby Parker and Free People).

murals, wall art austin

We encountered large-scale colorful murals featuring Leonard Cohen, rats with wings and other trippy designs.

domain northside sculptures

Here’s to giant public art installations. The Domain includes Rock Rose, a street with a mouthwatering selection of international restaurants (Thai, Indian, Mexican etc), clubs and bars.

candy bento sugarfina

Highlights from our stroll: the speciality candy store Sugarfina, and this open courtyard with scoop chairs.

cute austin boutiques

A lot of the boutiques specialized in cute local-made goods.

kelly wynne shop boutique austin

Purse designer Kelly Wynne is from Texas, and opened her first retail location here not long ago.

live long clothing backpack

Hiding among the butterflies, in my Live Long backpack by Long Clothing. These murals are part of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery project.

HOPE Outdoor Gallery public mural installations

HOPE is a community paint park located at 11th & Baylor, launched by a team that includes street artist Shepard Fairey. It uniquely provides street artists the chance to create and display large-scale art pieces, and encourages educational initiatives.

whole foods austin northside

I picked up a few things at Whole Foods. The natural grocery chain originated in Austin so its stores are gargantuan here, with a larger-than-usual selection of items. Outside the Domain Whole Foods, there was this pastel patio for Spun liquid nitrogen ice cream.

second bar kitchen austin

Back at Archer Hotel, we were ready for a meal at the acclaimed Second Bar + Kitchen, which also has a popular downtown location.

archer hotel terrace poolside cocktails

But first, cocktails. We went up to the pool terrace of Archer TX, for happy hour cocktails. It was only $6-8 for these outstanding drinks: a Painted Mule with meadow tea and ginger beer, and Green River with chartreuse, grapefruit oil and basil.

texas horse head

There’s tons to do at the Archer, with an outdoor pool decorated with a Lonestar, and a fitness center. At the front, guests can pick up crafts by local artisans.

archer hotel texas star ceiling

The lone star, found on the state flag and commemorating its independence from Mexico, also adorns the ceiling of Second Bar + Kitchen. The restaurant is run by Chef David Bull, and is all about seasonal, local, casual fare that is perfect for sharing.

We started with the outstanding meatballs, and unique cocktails: above is a gin with peach, honey and scoop of jalapeno jam.

second kitchen menu, appetizers

Our server brought out off-menu selections, made fresh with the best ingredients of the day. The Texan heirloom tomatoes with smoked cheddar were our favorite starter. Second Bar + Kitchen takes comfort food flavors to new depths, with unique courses like pepperoni soup, and chicken tortellini in broth.

austin second kitchen dinner pizza dessert

Since I was back in the South for the first time since New Orleans, I was keen to “get my grits on.” The black truffle grits with caramelized onions were the best I’ve ever had. We also loved the pizza with blue cheese, pork, medjool dates and truffles — an unusual combination of rich flavors that absolutely works.

I often don’t have room for dessert, so I was glad to see the menu had “bite sized” portions of sweets, such as the blueberry tart above. We always have room for another round, however: cheers to the Southern Bourbon Sour and Boilerplate Old Fashioned. 

bunny ears snapchat filter

Without doubt, we kept it weird in Austin! (Demented Snapchat from our room at Archer Hotel.)

Have you visited any of these spots in Texas? There’s much more weirdness to come in the next post, and I’ll announce my next destination soon too.


I went sailing in Santorini! Sunset Oia boat cruise: Greek islands tour, beaches, Ia architecture.

rupaul big blow out hairstyle

Hello from one of the world’s most fabulous beach destinations: Santorini, Greece! The Mediterranean breeze made me look like RuPaul for a moment…

(I’m dressed in this exact Iron Fist skeleton bones jacket. More items from this fun Gothic brand below).

oia santorini blue roof churches

In my first post from Santorini, I took you inside my luxurious villa overlooking the Mediterranean.

In addition to securing us the perfect stay, Blue Villas Collection helped us arrange activities on the island (they have a concierge service for all their guests).

oia windmill, ia houses

Before and during the trip, our Blue Villas concierge gave us personalized advice to make the most of our Santorini sojourn.

Thanks to her tips, we went to postcard-perfect Oia (Ia) during the best time of day, and relaxed on all the major beaches on the island. (All photos by Joey Wong)

irregular choice clothing, fashion

I told our concierge that I wanted to do a sunset sailing trip (when in Greece, one must spend time on the water!). She immediately recommended a half-day cruise with Sunset Oia, the leading company for yacht excursions in Santorini.

♡ Outfit Details ♡ I’m wearing cat-eye sunglasses by Moat House, and a unicorn fringe top by Irregular Choice (it is from the wardrobe of my friend Rose). While my shirt is no longer found online, it’s similar to this Carmen pom pom top and off-shoulder white dress with rainbow pom-poms.

traditional greek fishing boats

Sunset Oia has a handy shuttle service included in tour packages, which makes it easy to get to the starting point. A driver picked us up right outside our private villa, and took us to Vlychada port. Quite a few colorful, traditional Greek boats were tethered to the pier.

sunset oia sailing dinner cruise

Ahoy, mateys — here comes our Sunset Oia catamaran!

Sunset Oia is a local organizer of luxurious sailing tours, ranging from small group day-trips to romantic private cruises. Their fleet of modern, luxurious yachts brings guests to beautiful spots all around Santorini, including the beaches and therapeutic hot springs.

oia harbor dock greece

Joey and I had signed up for a 5-hour water excursion, which departs in the afternoon and stops in multiple locations. We got to dine on fresh Greek food on-board, then watch the sun set while drifting on the Aegean.

boat cruise santorini greek islands

Sunset Oia’s friendly and professional crew welcomed us on board, and walked us through safety instructions. We had to remove our shoes and put them in a basket for the duration of the journey — hence the barefoot photos!

For those of you who worry about sea sickness: fear not. We had a smooth ride throughout, with no choppiness. (However, the crew has ginger chews available in case you feel nauseous).

santorini sailing, luxury yacht boat

Our Sunset Oia trip stopped in several locations, starting with Akrotiri or Red Beach, famous for its rust-colored cliffs. We weren’t able to get off the boat, but guests had the opportunity to jump overboard and swim or snorkel for about 15-20 minutes. 

(As you might expect, I didn’t go into the water — but used this opportunity to sit in the corner seat and take photos!)

akrotiri red beach santorini

On a different day, I took the bus to Red Beach and took these snaps. (Give yourself at least 15 minutes to walk from the bus stop to the beach, and even longer if you go up the hill and down to the larger stretch of sand).

The peculiar rocks originate from volcanic lava, hence the reddish-brown hue.

santorini red beach church

Akrotiri is also an important archaeological site; starting in the late 19th century, excavators discovered the remains of a Minoan Bronze Age settlement. Above is a curving white church that currently sits near the beach.

sailing yacht fashion, greece

I’m a pirate at heart, and love the feeling of sailing o’er the seas. But leave your tricorn hat at home, as it would blow off from the wind. Instead, I wore layers (as it can get chilly), sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen.

– My unicorns top is by Irregular Choice, who are best known for their wildly original shoes. They have heels that look like Cinderella, Snow White and Star Wars Darth Vader for example! Scroll more mind-blowing designs:

boat tours day trips oia

Sunset Oia took us to intriguing spots on Santorini that are only accessible by boat. One of my favorites was this little hideaway, which is inhabited by one hermit. Doesn’t this look like a scene from an alien movie?

greek boating sailing trip

The white church and yellow boats stand out starkly against the dark cliffs. It must feel like being on another planet, living here…

sunset oia review, boats

Sunset Oia pipes music out onto the deck, and makes drinks available at all times. This is my happy place: sitting on the tarp, sipping ouzo, watching the horizon…

best santorini sailing tours cruises

High up above, we spotted the ancient lighthouse. A day cruise is well worth it, if you’re in Santorini — you can only see views like this here.

oia sunset view dinner

Yarr for pom-pom fashion. More designs from Irregular Choice here and below:

drinking party cruise greece

The ship’s crew prepared a spread of Greek food for us, including fresh BBQ. I filled my plate with dolmades, tzaziki, Greek salad, Mediterranean pasta… and washed it down with plenty of anise-flavored ouzo, the Greek aperatif that is similar to absinthe. Dessert was slices of green apples, drizzled in Greek honey and cinnamon — so good!

santorini catamaran sunset cruise

Santorini’s sunsets are infamous for their beauty. I can’t begin to describe the joy of watching the sky change color, from the vantage point of the sea…

As the light faded to black, the catamaran pulled up to the historic port of Ammoudi in the village of Oia. Time to disembark, and board the shuttle to return to our villa.

Thank you Sunset Oia: your sailing experience was 5-stars from start to finish.

oia santorini windmill location

On another day, we traveled by bus to Oia / Ia (pronounced “Eee-yah”), the picturesque village at the top of the island. I suggest coming in the afternoon and making the most of golden hour, before enjoying the sunset.

oia ia blue church

We came right before the start of the spring tourist season, and turned out to be the right decision. The off-season meant we had the streets mainly to ourselves, and didn’t have to jostle with tour buses and tourists. At the same time, the sun was shining on the blue church domes (cupolas).

santorini greek orthodox church

Oia’s pastel and white colored homes are layered onto the high cliffs, and connected by snaking stairs. It’s like gazing upon an MC Escher drawing that meets the laws of nature.

I’m sure you have seen photos of this village before, with classic blue and white Greek Orthodox churches, and an old Aegean sea windmill. 

travel blogger instagram santorini

It’s a delight to explore Oia by foot — walking up and down the cobblestone steps, browsing Greek art stores, finding scenic points tucked around corners. Instead of following a map, simply wander and enjoy.

famous santorini windmill view

The cozy cave homes look out over the Aegean sea (Blue Villas has vacation rentals here as well). The Cycladic architecture is perfectly suited to its environment, and has lasted throughout the centuries.

cute sheepdog santorini cafe

I stopped by a cafe to eat a Greek salad, and watch the clouds pass over the caldera (volcanic crater sunk into the sea). The resident foofy sheepdog stole my heart!

oia ia architecture, stairs

Can you imagine living here, and having these views of the caldera and clear waters year-round?

santorini oia cliffs

Santorini’s other major village, Fira (Thira), has equally magnificent viewpoints. I shared photos and took you inside my accommodations, in Part 1 of Santorini.

santorini church bells, greek flag

Magic hour begins, as the sun begins to sink. (Photos by Joey Wong.)

female travel fashion blogger oia

The skies transform into pink, matching my hair.

pia watch sunset

Not bad, right?

oia sunset viewpoint

Santorini layers archtecture, cliffs and waters great

greek church sunset ia

No filter needed: the skies naturally turn into these rich, warm hues of pink. However, I suggest that you check the specific sunset time in advance, to avoid rushing and missing out.

oia santorini tourism tourists

Millennial pink and rose gold fans would feel right at home in Oia / Ia.

best sunset view in santorini

The best sunset viewing locations can get very crowded, especially during the high season. Try to avoid the pack of tour groups, which head to the same spot across from the windmill.

Joey and I found a side street that provided just as magnificent a view. There were only a handful of people next to us — hooray for unobstructed views and no chatterboxes to ruin the moment.

world's best sunset oia santorini

No wonder a Santorini sunset is on the bucket list of many a traveler. The light is radiant and dramatic, and one couldn’t have designed a better natural setting.

kamari beach santorini

One final must-visit spot: Kamari beach, located 10km southeast of Fira and easily reachable by bus. Kamari is known for its black pebbled beach — how Gothic!

greek bookstore cat atlantis books

Kamari is next to a little village that is worth a stroll. I said hi to this cat outside Atlantis Books, and stocked up on tins of sardines at the neighborhood grocer.

black sand beach santorini greece

Kamari has a long, black stretch of beach beneath the gloomy mountain of Mesa Vouno. The water is deep and blue, which gives the shore an unusual contrast.

prehistoric black egg rock

In 2002, locals discovered an archaic sanctuary dedicated to Achilles. Kamari’s dark volcanic rocks, which range in size from minuscule to massive, are even older.

black pebbles beaches greece

Doesn’t this look like a prehistoric dinosaur egg? The black rocks are polished by the waves into smooth circles and ovals.

skeleton bones jacket coat

A Goth beach requires a Goth outfit, don’t you agree? I’m wearing this exact Iron Fist jacket; find more styles below…

santorini beach ocean waves

There’s something about being by the ocean that thoroughly rejuvenates me. Do you feel this way too?

kamari beach big rocks

And that’s all she wrote about Santorini. If you’re interested in visiting any Greek island or mainland destinations, check out Discover Greece for lots of tips.

blue villas collection greece designer villa

Very grateful to Blue Villas Collection for hosting us in this futuristic-classic cave, and for the seamless daily arrangements. (Take a tour inside this villa in Part 1.)

sun setting oia santorini

The sun sets on Santorini — but there’s still one more post to come, from Greece.

I’ve saved the Acropolis for last... check back soon for photos from the ancient Athenian temple. And you can see previews of my Austin, Texas trip right now on Instagram @lacarmina.


Amsterdam’s coolest fashion & art hotels! Hotel Lloyd & The Exchange, artist themed hotel rooms.

hotel the exchange amsterdam lobby

XXX marks the spot! We’re holding crosses because they’re the symbol of Amsterdam. But of course, I made them a tribute to Miffy the Dutch bunny (with her mouth shaped like an X).

My friends and I love experiences that weave together fashion, art and creativity. While in Amsterdam, we stayed in two boutique hotels with rooms customized by artists, ranging from one to five stars. Let us take you inside the stylish Hotel The Exchange

suzanne oxenaar artistic director hotel lloyd

…and Lloyd Hotel / Cultural Embassy, which feels like a living art installation!

At Lloyd Hotel, I sat down for coffee with co-founder and artistic director Suzanne Oxenaar. We immediately clicked over my Miffy bag, which led to lively conversations about meaningful art, the connection between Dutch and Japanese culture, and her projects around the world.

I loved hearing about Suzanne’s ground-breaking work: she did a pop-up Tokyo “LLove Hotel” with mood-themed rooms by artists, and established a residence for artists at a Netherlands psychiatric institution. 

Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy

In the mid-1990s, Amsterdam was keen to rejuvenate the Eastern Docklands area, which had become abandoned to squatters. Suzanne and Otto Nan accomplished this by opening Lloyd, the world’s first 1-to-5 star hotel that doubles as a “cultural embassy.” They designed the public spaces to host creatives and guests from around the world, encouraging the exchange of ideas.

(Address: Oostelijke Handelskade 34, 1019 BN Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Suzanne Oxenaar artist exhibition art hotel

Artists from around the globe come here for residences, or to curate exhibitions. We met the Japanese photographer who created the portrait above. (All photography by Arina Dresviannikova)

Hotel Lloyd’s cultural programs let innovators from different countries connect and collaborate. Most of the works are presented in multi-use spaces that are free and open to the public.

hotel lloyd amsterdam netherlands

In love with the high ceilings and clean, modern design. Suzanne put care into each detail, such as chairs that were refurbished to be more functional and comfortable, while retaining the original skeleton.

I’ll have to come back to try a meal at Lloyd Restaurant, which serves classic European dishes made with sustainable and organic products.

cherry blossom tree art exhibition

Lloyd’s meeting rooms and halls are designed to inspire. Guests are encourage to use the spaces however they like, even as exhibition spaces or concert halls.

I felt like I was in Japan during sakura season, thanks to this “Under the Cherry Blossom Tree” installation by Eiko Ishizawa (made from silk screen on textile and wood).

– Outfit Details – My alien sweater is from Gypsy Warrior; it’s similar to this aliens top. Click the thumbnails for more intergalactic options:

historic lloyd hotel prison immigrant dorms

Suzanne walked me through the fascinating history of Lloyd Hotel. This historic building was originally commissioned by Royal Holland Lloyd (cargo ship line) to house immigrants. It later became a WWII detention center and refugee camp, and then a prison for young offenders. The space transformed into a collective of artist studios, and finally a design hotel.

Chikako Watanabe, the first artist in residence at Lloyd Culturele Ambassade, made a commemorative installation based on a 1920s room at Lloyd. Families slept on a tiny cot like this, while awaiting their journey on a ship.

8-person bed giant mattress

I’ve stayed in art / theme hotels before — but none were as creative as the ones at Lloyd Hotel! The 117 rooms are all different, designed by Dutch designers and ranging from 1 to 5 stars (to fit all needs and budgets).

I flopped down on this 8-person bed, inspired by the shenanigans of rock musicians. This “Rough Music Room” is by Joep Van Lieshout, and an example of a five-star deluxe double room.

modular movable hotel room furniture

Every room in Lloyd Hotel is unique. When you make a reservation, you can pick the “star category” (which has a corresponding price). The exact room you’ll be staying in is a surprise, unless you make a specific request in advance.

Some of the rooms are very experimental. The one above has a folding, modular hinged wall — which lets you re-arrange the bathtub, closet and partitions as you please!

hotel room with swing

Lloyd Hotel encourages you to let go and have fun. How could I resist swinging around this rustic attic-style room, with a built-in swing?

My Dutch vlogger frend Leyla, who runs LeylaFashion blog and @leylafashion YouTube channel, created a vlog about our tour of the hotel — you can see us playing around on these swings!

(If you like my alien fashion, check out the items below:)


weird crazy art design hotels

This is not just a dust ball. It’s “Dust Ball,” an art piece by Japan’s Suchan Kinoshita. Like the Katamari video game, she rolled traces of the hotel’s past into this mound — a preservation and reflection of the building’s many transformations.

lloyd hotel cultural embassy

Even a 1-star room (top right) is cozy and designed with flair. Each floor contains different room-types, so guests from all backgrounds can mingle.

Suzanne brought us to the library, open to both guests and visitors for exhibitions, lectures, or plain relaxing and reading. The classical space contains a typewriter and furniture by De Bazel, a Dutch architect and contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright.

art boutique hotels amsterdam

I couldn’t help but smile at “The Family Portraits,” an exhibition by Michiel Voet. His photos communicate family stories, and the impact that migration has on society.

amsterdam artist in residence program

The immigrant portraits are a study in friction and togetherness throughout the generations. Now I want to do a family portrait, standing on chairs and with spacesuit-jars over our heads!

hotel the exchange amsterdam

Leyla, Arina and I also stayed at Hotel The Exchange — another whimsical property run by Suzanne and her team.

What’s the deal with the XXX, which you’ll see all over Amsterdam? This symbol is from the city’s coat of arms, and represent three vertical St. Andrew’s Crosses. The saint was martyred on an X-shaped cross in the 1st century.

amsterdam xxx symbol sculpture

Amsterdam is known for adult entertainment in the Red Light District, which gives “XXX” a coincidental meaning as well. For me, it represents the X-mouth of Miffy, the Dutch mascot!

Hotel The Exchange’s name refers to the weaving together of fashion and interior design, making these rooms one-of-a-kind.

fashion blogger selfie

This boutique hotel’s location is ideal for travellers: right in the city center, and within walking distance of all the major sights. (Address: Damrak 50, 1012 LL Amsterdam, Netherlands)

In the spirit of playful collaboration, Otto Nan and Suzanne Oxenaar commissioned students from Amsterdam Fashion Institute to create rooms “dressed like models.” The lounge sets the whimsical tone, with has pillows made from fabric swatches and a selfie #nofilter mirror.

hotel exchange interior

Hotel The Exchange is actually made up of three narrow buildings (one dates back to the 17th century), which were connected while retaining the original framework. The winding staircases and unexpected passages make this a fun space to wander through.

(All photography by Arina Dresviannikova)

i amsterdam city pass card

Once we checked in, I spread out my belongings on my bed.

Details of my silver clutch by Makeup Junkie Bags, and I Amsterdam city card (which gave me free, unlimited access to public transit and all the major museums in Amsterdam).

classic Amsterdam houses

We stayed in the top-level Rembrandt Room, featuring this superb view and a bed surrounded by what looks like a giant, old-fashioned ruffled collar.

ghost hello kitty, dutch pikachu

Closeup on Leyla’s cute accessories: a Hello Kitty ghost ring, and Dutch Pikachu. She uploaded a vlog about our adventures at Lloyd hotel; The Exchange footage is coming soon.

fashion hotel exchange, Amsterdam

Hotel The Exchange has 61 unique rooms, each with its own theme and designed by a young graduate of AMFI. Like at Lloyd, they range from one to five stars (reflecting the amount of amenities, views and square footage).

fashion designer hotel netherlands

The rooms are dressed like models on a catwalk — draped in hand-crafted designs that reflect a particular vision of Amsterdam fashion. In a world filled with cookie-cutter hotels, it’s heartening to stay in a place where you wake up feeling stylish and inspired.

hotel the exchange theme rooms

I was impressed by the diversity of design. The “Mattress Room” by Roos Soetekouw deconstructs a bed into its foam, box-spring and textile parts. These pieces are re-worked into 3D furniture and textured decor. I think my Miffy purse looks quite at home on this hanger rack, made out of bed-springs.

art hotels amsterdam

Even the room numbers get a twist: each is a hand-embroidered disk, made up of X’s in the hotel’s signature orange-red shade.

hotel room noose hanging rope

Malu Gehner called her room “Epaulettes,” after the shoulder decorations found in military attire. Her room is decked out in braided rope trimmings.

Many of the artists incorporated special fabrics developed in collaboration with the Textile Museum in Tilburg for the project.

hotel the exchange rooms, suites

Roos Soetekouw created one of my favorite rooms, “Misunderstood Creatures.” This is not for everyone, but you can understand why Goths would feel right at home. 

The sinister fantasy installation includes portraits of three troubled yet lovely creatures. The black ceiling seems to be crying dark tears.

gothic goth hotel rooms

I love the dark side of fashion, and The Room of Misunderstood Creatures spoke to my aesthetics.

If you look closely, there are colorful sequins encased in the floor — adding a magical sparkle to the twisted gloom. 

themed hotels, decorated rooms

Sofie Sleumer was inspired by the tales of the brothers Grimm. She used the walls of her small room to tell the story: a collage of nature, insects, eggs and other fairytale imagery. She also sourced broken furniture from small markets, mending the broken parts to add to the feeling.

hotel the exchange sewing fashion

Hotel The Exchange has several common areas for guests. This one has a wide selection of fashion and photography books, and two working sewing machines, fabric and threads! 

cafe stock, amsterdam breakfast

Every morning, we looked forward to having breakfast at hotel’s Café Stock located next door. The well-lit space has illustrations from the room designers on the walls.

Arina and I couldn’t get enough of Cafe Stock’s Dutch apple pie, baked fresh and served with real hand-whipped cream.  We always ordered the XL sized lattes and cheese pancakes, and the national “stroopwafel” (two pieces of thin, baked waffle with caramel syrup in between) is a must-try.

large christmas lights sculpture

Cheers to Hotel The Exchange and Lloyd Hotel / Cultural Embassy for the inspiring stay. Hearts and stars to I Amsterdam for making these stories possible.

bright pink curled hair hairstyle

Would you stay in a fashion hotel like this one?

Don’t forget to check out Leyla’s vlog of our hotel tour, and more of my travel tips from the Netherlands here. And I’m now off to a new destination… check out my Instagram to see where I’ll be. Hint, yee-haw!


The Birthday Massacre concert: 2017 tour review & new album! Sumo Cyco, Kyoto Gion kawaii shops.

chibi 2017 birthday massacre singer

Summer is back, and I’m ready to play! I have some big new destinations coming up — all will be announced soon.

If you’ve been following my Instagram Stories or Snapchat (@lacarmina), you’ll have seen me at the The Birthday Massacre live in Vancouver!

Read on for a review of the Gothic concert. I also included some snapshots from Kyoto, Japan because they remind of Rose (as I last saw this band with her in 2010.)

time top ufo sculpture vancouver

Greetings, Earthlings. We are now taking over your planet. (Couldn’t resist posing with the UFO spaceship “Time Top,” by Jerry Pethick.)

Before the concert, my friends and I spent the day walking by the ocean, and enjoying the sunshine that has finally hit Vancouver.

john lennon walrus sunglasses

I’m shading my eyes from the light with these exact John Lennon Walrus eyeglasses (yes, he has a glasses collection!) These round, retro metal frames are based on the design that the Beatles musician wore in iconic photos.

If you can “imagine” yourself wearing John Lennon sunglasses, you can get them here.

vancouver fashion bloggers, blogs

We encountered yet another alien mothership on our walk. (Okay, it’s Vancouver Science World).

– Outfit Details – I bought my dress at Siam Paragon / Discovery mall in Bangkok, Thailand.

My diamond fishnet tights are from We Love Colors. They carry a variety of colored socks and legwear (mine are the wide mesh fishnet style in navy — great for warm weather).

vancouver style blogger, summer outfits

A perfect day of wandering around downtown. We stopped for dinner and cocktails, and then headed to The Venue on Granville Street for the show.

sumo cyco sever singer

The opening act, Sumo Cyco, started the show — and stole it. The stylish lead singer Sever (or Skye Sweetnam) is impossible to take your eyes from. She tossed her blue-green hair back and forth, crouched like a tiger, and went out into the crowd to down a whiskey shot. By the end of the set, her powerful stage presence had everyone smiling and bopping along.

skye sweetnam hair color, hairstyle

Sumo Cyco’s songs are a mix of punk and metal: catchy hooks and riffing guitars over heavy beats. I was impressed with Sever’s vocals, which moved from the sweetness of Gwen Stefani to a deadly growl. 

sumo cyco band live concert

My friends and I were all blown away by Sumo Cyco, and would see them live again. It’s fantastic to discover an indie, female-fronted band that rocks this hard, exceeding all expectations for an opening act.

army of the universe concert

Next up: a solid performance by Army of the Universe. This industrial dance music group hails from Italy, and is signed to the Metropolis Records.

industrial band performance, metropolis records

I’m often reminiscing about the 1990s these days… Army of the Universe spoke to my nostalgia, with an electro-techno industrial rock sound reminiscent of early Nine Inch Nails.

the birthday massacre tour, venue vancouver

The crowd went crazy when The Birthday Massacre walked on. The Canadian Gothic group formed in 1999, and has cultivated a rabid following ever since.

It seems all my alternative friends have seen them at some point, and continue to love them (myself included). The band’s dark vision yet inclusive, positive energy have made an impact on many growing up Goth.

chibi singing, birthday massacre

The dynamic lead singer, Chibi, displayed as much energy as ever. She always gives 100% love to her fans, trading cheeky comments and reaching down to hold their hands.

The band’s name, The Birthday Massacre, perfectly encapsulates front-woman Chibi: cute, chirpy, with a touch of evil.

concert live birthday massacre show

Any time you see The Birthday Massacre on a concert bill, you know you’ll get a brilliant performance. The musicians displayed their talent through a wide-ranging dark spectrum of sound: electronic, atmospheric, Goth-melodic, headbanging guitar, and the all-mighty keytar.

canadian goth band, music

Michael Rainbow and Chibi are two of original founders (along with Michael Falcore), and you can sense the telepathic connection between them on-stage.

The touring drummer, Nik Pesut, only had two days to learn the songs, and rocked them. Even with a new addition, the live show is as strong as ever.

the birthday massacre new album 2017

The Birthday Massacre treated us to two hours of nonstop fun and dancing. They played their most beloved songs, including Blue, Kill the Lights, Looking Glass. Chibi gave a shout-out to a fan celebrating her big day, at the start of the Happy Birthday song.

birthday massacre tickets concerts

The group also debuted a few new songs from their upcoming album. I can’t wait for this one: my friend Kevvy Metal (Kevin Maher) worked on the production, and the cover art looks fantastic. The newest songs are on the heavier side, with lots of headbanging riffs.

the birthday massacre chibi michael rainbow

The band ended with a three-song encore, including a cover of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” that got me cheering. (All right, it’s originally by Tommy James & The Shondells).

The Birthday Massacre put on a brilliant, fan-friendly show as always. Check out their site for upcoming tour dates; this is an act you must see live.

kyoto design stores

My friends and I were talking about how strange it is to talk about Rose in the past tense… she would have been the first to get tickets for this show.

Still, it feels like she is alongside us, at events like these. In this vein, thought I’d end by sharing some last photos from Kyoto: I took snaps of cute stores that she would have gone wild for.

San-X Mamegoma Little Seals cute

Rose always wanted to go to Japan, but her health never stabilized to the point where it was possible.

When I saw this collection of cute little seals (San-X Mamegoma toys), I immediately thought of her. She’d run right over to them and give them a squeeze!

kawaii japan kyoto toy shops

Rose loved Halloween everything (like me), and all things kawaii with a touch of weird. She would have swooped up these pumpkin-seal and witch-rabbit hybrids.

This Kyoto portion continues below…

More here!