Category Archive for Alternative Canada

Banff, Alberta fashion blogger winter getaway! Block Kitchen & Bar restaurant menu, Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.

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Banff, Alberta! This destination is real, and it’s spectacular.

Located in the Rocky Mountains, this adorable Canadian town is about a 1.5 hour drive from Calgary. Like many travelers, I went to Banff to kick back in the natural beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

fairmont banff springs hotel fashion blogger outfit

I stayed in the supposedly haunted Fairmont Banff Springs… This 19th century chateau hotel is one of Canada’s most paranormal places, and the site of terrifying ghost stories!

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I dressed in my Gothic best to explore the Fairmont Banff hotel.

Outfit details: Acne snakeskin boots, Strathberry crossbody purse, Chaser Brand square neck black longsleeved top.

See more winter shirt styles from Chaser below:

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Fairmont’s Banff Springs hotel has a spooky guest: the Ghost Bride. Legend has it that when she was about to meet her groom, she tripped on these very stairs — and tumbled to her death.

Some people claim to see her ghostly figure, still wearing her white wedding dress, haunting the old staircase and ballroom.

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Banff’s luxurious hotel has friendlier residents too. In the outdoor pool area, I came across a pair of deer, grazing on the bushes! The forest creatures didn’t seem to mind taking a photo with me.

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From the Fairmont’s many viewpoints, you can get ridiculous panoramas of the surrounding mountain ranges and lakes. I’m feeling as tiny as a mouse beneath the strangely-shaped Mount Rundle. 

I visited Banff in October, and the first snowfall had just coated the landscape. Although the town is stunning in the wintertime, Banff is also a draw in the summer — when travelers can canoe on the lake, and spot wildlife on hikes.

(Wearing a Sylvain Le Hen hairclip — love their high-end hair accessories).

banff block kitchen restaurant review food

No matter the time of year, you can always savor a meal at the most outstanding restaurant in Banff: The Block Kitchen + Bar.

I walked into a cozy eatery with eye-catching art on the walls. The Block focuses on fresh, creative interpretations of Asian cuisine, especially Thai and Japanese. Every dish we tried was wonderful, balancing modern Asian flavors in unexpected ways.

We dug into the authentic takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls), and bright beef tataki rolls with julienned vegetables, micro greens, and sesame sauce. The cocktails came with lovely garnishes and many of them incorporated Japanese liqueurs: I loved the Taste of Asia cocktail with sake and yuzu.

banff block restaurant menu dinner

Every guest is warmly welcomed by chef Stéphane Prévost, who is married to a Japanese lady and spends significant time in Japan. Drawing from these experiences abroad, The Block feels just like a homey izakaya, with tastes that ring true.

We picked out a selection of items from The Block Banff’s tapas-style menu to share. Their calamari was the best I’ve ever had — unlike the typical greasy preparation, this squid was lightly battered and infused with Asian ingredients like mirin, soy sauce, and sesame seeds.

The menu board offers different specials each day, with a focus on seasonal products. We ordered the chef’s selection of Thai green curry, a mouthwatering broth with Prince Edward Island black mussels and a side of kim chi.

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The intimate, wood and brick space is conducive to sitting back and chatting with your neighbors. Banff Block Kitchen + Bar is open at lunch time as well, with offerings like daily-changing sandwiches and duck poutine (a tip of the hat to the chef’s Quebecois roots).

banff japanese food restaurant izakaya block bar

Alberta isn’t known as a place for great seafood — except at Block Kitchen, it appears! We were wowed by the tasty, sustainable selection of ocean products that rivals that found in Vancouver (to my surprise).

The colors of the salmon tartar, with saffron and seaweed salad, speak for themselves.

banff block kitchen bar dessert meal

I’m still dreaming of the dessert we shared… an ingenious matcha cheesecake with a sesame crust base, drizzled with yuzu sauce. Made with premium green tea powder, with textures that come together magnificently. We also ate up every last bite of the dark chocolate pot de creme, and black sesame and matcha ice cream.

The Block Restaurant is exceptional Asian fusion: this a restaurant you can’t miss out on if you’re in Banff. I hope to be back soon to experience the izakaya-style deliciousness.

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Banff is a small town, and it’s easy to walk here from the Fairmont Springs hotel. Crossing the bridge, I stopped to admire the view of Banff National Park.

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Bundled up from the cold in my Anubis knit hat by Cryptic Apparel, and white Snowman New York puffer coat. See more jacket designs from Snowman NY below with a click:

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I’m not sure if the infamous hotel is truly haunted… but it sure looks that way.

The Banff Springs was opened in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, and designed in the aristocratic Châteauesque style typical of these railroad hotels.

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The Fairmont Banff hotel is enormous, with plenty of hidden nooks and crannies to explore. We found coffin-shaped doors in winding hallways, and knight uniforms guarding event spaces. There’s even a bowling alley and movie room to find.

Love the wide angle photo effect of the new Apple iPhone 11 so satisfied with the battery life and camera on my new smartphone.

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Close-up on my Strathberry East/West leather crossbody bag. Can’t get enough of their clean, modern lines and flap with bar closure. This purse comes in a variety of colors, and Strathberry makes tote and clutch styles as well — you can browse below:

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I wore my new Acne leather platform boots — the black and white python effect goes with all types of outfits.

You can find similar snakeskin shoes below, including these ankle booties:

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I went on a hunt for the Fairmont Banff’s mysterious Room 873. In the past, murders and other violent acts apparently took place in this hotel room. Guests that then stayed in #873 reported visits from ghosts.

Since there was too much paranormal activity, the staff sealed up the haunted room. Today, you won’t find #873 at the hotel, but you can still see the outline of the door through the wall. (Some claim this was merely boarded to expand the room next door into a suite… but you can believe what you want!)

banff alberta hiking nature trails

I took advantage of the free yoga classes for guests at the Fairmont. In the afternoons, I enjoyed walking around the trails near the hotel.

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One of the paths follows the river, which turns into rapids and ends at Bow Falls. You can also trek through golf course grounds, and discover sweeping alpine views.

banff alberta lake near fairmont hotel

Banff’s chilly lakes are a gorgeous shade of turquoise. Travelers tend to visit the nearby Lake Louise as well, which is about a 45 minute drive away. (I’ve been to all these destinations as a child, and it was lovely to come back after many years.)

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No matter where you wander, you’ll find picture-perfect backdrops. It’s no surprise that Banff, Alberta has become a favorite destination for travel and fashion bloggers / influencers in recent years.

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It’s also a rather Gothic travel destination.. wouldn’t you like to have a spooky stay in an antique ghost hotel, beneath the Rocky Mountains?

banff springs fairmont staircase stairs

Just don’t trip on the dramatic staircases… lest you become another ghost bride!

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PS: Stories from Salem, Massachusetts and Mexico (Day of the Dead!) are coming up next. I know you’re going to love these… For previews of these dark adventures, I invite you to glance at my Instagram @lacarmina.

PPS: If you’re getting a head start on holiday shopping, you’re welcome to check out my Depop shop (@lacarmina)! I’m letting go of a variety of items from my closet, including rare clothing from Japan.

Please take a peek at my store and let me know if I can send you anything; happy to do bundle discounts and exact shipping. Have fun!


Montreal’s hippest restaurants, bars, nightlife! Maison Boulud restaurant review, Europea menu, PY1 pyramid club.

mexican goth, gothic day dead makeup costume skeleton tights

Dead inside… and on the outside as well!

I’m so, so ready to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico with Borderline Projects and Morbid Anatomy. (See details of my Halloween trip in this post).

Read on for a sugar skulls teaser, as well as a guide to the best French-Canadian restaurants in Montreal.  

day of the dead nail arts, dia de los muertos nails

To get in the Day of the Dead spirit, I went to Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, BC (Vancouver area). I asked for Mexican sugar skulls nails… and here’s what they delivered! 

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Glam Nail Studio is world-famous for their intricate Japanese nail art. Can you believe these sugar skull faces and cobwebs are hand-drawn?

The salon used Bio-Sculpture Gel on my nails to create a rainbow ombre, glitter, and 3D effect with cute skeletons. These Day of the Dead nails are perhaps my favorite ones ever — thank you to the Glam Nails team.

sugar skull goth makeup mexican day dead facepaint

I played around with Dia de los Muertos makeup, for a party before the trip.

Love everything about Halloween season. Here’s a fall outfit featuring a Jawbreaker bat cropped sweater, Erbert Chong leather skirt, Strathberry East/West with white edge crossbody purse, and Lack of Color bucket hat.

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Close up on my Halloween-themed sugar skull nail art designs. Sailor Moon and Goth skull rings by Sapphire Studios, silver collier de chien bracelet by Hermes Paris. 

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Here’s the full outfit for Dia de los Muertos, with a Cyberdog dress and skeleton bones leggings. I made the grinning sugar skull sign myself.

See you in Merida, Campeche and Mexico City — can’t wait to join the parade of the dead!

Europea best restaurant montreal, Jérôme Ferrer

Now, let’s go back in time to Montreal, Quebec: I was here over the summer. If you’re looking for a guide to the city’s most innovative fine dining, then I’ve got you covered.

Let’s start my Montreal food tour with lunch at Restaurant Jérôme Ferrer: Europea. The famous eatery recently moved to a gorgeous new location, with high ceilings and modern furnishings.

Europea is described as a “universe,” as the experience includes a bar, take-out corner, brasserie, afternoon tea, and “grand table” for fine dining.

Chef Jérôme Ferrer cookbook

Chef Jerome Ferrer is a Montreal icon; he has several restaurants in Quebec and abroad, including in Sao Paulo.

The revamped Europea is a collaboration with stage director René Richard Cyr, who oversaw Cirque du Soleil shows. Together, they brainstormed a theatrical dining experience.

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The surprises begin as soon as you’re seated. I found a “hardcover book” on the table — when I opened it, there was truffle popcorn inside! The table is set with avantgarde cutlery and butter platters, and the napkins are hidden in a sliding drawer by your waist.

europea restaurant decor, Jérôme Ferrer cafe

Europea’s decor is upscale, yet playful. The white spiral staircase is an architect’s dream, and complemented the custom paintings throughout the rooms.

(I wore a silk Emilie Shanghai Nights dress by Realisation Par, and a black lace cape jacket by Pheren Couture. See more on my Depop closet sale.)

menu lunch europea, prix fixe menus Jérôme Ferrer

Europea isn’t just about flash (although every dish is beautifully presented). Every item I tried on the lunch menu was marvelous, with a delicate marriage of flavors and garnishes.

The prix fixe changes weekly; I was lucky I got to try the citrus-marinated tuna and watermelon in lemonade and Thai basil, with pretty red quinoa and edible flowers.

 europea jerome ferrer afternoon tea

Europea is known as a fine dining restaurant for special occasions. However, the brasserie set menu is surprisingly well-priced at $35 Canadian.

You can also order drinks and small plates at the bar area, or get take-out from the Comptoir.

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Quebecois cooking can be on the heavy side, so I was happy to receive a main course with grilled turkey breast, and plenty of greens. The dish comes with seasonal asparagus, and a tasty cheese potato mousseline.

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Europea’s lunch menu usually includes a fish option, which I recommend. I’d come back any time for this striped bass fillet with a Parmesan herb crust, vegetable spaghetti, and saffron fish soup.

The white wines are two of my favorites — Sancerre and Chablis — perfectly chilled.

europea desserts, dessert menu lunch

And now… dessert, served with holographic spoons! You can imagine the difficulty I had in choosing between the lemon meringue, berry mousse, white chocolate cheesecake, tiramisu…

montreal afternoon high tea pastries europea

… so why not try them all?

Our server also brought us foamy cappuccinos, and a platter of freshly baked pastries. (Europea has an afternoon tea option as well.)

Jerome Ferrer’s Europea menu combines art, technology and gastronomy — and the results get a standing ovation, if you ask me.

maison boulud ritz-carlton exterior

I also had the pleasure of dining at one of the top-rated restaurants in Canada, Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal. This elegant hotel dates back to 1912: a perfect setting for the fine French approach of Daniel Boulud. 

boulud montreal chef Riccardo Bertolino

Perhaps you’ve heard of Boulud’s legendary NYC restaurant, called Daniel, or seen his appearances on Anthony Bourdain’s TV shows.

Montreal’s Maison Boulud is headed by Chef Riccardo Bertolino (above, with his team). The kitchen is lined with jars of spices from around the world, hinting at the global flavors in the contemporary French approach.

ritz-carlton maison boulud fine dining

The restaurant’s decor is posh, yet modern and warm. Maison Boulud has an extensive wine cellar, and the staff can recommend excellent pairings for your dishes.

ritz-carlton montreal duck pond

Be sure to explore the outdoor terrace. The duck pond in the back adds to the memorable atmosphere.

cocktails appetizers maison daniel boulud restaurant

Boulud’s menu is all about seasonal ingredients from Quebec’s local purveyors. We began with colorful cocktails: the “Cosmo de l’Orient” has white cranberry juice with a ginger and coriander infusion, and a purple flower in a giant ice ball! 

The oozing amuse bouche — arancini with peas, mint, and smoked mozzarella — instantly made us eager for more.

appetizers maison boulud menu

The chef’s Japanese inspiration shows in the starters, which include a hiramasa sashimi with ponzu sauce, and a red snapper ceviche with pineapple. The burrata was as fresh as the ones I’ve had in Italy, and came with wild arugula and basil oil.

ravioli daniel boulud pasta

One of the most finely executed and delicious dishes was this one. A single egg yolk raviolo (somehow, it’s perfectly runny inside), with sheep milk ricotta and parmesan froth.

fish dinner maison boulud

Boulud dips into the Middle Eastern spice jar for this dish: a mouthwatering sea bass with za’atar herbs, chickpeas, raisins, and lemon.

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Montreal’s Maison Boulud serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with special thematic menus such as “Singapore Vibes.” Diners can also choose three, four, or eight course “discovery” tasting menus.

maison boulud madeleines  dessert cake

Don’t leave without trying the freshly baked madeleines, which you can dip in the warm chocolate coulant cake with gold foil. I also couldn’t resist a trio of sorbets: raspberry, sea buckthorn, passionfruit.

Without doubt, Chef Daniel’s Maison Boulud deserves its 5-star reputation among foodies.

py1 astral plane nightclub pyramid

As you know, I was recently in Egypt… but I’ll never get tired of visiting pyramids, especially if there’s a wild party inside! 

This triangular behemoth is PY1, the latest project of Guy Laliberté, founder of Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil. In the daytime, you can go inside the pyramid to see a one-hour multimedia show, called ‘Through the Echoes.”

cirque soleil pyramid club, guy laliberte

At night, the PY1 pyramid turns into a futuristic club night. The temporary event is located at Montre Clock Tower Pier, in the Old Port of Montreal. It’s impossible to miss after dark, as the peaks light up with trippy projections.

cirque soleil nightclub party clubbing

PY1 Nights have seven different club themes, with music and visuals to match. I went to Astral Plane, which is all about intergalactic visions. The local DJs were terrific, and spun a never-ending mix of minimal techno and electronica.

digital light projections club montreal py 1

When you’re inside the spacious tent-like venue, you can look up and see fog, shifting lights, lasers, and image projections from every angle.

py1 nights pyramid immersive nightlife

The visual effects were spectacular. Imagine this mandala “flower” blossoming and morphing, in time to the electro music beat.

py1 through the echoes movie pyramid

PY1 Nights is adults-only, but anyone can come during the daytime to see “Through the Echoes.” This 60-minute multimedia show feels like a waking dream, as it immerses you in a tale of space, time, and possible futures.

py1 montreal review night club

Wouldn’t you like to rave inside a giant art-pyramid? PY1 is next heading to Miami, Florida to keep the party going. 

After, the pyramid will move to a new location… perhaps Egypt, or outer space…

bar royal montreal djs club

Montreal is a party city, and there’s an endless number of creative bars and music venues to check out. The two come together at Bar Le Royal, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar with a slightly hidden entrance.

The stylish bar is located in Plateau-Mont-Royal, a trendy district popular with students — making it a great spot to visit after dinner with friends.

craft cocktails, bar royal mont-royal

Bar Le Royal has an extensive list of craft cocktails, some with rather obscure flavors combinations. The staff excels at explaining the menu, and can help you pick something that suits your palate.

Try one of the drinks with an eye-catching presentation. “Le Joli Ghost Dog” is a spicy twist on a Moscow Mule: served in a bamboo steamer basket, with chopsticks and a side of pink pickled ginger. Behind, the mixologists topped “Meiji Le Grand” (sake, cane rum, orange liquor, orgeat, and my beloved yuzu juice) with a spoon of Asian rice crackers.

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A local DJ spins groovy records in the curving metal booth. The sound is never too loud, making Bar Le Royal a great space to chat with friends while enjoying music.

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Bar Le Royal serves small plates as well, including Quebec cheeses that pair with out-of-the-box cocktails.

I had never tried a drink quite like “400 Dieux Lapins,” which comes in a glass coated with fine Aztec cacao! The chocolate taste and texture, combined with Mexican mezcal, Quebec liqueurs Shámán and Amermelade, and Japanese yuzu is indescribable… you’ll have to sip it for yourself.

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I wish I had more time in Montreal to go clubbing. I’d love to see a sassy performance at Mado’s Cabaret: she is Quebec’s most famous drag queen.

foufounes électriques goth bar montreal, gothic clubs

There are plenty of Goth clubs and bars in Montreal as well. Above, a duo of angry skulls peers down from Les Foufounes Electriques. I wish I had time to check out the new Gothic / alternative venue Cabaret Berlin… next time.

(I previously visited Montreal and wrote about the Goth nightlife, including Katacombes and other venues. You can see my Montreal clubbing guide here.)

montreal hipster clubs nightlife

Let’s end with a few photos I snapped while walking around the city at night. No matter where you are, you’ll encounter intriguing event spaces and public art.

montreal nighttime buildings lights city

Montreal had heatwaves during the summer, so I took Ubers during the day, and walked around at night.

octopus tentacle statue montreal

I came across a girl in a white dress, doing a photoshoot in front of this enormous tentacle-human statue.

montrael history app, city projections memories

I also passed by historical moving images on several walls. This is the “Cité Mémoire” experience: anyone can download the free app, and interact with projections that come alive after dusk.

montreal notre dame church light show

Notre Dame Basilica also gets the disco treatment. The church has a multimedia show called Aura Basilica, which projects neon lights over the classic architecture.

notre dame basilica chapel montreal

A final hail to Montreal, Quebec — there’s so much to love about this Canadian city.

PS: If you missed Part 1 of my MTL travel guide, which focuses on art and fashion, you can see it here. (My suggestions include Goth stores and futuristic museums!)

And now, off to Mexico! Enjoy my Day of the Dead updates on @LaCarmina Instagram / Twitter.