A Visit to Kyoto With the Goth Queen of Travel
This month, we’re visiting Japan with La Carmina.
La Carmina is an award-winning travel writer, blogger, and TV host. I first got to know her when we worked together on an article for Fodors.com about traveling to Brazil with the late Elizabeth Wurtzel, but you might recognize her from her appearances on shows like Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (where she drinks fake blood out of a skull), Food Network’s World’s Weirdest Restaurants (where she goes to a Maid cafe), and Oddities (where she buys a taxidermy elk head), Better Late than Never
She’s also a goth style icon–even when she travels–and the author of four books, including her latest, The Little Book of Satanism: A Guide to Satanic History, Culture, and Wisdom.
Which websites do you use to plan a trip?
I like to check Reddit for offbeat, alternative, and local suggestions.
Favorite travel hack?
If you have an economy flight without seat selection, check in to your flight as soon as it is allowed (usually 24 hours before departure). This way, you have more options for selecting a great seat before everyone else checks in. Also, if a seat is “automatically assigned” to you at check-in, you’ll be more likely to get an aisle or window if you check in early.
What’s one thing you always make time for when traveling?
Even if it’s a very quick trip, or one that’s packed with work, I’ll find time to walk around and eat something local – I find this is the best ways to get a sense of the destination.
Do you have a suitcase or bag you love?
I’ve been using Away luggage for years, which has held up well. The chic designs and colors are a bonus: my current large suitcase is lavender.
What’s the one thing that’s always in your carry-on?
Moisturizer is a must, as the airplane air easily dries out my skin. I like La Roche-Posay Lipikar, as it’s a heavier cream.
Any specific toiletries or beauty products you always bring with you?
I have a soft spot for Japanese airlines like ANA and Japan Airlines. The service and food are quintessential “omotenashi” (Japanese hospitality) – and you can watch anime movies!
Haneda or Narita in Tokyo. I like to make a final stop at the duty-free shop to get my favorite yuzu (Japanese citrus) liquor before boarding.
Most luxurious in-flight experience?
I flew business class on Turkish Airlines when I was invited to speak at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul. The staff turned my spacious seat into a bed, and came by with a trolley of desserts and teas!
What’s the best thing you read on the plane recently?
I read a sci-fi novel, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (who also wrote The Martian) and couldn’t put it down. It’s about a man who wakes up and realizes he’s alone in a spaceship – and must piece together what happened and how to get home. It’s a creative take on sci-fi with a mix of humor and science.
What’s the kindest thing a stranger has done for you on your travels?
It’s a long story, but my filmmaker friends and I were late to board the ferry from Algeciras, Spain to Tangier, Morocco. We sprinted to the gate, and it was closing… but a passenger saw us and deliberately blocked the entrance so that we’d have time to board. That tiny gesture made a world of difference for our journey!
What’s the best bar you’ve ever been to on your travels?
While they may not have the best cocktails, I love horror, Goth, and bizarre-themed bars because they let me live out my dark dreams (or nightmares). My friends and I had fun at a Depeche Mode Baar in Tallinn, Estonia – it had drinks named after the band’s songs and showed their music videos on the walls. I recently visited a Deathmatch in Hell, a hole-in-the-wall bar in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo that played horror B-movies and served 666 yen cocktails! [Editor’s note: Yes, I’m saving all these recommendations for you in the Alibi Guide to the World]
What’s the most surprisingly delicious food you’ve ever tried?
Engawa (flounder) nigiri sushi, especially if it’s flame-seared or sprinkled with black salt. The fish has a buttery texture that melts in your mouth. I eat it as much as I can when I’m in Japan, since it’s not always available in North America.
What’s the most incredible meal you’ve ever had?
I am still thinking about my omakase meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, Tokyo – known as the best sushi experience on the planet (Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama agree). It’s nearly impossible to get a seat at Master Jiro’s tiny restaurant, but my well-connected friend managed to hook us up. He served us 17 pieces of nigiri… I have never had sushi as fresh and nuanced as this.
Have any vacation meals inspired you to make your own version at home?
What’s your favorite kind of souvenir to bring home?
I take a minimalist approach to consumption, so I don’t usually buy anything on my trips. However, I take hundreds of photos on my iPhone and Sony a7iv DSLR camera. Every now and then, I’ll take home a one-of-a-kind fashion item such as a floral kimono from Japan or a Colombian emerald and gold bracelet from Medellin.
Do you have any art/furniture/decor that you bought while traveling?
I try to keep my apartment as uncluttered as possible, but I have a few special pieces that remind me of my travels. They include sardine-shaped bowls from Portugal (I love sardines) and a skull watercolor from an artist I met in Reykjavik, Iceland. [Editors note: If I sardine-shaped bowl from Portugal piques your interest, check out last month’s newsletter]
What’s the best thing you’ve ever bought on a trip?
I am a mega-fan of the cute character Miffy the bunny, so I couldn’t resist getting a giant plush Miffy bag during my last trip to Japan!
Which hotel would you live in and why?
It’s hard to beat Royal Mansour in Marrakech: every detail is executed with the finest craftsmanship. My three-floor personal riad had an elevator, butler service, and a pool on the roof.
Where’s your favorite hotel room?
I recently stayed at El Cielo Hotel in Medellin and took full advantage of the freestanding egg-shaped bathtub and enormous bed.
Where’s the best hotel pool in the world?
I’d go for a suite with a private pool rather than a shared hotel pool. I had my own infinity pool overlooking palm trees and the ocean at The Ritz-Carlton Bali – it’s hard to think of a better place to watch the sunset.
Best cheap & chic hotel?
When I’m in Tokyo, I stay at Hotel Sunlite Shinjuku. It’s a no-frills business hotel with small rooms, but the price and location (near Golden Gai and Kabukicho) can’t be beat.
What’s your craziest hotel story?
I once stayed at the five-star Upper House Hong Kong, made a bunch of local Goth friends, and invited them to party in my giant suite overlooking the city! We have hilarious photos of dancing on the couches and cramming into the bathtub.
What’s the most surprising thing that’s ever happened at hotel check-in?
The Ritz-Carlton in Kuala Lumpur researched me, and left devil-horned cupcakes in my room because they knew they would fit my aesthetic!
Where’s your favorite place to visit in the summer?
I’m not a fan of the summer heat, which has gotten progressively worse with climate change – so I like going somewhere less stifling in the summer such as Iceland or Scandinavia. This way, you can walk around outdoors without feeling as if you’re in the pits of Hell.
Is there anywhere that you like to visit over and over again?
Tokyo, always! I’ve been going since I was a child and have many close friends there. I always look forward to returning to see them and visit my favorite restaurants, shops, bars, temples, and Goth clubs.
What destinations or travel experiences are at the top of your bucket list?
I have yet to travel to Antarctica or Machu Picchu. I’m also keen to check out Okinawa and the new Nintendo World in Osaka.
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