Category Archive for Portugal

Princess Fairytale castles of Sintra, Portugal! Quinta da Regaleira, Palacio da Pena.

Life update is long overdue… I’m sure you have sensed that a lot has been happening!

Read on for a recap, plus my next destinations for the summer: I’ll be in six exciting new countries.

miffy nail art, nail polish nijntje

After back-to-back trips during the first half of the year, I spent some downtime in Vancouver, working on my new Depop shop. This is a project I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time, but I never had the time until now. It’s been wonderful to connect with so many of you, and I love seeing photos of you receiving packages from me! 

(If you’re not sure what I’m referring to: I’m selling most of my wardrobe here, come check it out. Lots of  Japanese Lolita, Goth and Harajuku fashion, Miffy kawaii clothing and more, at discount prices. Simply take a look at the listings, then email me and let me know what you’d like!)

Quinta da Regaleira sintra

Time to get packing again, as I’m off to travel to six countries. (All the details at the bottom of this post).

But first, let me complete my love-letter to Portugal — with a day-trip to the royal palaces of Sintra. I dressed up as a purple princess, and wandered through breathtaking fairytale castles.

sintra travel guide, churches, museums

Most tourists come from Lisbon to see Sintra’s most famous sight, Palácio da Pena, which bears resemblance to the Walt Disney castle.

But by far, my team and I preferred a lesser known palace, Quinta da Regaleira (pictured in these photos). Come inside with me, and I’ll show you why.

(By the way – my dress and princess sleeves are available for sale, on my Depop shop. Email me if you’d like to get them.)

portugal princess dress

First, the must-know travel information. How do you get to Sintra? From Lisbon (Lisboa), you can drive or take a bus, but the easiest method is taking a 30-minute train ride. Our Eurail train passes came in handy for this short trip, since we could simply hop in and ride.

Sintra is a popular destination, and can be packed with tourists. I recommend visiting during weekdays and off-peak seasons if possible, to avoid the crowds. Tickets are required to enter and lineups can be long, so look into getting advance passes (we had press access thanks to Visit Lisbon.)

fairytale castle tower, Quinta da Regaleira

If you visit only one attraction in Sintra, let it be the elegant 19th century palace: Quinta da Regaleira.

As you walk through the gardens, you’ll feel as if you’re a princess from a storybook fantasy. 

rapunzel tower castle, europe

The grounds of Quinta da Regaleira are enormous, and not as frequented by tourists — giving you free rein to explore.

Like in a storybook, I wandered through mysterious forest paths. I crossed a lake laden with stones, and ducked into a maze of tunnels. At the top of this stone tower, I pretended to be Rapunzel letting down my hair!

european famous castles, royal palaces

Commissioned by “Monteiro the millionaire,” the architecture is a tribute to Gothic-Renaissance romance. His estate and chapel are teeming with gargoyles, pinnacles and other ornamentation.

Adding to the enigma: we spotted Masonic symbols inside the church, such as an eye in a pyramid.

Quinta da Regaleira spiral staircase

Monteiro was a Freemason, and built underground “Iniciatic wells” for secret rituals such as the Tarot initiation.

Standing inside the narrow and damp pit and looking up at the light, you can feel the solemnity of these rites.

sintra portugal castle winding stairs

Quinta da Regaleira’s famous “wells” are more like inverted towers. A 27-meter spiral staircase winds around the structure like a snail.

sintra portugal castle, architecture

The stories of the Knights Templar are alive, in this Portuguese palace hidden with symbols and secrets. (Photography by Borderless Media)

princess photoshoot, sintra castles

Romantic and dramatic… Quinta da Regaleira palace in Sintra is well worth the trip.

moor castles in portugal

Sintra has many other historic sights, from museums to the hotel room where Lord Byron stayed.

We took in this soaring view of Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), which was built in the 10th century by the Moors. (Remember when I visited the most famous Moors palace, The Alhambra in Spain?)

sintra portugal palacio pena poseidon

Sintra’s most popular attraction is Palácio da Pena. It was constructed in the 19th century by Dom Fernando II, as a summer palace for the royal family.

Many say Walt Disney based his Magic Kingdom castle on this one (although there are other European palaces that claim to be his inspiration). Palacio da Pena does have a Disney-esque feeling, which I admit wasn’t to my taste… this Poseidon statue felt like the entrance to a theme ride, especially with the line of tourists waiting to go inside.

Pena National Palace, disney castle sintra

To me, the palace was like a painted movie set. It was difficult to enjoy the visit when there were so many tourists around. In fact, we could hardly take a photo without a dozen heads poking out from the balconies.

I think you can sense the different feeling of these palaces from the photos alone. For my team and me, Quinta da Regaleira was a far better experience.

portugal viewpoint, cabo da roca cliffs

On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped at the western-most point of Portugal, Cabo da Roca. This cliff edge is a popular viewpoint, high above the crashing waves.

belem portugal, monument to discoveries

We also stopped by the Monument to the Discoveries in Belém, which celebrates the explorers that led the Age of Discovery. Near this statue, a map shows former Portuguese colonies around the world, including Goa, Macau and Brazil. 

rua augusta arch light projections

My travel filmmakers and I got back to Lisbon in time for a spectacular light show, which was projected onto the Rua Augusta Arch.

Arco da Rua Augusta light show

Lisbon has a tremendous energy. A crowd gathered in front of the landmark, and DJs played electronic beats while lasers swept through the sky.

video mapping light show, lisbon portugal

With music and narration, the light show told a legend of how Lisbon was founded. We watched animation and film footage flow over the archway, depicting the love story of Ulysses and Ophiussa.

projection mapping lisbon arch

The 3D projection mapping was impressive, especially when each architectural detail seemed to move and crumble. At one point, the “Glory” statue at the top of the arch turned into a disco dancer, and gave her best Travolta impression!

Mercado da Ribeira market, food

Finally, we had a midnight snack at Mercado da Ribeira market. This modern, indoor space is brimming with food and drink vendors, serving all types of cuisine. I longed to try a bite from every stand…

portuguese market, street food

There’s a vibe here similar to that of food trucks: young indie chefs, experimenting with dishes and using the best local ingredients. I had several types of sardines, black rice, gooey sponge cake…

lisbon famous ice cream, santini

… and the best coconut gelato of my life, at Santini Gelati. This family has been making ice cream since 1949, and their creations are celebrated as the best in Portugal (if not the world).

Come see more of my Lisbon travel tips here. Portugal is now one of my favorite European countries, and I regret not visiting sooner.

depop sellers, fashion blogger shop

And now, I’m off on the road again. My travel film / photo team and I are working with Visit Slovenia, on a project in Ljubljana! I’ll also be stopping in the Netherlands (including Utrecht and the Miffy Museum, a dream come true). And we’ll be all over Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn. It’ll be my first time in these Nordic countries, and I can’t wait.

miffy cute bunny nails, nail art design

Starting today, I’ll be sharing these European escapades on my social media — stay tuned to my Instagram and Snapchat @lacarmina for lots of fun.

I got minimal Gothic Miffy nail art, to match the theme of the trip… Arigato Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, BC for the cute nails! They always do the most intricate, kawaii gel designs for me. (The skull and black diamond ring is by Sapphire Studios.)

pastel goth clothing store, shops

And don’t forget to check out my big wardrobe sale! Just added lots of new items to my shop – including Gothic Lolita dresses, Miffy fashion and some of my best clothing from Tokyo.

Check out all the listings here and email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom) with a list of items that you’d like to get. I can gladly calculate exact shipping for you, and do discounts on bundle packages. Please don’t feel shy about writing to me! It would be a pleasure to send you designs from my personal collection. Talk soon!

Shop La Carmina’s Pastel Goth Jrock Kawaii closet sale now!


Vintage, Hip Porto: travel guide! Harry Potter bookstore, modern architecture, Bombarda street art.

porto famous swimming pool

Blue skies, Smiling at me… Nothing but blue skies, Do I see.” – Ella Fitzgerald

As you’ll see from the photos in this post, the jazz song seems to have been written for Porto, Portugal! Let me share how I spent the perfect day in Porto — a travel itinerary that includes vintage shops, the Harry Potter library, futuristic architecture, and the best sponge cake in the world.

(PS – but I’m currently in Istanbul and Brussels… follow along on @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat to see my daily life.)

rem koolhaas casa da musica

Porto is about a five hour train ride north of Lisbon. A stress-free journey, thanks to our Eurail passes that let us board trains all over Europe.

As you recall from this Lisbon story, we loved Portugal from the moment we arrived. I heard that Porto was a laid-back, artsy type of place — and so we came to check it out with the help of Visit Porto.

koolhaas porto music house architecture

Porto is known as a center of modern architecture. We started our day at the Casa da Musica, designed by the legendary Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas.

This spaceship-like auditorium has over a thousand seats and is bathed in light, thanks to two walls made entirely of glass.

wire sculpture porto janet echelman

We saw more alien art as we drove along the coast. This hovering net is “She Changes,” a work by Janet Echelman. Made from wire, the sculpture pays tribute to Porto’s seafaring and fishing industries.

porto modern architecture, buildings

As we drove around the city, we spotted contemporary buildings at every turn. There’s a renown architecture school in Oporto, and two locals won the international Pritzker prize (the highest honor for an architect).

porto Álvaro Siza Vieira outdoor swimming pool

One of these architects, Álvaro Siza Vieira, constructed this mesmerizing Leça Swimming Pool in 1966. The open-air pool is filled with salt water from the Atlantic Ocean, and the design naturally harmonizes into the craggy coastline.  I felt like a mermaid, perched on the rocks and gazing at never-ending skies and waves.

harry potter bookstore Livraria Lello

In addition to these modern works, you’ll find charming century-old buildings all over Porto. One of the oldest bookstores in Portugal is Livraria Lello, which dates back to the late 19th century.

jk rowling bookstore porto

The shrubbery hides the long lineup inside… Livraria Lello is Porto’s most famous landmark because of how it inspired author JK Rowling to write Harry Potter! 

portuguese bookstore stained glass

The best-selling author spent a great deal of time in Lello as she was formulating her story. The art nouveau meets Gothic interiors conjure up the magic of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

harry potter bookstore portugal

JK Rowling was most likely inspired to put a Grand Staircase in Hogwarts Castle, after seeing the winding wood stairs of this Porto bookstore.

porto fountain, portuguese church

After, we spent a few hours walking around Porto. It’s the perfect balance for travelers like us: no annoying  tourism trappings, and yet the city has a lot to see and experience.

porto carmo and Carmelitas Church

Our guide took us to the downtown square, and explained that this mega-church is actually two churches, separated by one of the world’s narrowest houses! 

Carmo and Carmelitas was built this way to overcome a loophole, which prevents monks and nuns from having contact.

two porto churches Igreja do Carmo

Located the left, Carmelitas has an ornate gold interior. On the right, the baroque Carmo has a striking blue and white panel on the side. 

porto travel blog, blue skies

It seems blue and white are favorite colors here — I can see that inspiration comes from the sky.

porto houses, architecture design

Those classic facades, with swirling wire balconies!

porto cathedral, city view

Our guide stopped at a viewpoint, overlooking red rooftops and the Romanesque Porto Cathedral (oldest in the city). I did a little panorama of this view on my Vine (you can add me @lacarmina).

porto bombarda cool hip neighborhood

Onward to my favorite Porto neighborhood: Bombarda, a district filled with young art and hip galleries.

street art porto, murals

Bombarda is the bomb. Every few paces, we saw giant works of street art. The round cat over-top a heart was my favorite.

cats tails intertwined

Perhaps these two kitties, intertwining their tails on a nearby wall, were the muses.

bombarta art creative shop, portugal

We browsed small, indie “creative shops” inside the Bombarda CCB Centro Comercial.

dog shaped lamps

Locals have all sorts of designs on display here, from Robert Smith illustrations to dog and cat lamps. We also stopped by the CCB cafeteria for a simple yet incredibly tasty homestyle meal.

hipster porto, design stores

I recommend walking on Rua Miguel Bombarda, and popping into the various galleries. So much intriguing art to see here! Keep reading…

More here!