Last time I was in Budapest it was summertime, with thunderstorms threatening to crack the warm humidity and we took the children to watch the Hungarian folk dancing for the St Stephen’s day festival. This time I was back in February with a breath of snow in the air, but the promise of spring just around the corner. This was a family trip of a different sort; I had 48 hours with my parents and sisters, to see the sights, eat some great food and have as much fun as possible together.
I hope you enjoy the video below about our 48 hours in Budapest
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For such a short trip, I think the choice of a hotel can really make or break the experience, so after reviewing the many hotel options on the Avios website, we decided to go for 5 star Intercontinental Hotel. This classy hotel combines location and luxury and is perfectly positioned on the banks of the Danube, close to most of the main sites of Budapest.
The bedroom window framed a postcard view of the Royal Palace on the Castle Hill, so it seemed obvious to make this the first area to explore. A brisk walk across the Chain Bridge and we found ourselves at the foot of the hill, in front of the funicular which is more of a tourist attraction than something that the locals use. I guess it’s one of those try-it-once kind of things, but a little expensive at 1000 HUF (£2.90) or 1700 HUF (£4.90) return for the 5 minute journey. I’d already tried-it-once on my previous visit, so instead we decided to climb the easy paths that run up the hill. Once at the top, we followed the stone steps to the wrought iron gates that guard the Royal Palace and found ourselves in a wide paved square, beside the upper funicular station.
The Castle Hill
At the top of the hill the views from the balustrade towards the Pest side of the city and down the Danube were spectacular. In front of the Sandor Palace we watched the soldiers marching back and forth and stamping to attention, as they guarded the residence of the Hungarian President. It was pretty chilly, so we kept moving along the cobble street that runs along the top of the hill towards the St Matthias Church.
On our last visit in the summer a couple of years before, the family had decided to let me look around the St Matthias church alone, and sat in a shady cafe just opposite while I went inside. The church interior was surprisingly colourful with painted frescoes and pillars in rich shades of red and ochre. I recalled hearing somewhere, that many Medieval churches had paintwork that was far more colourful than the bare grey stonework that we see today. I loved the multicoloured tiled roof of the church which is not the original, but was replaced when the church was restored after shelling in the Second World War.
In front of the church is the Fisherman’s Bastion, a fantasy colonnade of turrets and arches, built at the end of the 19th century as a monument to the Guild of Fishermen. Here we found more spectacular views towards the Hungarian Parliament Building on the opposite side of the river, built on a similar design to the Houses of Parliament in London. In summer when we were here, there were open air cafes set up on the battlements and in the arcades, and I listened to the gypsy violinists playing Hungarian folk music for the customers, giving everyone outside a free concert. In February it was far from balmy, so we warmed up in the nearby Ruszwurm Cukrászda cafe over a coffee and slice of strudel.
St Stephen’s Basilica
Back on the other side of the river we walked from the Intercontinental to St Stephen’s Basilica, another major landmark of Budapest, with a dome that dominates the skyline. We had a browse around the souvenir shops in the square and the side streets near the Cathedral which are full of little restaurants and bars, making this a good area to eat out (we tried the Strudel House later that evening). We decided to return to the cathedral for Mass the following Sunday morning and afterwards had a look around the Basilica, which is named after King Stephen I, the first king of Hungary who brought Christianity to his country. Canonised after his death, the saint’s mummified hand is displayed in one of the chapels of the Basilica and is paraded every year on St Stephen’s Day (20 August) which is a national holiday.
Later that afternoon we walked along Andrassy Avenue, an elegant boulevard with shops selling all the top international brands. We passed by the State Opera House, which I would also have loved to visit, on our way to 60 Andrassy Avenue, now known as The House of Terror.
The House of Terror
This museum was once the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis and until the 1950s housed the communist state terror organisations, where suspects were brought to be interrogated, tortured and executed in the bleak basement prison cells. The museum gives a fascinating insight to how the Hungarian population suffered under Nazi and later communist rule, and is a monument to the victims of terror.
Inside the foyer, we were greeted by a black and white wall of the faces of the victims who suffered here, together with a tank trapped within the inner courtyard, reflecting in a shallow pool of dark water. On the upper floors we passed through a series of exhibition rooms with films and videos showing marching armies and care worn faces of old men and women telling their stories of evacuation, deportation and oppression under the communist regime. The tour ended with a slow descent in the lift down to the basement to a video commentary about the process of execution and then we walked past the cold prison cells. Our visit to the House of Terror was a stark but fascinating and compelling experience that I would highly recommend if you want to understand Hungary’s recent history.
The No 2 Tram
If you want a low cost sightseeing tour, jump on the No 2 tram that runs along the river and stops outside the Intercontinental Hotel. In one direction the tram will take you past the Hungarian Parliament Building to Margaret Bridge and Margaret Island, where we enjoyed an afternoon dip in the open air Palatine Baths on our summer visit. In the other direction, the tram will take you towards the Central Market and Liberty Bridge which you cross to reach the Gellért Baths. You just need to stop at a convenience store to buy a book of tram tickets, which you validate on the tram each time you use one.
The Gellért Baths
On Sunday afternoon after Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral and an elegant brunch at The New York Cafe, we took the tram to the Gellért Baths for that quintessential Budapest spa experience. This is one thing that’s equally fun in summer or winter; in summer the outdoor pools and terraces are open, while in the winter you can linger in the steamy Turkish baths with sauna and heated pools. The baths are part of the Gellért Hotel, but if you enter at the side, you’ll come straight into the glass domed foyer to buy your ticket at the kiosk. You’ll be given a rubber wrist band with a magnetic disc which gets you through the turnstiles and opens your changing cubicle where you can leave your clothes and belongings securely locked up.
In the central bath you need to wear a swimming cap, but in the other heated pools this is not required. There’s a small heated pool next to the larger one but at the far and of the baths from the entrance you’ll find heated Turkish baths and saunas as well as treatment cubicles on both side of the building. It’s worth checking which day to go as it seems that on some days, the two identical Turkish baths are segregated into male and female, while on other days all areas are mixed. Last time my parents came to Budapest and tried the Gellért Baths, they were directed to different changing rooms and spent some time wandering around, trying to find each other again. We had a good couple of hours trying out all the pools – our favourite was the beautifully tiled Turkish bath and we braved a run up the cold stone steps to the outdoor pool, which was thankfully heated once we got in. Bring your own swimsuit, towel and cap, as these seemed relatively expensive to hire, and flip flops are also useful to keep your feet off the cold and sometimes grubby floor.
The Central Market
On our final morning, we took the No 2 tram again to the Central Market which I’d also visited on my previous trip. The large, glass roofed indoor market is great to walk around and admire all the fresh fruit and veg, as well as the many stalls specialising in meat products of sausages and goose live pate. There were also as a large number of stalls just devoted to selling all kinds of Paprika products, the favourite spice of Hungary.
Upstairs there are stall selling handicrafts and souvenirs and this is a good place to come to buy small gifts to take home, such as the painted eggs that I’ve been collecting to bring out at Easter or hang from my Christmas tree. Along one side there are also a number of food stalls selling snacks and beer. You might like to try the Lángos which is a typical Hungarian street food; a kind of flat doughnut that’s served with many different sweet and savoury toppings, but traditionally spread with cream cheese with a sprinkling of grated cheese.
After lunch at the Central Market it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags and take our taxi to the airport. We’d packed a lot in to our 48 hours in Budapest, revisited some old haunts and made new discoveries, had fun in the process, but still left plenty to uncover for next time.
More things to enjoy in Budapest
Avios is an easy way to collect points at the places you shop online everyday, when you buy fuel or spend on your credit card. Then you can exchange the points for a flight, hotel, holiday or fun day out with your family. There’s plenty of inspiration on the Avios website to start planning your next citybreak. You can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see some flying lawnmowers on the Avios YouTube channel
Through Avios we booked the luxurious 5 star Intercontinental Hotel Budapest which was perfectly positioned beside the Danube for sightseeing. The hotel has a lovely spa with a pool for those early morning swims as well as relaxing treatments. The hotel can be booked using your Avios Points and a room similar to ours at the time that we were there in February was around 15,000 Avios points or £150-180 per room/night including breakfast but may be higher in peak season. It’s worth looking out for packages that include breakfast and use of the exclusive Club Lounge. You can follow the Intercontinental Budapest on Twitter @ICBudapest and on their Intercontinental Budapest Facebook Page.
Thanks to Avios and Intercontinental Budapest for hosting our 48 hours in Budapest.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
When I travel it’s my pleasure to shop for small souvenirs that create memories of my travels. They have to be light and fun, because who wants to be burdened with too much stuff, spend a lot of money that could have bought another holiday, or pay for extra baggage? As I’m a hand-luggage only girl, my souvenirs have to squeeze in between the clothes and the laptop.
On our recent spring break in Budapest with Avios, we had our fair share of strolling the famous boulevards of Váci utca and Andrássy út, lined with designer names and top international brands. But my heart was in those folk-art gift shops, sifting through the striped woven table cloths and cut felt cushions, thinking about the work of some lady in the Hungarian steppes, who might be using skills that she learned from her grandmother.
Budapest is full of tempting and original souvenirs to buy, so here are some of the things to look out for when you visit;
Traditional Hungarian Folkart
As we were there just before Easter, I was drawn to these baskets of pretty painted eggs with colourful Hungarian motifs. The gift shop in the square of St Stephen’s Basilica had a great selection of these and other traditional Hungarian crafts. I bought a few in pinks and creams to hang up at Easter and one in red and gold to come out again at Christmas to hang on my tree. These painted eggs are perfect to hang from silver twigs or spring branches in a vase to decorate the house at Easter. I also saw some beautiful dyed and patterned real eggs in intricate patterns in the Central Market where the food stalls were downstairs and the handicrafts and souvenirs upstairs.
In the main shopping area we enjoyed looking round the Folkart Kézművészház shop that was full of textiles, red and white woven cloths and cut felt designs from the Hungarian steppes as well as hand embroidered blouses and table cloths.
Folkart Kézművészház, 1052 Budapest Régiposta utca 12
A modern twist on Hungarian crafts
The distinctive Hungarian embroidery designs cropped up again at Fian Koncept, a shop that we discovered along the road from Ruszwrum Cukrasda where we’d been having coffee after looking around the Fisherman’s Bastion. This store was packed with souvenirs and gifts that are modern interpretations of the traditional designs. Here I bought a gold leather purse with colourful Hungarian motifs by Gabriella Lukács and admired the embroidered zip bags that would make a great sponge bag or even a clutch. The owner offered us some dried apple from Fruitfull.hu which seems to be a local speciality and I also bought a red embossed notebook from Szia! for my travel notes. I loved the way that Hungarian motifs had been used on all sorts of desirable objects from Cinq Filles scented candles, to Hungarian gift cards from Moha Design; you can see some beautiful examples on the Fian Concept Facebook Page.
Fian Concept H-101 Budapest, Uri u. 26-28
Hand-painted Herend Porcelain
Herend is the world famous porcelain of Hungary and you can’t go too far in Budapest without seeing the classic, handpainted plates and ornaments. My parents used to collect Herend and gave me some years ago a beautiful plant holder that I kept on my mantelpiece, without realising the Budapest connection. If you are a serious collector, you need to watch out for fakes and be sure to buy from the Herend stores or from a registered stockist, and you should be given a little card of authenticity with your purchase. We passed the Herend Store on Andrássy út with this enormous painted lion which was far to big to bring home in the suitcase so instead my sister bought my mother a pretty little heart shaped dish to put on her dressing table.
Herend, 1061 Budapest, Andrássy út 16
Honey and candles
Walking under a covered arcade near the Intercontinental Hotel where we were staying, we spotted a small shop selling honey and beeswax products. There were all kinds of ornamental beeswax candles on sale as well as jars of local honey and some pretty decorative biscuits. They seemed to be keepsakes to give to that special person in your life, and as Valentine’s day had just been and gone, I wondered if they were just for Valentine’s day or sold all year round. The pretty heart biscuits were a more refined version of the decorated gingerbread that is sold in Christmas markets, more for display than eating.
Mehzi, Budapest 5th District, Erzsebet Square 1 (under the arcades)
Paprika, Sausages and Palinka
For edible souvenirs, we went to the Central Market where the downstairs is full of stalls selling more variations of paprika than you could possibly imagine. On other stalls, cured sausages hang in rows, flavoured with paprika and other spices, ready for you to add to a rich, hearty Hungarian stew. Another speciality is the goose live pate sold in small tins at all the meat stalls. If you want to drink the flavour of Hungary try a glass of Palinka in one of the restaurants you visit – it’s a strong spirit that’s flavoured with fruits such as cherry, strawberry and apricot. When I tried a sip at the Strudel House after dinner, it made my eyes water – I can see why it’s traditionally drunk in the morning to wake you up!
Great Market Hall, 1093 Budapest, Vámház körút 1-3
If you love to look and shop at beautiful handicrafts and textiles you’ll find plenty to buy in Budapest – enjoy looking and bring a little piece of Budapest home with you.
If you’ve been to Budapest, what were you tempted to buy as a souvenir?
More things to enjoy in Budapest
We booked our Budapest spring break through Avios, who offer ways to earn points at the places you shop everyday, that you can convert into a flight, hotel or holiday. There’s plenty of inspiration on the Avios website to start planning your next weekend escape and you can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see some flying lawnmowers on the Avios YouTube channel
Through Avios we booked the luxurious 5 star Intercontinental Hotel Budapest which was perfectly positioned beside the Danube for sightseeing. The hotel can be booked using your Avios Points or directly on the Intercontinental website if you are not an Avios member and it’s worth looking out for packages that include breakfast and use of the exclusive Club Lounge. You can follow the Intercontinental Budapest on Twitter @ICBudapest and on their Intercontinental Budapest Facebook Page.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
In Travel Podcast Episode 27, I talk to La Carmina; fashion blogger, TV host and expert in Japanese street style, about Tokyo. We find out where to shop if you’d like to dress in Gothic style or as an antique doll from the forest. Hear about the Tokyo theme restaurants that will give you a night out you’ll never forget and some of the more extreme body modifications like snake tongues and bagel heads, as well as hanging out in Cat Cafes and finding things that you can enjoy in Tokyo with the family. Even if you’ve never thought of Japan as a place to visit, you’ll be fascinated by all the cool and quirky things that La Carmina recommends in Tokyo.
An Introduction to La Carmina
La Carmina lives in Vancouver in Canada, although her family is originally from Hong Kong. As a child, she travelled widely in Asia with her family and started to fall in love with Japanese street style, the cute Hello Kitty culture, the punk and Gothic styles and Harajuku. Her experimentation with crazy fashion continued when she went to college in New York and she started blogging to share her photos and fashion style. Since then she has written books and worked on TV shows about Japanese street culture. You can follow her on her blog at La Carmina.
So what makes Tokyo unique and special?
There’s something for every type of traveller in Tokyo. Whether you love fashion and nightlife or whether you want to go for adventure or relax with the family, Tokyo has it all. The food is wonderful and the people are so nice. Of course it can be a bit of a culture shock – the movie Lost in Translation sums it up. It’s hustle and bustle, neon lights, and people don’t necessarily speak English so it can be a challenging place. But if you give Tokyo a try, it can be an eye opener and shock you out of your comfort zone.
Which areas should we explore in Tokyo?
Ideally you’ll want to stay a minimum of 5-7 days to explore some of the main Tokyo neighbourhoods as well as take some day trips. La Carmina recommends that people stay in Shinjuku, because it’s the hub for the famous subway system and the bullet train. Shinjuku is also an area where there are a lot of great restaurants and nightlife, and only one stop away on the subway is Harajuku, famous for the Harajuku girls who pose in their Gothic and Lolita fashions. Also nearby is Shibuya, where you’ll find shopping, the trendy Gal culture – it’s shopping central.
Getting around in Tokyo
The subway is the best way to get around unless you can afford the taxis, which are very expensive. If you’re not careful a 20 minute taxi ride could blow your entire budget for the week! On the other hand the subway works very well, the trains come very frequently and are always on time. However you need to remember that the subways stop running between 1am and 5 am so if you are going out late, make sure you have a ride back or you plan to stay out all night, otherwise you could get stuck.
Tips on Japanese etiquette
Everyone knows that the Japanese are very polite and always bowing, so when in Tokyo you should try not to be too loud. On the subway it’s considered rude to speak on your mobile phone – you can text message but otherwise you should only be whispering. The subway is not the place for you to be chattering loudly with your friends. Then there’s food etiquette, for instance you should not put your chopsticks into the bowl of rice so they stick up vertically, as this is a symbol of death and you don’t want to be thinking of death as you eat.
How do you describe your fashion style?
My look is influenced by so many Japanese street styles. There are so many different tribes and fashion sub-groups that have a particular fashion outlook. For example there are the J-Rocker or Visual Kei group, then there are the Goths, the Punks, and also groups that only exist in Japan like the Mori girls who look like antique dolls that live in the forest like Hansel and Gretel. It’s fascinating to walk through Harajuku and see the stores that carry these designs and see the teenagers all dressed up. I personally like to mix up all these styles, but I don’t associate with any particular one group or style as I find them all fascinating. I like to find my own personal style and I don’t like having rules for ways to dress. Sometimes these fashion sub groups are very strict about wearing things a certain way and that’s not for me.
Harajuku – the place to see and be seen
I love Harajuku, it’s a great place to go, even if you’re not into fashion. It’s a wonderful place to people watch, to just sit in a cafe and check out the scene. I’d recommend taking the train to Harajuku station and go down Takeshita-dori, which is a narrow street with a colourful arch over it. Down there you’ll find all these bizarre, quirky, wonderful stores, that sell toy accessories, colourful bracelets, crazy stockings. Walk through there and browse around. There’s also the famous Jingu Bashi bridge in Harajuku, where young people come in their flamboyant costumes and styles to pose for photos. It isn’t as popular a hangout as it used to be but you’ll still see people there, especially on Sundays. You can’t go wrong if you stop in Harajuku and walk around – you’ll see crazy fashions and you’ll find something funny to buy.
Shibuya for crazy clothes shopping
Shibuya is also a wonderful place to go, especially if you’re into Gyaru or Gal fashion. For this style, the girls might have bleached blonde hair and wear shorts and boots; it’s a trendy celebrity style and a lot of them have big doll-like eye-lashes. The main hub for these shops is a place called Shibuya 109 which is a craziest department store you’ll ever set foot in. Once you walk inside, there are tons of little shops, each blasting techno music, it’s a total assault on the senses. These cute Japanese shop girls are yelling at you to come into their store and try on the clothes. You wander around and see everything from hip hop to trendy to doll-like fashions. You’ll find Shibuya 109 by the big red sign when you step out of the Shibuya subway station.
Designer fashion or vintage in Tokyo
If you’re more into the high end fashions, then go to Omotesandō, which is also in Harajuku, just a few blocks away from the station. Ginza is also famous for being the ritzy part of Tokyo, you can find some beautiful fashions there from all over the world and I’ve seen some gorgeous kimonos on sale there. If you’re into bohemian, vintage and young hippy fashion, there’s a neighbourhood called Shimokitazawa, that not many first time visitors know about. It has a really laid back atmosphere, and feels a bit like college town with lots of cafes, tons of vintage stores and you can get some pretty good deals.
Cute inexpensive souvenirs
All my friends are happy when I bring back souvenirs from the 100 Yen stores, which are like dollar stores in the USA. However, where dollar stores can have a reputation for being full of junk, the 100 yen stores are full of colourful, unique gismos. You can get everything from cute stationary to bizarre cleaning products such as sponges shaped like teddy bears. When you buy something in these stores to give to a friend, they think, Wow! only in Japan. The most famous 100 Yen store is called Daiso and there’s a big one in Harajuku, where you’ll find an amazing selection of things you’ll love.
Japanese foods to try when out and about in Tokyo
A lot of travellers know about the typical Japanese food like Sushi and Ramen which you can find everywhere. For a unique experience try the vending machines, where if you want to buy a bowl of Ramen or hot noodles, you would punch in your order then get a ticket which you give to the cook to make your order. With Sushi you can go from the most high end $100 a meal to conveyor belt sushi, and although it’s inexpensive, you’re in Tokyo so you know the quality will be amazing.
Quick bites on a budget
If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat on a budget, try the convenience stores. In the West nobody would dare to eat there but in Japan you can find delicious foods in the 7-Eleven stores. For instance, they serve rice balls with intriguing fillings such as plum or fish eggs and although you only spend $1-2 on these they can be a delicious and filling meal. They don’t have any place to eat inside, but are full of little take-out boxes for rice balls and tofu platters. There are convenience stores on every block in major neighbourhoods, so stop by and grab something that will make a cheap and delicious meal.
Theme restaurants in Tokyo
The Theme restaurants in Tokyo are an immersive experience - it’s as if you are entering a theatre world and you are part of the play. Take the Monster Theme Restaurant which I went to quite a few times. As soon as you walk inside you are surrounded by jail cells, the waitress is wearing a skimpy nurse uniform and she handcuffs you, then she leads you to your table which is inside a jail cell and locks you up. Then when your waiter comes and you order a drink it might come in the form of a syringe or a bedpan and while you’re eating, the monsters would run around, the lights would go off and the monsters would pop into your jail cell and scare you. It’s completely over the top and you are a part of the experience.
To be honest the food is not the main draw, although it has got better as theme restaurants continue to pop up, creating more competition, so the restaurants started to put more emphasis on the quality of the food. The main thing that distinguishes the food is how quirky it is and how well it fits the theme. For example there’s something called Russian Roulette Takuyaki which are octopus balls. You would be served 6 octopus balls but one would be filled with Wasabi which is green horseradish paste, which if you bite into it your head would explode. Everyone would take one octopus ball but the victim would be the one running to the bathroom, sweating all over.
Sounds scary, but where can I eat with my family?
There are all sorts of theme restaurants and not all are frightening. Some have a fairytale theme, for instance, there are Princess cafes where the guys would treat you like a princess, they put a crown on your head and bend to your every whim. There are Cat cafes and Dog cafes that pet lovers would love. In a Cat cafe you will have a dozen little kitty cats running around and you can play with them; you can hang out and drink your coffee and eat your cake with cats all around you. In Japan there’s very little space in apartments for people to have pets, or they work too long hours, so a Cat cafe is a great way for them to have a pet for a few hours. On the other hand the dog cafe is where you bring your dog, and you can eat at the same table as your dog and dress them up, and even eat the same food as they prepare food that is edible for canines and humans.
Which Theme restaurant do you suggest for teenagers?
Teenagers might love the Ninja restaurant – you walk through secret passageways as if you were in a hidden Japanese cave, and the Ninjas are doing acrobatics and magic tricks at your table. They might serve you a desert shaped like a frog, or an appetiser where the fire travels down a string until it hits the appetiser which bursts into flames. Theme restaurants are also very popular with groups of friends and co-workers in Japan, as it gives them a chance to hang out and also something to talk about.
For a group night out my favourite restaurant is Kagaya, and it’s impossible to describe if you don’t want to ruin the surprise, let’s just say that when you walk in it seems like a homey little restaurant/bar and the owner seems perfectly normal until he pops into a closet and comes hopping out, dressed in a frog costume, it’s a bit of a surreal performance art. It’s completely unpredictable, there are gags everywhere. He’ll serve you beer and then the beer starts shaking so you can’t drink your beer – that’s just one of the 50 surprises that will happen all evening.
How about bars and nightlife in Tokyo?
A lot of tourists go to Roppongi and although I can’t especially recommend it, it’s the Disneyland version of Tokyo. If you want to hang out with other foreigners then Roppongi is the place where people let loose, but the locals don’t really go there. It reminds me of a Las Vegas environment.
Another fun area is called Golden Gai in Shinjuku, it’s a series of little streets packed with tiny bars, where you might only fit three people inside and each one may have something unique about it. One has a punk theme, another a Gothic theme and some offer Karaoke, so that could be an interesting place to bar-hop. If you want to try drinking something that’s uniquely Japanese, try the Sake or the Soju which are the rice wines. I personally love cocktails that use a Yusu flavour, it’s a Japanese citrus which is a cross between an orange and a lemon, it has a distinctive taste and it’s very hard to get outside Japan, so be sure to check if they have any drinks that have a Yusu flavour on the drinks menu.
Where should I go clubbing in Tokyo?
For clubbing it depends what kind of music you like, and the sub group you associate with – there’s an amazing music scene in Tokyo. They bring in DJs from around the world so whether you’re into techno or into hip hop there will be a fascinating scene for you. I personally love the Gothic and alternative parties which are centred in Shinjuku, and my two favourites are called Midnight Mess and Tokyo Decadance. At the parties they play everything from classic Gothic to Industrial to Synth pop and everyone dresses up in these flamboyant, elegant Gothic costumes, they are some of the best parties I’ve been to ever, On the extreme side there are fetish and experimental nightlife events as well, especially one called Department H, inside you’ll see people in head to toe handmade costumes and body-moders who do extreme modifications like snake tongues and temporary piercings all over their body or even bagel heads.
Sorry, did you say Snake tongues and Bagel heads?
Yes, a snake tongue is when you split your tongue in half, so that it now has two points instead of one, and the two points can flip back and forth or dart in and out like a snake. There are other temporary forms of body modification, for instance I’ve seen some people who get their mouth sewn shut; it’s a half fetish, half body modification thing.There are also suspensions, where people have metal hooks inserted into their backs, and then they are suspended above the ground and they can swing back and forth. Extreme as they are, these effects are temporary. In a society like Japan people can’t go around in the streets with permanent body modifications and there’s a great stigma against tattoos in particular, as they are associated with the criminal culture, that’s why temporary modifications can be pretty popular at these events.
The bagel heads are created where you place a needle under the skin of your forehead and drip saline solution into the skin, so that your forehead bulges out into a bubble shape, then you press your thumb into the centre of the bubble so that it creates a doughnut or bagel like shape, which lasts for around one day. (Although La Carmina hasn’t had a bagel head done herself, her company worked on four TV shows about bagel heads) If you get a bagel head done in Japan, although it looks extreme, they use sterile solution and are very experienced and qualified.
So where do I get my party outfit?
I think people in Tokyo are very creative with their outfits. I have friends who go into 100 Yen stores and create costumes out of surprising materials there; they might use a plant or a broom, or fake flowers to create an incredible costume. There are plenty of costume stores especially in the district called Akihabara, where all the geeks go, as it’s a centre of electronics, video games and comic books. However, even though you see these crazy costumes in photos, not everyone dresses up, for instance some people if they go to a Gothic party would just wear all black.
Any other places I could take the family for a unique Tokyo experience?
One area that is fun for all ages, but especially families and kids is Odaiba, it’s the Tokyo port on the east side, right by the ocean and not that many first time visitors know about it. It’s a great little half day trip where you take the subway there, and there are a number of different attractions. There are a few museums and as is typical in Japan, there’s a theme everything. For instance there is a cat petting zoo, similar to a cat cafe except that you only go there to play and pet cats. There’s a gigantic video game centre with every video game you could think of, there are giant robot panda bears that you can put a coin in and ride on the back of the Panda bear, there’s a Rainbow bridge and a Little Hong Kong, It’s an indoor recreation of Hong Kong, you walk inside and you see neon signs and Chinese restaurants and even sound effects like the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong – everything but the smells!
Where to find La Carmina
My thanks to La Carmina for sharing her tips on all the cool and quirky things to see and do in Tokyo. You can find more about every aspect of Tokyo culture on La Carmina’s blog and on Twitter @LaCarmina on the La Carmina Facebook Page and watch some cool travel and fashion videos on the La Carmina Youtube Channel
La Carmina’s Books
For more information about the Tokyo Theme Restaurants, you can read La Carmina’s book on Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo and Cute Yummy Time with 70 recipes for the cutest food you’ll ever eat.
Photo: All photos are copyright of La Carmina
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey