Monday, February 20, 2012

The 2012 Carnevale di Venezia

It’s Monday morning, the rain is pouring down in Lodi, every muscle in my body aches and I feel as though I could go back to sleep for another eight hours. I guess you could say that I’m suffering from a Carnevale hangover. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, yesterday my friend Charlotte and I made our way to the historic Italian city of Venice for their world-famous Carnevale. On the day that was rumoured to be the biggest day of celebrations this year we had an amazing experience that neither of us is likely to ever forget.

The morning began before the sun rose as Charlotte and I elected to take one of the earliest trains leaving from Lodi. This was partially by choice and also because the majority of seats on trains headed to Venice had been sold out days before the actual event itself. As we watched the train cars fill up with various excited tourists and Italians carrying bags of costumes, we sleepily discussed our expectations for the day. Like me, Charlotte had been warned by friends to avoid Venice during Carnevale. We had been told that people would be crowded into every inch of the city and that if claustrophobia didn’t ruin our day, the ridiculous prices certainly would. Thankfully, when the train pulled into Santa Lucia station less than three hours later we quickly discovered how wrong Venice’s critics were.

From the moment we stepped off the train, our senses were instantly bombarded from all directions. There were crowds of costumed people chattering happily amongst one another, groups of casually dressed foreigners laughed and took photographs as they put on their souvenir masks for the very first time and brightly coloured trinkets were available for purchase all around us. We hadn’t even left the station and already Charlotte and I were fans of Venice.

Once we made it outside, we were both eager to see and do everything. Although there were hoards of people bustling around in different directions, the majority of them were relaxed and polite. The atmosphere was one of friendly revelry that had not been soured by excessive drinking. Stands selling masks lined the streets and any kind of mask that I could envision was available for purchase. There were simple monochrome masks, extravagant masks with painted lips and matching feathers and even animal masks covered in glitter. Charlotte and I exchanged various gasps of awe with each successive stand that we visited and what was even more astonishing than the beauty of these creations was their price. They started as low as five Euros and even the most intricate of masks could be purchased for thirty Euros. Each was marked on the inside of its forehead with an ink stamp that proudly stated “Original, hand painted, made in Italy, Venezia.” Of course, for those who had a little more money to spend, there were also specialty stores all over the city. These treasure troves were filled with the most luxurious masks and costumes imaginable. Some were covered in diamonds and lace. Others were made of velvet and trimmed with fur. There was even one store that had a whole variety of masks made exclusively from leather.

Another affordable souvenir that Venice is famous for is its hand-blown glass. After purchasing several masks for friends and family, I couldn’t resist also buying a few glass figurines and some jewellery, all for only three Euros! As the hours passed by Charlotte and I noted that it would be easy to come to Venice, spend the whole day shopping and not even see any of the beautiful sights that have gained the city notoriety. After exiting what seemed like the hundredth store, we made a pact to head in the direction of Piazza di San Marco before spending any more money.

One we had set a course that was free from retail distractions, we started to near the center of the city. The closer we got to Piazza di San Marco, the more breathtaking the scenery became. Although the facades of the buildings in Venice were weathered and crumbling, they had a unique charm that made them picturesque. The doorways in the alleys were adorned with various carvings that harboured a haunting presence in the winter mist and the hazy silhouettes of distant buildings created mystery. The air was cool and moist and yet our enthusiasm kept us warm as we meandered along the streets, crossing over narrow canals on bridges made of ancient stone and wood. Gondolas and row boats passed beneath us as we walked across them, some vessels were decorated and their crews all dressed in costume to celebrate the occasion. From time to time the scent of fish tickled our nostrils and yet the smell was not as intrusive as I was prepared for it to be. To be honest it only added to the atmosphere, which was distinctly Venetian.

Amongst the architecture were the people who injected colour and life to the otherwise grey afternoon. Many present were wearing outfits that ranged from traditional to a more modern Halloween style of dress. There were street buskers, who obviously spent a great deal of time and money on their outfits and posed for various photos. There were also enthusiastic amateurs, who donned elaborate costumes for the celebration and happily soaked up the attention from adoring tourists. My favourite costumes were the ones that contained the element of humour. I enjoyed in particular one group that was dressed as Cruella Deville and her dalmatians and the most amazing costume of that day was without a doubt two men who were disguised as large, fantastic red birds.

Just before we arrived at Piazza di San Marco, Charlotte and I decided to find a place to eat the sandwiches that we had made ourselves for lunch. In the absence of a picnic table, we elected to perch on the stairs of a doorway and were startled when the door suddenly opened. An aloof woman breezed by us with only a scowl of acknowledgment, she was obviously more than used to unwelcome midday squatters outside her home. We giggled mischievously before cramming the last few bites of bread into our mouths and moving on.

As we approached the piazza, the alleys became narrower and the masses of people crushed together trying to squeeze through them. This was the only point during the day when I felt claustrophobic and the feeling subsided once we entered Piazza di San Marco itself. The only word to describe this landmark is incredible; the Basilica di San Marco was spectacular and the Carnevale crowd filled the piazza, creating an atmosphere of revelry and excitement. As many clambered to catch a glimpse of the final of a costume competition that was taking place on a stage in the square, Charlotte and I decided to weave our way through the sea of people and spot as many different costumes as possible. Songs like “Paris Latino” by Bandolero rang out over the loudspeakers and those in attendance were in a festive mood. Swaying to the music, they sang along with the lyrics and cheekily threw confetti at one another.

After spending some time mingling amongst the other Carnevale visitors and deciding to forgo a visit to the inside of the basilica due to an epic line outside, we made our way to the lagoon nearby. Although we were curious to explore the city further, we wanted to be certain that we could make it back through the maze of Venetian streets before our train departed. It was a good thing that we left ourselves some time since our feet were aching after a day spent wandering around and it seemed to take us forever to reach Santa Lucia.

Once Charlotte and I were within view of the station, we sat down at a local bar and discussed our adventure over a hot chocolate. It was a fantastic and unforgettable day that was filled with fun. In fact, I can honestly say that I have nothing negative to say about the Venice Carnevale whatsoever. My only regret is that I chose to see the event in just one day and not over the course of a week. I would have also loved to dress up in one of those beautiful costumes that I admired so much as a tourist and attend one of the dinners or galas that were advertised on the internet. In a way however, I suppose it’s a good thing that I didn’t do it all in one visit. After all, if I had left no stone unturned yesterday what new experiences would I have to look forward to next time?!


  1. Gorgeous pics! You should write for a tourist magazine!

  2. Thank you so much! I would love to write for a tourist/travel magazine...especially if they were willing to fund my trips. ;-)