“Masquerade! Paper faces on parade.”
Intrigued by some of my favorite films, the Labyrinth and Phantom of the Opera, and by one of my favorite stories, Count of Monte Cristo, I couldn’t wait to experience the infamous Carnevale in the birth place of it all: Venice.
Dark and twisting streets, mask covered faces, music, laughter, dancing– are just some of the things you will find at Venice during the enchanting Carnevale.
Carnevale is the equivalent of Italy’s Halloween. It is celebrated all over the country throughout the month of February. For example, Viareggio is another popular place. It is about an hour or so by car from Florence. When I went, I saw people dressed in costumes that filled the streets. Children received candy. There were floats and parades. It was certainly an event.
Venice, however, was quite different than my experience at Viareggio. It was more what I imagined a carnival would be like. There were people dressed in extravagant, beautifully decorated, old-fashioned gowns. Some donned wigs too. And of course, nearly everyone wore masks.
Since I didn’t have an extravagant, old-fashioned gown, my group of friends and I bought black “vampire/phantom of the opera” type capes before we arrived in Venice. (Hey, at least it was something!)
Venice Carnival February 2016
Once we arrived and checked into the hotel, we hit the streets! And let me tell you, the streets were buzzing with people. Music filled the air while people danced their hearts out.
There were mask stores on every corner and I swear we stopped in each one. I bought 3 masks that day. (Like I said, I’m a little obsessed with these types of things).
We strolled along, wandering the winding alleyways and canals, occasionally pausing to get a drink or randomly dance with a group of people. We crossed the magnificent Rialto bridge, the main bridge connecting two parts of Venice. Although it was under construction, the bridge was still beautifully lit-up.
Eventually we arrived in Piazza San Marco. The famous, grand, open piazza that is seen in so many movies with pigeons flying every which way. Not only is it striking, but it is also a relief because you need an open space after wandering through the labyrinth that is Venice.
Venice had transformed the piazza into a theater. You could see a main stage and several different “display stations” where different “performers” would sit to explain a garment or something or other.
Night had fallen by the time we arrived in the piazza, so there weren’t any shows taking place at the moment. However, that didn’t take away the effect of the remarkable, lively square. There were still many people partying.
Afterwards, we headed back towards our hotel, stopping at a restaurant to eat a quick dinner.
Once back, we took some fast showers and changed into something a bit more elegant for the night. We put on our black capes and masks; we were ready to go out!
There was one party taking place in the square near the Rialto bridge, but when we arrived it wasn’t all that “happening”, so we decided to head to the next spot, which turned out to be pretty difficult to get to.
We learned the hard way that we should have taken a water taxi to get there. To this day I’m still not exactly sure where it was since it was such a maze! However, after some research, it seems to me that it could have been a party in the Arsenale, or old shipping docks.
We wandered the streets, getting lost in the maze. We even ran into another group who was searching for this hidden party as well.
Eventually we found it by literally walking above the sea on a metal platform walkway that wrapped around the outside of this historic brick wall.
It was at that point we discovered that the party was inside what seemed to me at the time an old fort, which is why the easiest way to reach it is by water taxi. There are no real roads that lead to it. (Thanks Google Maps, you made it look so much closer and easier than it really was.)
Unfortunately, by the time we finally arrived, the party was over. We still managed to have a good time enjoying what was left, though. For what it’s worth, it looked like one heck of a party! Hopefully I’ll make it this year (2017). On the bright side, if we hadn’t gotten lost, we never would have had the interesting experience of walking on the strange metal platform above the sea, wrapping around the fort-like wall.
Rise and shine! No, in Venice, Rise and rain…
Tip: BRING RAIN BOOTS!
Not only do you need an umbrella, but the streets become so flooded that it is necessary to buy rain boots.
Fortunately, there was a general store in front of our hotel that sold some. If you can’t find one, and you are stuck in that situation, there are street vendors that sell plastic boot covers. (See picture)
So, after a great morning start with the lovely rain, we began the walk towards Piazza San Marco again. When we finally reached it, a sea of umbrellas covered the piazza. Rain did not stop the party, though. I saw women with great big dresses carrying huge plastic tarps atop some type of stick thing to protect their dresses since a normal umbrella wasn’t big enough. I have to hand it to them for still coming out in this weather!
Rain or shine, Venetians know how to have a good time.
And, in spite of the rain, we had an amazing second day strolling the streets, dodging the puddles, checking out the costumes, and of course, having a glass (or two) of vino.
As we drove back later that day, I felt, simply, happy. It had been an unforgettable experience, one that I cannot wait to repeat this February!
Tips on Travel
I suggest AirBnb or a hotel on the actual island.
You could stay outside and take the train or drive in. For example in Mestre. Driving in you have to pay the parking fee. There are two garages, Garage San Marco which on the actual island, or the Tronchetto Parking Garage which is on a very small island in which you have to take a short, but interesting, water taxi. The train could be a good option if you want to park outside of Venice, but if you plan on staying out later, don’t forget to check the train times.
There are other parties besides the two I mentioned, but they might cost an arm and a leg. For example there is The King’s Ball, but that was upwards of a hundred or couple hundred euros. Venice will put up a website as it gets closer to February announcing all of the details. Simply type in, “Venice Carnival 2016/2017/etc”
There is the “Arsenale Carnival” party which is in the Arsenale shipping docks. (I believe this is where we ended up last year) The ticket is maybe around 15 euros.
Venice is a maze! Walking or water taxis are the way to go! You can’t drive in Venice, so look into taking a water taxi to different places if you don’t have the time to walk.
How To Get to Venice
Venice is well-connected by train to other Italian cities. Check out trenitalia.com or italo.com. You can of course drive as well, but get ready to pay for a parking garage if you park on the island.