Venice Carnival, a travel through time
January 1, 1970
Venice and I
I went to Venice for the first time in 2009. It was in May. The weather was beautiful and the city looked too much like a postcard for my taste. It was also full of tourists.
I decided to go back this year to see the famous Carnival and I really enjoyed it. It was foggy, rainy, sunny, and full of people but genuinely happy people. Still the places I preferred were the ones not explored by travellers but I really liked seeing all the costumes. I am well aware the Carnival is now a huge fashionable event and I refuse to pay 800€ to go the main ball but strolling around the city was well enough for me.
There are plenty of airports nearby and you can reach the city by bus or train for a small cost. Coming with a car is not recommended as the city is only accessible on foot. You will find boats to go around but there are really expensive: 7,50€ per ride or 20€ for the day, but then you can go to the nearby islands, so it is worth it. Be prepared to walk a lot. Getting lost is part of the fun and usually the best way to discover the city. My phone’s GPS was really useful to find my hotel when I arrived. You will get lost. Do not resist.
Budget & Accommodation
The food is usually cheaper in Italy than in other European countries. If you go to the restaurant, you often have to pay for the cutlery. You find supermarkets and bakeries easily.
You can find a lot of small Bed & Breakfast in Venice for less than 50€. I stayed in one for 40€/night. If you want something more comfy, be prepared to pay an awful lot more!
The City and the Carnival
A bit of history never hurts 🙂 I always search the information about the places I go to in detail because I like to know where I am going but also it allows me have a better understanding of the culture I am immersed in. Also I think it is important to be able to understand the importance of Carnival of Venice to fully experience it.
The City of bridges
Venice was built in the 5th Century BC by people fleeing before the Barbarians (Goths then Huns) and finding refuge in the lagoon. During almost 14 centuries, Venetians lived on their own, protected for invasions and isolated from the political life of the mainland. Totally sea-oriented, they seeked oriental markets such as Constantinople. As the years passed, they built a city literally from nothing but swamps and water. The architecture found now is a reminder of those times of continual enrichment and particular status in Italy.
The Carnivale di Venezia
First held in the 12th Century but fallen into desuetude from the end of the 18th to 1979, the carnival started as a celebration for the victory against Ulrich II of Aquilea. Little is known about the origin of wearing masks.
In 1979, the Italian government decided to revive the carnival and use it to showcase the region’s patrimony and culture.
Nowadays, Venice is flooded by tourists during the month duration of the manifestation. I arrived there for the official beginning when the parade of the Maries takes place, but there are other events held in the two preceding weeks.
Tips to enjoy the Carnival during the opening week-end
Forget about avoiding the crowd, you will not, especially on Sunday morning, when everybody is going to Piazza San Marco to watch the Flight of the Angel. If you are claustrophobic you will not be able to reach and stay on the Piazza because it is really full! The small streets were completely blocked. So, leave early to get there!
During the first official week-end, you see the Maries on Saturday and the Flight of the Angel the Sunday. If the dates are fluctuating from one year to the other, the ceremonies do not. While waiting for those two major events to happen, you can see costumed people compete for the best outfit, people creating leather masks, buskers… Don’t stay on Piazza San Marco, take a walk on the canal side as lot of costumed people come and go between the two places. It is also there that you will find the opportunity to photography costumed people with gondolas in the background.
The Maries Parade
The “Feste delle Marie”(“1 Maria”, “2 Marie” in Italian) is evocating a time when the Doge chose 12 beautiful yet humble girls from the 12 Venetian neighbourhoods and offered them their bridal dowry. The parade starts at San Pietro di Castello around 2 pm and arrives around 4pm at Piazza San Marco. The Maries are accompanied by people in historical costumes and arrive on Piazza Marco sitting each on a separate log carried by two hunchbacks.
The Flight of the Angel
In the 16th Century, a Turkish tightrope walker was crossing San Marco Piazza. During the following centuries, other acrobats did the same until someone fell down. They then replace people with a dove. It is only in 2001 that a real person was again allowed to cross the Piazza in the air. Every year, one of the Maries is chosen to be the Angel. At 10am in the morning of the Sunday, she is literally flying over the crowd, throwing confetti on people. Now the Carnival has really started.
Be there early if you want to be able to see the whole scene. And by early, I mean at least 2 hours before it starts.
City sights (non-exhaustive)
“Venice and its Lagoon” is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage since 1987. It is an endangered site because of the sea erosion, the huge cruise ships passing by and the weight of the tourists. There are talks about introducing a quota to visit it and forbid the ships to cruise to close to the shore.
Wandering around the city is a must-do. I call it “getting lost”!
Churches, churches, churches. Every single one is worth a visit. Check for the exhibitions sometimes held inside.
The Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, although the latest was in restauration when I was there.
Piazza San Marco of course, with the Dodge’s Palace, Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Campanile.
The Bridge of Sight. You pass through it when in the Dodge’s Palace.
That’s for the main points of interest in Venice. Murano is also worth a visit. It is a tiny island known for its glass work. Burano, 45 minutes ferry ride, is known for its beautiful colourful houses.
Good to know
It is very simple. If it does not mentioned it is made in Italy or better, Venice, it is from China. The simple masks you can buy for 10€ or less are from China. You can find true Venetian masks from 50€ to up to thousands of Euros. Usually, the local shops have a sign on their door or window stating they sell local hand-made masks.
In the main Italian tourist regions, you can use stamps from Global Post Service (GPS). It is a very slow service but you can track your postcards using a code and even register a short video on their website. This video will be accessible to the recipient through the code. Beware this stamps can only be used in GPS mailboxes but you receive a map of the visited city with all the shops when buying them.