I’ve always wanted to go to the Venice Carnival. It’s been on my bucket list for years, but I never quite seemed to get around to it, in spite of the fact that everyone says that Venice is even better in the winter.
So when I spotted very cheap Ryanair flights to La Serenissima for February, it seemed to be too good an opportunity to miss.
After hunting down a reasonably priced, centrally-located hotel I set off for the weekend of a lifetime. And that’s not me exaggerating. I had an incredible time, absorbing the atmosphere, chatting to local people and shopping. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been before.
Not only was there everything that a history geek like me could want (Basilica San Marco and the Doges’ Palace etc), but the scenery is absolutely stunning, the food is delicious and everyone is very welcoming.
I have to confess that my main reservations about visiting Venice focused on the presumption that everything would be expensive, it would be filled with tourists and as a result the locals would be really stand-offish, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Yes, the city is expensive, but if you’re willing to stray from the beaten track and and eat like a local there are some real bargains to be had, including the freshest melt-in-the-mouth calamari I have ever tasted. You can also easily walk around the islands if you have good shoes and stamina.
The vaporetto and gondola rides can be pricey, but it all is part of the experience. It’s around 7Euros for a one way vaporetto ticket, which is a bargain if you want to ride all the way out to Burano (around 40 minutes from the main islands), but pricey for a trip down the Grand Canal. I suppose what I’m saying is that you can make your trip as expensive as you want.
I did find that the locals were friendly too. I don’t know if it’s because there are less tourists in the winter or if Venetians are always so lovely, but I found that they couldn’t be more helpful. Shopkeepers everywhere gave me information about Murano glass production methods, asked me where I was from and generally wanted to know more without being pushy. Even the famous Caffe Florian on St Marks Square, where I imagined people to be snooty, were really friendly, making small talk with tourists (incidentally, having taken hot chocolate in both Florian and Quaddri, I have to commend Quaddri’s as being better and less pricey).
So, to the Carnevale itself, starting with a little history. Its origins date back centuries and it is always held in the run up to Lent, with a grand masquerade ball as part of the festivities. It allowed the locals to get debauchery and decadence out of their systems before the months of denial begin. It’s not about that so much anymore, but it’s part of the heritage of city and something they are immensely proud of.
The atmosphere while I was there was electric. The first day of my break was supposed to be the official opening, but the weather was so awful that everything was postponed for a day, however everything seemed even better for it. Everyone seemed to be even more focused on getting out, enjoying the sunshine and making sure it was an event to remember. The costumes were intricate, ornate and breathtaking, with beads, jewels, fur and feathers everywhere. Tourists were encouraged to take photos with be-masked locals and in spite of the fact that there were thousands of people crammed into a small space, there was a good mood all round.
I could literally go on and on about the break, and in fact I do seem to have, but you may find it tedious. Needless to say, I didn’t get to see everything and can’t wait to go back soon, especially for next year’s Carnival.