We both love Italy and come back here at every opportunity, but it was our first visit to the Venice Carnival. The experience was unique and fascinating simultaneously—you did not only put on a Venetian mask, you tried another life for a while. The carnival costume is like your new persona. You don’t recognize yourself!
Sometimes I have ingenious ideas. Once, when we intended to spend a couple of spring days in Rome, I thought: Why not in Venice and why not in masquerade costumes? A small amount of adventurous spirit inherited from someone from my family forced me to Google “Venice Carnival 2014.” Well, the carnival would take place in the second part of February, and this is the best time for us for the next five years. It’s time to fly!
With great expression, as if I had attended masked balls and mask parties all my life, I described to Victor how delightful this risky venture would be. “Would you like to get your carnival costume right in Rome, a really authentic Italian historical costume?” I was ready for a long siege, but Victor agreed surprisingly easily. Yahoo! We are going to Venice for Carnival!
A male Venetian carnival costume was chosen on the Italian site www.catiamancini.it. We contacted the owner, informed her where and when we would stay in Rome, and returning from a walk we found a package in our room. Fitting was organized without delay. If it is possible to fall more in love than before, it happened to me, because not every man will agree to go to a carnival, much less walk around Venice without trousers.
As it turned out later, the costume was chosen perfectly, and Victor was the only representative of Renaissance Florentine nobility at the 2014 Venetian Carnival. There were many aristocrats of the 18th-19th century, but only one Florentine.
Why did we buy only one costume? You see, even in web-stores, the price of women’s Venetian Carnival costumes is comparable to the cost of the whole trip to Venice. One thousand Euros for a beautiful dress—and that’s a minimum. That’s why we decided to make the second costume at home. As for me, I don’t even know how to hold a needle, but my mom has really magical hands.
I can’t say that she was very happy about our idea, because when you are a little bit over 60 your eyes and hands are not the same as they used to be many years ago. Moreover, “this Carnival of Venice of yours is such folly.” However, we have seen many elderly couple which were very happy.
The seven months before the Venice Carnival passed rapidly. It seemed, we had time only to buy a couple of wigs and inconceivably large-sized jewelry, fake of course with the exception of one ring.
So, generally speaking, I suggest that you not stay on the sidelines. Just once, hide behind a Venetian mask and have fun. Maybe our experience of visiting the Venice Carnival will be useful to you.
There is no problem in getting from Marco Polo Airport to the center of Venice: there are at least three ways, one for every budget. We booked a water taxi, because the transfer offered by our hotel cost three times as much. It is also comfortable and much cheaper to get to the center by water buses, but during Carnival they are crammed so full that they start to resemble the sinking Titanic. So, we preferred the 85 Euro comfort of a water taxi instead of an inexpensive alternative. Our cutter flew across the Venetian Lagoon, and 20 minutes later we moored at the private dock of the Colombina Hotel.
We have no complaints about the Colombina Hotel. It is clean, gracefully cozy, and located a few steps from St. Mark’s Square, while the famous Bridge of Sighs is just a hundred meters to the left. If you are going to walk through the town in a long medieval dress, such nearness to the center may be important. You will realize it crossing the first bridge, still clumsily stepping on the hem of your dress.
If you have to be somewhere on time and you live within five minutes’ walk of this place, remember that in reality your route can take slightly more time if you are in a carnival costume. “May I take a picture?” stops you at every step. To refuse is rude. Take your most picturesque pose, and the number of “photo hunters” will increase immediately.
On a certain Sunday in February, as expected, an angel appears in the Venetian sky. Noon. Bells are jingling. Ropes are taut between lofty St. Mark’s Campanile and the Gran Teatro stage. “The angel” appears out of the blue to bless the doge who proclaims the Venetian Carnival open. In 2014, Julia Nasi acted as an angel.
I doubt if I would like to be in her shoes. Of course, everything is foreseen for safety, but it is terrifying and cold there on the top. It is rumored that after getting on the top of St. Mark’s Campanile not all beauties are ready for immediate flight, and sometimes it takes up to ten minutes before “an angel” is brave enough to leave the tower. Until 2001, this role was given to a manikin, but in recent years this is the mission of the very first beauties of Venice. By the way, the bell tower is open for visitors, so you have an opportunity to check whether you’d like to make such a flight.
The doge is blessed, the Venetian Carnival is open. For the next ten days, Piazza San Marco will be littered with confetti, waiters in white tuxedos will serve guests glasses of prosecco, and the most popular dessert in town will be frittelle with cream zabaglione. Picturesque carabinieri will protect your rest. Athletic gondoliers will glide through the winding channels with such grace as if there is no easier thing in the whole world than to steer a gondola. Ladies’ open necklines and bare shoulders in February, wigs, and laces: where else can you see this?
One day we escaped from the tourist bustle to the Dorsoduro and heard behind us, “Look, masks. Take a photo! They are now very rarely seen.” Unfortunately I have to admit the truth of these words because now even the area around Piazza San Marco can’t boast of a variety of carnival costumes.
Preparation for a trip to the carnival, acquisition of Venetian carnival masks and carnival costumes is a question of considerable money. However, a simple costume is easy to make up on the spot: cloaks, cocked hats, and fans are sold everywhere in Venice. The simplest mask costs eight Euros, for 30 Euros you can buy a very unusual one, but a luxurious historical costume will cost 2,000 Euros, or may be rented for 150-200 Euros per day. But, you know, you will bring home unbelievable impressions and photos after this trip, and the best reward is to hear from an elderly Italian lady on an old Venetian patio that you look so beautiful and natural in your attire.
We frankly enjoyed our unusual appearance, played the fool, and arranged photo shoots, but you can go further. After all, most carnival events—masquerade balls, concerts of ancient music, dinner by candlelight in the palazzo, learning the minuet, even hot chocolate in the famous Caffe Florian—have a dress code, so your costume is your admission.
We visited two such events, though now we realize we could have done without them. Well, at least, it is the experience. The cost of tickets is very high, though you must keep in mind that with this money you help to rescue the sinking Venice. Dinner at the Grand Theatre on Piazza San Marco was very modest; nothing interesting can be seen from the lodge. Hot chocolate in Palazzo Tiepolo Passi is just wasted money (100 Euro for two). It’s better to visit Palazzo Ca’ Rezzonico and for much lower price to see how aristocrats lived in Venice in the eighteenth century.
I suggest you have breakfast a bit earlier to be on the streets at eight o’clock in the morning. It is the best time to catch masks hurrying to the Piazza San Marco, and take their pictures with minimal competition. A lot of people visit Venice every year. For them to miss the carnival is a real trauma. They love Venice and themselves in this luxuriant decor. For them carnival is something like an incurable addiction. Masks start their day at seven o’clock. They do not talk, do not allow anyone to touch them, but freeze at the first hint of a raised lens.
At the same time, if you want peace and quiet, it’s very easy to find them even in the Venice Carnival. As for us, we went to the Dorsoduro district to admire the paintings of Veronese, Bellini, and Tiziano Vecellio, but in this case, your carnival outfits must stay behind and wait for you in the wardrobe.
The day before the end of the Venice Carnival was marked by “acqua alta” (tide). At 10 a.m., a very melodic siren sounded in the city. Nothing like the roar that sounds in case of danger. Passing by, an Italian lady said us, “Wait for the acqua alta.” Just in case, we went back to the hotel, got some explanations at the reception desk, as well as two pairs of special boots. What is interesting: nobody wants to turn Venice in a new Atlantida, but tourists, like children, enjoy the acqua alta! We frolicked with delight in our special boots, and then in the most excellent mood went to dinner and basked with a divine Italian wine in a trattoria.
The carnival flew by as if it were only one day long. We returned from a fairy tale, from a theater where we were on stage and everyone was on stage. Admire once again the most important of its heroes—the Carnival outfits. They mysteriously electrify the local air making it come alive. Do not even expect that the day after the closing of the Venetian Carnival you will find even one!