During a week in February of 2008 when we were living in Italy, we began talking with some friends from Florence about the possibility of taking a quick trip to Venice for the last weekend of the Carnevale di Venezia...it turned out not to be such an easy task in pulling this together in a matter of days - but it did end up happening. I can't believe that we actually found an apartment for rent, for only 1 night (most were 3 night minimums), for under 400€ (ours was only 170€ split 5 ways), in the city center (right next to the Rialto bridge), and only 2 days in advance!!! Unbelievable really! So after we found this, we rushed to buy train tickets, and on a Saturday morning we were headed out of town with 3 other friends for a weekend we knew would be insanely chaotic, but one of those "crazy experiences that you may only get to do once".
It's really hard to put into words what it's like to be in one of the most unique cities in the world, in the middle of one of the most famous parties ever...it was hard to take it in. Magical, mystical, and so so interesting. This year's theme was Sensation, and it certainly lived up to its name - complete with sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and it was so crowded that touching was also involved 24-7 even if you didn't want it!
After only 3 hours of leaving Florence, we crossed the huge bridge from the mainland to this city of water, and arrived at the train station. We took a ferry to the apartment, then grabbed our masks (very simple ones compared to the full-face intricate designs that many people had), and joined the massive unit of people moving together amongst the small alleyways. It was definitely a "do-whatever-you-want" and "wear-whatever-you-want" kind of time. People had on historic Carnival costumes that probably cost thousands of euros, complete with features, capes, and handmade gold-leaf masks, to Halloween costumes of devils, bumble bees, or rats. We even saw a lady flopping all through town with a bathing suit, plastic pool tube, scuba gear, and flippers! The weather wasn't ideal since it was overcast and drizzling, but it wasn't too bad considering it didn't flood and wasn't pouring. All of our shoes got completely messed up with gunked-on muddy piles of pulp from all the confetti mixing in the wet streets.
We mainly just wandered around from the Rialto to San Marco, taking our time while window shopping, taking photos, and gawking at all of the decorated gondolas and crazy characters strolling the streets. Several times, we'd happen upon an impromptu parade of a handful people who had all dressed in the same theme and had some sort of music and flags with them, just making noise and marching around. Masks and costumes were being sold everywhere, and we stopped to watch one of the more famous mask artists at work in his studio while he put gold leaf onto a full-face white mask. After looking at his work, we saw photos on his door of the celebrities he's worked for, and found out that he was the mascheraro (mask maker) for the film Eyes Wide Shut. After dinner, we headed to St. Mark's Square and found a huge stage on the south end of the enormous piazza with a masked DJ spinning dance music, while different colored club lights were displayed around the entire square. We watched St. Mark's Cathedral and the iconic clock tower change from neon pink, green, blue, and yellow, while thousands of costumed party-goers were dancing to the rhythmic beats. It was so entrancing to be in this huge mass of people that I just walked aimlessly through the crowd with a smile, and thought how crazy it was to be here at one of those events that most people only read about.
On the way back to the apartment we walked by the Bridge of Sighs, past a private costume party, and peaked into a club hosting an Eyes Wide Shut themed party (with cloaks on) although we opted to just continue on and see the happenings on the streets.
It was an eventful day, but we still had one day to go...stay tuned for part 2.