After an amazing and eventful first day in Venice for Carnevale, on Sunday morning (our 2nd morning there), we woke up early and decided to hit the streets before everyone else got up, hoping to get a chance to walk around the city without about a billion people in every alley. We grabbed the camera and our coats while we walked downstairs and into a quite empty street. There were a handful of people strolling about: a delivery man rolling a dolly, a little boy trailing behind a parent, and a handful of tourists doing the same thing. We had a tenative route which was to take a gondola across the Grand Canal (you can take the 2-minute jaunt for only 50 cents), then meander towards the Fenice Opera House, get a morning caffe' and pastry somewhere and then go back to see if everyone was up. When we got to the shore, we found out that the gondola crossing service wasn't open on Sundays, so we just walked across the Rialto instead.
After reading City of Falling Angels by John Berendt the year before, I had a different feeling about Venice and was much more intrigued than the last time we visited. Although it's so obviously a unique and breath-takingly beautiful city, there is an entire culture that seems to exist above the bustle of unassuming tourists. In the 2nd and 3rd stories of the old palaces that line the Grand Canal, and other side streets, there are people with very old money, who come from a long line of Venetian blood, and other rich expats who have assimilated into the culture and politics of this city that functions in its own uncommon way. We walked around wondering how many balls and elaborate parties were going on just above our heads - and how many gowns and velvet capes were being worn which have been put on for such an occasion for many years past. One of the main "characters" in Berendt's book is La Fenice, which burned down just after the author moved to the city to observe its inhabitants. This opera house has so much history to it, even though the current structure is only a couple of years old since the last renovation after the fire. After winding our way through the labyrinth of narrow sidewalks and foot bridges, we came upon the theatre and stopped in for our caffe' at the bar next door.
One thing that was on our "must have for breakfast" list was fritole. We happened upon these fried balls of goodness on Saturday afternoon by happenstance. We'd noticed plates of these round, sugared fritters in windows of cafes and restaurants around the city, but it wasn't until I ordered one at a bar to go with my marocchino that I fully appreciated the perfection that are fritole (or frittelle). I found out that it is a very common fatty snack to have during Carnevale (especially on "Fat Tuesday"). I guess everyone gets full of junk food before giving it all up for the 40 days of Lent. So back to the fritole...they are fresh, warm fist-sized balls of dough with different surprises inside depending on where you buy them. The first ones we enjoyed had different varieties of raisins in the dough (traditionally soaked in rum or grappa) with a decadent creme filling. On Sunday morning at the cafe near La Fenice, I had one with pine nuts in the dough and sweetened marscarpone cheese in the middle, sprinkled with powered sugar, while Chris had one with pine nuts, vanilla creme and granulated sugar. Pure heaven. We keep saying that somewhere in Florence must sell these things, but so far we've only seen mini versions of these with sweetened rice in the dough, but no creme, raisins or pine nuts.
On our way back to the apartment, the streets steadily became more crowded and by the time we woke up our friends and all headed out together around lunchtime - it was an absolute zoo. We retraced our steps from Saturday towards St. Mark's Square and just hung out in the crowd, watching pigeon feeders, ornately costumed people posed for photos, kids throwing confetti everywhere, and even happened upon an old-style open-air play on a small stage near the Doge Palace. After having lunch at a pizzeria, we tried to bargain with a gondolier for a fair price on a half-hour ride, but we were running out of time and eventually gave up. We ended up on one of the most crazy streets ever with people literally pushing on all sides of our bodies and finally police had to come and try to get one side of the mass moving in one direction and the other side moving in the opposite. I got completely separated from the pack, but ran into 2 other people from our school randomly. Finally after about 15 minutes one of our friends found me on a bridge and we ran back to the apartment hoping to find the other part of the group. Luckily everyone was there- and we all headed to the train station for the "standing-room-only" trip to Bologna where we caught a fast train with reservations for the rest of the way to Florence!
We arrived back home with our bookbag, used masks, muddy shoes, and tired feet; and went to bed smiling and talking about when we could go back to the city to see even more!