Kick the slush off your boots and head to Venice for a colorful experience... From January 23 - February 9, 2016, Venice will come alive with Carnevale. What could be better than a surreal city in the sea... islands, canals, masked party-goers, dance, music, food and drink? While not for everyone, this mega-party is for people who love the crush of other people. It can be so over-crowded that the local Venice tourist board doesn't even bother promoting it any longer, and the local police would rather not add to the crowds already attending.
It is a very intense experience with hotels and prices in restaurants priced sky high for this special event. One way to save some cash is to fly into Treviso and use that as your hub, then take the train to Venice for the events... unless there is an inconveniently timed train workers strike, that is. It can be a very expensive affair to attend, although there is much to do that won't suck all the Euros out of your damp pockets: daily processions along the water front ending up in St Mark's Square on both weekends; a procession of gondolas up the Grand Canal; and there are the fireworks displays. In general, people go not only to people watch, but to take part in the dressing up...
Keep in mind that if you want to see the abundance and excess of Carnevale, plan on going for the weekends with the final weekend being the biggest ever. Weekdays can be a bit slower with fewer events planned. There is a stage erected in St. Marks Square for costumed attendees to show off their finery and perhaps be noticed in the search for the year's Best Costume. Each day a Best Costume is selected--twice a day. The big event is on February 9th where the Best Costume in the Festival is selected.
On January 31st, the Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel) is held, when a beauty pageant winner flies a zipline from the campanile in St Mark’s square. In case of seasonal flooding (a common thing in winter) don't forget to bring your booties. This is by far one of the busiest and crowded of all events. There are also special events held inside the Arsenale, Venice’s magnificent historic shipyard. Imagine a huge disco space, with lasers and disco lighting effects, smoke and more... some events are on the water, some have live music, others entertain with all types of street artists. There is even a Kid's Carnevale there.
Of course, if you'd like to rub feathered elbows with masked celebrities galore, and have about 1000 bucks U.S. per person to spare, there are the balls. Perhaps one of the most extravagant is the Valentine's Grand Masquerade Ball on February 6 at the Palazzo Flangini.
Before you enter the costumed fray, you'll need some supplies... in the least, a cloak and mask. Remember, this is not an event to stand on the sidelines and watch. This is one to become part of... to saturate yourself with the experience of getting dolled up in magnificent eccentricity.
Some say there are more mask shops than there are alimentari in Venice. You can go one of two ways... a wild, custom painted, feathered and glittered creation or the simplicity of the plain white Volto mask. If you want a piece of craftsmanship by true artisans, you need a Mascarei (Master Mask-maker):
Ca’ Macanà (Calle delle Botteghe 3172, Dorsoduro 0039 041 277 6142; camacana.com)
Tragicomica (Calle dei Nomboli 2800, San Polo, 0039 041 721 102; tragicomica.it)
Papier Maché (Calle lunga Santa Maria Formosa 5174B, Castello, 0039 041 522 9995).
Of course, to keep you warm (especially if wearing a skimpy, sexy outfit) you need a Tabarro--the long, flowing cape that Venetians wrap themselves in. Here are a few of the best costume shops:
Monica (Calle Scaleter 2235, San Polo, 0039 041 524 6242; monicadaniele.com)
Atelier Pietro Longhi (Ramo secondo Saoner 2671, San Polo, 0039 041 714 478; pietrolonghi.com)
Banco Lotto N°10 (Salizada Sant’Antonin 3478B, Castello; 0039 041 522 1439; ilcerchiovenezia.it)
There are also other events in the Veneto region during Carnevale season in case Venice is a bit too much for you to take. For example, in nearby Treviso, there is a parade of wonderfully decorated, paper-mâché floats during the last Carnevale weekend. The Treviso Carnevale is much more family friendly if you are traveling with kids. There is also another, older Carnevale in Verona that has been in existence since 1531 when the locals celebrated the end to long years of starvation and plague--by eating gnocchi! A grand parade of masks and the traditional distribution of gnocchi (potato dumplings) is the signature of Verona Carnival. Papa Gnocchi, an old bearded carrying a big fork as a scepter is the carnival's main character.
See carnevale.venezia.it for more details about the Carnevale.
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