We arrived in Venice by train from Garda – us and about 5,000,000,000 other carnival goers. Many of the partiers included children dressed in costumes of batman, princesses and pirates leaving trails of coriadoli (confetti) as they made their way to the exit of the train station that opens right onto the canal facing the neoclassical San Simeone Piccolo Church.
Everyone was happy, patient and calm. Yes, that day the Italians were patient. They had no choice – one slight misstep could have caused a panic as during Carnival there are approximately 100,000 daily visitors to the city.
With these kinds of crowds, I had a distinct disadvantage because I am short – the most I could see was the guy’s jacket in front of me as I tried to make my way with the kids through main streets of Venice attempting to obtain my goal: make it St. Mark’s Square.
I guess this all sounds like a reason to NEVER go to Venice for Carnevale. However, I have to say we enjoyed ourselves. St. Mark’s Square will have various processions, concerts and stage productions, but even if you miss this part and cannot pay 500 Euro a ticket to attend one of the lavish evening balls, just walking around the city, and snapping pics of those dressed up like they ARE attending the ball was fun.
When I started researching the history of the Venetian Carnival, I must admit I was little surprised to find out that for 200 years carnival was outlawed in Venice as a result of Austrian rule, and it only began again in 1979 as the Italian government was looking to revive the history and culture of the city.
Carinval is a 10 day festival and coincides with other Roman Catholic Carnivals throughout the world such as Brazil and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
One of the things that makes the Venetian Carnival distinctive are the ornate, elaborate and sometimes mysterious costumes and masks. Especially those empty face masks. You know what I am talking about – there is a “face” but the appearance is vacant.
The mask tradition began in the 13th century and would actually start on Santo Stefano (December 26) and continue until the beginning of Lent. The masks were obviously meant to conceal identity. This allowed Venetians of upper and lower classes to mix and to take part less than honorable activities such as affairs, partying, gambling, etc… If you think about it, December – March: that is a long time for mischievous behavior! And every year no less! Venice must have been THE place to be back in the day. But back to present day: my favorite masked man was this one on his cell phone below.
As we are now well into Lent and Carnival must wait for another year, if you happen to find yourself in Venice and it is NOT Carnival time, below are some suggestions for other activities as well as places to eat and to take a coffee break in this magical city.
1. Hop on hop off BOAT
You know the double-decker sightseeing buses in major tourist destination cities? Well, Venice has one too, but it is a boat of course:
2. Teatro La Fenice – Opera House
The season runs from October to May. Gorgeous opera house!
3. Galleria Accademia
This museum contains works by Titian and Tintoretto (of course), but you will also find DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, as well as works by Mantegna, Canaletto and many other famous artists.
WHERE TO EAT
Fondamenta della Misericordia: on this street you will find the following restaurants that are worth a try. Paradiso Perduto will even serve you on the canal as you can see the girls enjoying their meal in the photos below. This where we ate, but we were able to get a table inside. Our waiter spent a lot of time with us explaining the menu. They had a lot of fried options as well as house specialties such as the sardines pictured below. Service was a tad slow, but we felt the only reason was that the waiters spent as much time with other customers as they did with us, so we did not mind the wait.
1. Diana, Fondamenta de la Misericordia 2519
2. Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta de la Misericordia 2542
1. Torrefazione Marchi – Rio Tera San Leonardo 1337
Has great coffee, and if you want, you can also buy some to take home with you! The hot chocolate is also something to die for, smooth and thick (Italian hot chocolate is something in between a drink and pudding, you can “drink” it with a spoon.) You will also find good prices here as well. But be aware: the good coffee, good price combo = crowds. You might have a wait.
MOVIES TO WATCH
One last note, many movies have been filmed in Venice…here are a few of my favorites starting with a classic: Summertime with Katherine Hepburn.
1. “Summertime” (1955)
This movie revolves around an American woman who is single and not so young (in those days: a spinster). She takes a dream trip to Italy in search of adventure and romance.
Love, love, love this movie!!!! Gosh…I cannot even remember how many years have passed since the first time I saw it, but I was young. (Thank you Mamma and Daddy!) It still has the same effect on me now, even after all these years and no matter how many times I see it.
And anyway, who is not going to be effected by Rossano Brazzi? This is one of my favorite scenes. He is the quintessential, suave, 1950’s Italian man. The first time the main characters see each other. Have a look:
2. Dangerous Beauty (1998)
This film is based on life of Veronica Franco. A courtesan who was born in 1546 and lived in Venice. The movie leaves out many of Franco’s real life experiences such as having a failed marriage to a doctor as well as any mention of her children. True to her real life, however, the movie does focus on the fact that she was well-educated and even wrote and published books of poetry. The main characters are portrayed by Catherine McCormack and super-cute Rufus Sewell who seems to be only getting better with age!
3. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)
Although not filmed entirely in Venice, the last part of the movie takes place there. This movie is definitely creepy, but also really beautiful to watch. All the characters are good-looking, well dressed and the locations filmed in Italy are a must see!
4. “Bread and tulips” (2000)
This is a quirky Italian movie about an average Italian housewife (casalinga) who gets sidetracked during a family vacation. I loved the main character as she reminds me a bit of my mother-in-law. She is sweet, conservative, but also kind of crazy!
5. “The Italian Job” (2003)
Similar to “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in that there are only portions of this movie filmed in Venice, there is a great boat chase scene that is so fun to watch. In fact, the whole movie is fun! As a side note, my husband’s uncles and cousins handled the special effects for this movie! SUPER COOL!