I’ve wanted to go to Venice ever since I read a series of fantasy novels (The Stravaganza books) set in an alternate Venice when I was about 12. I’ve wanted to see the Carnavale ever since I knew what it was. Last year after doing a hairdressing project on based on the Carnavale I decided I wasn’t going to wait anymore, and that it was time to fulfill a lifelong dream.
After arriving at San Marco airport getting to Venice was actually really easy! A 20 minute coach journey from the airport to the city, and then the Vaparetto straight down the Grand Canal to the Rialto to find the hotel (Hotel La Bruno). That bit was easier said than done.
Before we left a friend of my mum’s warned her to expect that we would get lost, a lot. And it was absolutely true. It took us about 20 minutes to make the 5 minute walk from the Vaporetto station to the hotel.
Once we were setteled in at the hotel (right at the top, although all the buildings in Venice are so tall and the streets are so narrow we couldn’t see far) we decided to go for a walk around the city. We went through St Mark’s Square, along the lagoon front and back to the hotel before going for dinner. After we finished eating we went for a bit of a look around the area near the hotel, and found a fantastic little local place that somehow managed to function as a bar, a cafe and a restaurant all at the same time, even though it wasn’t big enough to be any of them!
After a couple of glasses of prosecco it was back to the hotel for an early night, after one long day to prepare for another long day.
After a buffet breakfast at the hotel, which featured a pancake making machine (my new favourite breakfast thing) we went on a walk around the Rialto area shown in out guide book.
This included the fish market at the edge of the Grand Canal, a number of churches (as all walks in Venice do), a series of recommendations of cafes and restaurants, historical sights (including the Bridge of Breasts) and a number of mask shops that work in the traditional papier mache style.
The pictures above are the window display for a tiny shop just off the Rialto Bridge called La Bottega dei Mascareri If more than 4 people tried to visit the shop at the same time there wasn’t even room to turn around! I can only put this down to either stubborness or deep love of the location, because the shop is very famous and their work has been featured in all kinds of films and magazines, including Eyes Wide Shut. The front door was papered with magazine images and photographs of the shop owner, Sergio, with various celebrities. I have to admit that the mask I bought wasn’t my favourite, but it was my favourite of those I could both afford and fit in my suitcase!
On the Saturday evening we went to the parade on the Cannaregio, for the opening of Carnavale. Unfortunately these photos really don’t capture how spectacular the parade was to watch, and the fact I was struggling to get decent pictures meant I gave up less than 5 minutes in and just enjoyed the show (not sorry at all). The parade also featured gymnasts, a boat of people throwing coloured powder everywhere (and having a great time) and a man with a flaming sword and a giant ring of fire.
The only disappointing part was that I couldn’t understand the narrative (it was in Italian) so I don’t really know what the story was.
On the Sunday morning there was another parade, the difference being that this one was open to anyone who wanted to join in. There was everything from the elaborately decorated boats and carefully planned costumes I’ve included here, down to people in kayaks who just wanted to be part of it. Overall it was a lot of fun to watch and everyone involved (except for one bemused dog) was having a fantastic time.
After the parade the absolute must see is St Mark’s Square, where everyone goes to show off their costumes. All these people were surrounded by tourists wanting to take picutres of and with them. In fact it was really difficult not to get photos full of tourists. Although it did occur to me that it was just as well that ws happening, because it would be utterly heartbreaking to put this much effort in and have no one be interested.
It’s a very tough call, but I think my favourite costumes are the black, red and gold warriors.
After having a good long look at all the costumes in the Square, we went on a walk from our guide book around St Mark’s and the Academia region. It included a spectacular theatre, that unfortunately we didn’t get to go inside because of a matinee, more churches, an area mostly dedicated to artisan’s shops and (for us) a lot of getting lost. After the 3rd or 4th time we got lost we abandoned the walk and dragged our tired feet back to the Granf Canal to enjoy well deserved spritz’s (equal parts Aperol, white wine and soda water – very nice) and watch the sunset over the Grand Canal.
After dinner it was back to that fantastic little local bar for a couple of glasses of last night prosecco.
We only had the moring on day 4, so we decided to stay close to the hotel. To make this easier we saved the Basillica San Marco and the Dodge’s Palace for the Monday. After we went back to a book binding shop I dragged my mum all over the area around the Rialto and St Mark’s Square to find. If you took the right exit it was less than 5 minutes walk from the square. I couldn’t afford any of the books (I really wanted the copy of the Lord of the Rings in the window but it was ridiculously expensive) so I chose 2 notebooks from the sale section.
We went to the Basillica first, which was absolutely spectacular. The mosaics and the carvings were absolutely incredible. Pictures are banned inside the church, so I was limited to an external shot.
After the Basillica, we went on the tour of the Dodge’s Palace. It was incredible, it took nearly 2 hours and only one wing is open to the public! The first bit was about the architecture. What baffled me was why did every Dodge who re-did the palace keep the old stone work? There was an example of every kind of pillar ever used in the building!
A big part of the tour was going through the State rooms and the council chambers. The decoration was very similar because it was all renovated at the same time in the late 1500s after a fire. It was a lot of ornate carvings and religious paintings. This part of the tour also goes through the Dodge’s apartments, which I was really excited to see. Unfortunately they were turned over to an exhibition about the history of the lagoon, which was a bit disappointing.
After that the tour goes through the weapons exhibition and the prisons, including a view of the Bridge of Sighs (not a very good one, we went for a better look from the outside afterwards).
By the time we finished in the Palace it was time to have lunch and go to the airport.
Any time you’ve wanted something something for as long as I’ve wanted to go to Venice it’s nerve-wracking when it finally happens. Luckily for me, Venice lived up to my hopes and expectations. My only minor disappointment were the exhibition that was put in the Dodge’s apartments and the fact I wasn’t able to see the islands.
I suppose I’ll just have to go back and see the things I missed some other time!