My partner and I have just got back from a whirlwind trip snowboarding in France. Prior to that, I had spent a long weekend with three good friends in Venice, which coincided with the last weekend of the carnival. My friends and family are very important to me and I try to take time out to see them, once I finish with a client, so Venice had been booked the previous year. One of the friends sadly had to drop out, but we swiftly found a replacement and then, before we knew it, the weekend had arrived and the three of us found ourselves on one of the ACTV’s (water bus, essentially) chugging off to our hotel. Clare had booked us into Hotel San Cassiano Ca’Favretto and we eventually docked. Aqeel became our guide (through the power of the iPhone) and led us through the winding streets for about 10 mins before we finally entered the small courtyard of the hotel. Clare had booked it mainly on the amount of chandeliers and upon entering the reception area, we were greeted with most amazing one.
There are no lifts in this three storey hotel and a very able Venetian, grasped hold of C’s and my hand luggage (Aqeel had to carry his own) and climbed the three, steep floors to our bedroom, which had an amazing mural on the ceiling. We quickly dumped our stuff and headed out to the first restaurant we found (my “hanger” was on the edge) and happily toasted our first meal, before getting our heads down for the night.
The morning dawned with the most amazing blue sky. A quick breakfast, continental style, and then we were out for the day. With A being our guide (he had been there the previous year) we set off. As it was fairly early, it wasn’t too busy. Everywhere was a photo opportunity. Every bridge had the perfect light; beautiful buildings; gondolas docked. We stopped so many times to exclaim at the beauty and take photos, so it was a good thing that it wasn’t so busy. As we got closer to Rialto Bridge, though, we found ourselves slowing down from the sheer number of people. And this was before midday!
February is Carnival time, and we arrived on the last weekend of the carnival. As we walked around the winding streets, we passed people wearing masks. Some wore beautiful outfits and, as we got closer to St Marks square, the amount of people dressed up increased, until when we entered the square, we came across the most amazing sight.
The Carnival takes place in February, in the days leading up to Shrove Tuesday. It used to last ten days but now in order to extend this high-earning tourist season, events often start the weekend before that.
Carnival, or Carnevale, has been celebrated for centuries throughout Italy. The name is said to derive from the words carne vale – ‘farewell to meat’ – which explain the function of the celebration: an opportunity to indulge and use up such treats before the start of Lent.
In 1797, under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival was outlawed entirely and the use of masks became strictly forbidden. It reappeared gradually in the nineteenth century, but only for short periods and private feasts. After a long absence, the Carnival returned in 1979. The Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of its efforts. The outfits are extravagant, other worldly, beautiful and strange. People really go to town and C and I made a promise to come back next year with full dress. Lunch was a delicious affair, on the waterfront, with wine and sunshine. I don’t usually eat much pasta but, when in Italy….
We were so incredibly lucky with the weather. Beautiful blue skies made everyone smile even, I’m sure, behind their masks.
Lunch went lazily by and then we meandered through more winding streets, admiring costumes, taking pictures and checking out prices for a 30 min gondola ride (80 euros, in case you want to know). The next plan was to find somewhere to buy gelato and find somewhere to sit in the sun. I went for a double whammy of chocolate and vanilla and it barely touched the sides (to quote my dad). They seriously do good gelato in Venice (and probably the whole of Italy).
We went down one of the many side streets and managed to find ourselves sitting practically opposite our hotel. The sun on our faces we took time out to just be..
As we slowly wandered back to our hotel, discussing plans for dinner, we passed one of the many stalls that were selling masks. They are the obvious thing to take back as gifts, but we also decided to wear them out tonight. Choices made, with a brief interlude to buy cucumber and tonic (for our gin in the room) we headed back to the hotel to slowly get ready.
As we walked through the streets later that night, no-one gave us a second glance. We found ourselves a nice spot by one of the canals and sat down to watch the crowds as they walked by as we enjoyed dinner.
The next day we opened our eyes to yet another blue sky day. Aqeel had already been up since dawn to get some photographs of the revellers as they partied into the night. We had managed to clock up about 8 miles of walking the previous day, so we bought ourselves a day ticket to hop onto any of the ACTV’s to take us to various places around Venice. Turned out to be the best thing we could have done. The last Sunday of the festival is a massive affair and we could hardly move for the crowds at time. C wanted to see the Bridge of Sighs, which is the last bridge the prisoners would see before they entered prison. This would be their last view of Venice. As there were so many crowds passing it, we could barely take a photograph. Police were going through bags, luckily not checking for alcohol as I was carrying a bottle of prosecco with the idea to get to the Lido to enjoy it with lunch. Unfortunately, our plans didn’t go entirely on track. We had managed to get to a port that would take us to the Lido, but, just as it docked, it changed where it was going. Luckily, we had no plans and just decided to go with the flow.
First of all we docked across the water to see the Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore. A beautiful building where a few professional photographers were taking pictures of models in their carnival costumes. Then, after a latte Macchiato, we caught the next available boat which proceeded to take us all the way back to the bus station. This was where we had first started our adventure in Venice. Our plan of buying bread, cheese and chorizo and eating at the Lido was fast disappearing, especially as we were suddenly finding it difficult to find somewhere to buy food. So, we jumped on the next available boat to take us to the Lido, with the idea of there being somewhere to buy some food nearby. That journey took us 40 mins, which brought us back up the main canal, past our Hotel and then finally we arrived at our destination. We found ourselves a restaurant and started to warm up again. We had been sitting outside on the boat, but it started to get chilly. We stayed there for nearly two hours with (possibly) the owner, coming over to talk to us. He sounded just like Gru from Despicable Me. He was fascinated about A being there with two women. After burgers and a litre and a half of red wine, we decided to go back to the Hotel. As we so exhausted, it was suggested (by me?) that we get take-in and watch The OA on my Ipad.
Rock and roll, but we had done all we wanted to do. Ever helpful A went down to reception and the guy on the desk recommended a pizza place round the corner to which A dutifully went and came back with two enormous pizzas. Our night was complete. Gin and tonics, pizza and a bit of binge tv.
And so, our lovely 3 day break came to an end. We got up nice and early and caught the boat taxi to the airport (quite rocky; I recommend sea sick tablets if you’re prone, as you are below the deck with small windows facing out… plus there’s a lot of people in there). And then we were back at BRS airport. A raced off to get his bus to London and C and I were picked up by my lovely parents.
I can’t recommend Venice enough. A very beautiful city, which was extremely easy to get around. We definitely lucked in with the weather, which helped. I then had a turn around of four days, before I was off again….. off to the snow this time….
p.s 90% of pictures courtesy of Aqeel…