I’ve been lucky enough to visit Venice on several occasions. Two of these visits stand out in my mind. The first was during 2015 when I spent a year studying the Italian language while living in Ferrara in the region of Emilia-Romagna. Ferrara is about an hour and a half train ride to Venice so I took full advantage of this with several day trips and a weekend trip to Venice during my time in Ferrara. I recall a particularly memorable trip to this famous city for Carnevale, a yearly festival taking place two weeks prior to the start of Lent as a celebration complete with masquerade balls, music, feasts, and parades. It is the time to party before Ash Wednesday heralds the start of Lent and its restrictions.
Venice’s Carnevale has become famous over the years, with tourists flocking to the city during these two weeks. Venice, already generally overrun with tourists, becomes packed in a way that is only comparable to the peak summer season. However, the city fails to lose its charm. Getting lost in the meandering canaled streets, taking gondola rides, and searching for hidden gems in this sinking city all still delight. The possibility of stumbling upon partygoers in full costume complete with elaborate masks only adds to the experience.
To orient ourselves, we started by wandering around the area in which we were staying. We stumbled upon the cafe that we grabbed a cappuccino at every morning of our stay as well as the hidden grocery store where we picked up supplies for dinner on our first night. Dining out in Venice can get quite expensive so we relied on cooking for ourselves for most of our meals. In our wanderings, I was particularly delighted by the number of staircases that led straight into canals.
The morning of our first full day in Venice (which happened to be Valentine’s Day), we decided to take the stereotypical - and necessary in my opinion - gondola ride. Our meandering ride through Venice’s canals ended on a high note as we passed under the Ponte dei Sospiri, otherwise known as the Bridge of Sighs, and witnessed a proposal happening in the gondola next to us simultaneously passing under the bridge in the other direction. We admired the impeccable timing on this one - gondola, Bridge of Sighs, and Valentine’s Day!
While we opted for wandering the streets of Venice over attending every event held for Carnevale, we did attend the Volo dell'Angelo - or flight of the angel - where a person “flies” from the top of Saint Mark's Campanile to the stage set up for Carnevale at the top of Saint Mark’s Square. Loud and fitting music plays as the angel makes her slow descent to the stage above an entirely packed Saint Mark’s Square.
Once the angel landed, it took us quite a bit of time to make our way out of the square. Partly because of the number of people and partly because I kept getting distracted by people dressed in elaborate costumes. As seen below, people swarm to get pictures and admire those brave enough to dress in full costume and mask and make their way to Saint Mark’s Square.
For a bit of a change of scene, we made our way by ferry to Burano, an island in Venice archipelago known for its traditional lace-making and extraordinary colourful buildings.
Burano was much calmer than central Venice so we enjoyed seeing this island and relaxing a bit. We embraced another Carnevale tradition - throwing confetti! We took advantage of the bright colours in Burano to fully photograph the process, along with many others judging by the confetti covering the ground.
With our trip wrapping up, I decided to wake up on our last morning for sunrise. I was hoping to get some pictures of the sun rising over the gondolas lined up in front of Saint Mark’s Square. However, to my complete surprise and delight, those dressed in full costume with masks gather here at sunrise to take pictures. I stumbled upon dozens of costumed people with even more professional photographers lined up to catch the first rays of light. Needless to say, as an 18-year-old American, I stood out like a sore thumb. Did I care? Not at all. I took hundreds of photos that morning, wandering up and down the promenade to find the most colourfully dressed individuals.
In the process, I also managed to enjoy the incredible sunrise over gondolas lined up, just waiting for the day's mass of tourists to descend.