This past weekend was the first weekend of Carnevale, an annual festival in Venice, Italy, famous for elaborate masks and costumes. I was lucky enough to be able to experience these celebrations for the first time. Since it was the first weekend, the festival wasn't really in full swing, but we did witness a lot of people in beautiful costumes and a lot of cool masks. Some people were even in regular costumes. We saw a couple dressed as characters from It (honestly strange but you do you).
A little background on Carnevale:
The tradition of the mask started in the 13th century when Venetians would hold celebrations and parties from December 26th until the start of Lent and wear elaborate masks to conceal their identity. These parties were the only time when the lower and upper classes mingled together. Aristocrats and peasants, disguised by their masks, played out their fantasies together. They indulged in illicit activities like gambling, clandestine affairs, political assassination, and dancing and partying the night away.
On Saturday, there were two opening parades at 6pm and 8pm. We aimed to see the 6pm show, but by the time we got there, the local police had already blocked off the entrances to the canal because they had reached capacity. We had to wait two hours there for the 8pm show, and when they opened up part of the barricade, the crowd was so anxious to get in that I was literally shoved against the barricade. It was honestly kind of horrifying so I don't think I'd do that again.
Apart from Carnevale, Venice itself was stunning. We went to the Piazza San Marco, where we visited Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica. The architecture gets me every time. It's unreal. I also really liked just wandering around the city. Streets were lined with mask vendors, gelato parlors, and glass shops. There were also a lot of designer stores that made me feel extremely poor, but it was still fun to pretend.
In order to get around the island, we had to take a vaporetto, or water bus, for long distances. Since we only stayed a night and two days, we bought the "Rolling Venice" ticket for 22 euro that was active for 72 hours, unlimited use. I highly recommend doing this because we also got discounts for admission to the museums and palaces around the island. The only problem we had was when we tried to go to Burano and Murano, smaller islands with brightly-colored houses off the cost of the main island of Venice. We planned on taking the vaporetto around 11am, but due to another Carnevale parade, the boats weren't running. I was pretty bummed about it, but this gives me an excuse to go back!
Some things I learned about Venice:
Take a gondola ride - Honestly, it was so worth it. Not only did we get great pictures, but our guide told us a lot about the island and the buildings we passed.
Order Bellini - Bellini is a drink that originated in Venice. It's basically a mixture of Prosecco and peach puree, and it's so delicious. Our first night in Venice, our waiter gave us all glasses for free!
Italian pizza really is the best - Okay, I'm from New Jersey, so I know good pizza. This was another level.
Don't be afraid to bargain - Usually shop owners and gondola guides will give in to bargaining if you really learn the ropes and stay confident. I'm not so great at it, but a lot of people who went were able to get discounted gondola rides and Carnivale masks.
Stay alert - Carnivale gets busy, and pick-pocketing is no joke in Italy in general. Definitely get a money belt if you can, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Don't get discounted Murano glass - A shop owner gave us a few tips on Murano glass, and she basically said if it's advertised that the glass is on sale, it's probably fake. She also said if you look carefully, you can probably tell, anyway.
The water is nasty - The first advice I was given about Venice was "don't go in the water". I have a bad habit of forgetting to research the places I visit, but I didn't even need advice to know that the water is straight up toxic.
Download maps - Venice can get really confusing to navigate, especially with all of the small alleyways and bridges. It's best to download maps and take note of where you are if you know you won't have cellular data or wifi.
The nightlife is minimal - Venice is relatively quiet, and most places (including bars) close early. Carnevale is a party, but don't expect to stay up all night.