Carnevale. Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Whatever you call it, the celebration of the last few days before the beginning of the Christian Lenten season is the same across the globe. Colorful masks, elaborate costumes, and confetti being thrown by laughing children are the first images that come to mind when I think of my time in Venice while celebrating Carnevale.
On a dark Friday morning at 5:30 a.m., I stepped off the train in Venice not knowing what I was about to witness. As I came out of the train station, the first sight I had was of the Grand Canal, the main waterway that runs through Venice. Since “the City of Water” does not have any cars or buses, the only form of transport is by water or by foot. The earliest popular way to get around was by gondola, although now the locals use vaporetti (motorized waterbuses) as their means of transportation. This sight was truly not like anything else I’d ever seen.
I started to see the sunlight escape from the horizon, so I rushed to arrive at the Rialto Bridge, which is a beautiful historical bridge that connects two islands across the Grand Canal. I reached the summit of the bridge just in time to view the glorious sunrise over all 118 mini islands that make up the city of Venice.
After relaxing for awhile and enjoying the beauty that Venice has to offer, I decided to make the most out of my Carnevale experience, so I started off to find Piazza San Marco. This famous piazza opens up to the Adriatic Sea which serves as the central waterway between Venice and other cities. There are dozens of shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels that face the sea and have spectacular views.
As I walked along the piazza next to the water, I was stopped by a woman dressed fully in Carnevale-style costume. For five Euro, I had my face painted to go along with all the others who were playing dress-up for this celebration. A combination of gold, purple and pink, which are traditional Carnevale colors, were meticulously patterned on my face and helped me on my way to participate in the Carnevale celebration.
As the afternoon sun warmed up the piazza, more and more locals started to come out donning their detailed hand-made costumes to pose for pictures for tourists, photographers and journalists. I was lucky enough myself to get a few pictures in between everyone else’s snapshots.
As I finished taking pictures of the people in costume, I noticed a man sitting by the water drawing something on his canvas. I decided to take a closer look, and witnessed something truly spectacular.
The man was somewhere in his sixties, but could sketch like a master in his prime. He wasn’t drawing the beautiful views that lay before him on the Adriatic-he was conveying an image onto the canvas of a canal and bridge running through the streets of Venice from memory. He possessed an attitude that was the epitome of all Italian “laid-back-and-love-life” attitudes. Right there, sitting in front of me in Venice.
Piazza San Marco is a very magical place. There was an enormous stage set up in the middle of the piazza, which housed the night’s festivities. As darkness fell upon Venice, the piazza began to fill up rapidly with Carnevale party-goers. All of a sudden, the stage lit up and a live band started to play.
“Bollywood” was the theme of that night’s celebration, in which two large projector screens on either side of the stage played famous Bollywood-produced movies. The live band riled up the crowd as more and more people filled the piazza.
Either way, there were Italians and tourists dancing everywhere together in a harmonious exaltation to welcome the Lenten season of fasting and penitence. Each person there had a smile on their face and it was obvious that Carnevale is an important and joyous commemoration for many people around the world.
Besides being a city totally reliant on water transportation, I can absolutely say that Venice is unlike any other city in this world.
The beauty, the serenity, and the excitement of Venice and Carnevale are unparallel to any other experience I’ve ever had.
My visit to Venice and Carnevale was one that I will never forget.