We’re into the final two weeks of our 1993-1994 (Travelling in the 90s) adventure (back when I was a true natural blond — check out the photo). Venice was our first stop in Italy and undoubtedly one of the highlights. I can’t tell you how many exclamation marks I had to remove from the following extract from my original travel diary.
By complete serendipitous coincidence, we landed in Venice smack bang in the middle of Carnival. Oh. My. God.
[Friday 11 February, 1994] Well, today was Venice. There is simply no other way — no way at all — to describe it. Venice is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.
The overnight train from Nice got in just after 9:00am. A guy in our cabin informed us that Venice was in carnival and that all the rooms would be booked… Naturally we became rather apprehensive about accommodation, because we’d had no idea. Thus when we jumped off the train and were offered a double room for one night only in a small pension for 70,000 lira (~$70) we took it straight away.
Thank heavens we did too, for I’d not have missed the Venice carnival for the world — and it transpired that the pension was quite close to Piazza San Marco and the very hub of the carnival.
There are so many things to describe about today. The man at the station put us on a vaporetto with directions, and we sat in the very front of the boat. Thus Venice was first introduced to us as we glided down the Grand Canal on a sunny blue morning.
It is one of the most magical things I have ever experienced — my heart was singing.
Now that sounds so corny, but I was so uplifted that I cannot describe it any better. The city is beautiful (I repeat myself!). The buildings are very old and often in severe disrepair, but there is something about water which makes everything beautiful. I can only hope that some of the many photos taken today can do the place justice. Today, Paris fades into nothing.
We found our hotel easily enough and deposited our bags, then we went out to explore. How lucky we are to have chosen now to come to Venice, because the carnival is the most amazing thing!
The basis of it appears to be costume — and in fact one of the first things that struck us about Venice was that every second shop was entirely devoted to masks. There are thousands of them, literally. And of all sorts: painted porcelain, leather, papier mache, sequin-covered, all sorts of interesting fabrics etc. Any possible conceivable mask could be found in Venice somewhere.
The costumes worn by people throughout the city (but mainly around the Piazza San Marco) were also extremely elaborate. Many of them appeared to be concoctions of tulle, rich fabrics, sequins — set off with plain white masks. But there were also Renaissance figures, medieval figures, young D’Artagnons, richly-dressed ladies of the past etc. Anything was conceivable.
The Piazza SM was very crowded, consisting mainly of huddles of people frantically taking photos of costumed figures, who seemed to spend all day walking a few paces and then stopping to pose serenely for at least ten minutes.
Aside from those glorious costumes, there was street entertainment — mainly music by bands from all over Europe (it seemed). One German band played medieval-style music while dancing around and being generally silly. We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the crowds, admiring costumes, listening to music and absorbing atmosphere.
We also wandered around the ‘streets’ of Venice, which consisted entirely of pedestrians and bridges over the canals. We were waylaid by a Gondolier at one stage, and succumbed to a 40 minute gondola ride. (Well, it has to be done doesn’t it?) We also had the privilege of training a new gondolier — he needs a bit more practice! In any case, we thoroughly enjoyed our gondola ride — the near-silent lapping of the waters against the side and the dip of the oar in the water, as we glided through some of the smaller canals.
Afterwards, we found and photographed the Bridge of Sighs. By this time we were so starving that we blew our food budget on dinner. I had pizza, H pasta — with bread and water. Hmmm. Tomorrow it will be bread and cheese again!
[Saturday 12 February, 1994] We got up at 8:30am (how funny that now we’re on the road we can do so easily!) and packed and left. For breakfast we had yoghurt and banana on the banks of the Grand Canal, while further costumed merrymakers passed us by. It was all rather lovely.
We then caught the number one vaporetto to the train station, where we booked a train ride to Firenze (Florence) and deposited our packs in the luggage store. We then set about finding souvenirs — for Venice hit us hard and we will never be the same again. Venice has DEFINED the word ‘masquerade’ for me, and that is how I will always remember it.
We were distracted from our battle with the scores of Saturday tourists who had flocked to the carnival, by a group of four English actors performing in comic style a version of Richard III in four (4) languages (English, German, French and Italian). They really were hysterical and very clever. Lunch took place on the steps of the station, and then we took the train to Florence.
Okaaay, so I was just a little bit excited… Next stop in 1994 is Florence, where we are considerably more subdued.