Author: Tony F.
Date of Trip: February 2003
You don’t see much written about Venice Carnival and there’s a good reason for this. Venice is bursting at the seems at Carnival time and the authorities can’t cope with ever more tourists turning up at what is probably the busiest time of the year. So it’s kept rather quiet.
So when is Venice Carnival? It’s held over the 10 days leading up to Lent, so it varies from year to year depending when Easter falls. In practical terms Carnival tends to fall in February but I have been there at its start in January and I can tell you that with frost on the ground it can be bitterly cold first thing in the morning and also as soon as dusk arrives. On the other hand, during the day the weather is often very kind as there tends to be very little rain at that time of the year and the skies are normally clear blue with the sun shining brightly. And all that makes for good photographs.
Carnival can be as expensive or as cheap as you want. Of course there are the fashionable masked balls that take place in the top hotels and they will set you back several hundred euros. However so much is free. Most public events take place over the two weekends that fall within the 10 day Carnival period. Visitors and locals get into the Carnival spirit by dressing up in costumes, wearing masks or simply having their faces painted.
There are the daily processions along the water front ending up in St Mark’s Square on both weekends; there is the procession of gondolas up the Grand Canal and there are the fireworks displays. And you’re also likely to come across the Rome Pipe Band in full Scottish kilt and regalia who make their annual visit and deafen everyone with ‘Scotland the Brave’!
The best part to Carnival however is the people who take part by dressing up and what a great place to people watch. The costumes and masks are superb and everyone wants their photographs taken. It’s the only place I know where you can walk up to the prettiest girl around and ask to take her photograph without getting your face slapped or receiving a thump from her husband or boyfriend! In fact there is competition to find the best places to stand to give the photographers a suitable background because taking photos of people in costume without tourists appearing in the background is no easy task.
Unfortunately the no frills airlines have woken up to the fact that there is a carnival in Venice and have upped their airfares at this time of the year. It wasn’t all that many years ago that I managed to fly out to Venice Carnival for the princely sum of £5.99 but I don’t expect we’ll see those days again.
Actually, I didn’t fly to Venice but to Treviso. This is a town around 30 minutes train ride from Venice with a regular and remarkably cheap rail service (single fare less than 3 euros). Accommodation is also much cheaper in Treviso so staying there makes a great deal of sense as there are some good bed and breakfast guest houses there.
The first time I did this I used the train to get into Venice on the Saturday but was disturbed to read station notices that there was going to be a one day rail strike on the Sunday. So much for my carefully laid plans for a cheap visit to Venice Carnival. However, no worries – there is a bus station in Treviso and buses for Venice start their journey from there. The fare was about the same but the journey time was twice as long. Those boarding the bus in Treviso were fine but I really felt sorry for all those local people that we left on the roadside in the villages we passed through, especially the children in costume, who were trying to get into Venice to attend the carnival.
My final tip for Venice, or many other places in, mainly, northern Italy, is to search out a BREK establishment. BREK run a chain of self-service cafeterias and the food quality is really outstanding with many of the meals being cooked to order while you wait. The BREK in Venice – just a short walk from the station – is too touristy with mainly pasta and pizza dishes but I can thoroughly recommend the one in Treviso.