Trip date: February 28 – March 2
My goodness, Venice! I’ve had such a crazy time, I don’t know where to start. Carnevale (or Carnival as it’s known in most of the world) is international but the place to experience it in Europe is Venice, and now I see why. Seeing this spectacle first hand was high on my “must-see” list at the beginning of the semester and, as it turns out, every other college student studying in Western Europe had the same idea. As a result, the little, sinking city of Venice was taken over by party-crazed college kids!
Venice is just as beautiful as I’d been told. Imagine a charming city with no cars, narrow pedestrian streets and a constant dissection of canals and bridges. Now imagine thousands of people walking these streets dressed up in costumes that belong on the stage at the opera house, complete with wigs and petticoats galore and masks all around. Even small children were dressed up in these intricate costumes. Just fantastic!
Meanwhile, about thirty minutes outside of the city on the mainland was our hostel. Let’s just say that L’Alba Doro Camping grounds/hostel made the Peace and Love hostel in Paris look like a five star hotel! For only 11 euro a night (during peak season, mind you) you too can sleep in a stuffy-smelling abandoned trailer with three bunk beds! You, too, can shiver while you sleep in these lovely heatless accommodations and you, too, can walk a mere half mile to the nearest outdoor bathroom – BYOTP! My rough and tough Clearwater self came out this weekend and more than once did I refer to the bathroom as the brown. A couple of my travel companions thought that this was possibly the worst thing to ever happen in the history of travel but I looked at it as a fun and memorable adventure!
Needless to say, we spent as little time in the trailer park/hostel as possible. Before leaving Rome we bought a couple of 5 L jugs of wine (before you judge – there were about 12 of us in total and wine is cheaper than water in Italy… cheap wine, anyway) and we filled our water bottles at the park as to avoid paying inflated wine prices in the city. In the US college students day drink beer for football games. In Italy we’re pretty classy… we day drink wine of sightseeing and people watching.
Venice is a lovely city, despite the unfortunate pollution and the whole issue with it slowly sinking. During Carnevale, every piazza had live music or a show or something equally as exciting going on. Every shop was open and buzzing, including all of the glass shops that the city is so famous for. This struck me as possibly a good sales strategy – open a crowded glass shop so that thousands of drunk college kids can come admire the fare. You break it, you buy it, right?
Though it took us almost two hours to do so (Venice, even without the wine, is difficult to navigate and we quickly realized that the maps aren’t much help) we finally found the main piazza – Piazza di San Marco. It is beautiful, bordered on one side with a huge church of the same name and on another by the sea. I hear that at high tide the whole piazza has been known to flood! There was a stage set up in the front and we were able to catch the tail end of a costume contest. Second place was actually awarded to a couple from California wearing nothing but bubble wrap fashioned into a 17th century-esque costume. They said they’d been working on them for over six months and that it was a challenge to fly the costumes to Italy without them popping or coming apart. I guess they had a pretty interesting conversation with the man at customs, but when when finally were able to explain that they were costumes for Carnevale he suddenly completely understood, apologized for bothering them, and wished them luck.
Several of us girls got talked into getting our faces painted in the spirit of Carnevale. As the man was applying the sparkly paint to my face with a fine tipped paint brush all I could think about was if we had any running water at the hostel. And if we did, it would certainly be cold. But… “When in Rome!” Or, in this case, “When at Carnevale!”
When night fell, the real party started with live music and drum circles and dancing around the piazza. I met tons of other students who were studying everywhere from Spain to England to Geneva to Belgium and everywhere in between! Somehow we all made it on the bus around 4am to go back to the hostel and, once we got there, no one cared that we were sleeping in a trailer. I fell asleep with the festivities of Carnevale still buzzing in my ears.
The next morning several of us dragged ourselves out a bed relatively early and headed back to the city to walk around a bit before leaving that afternoon. Amazing, the number of people on the streets seemed to double overnight and what the day before was a fun, exciting crowd now was a bit annoying. We enjoyed a standing brunch of bread and cheese and hoped to take a gondola ride but we weren’t able to find a single empty boat and were eventually told that there wouldn’t be a ride available until the next morning. Oh well, next time.
After getting some amazing gelato and shopping around a bit it was time to say “ciao” to Venice and her 12 million visitors, so we made our way to the train station. The story here gets rather complicated, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say that three very crowded trains later (two of which were standing room only) we finally got back to Rome sweet home sometime after 2am. One lesson I’ll be taking from my time traveling around Italy: never trust an Italian train schedule. I like to think of every train ride as a new and exiting adventure!