Carnevale Venice: A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
I like to think that I’m a fairly organised traveller. Truth be told, I’m lying. Years down the line, and despite writing list after list, checking and double-checking my bag, I’m just as disorganised and manic and perpetually lost as ever.
Good start to a travel guide, you think! But, hey, at least others can learn from my mistakes. And if there’s ever a good place to be disorganised and get lost, it’s Venice.
At least, once you’re there. Before is a slightly different story.
I would glide easily back home that night on a sea of confetti and excitement. Who needs to be organised?
I decided to visit Venice during Carnevale, one of Italy’s biggest festivals: a time for elaborate costumes, make-belief and all things beautiful. I made the decision the day before, as spontaneous as ever–quickly realising that, despite having a busy work schedule, I couldn’t miss out. It seemed remarkably easy. I would take the regional train–16 euros each way, remarkably cheap–I would spend the day there, I would glide easily back home that night on a sea of confetti and excitement. Who needs to be organised?
When I told my students my plan, I was met with a general attitude of shock, confusion and disapproval. “Tomorrow? During its busiest time? Are you mad?” They were even more perplexed when I told them I was getting the train. “But Italian trains are terrible!” one student cried. “They are as bad as the Indian train system! No, worse!”
Now, having never been to India, I couldn’t possibly comment – but I was willing to bet that this student was being a tad melodramatic. And indeed, once I got on the train, I failed to see what the problem was. I got a seat, the train was on time, it wasn’t even that busy. I blissfully switched my Ipod on and settled down for an easy ride.
Think the crowds at Disneyland on a summer Saturday afternoon, combined with DSLRs, gondolas, crazy masks and crazier costumes.
The problem is, I got on the train at the first stop.
One hour later was a different story. Two stops later and the train was packed; three stops and there was barely any room to stand. Add to this an inexplicable one hour delay and insane amounts of heat, and you’re left wishing you’d planned just that bit better. This is one case where investing a little more money in transport is definitely worth it. I left the train feeling squashed, stressed and like I’d definitely earned my 16 euro ticket.
When I finally stepped off the train, along with half the population of Italy, I was coughed into some strange, topsy-turvy world. And yes, everyone was right: a busy one at that. Think the crowds at Disneyland on a summer Saturday afternoon, combined with DSLRs, gondolas, crazy masks and crazier costumes.
I must admit, this may be some people’s idea of hell. Indeed, it’s usually mine. But all the chaos seemed to add to the excitement. There were no problems, no anger, limited stress. Just crowds of excited people, sharing in the festivities of one of Italy’s biggest traditions. Despite the tourists, it was actually–dare I say– remarkably quiet. The lack of noise was bizarre, almost eerie, when you saw the amount of people.
I must admit, this may be some people’s idea of hell. Indeed, it’s usually mine.
A quick tip: if you need a break from the crowds, turning away from the masses will undoubtedly lead you into a quiet terrace for a breather. That’s the strange thing about Venice: it’s all or nothing. Either you’re swarmed by people, or you’re completely alone. This is one time where getting lost is worthwhile.
Venice was a strange and surreal experience, unlike any other. It is undeniably touristy, yes, but there’s a good reason for it: it’s utterly magical. It’s like stepping into another world, especially during festival season. I left the city wishing I’d planned better, or at least stayed longer. This feeling was amplified when I saw the hundreds of people waiting impatiently for the not-so-relaxing train home. I was lucky and squeezed on; many others weren’t, and had to risk the last train home–or being stranded. You’ve been warned.
My advice? If you want to see Carnevale, don’t just hop on a train like me (unless you particularly enjoy sardine can carriages crammed with angry Italian tourists). Do it properly:
- Book a hotel and train tickets well in advance. I’ve been told train seat reservations and the faster trains sell out weeks before
- Be aware of the crowds, and keep your bag with you at all times. It alarmed me just how easy it would be for pickpockets here; you’re in close proximity with a lot of people in many of the main tourist attractions.
- Dress up! It adds to the whole fun. At a minimum, you can pick up a mask for a few euros – the prices hikes up in touristy areas –or even get your face painted.
- Try and stay a night or two at least, so you can see the Masquerade Balls and the magical evening events. It made me so sad to miss these!
- And above all, be patient and enjoy the experience. Yes, walking around may take hours with the added tourists, but it’s Venice! It’s a slow, surreal city and utterly worth all your time. And if you get lost, so much the better! You’ll be safe in the knowledge you don’t have to rush back on a train.
…or at least, if you’re savvier than me, you should be!