Venice Carnival; Nothing but Masks!

Trip Start Aug 16, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Italy  , Veneto,
Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm not going to get into the trip there too much, just to say that it was miserable. A nine hour bus ride with no leg room and stops every two hours, which woke us all up every time, usually right as we were just falling asleep after being woken up by the last break.  I really can’t comprehend why stops every two hours were necessary.  But finally around 7 in the morning we arrived at the train station and took a train across a bridge and into the city of Venice.

Within 20 minutes several of us had purchased masks I had meant to look around longer before buying one, but I found one that I really liked that was only 8 Euros and was glad I bought it since I didn’t find one that I liked better during the rest of the trip.  We were all still so tired from lack of sleep that we just wandered the city for most of the first day.  I was with six other students from the CSU program, and it was so crowded that we kept losing each other and having to stop to find one another.  We stopped for lunch, more just to get out of the crowds for a little bit.  I had a nice glass of white wine and an excellent Italian pizza.

The first day was really nice despite how tired we all were.  We stopped inside lots of stores and looked at all the beautiful masks, glass and clothes they had.  Saw lots of Venice’s beautiful architecture and later took a tour of the city in French, which was informative, but I suspect would have been more so, if the guide had spoken a little slower.  Regardless it was very interesting and I understood most of it.  We had to meet our boat at 7:00 to take us off the island to our bus which would take us back to where we were staying that night.  So we got to see some of Venice by night, which was really interesting.  Crazy bands, performers and just people out to party and have a good time wandering the streets all dressed up in costumes and masks making tons of noise.  It was like a chic Italian Halloween.

We were disappointed to discover that our lodgings were a bit of a journey from the city.  When we arrived, we were a little surprised to discover that we were not staying at a hostel as we had expected, but at a nunnery or some kind of religious retreat run by nuns.  I’m not quite sure why we were staying with nuns, but it was fun.  They were so sweet and always smiling.  And they made us dinner that night and a very nice breakfast in the morning, much better than the usual hostel breakfast.  The rooms were also very nice with warm showers, another thing you don’t always find in hostels.

The next morning we woke up early to meet a boat to take a tour of some of the surrounding islands around Venice.  We apparently got there a bit too late and the boat had already left.  So we stood in the freezing wind by the port while our guide tried to figure out what to do.  Finally another boat arrived and we set off.  First we visited the village of Burano which was small and cute, with little shops selling glass jewelry and hand-made lace and of course masks.  The most striking thing about this small island town was how colorful all the buildings were, bright yellows, blues, greens and oranges each a different color.  It sounds tacky but it was somehow perfect for this tiny community on this island and I’m sure looks just gorgeous in the summer sun.  I was really the only one from my group of CSU students to wander around and see it.  The rest of my group stayed huddled in the tiny seafood restaurant that we had stopped in for a quick lunch.  I had some delicious fresh fried calamari and a cappuccino.  But when I had finished I left to see some of the city before the boat left for the next island while my friends stayed inside not wanting to go back outside.

We got back on the boat and headed to the island of Murano where Murano glass comes from.  The ride over there was fascinating.  Venice is surrounded by thousands of islands big and small many of which are covered in ruins from various centuries.  When we got to Murano we were given a glass blowing demonstration, the artist made a bowl and then a horse.  I can’t believe how quickly they are able to make such intricate and delicate pieces of art.  I suppose the speed is necessary, but it was still mind blowing how quickly a molten ball of glass became a delicate horse.  At the end of the demonstration he threw a couple shreds of newspaper on his newest creations which instantly burst into flames from the heat of the glass.  Afterwards we were shown there factory gift-shop, where I spent far too much money getting some gifts for friends and some items for myself.  They had such a large discount by not trying to buy them in Venice that I couldn’t resist.

When we got back to the city we wandered around some more and saw a really interesting museum on Vivaldi with a beautiful collection of instruments that were hundreds of years old, and some varieties that are not even played anymore.  That night we went to a nice Italian restaurant where I tried the Italian classic of spaghetti and meatballs.  We had a great time and a really funny waiter and although no wine was actually drunk at this meal, you would never have guessed that if you had been sitting at the next table.

The next day we started by visiting the Doge’s palace.  The Doge is the elected Duke or figure head of the city.  It was really interesting to learn about how medieval Venice governed itself.  During a time that the rest of the world had hereditary monarchies Venice had a strong and proud democracy.  Granted, only the noble families could vote, but it’s still better than what the rest of Europe had at that time, or would have for quite a while.  The palace was beautiful, but I was surprised to see that it was just as much for the various assemblies and meeting rooms of the republic.  It had one of the largest rooms in Europe and in that room was the longest canvas painting in the world.  It was so massive I had to look at it in segments.  It was kind of a like what the red carpet of heaven must look like.  All of the headliners of the big stories hanging out on clouds pointing at things.  A definite who’s who of heaven, in one giant, beautiful painting.

Afterwards we went into the Saint Mark’s Cathedral, which was beautiful.  The interior is covered from top to bottom in beautiful and intricate mosaics mostly covered in gold leaf, the whole church almost glowed from all the gold surrounding you.  The style was very Byzantine, but still very mixed with the styles of Venice making it a very unique space.

After seeing the two main sites, we came across two gondola drivers who made us a really good deal for a ride.  It was a slightly rainy day so they weren’t very busy and we had one too many people to use one boat but to buy two was too expensive, but they made us a deal we couldn’t refuse and I finally got to take a gondola ride in Venice Italy.  And boy was it worth it!  Our guide was absolutely hilarious as well as informational.  I learned that there are a limited number of licenses available for gondola drivers, thus after training and getting a permit one must wait for their father to retire, since these licenses are often handed down from father to son.  This is practically the only way to become a gondola driver, unless you can make friends with one who has no son.  He told us that he had inherited his as well as his first boat from his father and dreamed of having a son that he could one day pass his license on to.  It was really sweet.  It took a little convincing but we even convinced our driver to sing to us.  He sang only for a minute under a bridge but it was actually pretty good, and now I can check that off the bucket list.  After that we wandered a bit more until it was time for me to break off from the group and catch a bus to the airport for my flight to Rome.  Venice was beautiful (and expensive) but can’t hold a candle to my next stop.  My new favorite city in Europe; Rome, the eternal city.

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