Venice & Murano – Carnival

Saturday, 11th of February, 2017

A Different City Entirely

After my last visit to Venice, my first couple of days in Italy, I was shocked to see it absolutely crowded. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, considering it was the first day of Carnival. Tourists had flown in from all corners of the globe and communicated at various levels of English. I’ve asked some other exchange students about this and, according to them, English is a nice middle ground between all their language and they insist it’s one of the easier languages to learn.

Everyone was excited, cameras ready. Many had masks and many Italians walked around in full costume. Dresses from the Renaissance, a man dressed to appear he was riding a horse and the traditional Plague Doctor costume with beaked mask and leather cloak. The last has an interesting history behind it as it was not originally a costume or every day dress. It was worn by doctors during the plague in the 14th century.

De Lorme imagined that the herbs stuffed in the end of the beak would purify the air and prevent the plague doctor from breathing in the miasma.

The above is taken from here where you can get a more full history of the outfit.

With no hotel to retreat to this time around, I discovered public toilets cost two euros and decided it would be better to buy some McDonalds so I could use their ‘customers only’ bathroom. They gave me caramel sundae sauce for my pancakes. Unexpectedly good.

I spent most of the morning wandering aimlessly, accidentally coming across the Rialto Bridge, a couple of other cool buildings and some more costumes.

The Glassblowers of Murano

In the early afternoon I caught a water taxi to the neighbouring island of Murano, known for its glass. The taxi was 7.50eur. Extremely expensive transportation after spending a week in Udine, but it’s all there is. We slowly moved down the Grand Canal, pausing at stops and then sped across the open water. It takes about twenty minutes but there are beautiful views of the sea, the retreating island of Venice and the growing island of Murano to keep the passengers’ attention.

Once on the island I started walking and quickly found a glass museum. Everything is always bigger than it looks here in Italy. All the houses and stores appear so narrow, but they extend back a surprising length and usually up as well. Inside the museum were videos of how glass is made and the history of the craft including Ancient Greece and Egypt. A more detailed history including Venice’s roll in glassblowing can be found here. There were amazing things made from glass, chandeliers, vases, jewelry, tiny insects and flowers, globes, a model of a town.

I picked up a couple of necklaces at one of the multitude of neighbouring glass shops and regretfully caught the taxi back to Venice. If you have time to waste on Murano, as I hope to one day, you should drop into one of factories for a demonstration. Apparently the bigger ones you can just walk right in and start watching. Of course, they will try to sell you things. Hopefully I can go back soon and find a good one to recommend!

Back on Venice, a bit of following people who looked like they knew where they were going had me in Piazza San Marco. A huge place with beautiful buildings, something half constructed for carnival (maybe the ice skating I’d heard about) and thousands of tourists. San Marco features a large clock tower designed with the twelve astrology signs. I explored it as the sun went down and the lights turned on, turning Carnival even more enchanting.

I found a map at a cash conversion store and then tried to confirm at a tourist information centre where and when the grand opening would be, as my phone had died. The line was long, only one of the two people there were willing to help the tourists and after ten minutes two American women in front of me were debating if it was worth it, as they’d been there twice as long.

So I did a thing I normally try avoid, drew attention to myself. Asked them what they were after and it turned out almost everyone in the line was after the same thing. The best place to see costumes. So I told a multitude of people from around the globe about the opening ceremony, marked it on all their maps and headed their with the two American ladies. As it was on the other side of the island and the taxis were crowded it took twenty minutes of walking. My previous wandering of Venice helped get us there without getting lost and I was extremely relieved to find I had given everyone in the information centre the correct information. Here was the grand opening. And the crowd that went with it.

Everyone who could had shown up for the grand opening. Strangers were pressed up against each other, children lifted onto shoulders, friends gripping each others hands so they stayed together. We got to see the first few minutes between the shoulders of others before we decided that all the yelling and shoving, including the police who were actually telling us to shove each other so we could keep walking, wasn’t worth it. We bailed out of there, the two ladies one way and me the other to make for the train station. I got to see more of the grand opening as I struggled across the bridge. That morning it had taken thirty seconds to cross. That evening it took nearly twenty minutes.

With no room to aim a camera and poor photography skills besides, I have no pictures to show of it. So HERE is a beautiful Youtube video of what made its way down Venice’s canals that night.

After being nearly crushed to death and apologised to and growled at I was happy to find less crowded streets and a train departing for Udine in just enough minutes for me to grab a slice of pizza first. A good end to a fantastical and slightly stressful day.

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