The upside to timing my Venice visit to coincide with the opening weekend was fewer tourists and seeing the carnival opening water parades. The first part of La Festa Veneziana was on Saturday evening, with two shows at 6 pm and 8 pm, and the second the following morning from 11 am. If this is what the crowds are on the carnival weekend with the least tourists, I dread to think what it will be like for the following two weekends.
I had spent much of Saturday on Burano and arrived back in Venice around 5 pm. I set off immediately on foot, heading to the Cannaregio area east of the Santa Lucia train station. The carnival festival opening was to be at 6 pm, but my plan to see the earlier of the two shows was foiled by the number of people flocking there. As Venice is built on canals with relatively few bridges across them, crowd control was easy. At least three bridges I tried to cross were blocked. It seems that by the time I was heading to the Rio di Cannaregio canal that its southern end was already chock full of people as when I finally got through I was at the northern end. Alas, there were people eight deep in front of me, so I saw nothing.
Well, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. There was going to be another identical show two hours later, at 8 pm, so I went in the nearest restaurant on the canal and settled in for a nice meal and a half litre of rather nice Pinot Grigio. Surprisingly, the restaurant was nearly empty, so I had a nice quiet meal with my Kindle app. By the time I left around 7:30 pm, the restaurant was filling up with people who had watched the earlier show and were now hungry and cold. The canal was much more approachable at that point and I scored a good spot with a full view of the canal, standing behind two short kids, flanked by their parents.
As I was rather toward the end of the canal, I’m not sure if I saw the full scope of the festival. There were perhaps a dozen barges that went past, some multiple times, and I found it all rather underwhelming. It was more circus-y than what I imagined Venice carnival to be. Some of the floats were rather fun, though, like the one with two white inflatable horses, one of which deflated by their second run, and the tall giraffe that ambled past, operated by several guys with long poles that worked the giraffe’s limbs. At least everyone around me were Italian, so perhaps the second show was populated more by the locals than the earlier one?
The next day I headed to the Rialto bridge well in time for the water parade that was departing from near St Mark’s Square at 11 am. The parade wound through pretty much the full length of the Grand Canal, due to veer right before the train station onto the Rio di Cannaregion canal again. I had chosen Rialto as my spot, partly because it was so close to my hotel and partly because the Cannaregio area had seemed a little claustrophobic the night before. Of course on the previous night the festival was confined to one short stretch of a narrow canal, but on Sunday the water parade was spread out the length of the Grand Canal, and so were the spectators.
The parade was going to approach Rialto bridge from the south, but by the time I got on the bridge, the south side of the bridge was already full of people. The north side of the bridge was partly empty, though, so I picked a good spot and settled in to wait. I had a good view from the top of the bridge. It was a clear lovely day, and my chosen spot had a gorgeous view with the sun behind me, so I had good light as well.
I overheard some tourists nearby talking and realized I wasn’t the only one getting a little restless and worried that we had somehow misunderstood the starting point of the parade, but around 11:40 am we started to hear cheering and music from behind us. Our wait was rewarded by first three police boats gliding slowly from underneath us, and then the first parade gondolas. The gondolas were all paddled, no motorboats allowed!
Sure, I didn’t see the gondolas from the front, but given my reluctance to photograph strangers in a way that they’re recognizable, I didn’t really mind. It was a fun spectacle, watching dozens of gondolas decked with costumed people glide past. Pirates and cowboys, Mickie and Minnie Mouses, convicts and courtiers, flower power and dancing couples – the parade had everything.
After the opening teasers, I was ready to see some traditional carnival costumes! More on that in another post!