How to get the most out of Venice Carnival

IT’S CARNIVAL! I assume everyone read that in an uplifting Dr. Nick Simpson’s- esque tone. If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. Venice Carnival- the dates change every year but expect a two-week festival very late into January and into mid-February. Festivals don’t get much better than this. Elaborate Venetian costumes with the perfect backdrop of the Gran Canal and gondolas. Naturally, this was on our This is Happening List.

Now, when we went in February 2016, we were so poor. Not the fake poor that rich people complain about but the proper poor. At the point where we almost ate ice cube soup paired with a glass of water for dinner. But it was settled. It’s on our list, so we booked it. Even if it wasn’t on our list, flights were like 70 euros round trip per person, so we justified it by the savings.

Our justification process…

IF we stayed home we would eat three meals a day which would cost like 35 euros. Knowing us, we would probably go to a movie (absolutely not) or go for a drink with friends (unlikely, we don’t have friends).

Whereas IF we booked the trip we probably wouldn’t eat much breakfast and we would have a late lunch which would cover dinner so that’s probably like 28 euros a day which saves us 7 euros each day. That FOR SURE covers our flight and our accommodation.

Backed by mathematics, the numbers don’t lie.

Buy your costume when you get to Venice

Not only were we going to the Venice carnival but we had money left over to dress to impress (not even remotely true). We contemplated where we would purchase our own costumes because you can’t go to a costume party without dressing up. If you are that type of person- FOR SHAME!

We were going to order our costumes online but they were either cheap looking for 50 euros on some tacky party website or hand-made by a 200-year-old Venetian dressmaker with fabrics from the 14th century for like 700 euros each. More when you add on the swanky headpiece or snazzy shoes. There was no in-between. But we are in-between types of people. We wanted a good costume for a decent price.

We then decided to wing it (i.e. the cheap person’s planning). We would buy our costumes once we arrived. As a safeguard, we bought some plastic masks in Amsterdam from Action before we left so we didn’t show up empty-handed. At the very least, they would hide our shame of not being in costume. In hindsight, we did not need to waste that €3.65 because every second store in Venice sells beautiful Carnival masks.

Accommodation during Venice Carnival

We arrived on a gloomy February day but no amount of foul weather could melt our spirits. Even after our bus driver didn’t stop after we pressed the next-stop button. I don’t know why but missing my bus stop is one of my greatest fears in life. We were cheerful. We even laughed if you can believe it*. We got out at the following stop which just so happened to be that weird stop that no one likes, covered by graffiti and overgrown nature, awkwardly out of place- like me in a hipster cafe. After walking along a dangerous highway with cars zooming past us on the right and a massive ditch that we almost fell into on our left, followed by trekking through some wild bushes/ thorns we managed to arrive at the front entrance of our accommodation (Hilton Garden Inn Venice Mestre San Giuliano). Clearly, we weren’t in the historic Venitian island centre, but rather just off that long road that leads into Venice. The bus system was pretty decent and since Carnival is an expensive time for accommodation, we saved a bit of money. We got changed out of our spontaneous hike attire. Just kidding, we only bought one set of clothing since we refuse to pay those checked bag fees. So looking a little worse for wear (people may or may not have thought we were already in costume as old-time beggars) we headed into Venice and began our mystical, tiring search for our costumes.

Where to buy your Venice carnival costume?

Within 30 seconds we found that every store sold masks so our journey was over. But do note when it is pouring rain, the masks melt a bit and the paint will dribble down your cheeks, tattooing your cheapness on your face for all to see. So be cautious of which ones you buy.

After wandering for a while with our newly purchased matching masks we spotted what looked to be a luxury costume store that sold the exact costumes we were looking for– so we didn’t go in. That afternoon with no success, we decided to go into that fancy-looking store called Magie di Carnevale. Surprisingly, some things (like our capes) were moderately priced. Lesson learned, always judge a book by its cover until it’s the last resort. We looked pretty dapper in our new outfits if I do say so myself. People even took photos… and I all had to do was push my way to stand next to a nicely costumed person.

The not-so-fun realisation

Now what I have failed to mention may come as a shock. For me, I imagined Venice Carnival as thousands of people dressed in impressive, handmade costumes like in National Geographic. In reality, roughly 150 people were dressed up (including us) out of thousands. The people in costume are staged in front of these iconic scenes (old school church doors, gondola boats tied together etc.) with loads of photographers surrounding them. It’s what I assume an execution would look like, minus the beheading.

Why you shouldn’t book this pub crawl during Venice Carnival

What followed this realisation was another disappointing occurrence. The Venetian Pub Crawl, which we booked on the official Venice Carnival website.

Prior to leaving, I knew we needed to do some drinking so we purchased an organized, civilized evening of good times, costing roughly €45 euros for each ticket. Now, this was far cheaper than the Venetian balls you could attend for €350+. We were amped, to say the least.

The night before the crawl, I realized there was no information on where to meet apart from “near the museum by the water”. Considering the pub crawl was on an island, I felt this was a bit vague. I was concerned we would miss out on what was sure to be the highlight of our trip, so I called and then emailed to ask where we were meeting. No response.

Flash forward to the next day when we still received no response. Thirty minutes before the pub night began, we arrived at the museum mentioned. No one was there. We creepily walked around inside the museum halls, which was noticeable since we were the only people dressed up. Our lurking in dark corridors almost got us kicked out and still nada on the pub crawl front. I was a frantic mess saying we spent all this money and now will miss out on one epic night. Little did I know what was to unfold. We decided to split up and meet back at the bridge. Having spotted no signs of the pub crawl on my end, I was back nearly in tears. 45€ wasted! But fear not child, my friend found the meeting point! It was near the ferry bus stop “by the water”. The night was saved!

Or was it dun dun dun..

So to say this was the worst pub crawl in history would be highly accurate. It started off at 7:30 pm with 10 people and a guide. There were older couples dressed in custom-made costumes along with young people who were dressed in teen angst.

7:38-7:50 We walked from the meeting spot and arrived at the first pub crawl where we had 6 minutes to finish our drink and rush to the next pub.

7:50-9:10 We walked for eternity to the other side of the Grand Canal since one part of the description online stated: “we will not go to the other side of the Gran Canal”. This was the second unexpected hike of the trip. Having been on our share of pub crawls, we concluded that 46 minutes of walking between pubs wasn’t ideal. Not only do you lose your buzz, but you get exercise and no one wants that on a pub crawl.

9:10-9:15 We arrived at the second location. Lost two people along the way since they needed to go to the toilet and the pub crawl guide didn’t care to wait. We ate almost one appy per person since there wasn’t enough to go around. Splitting an appy is like trying to split an atom. They are too minuscule of proportions to even attempt to do so.

9:18- 9:25 We arrive at the third location and got pushed out the doors before we could clink our glasses together to say cheers. We walked.

9:33- 9:47 Fourth location. More walking (notice a pattern?).

9:55-10:15 pm: “Save the best for last”- that saying would not be appropriate here. The Irish tourist pub was packed and we waited shmushed (I am aware it’s not a word) up against the walls for our drink. I did not receive mine despite asking our pub crawl guide twice. The second time I saw him after waiting another 10 minutes I asked again. He handed me his personal cup with lip marks on the rim and half the alcoholic beverage gone. The next thing I know, he dashed out without saying goodbye.

The number one goal of a pub guide is to get everyone drunk, which was not the case. The second is to try and keep everyone in the group together, which was not the case since he abandoned two participants at pub 2 for needing to go to the toilet. The third goal is to plan a reasonable route to the best pubs in the area with minimal walking, which was not the case. We ended up getting our steps in for the day since we walked for 1 hour 47 minutes in total and spend around 38 minutes in the actual five pubs. Classic Italy.

Total time walking: 1 hour and 47 minutes

Total time spent in five different pubs: 38 minutes

Total drinks had: 3.5 ( I didn’t actually drink the .5 but it was given to me)

We were soberly pissed when we got home at 10:49 pm.

A devastating end to Venice Carnival

The next day before we left for our evening flight, the most tragic thing happened. I am not even being dramatic. Some of our favourite cheap unreal eats are in Venice and so the entire night before we left the following day, I was deciding what I wanted to order for breakfast from one of our favourite places.

Now here is the tragedy. We go into town, briskly walking towards those mini sandwiches that I had dreams about the night before. I briskly walk for two reasons; food and Disneyland. So when I sighted the food establishment my heart dropped into my stomach. I neared closer and saw that it was CLOSED until the following day. I didn’t want to believe it. I cried out to the heavens WHY!? as I shook the barred door. I would rather starve than have mediocre food touch my tongue– I’ve never said once.

Before our evening flight left, we had a bit of time to kill so we waited in the downstairs lobby area meant for business people and opened a bottle of prosecco. We took swigs from it trying to drown our sorrows from the breakfast fiasco while we ate sliced deli meat from a package. Surprisingly, not even remotely close to the lowest point in my life.

P.S. I am sure you think we are irresponsible idiots and rightly so, but in our defence, we were both working but got paid on a monthly basis. We were going to get money even if we didn’t have money at the time of booking. Plus, it’s the Venice Carnival.

*Don’t believe it, we did not laugh. We were hyperventilating that we were going to have to stay on the bus for all eternity in some time loop and never make it to our hotel that we already paid for.

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