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3 nights in Venice, Carnevale Grand Opening, Acqua Alta, and Alessandro’s Tours

Just got back from Venice and here are a few high points.

Saturday night was the Grand Opening of Carnevale and the event took place on the Canale di Cannaregio between the Ponte Tre Archi and the Ponte Guglie. The first show started at 6 PM, lasted about an hour and repeated at 8 PM. Huge crowds were on the bridges, but we found standing room along the Fondementa Pescaria. A pretty good sound system gave announcements in both Italian and English leading up to the start, as well as music during the show.

The show consisted of a series of “floats” on barges moving slowly up and down the canal with costumed performers. Many of the floats had large balloons attached, not quite Macy’s Parade size, and a themed tableau taking place. My favorite was a female diver who repeatedly swan-dove into a giant clear cup of “coffee”, generously splashing her costumed spotter as well as the canal-side audience. The water was obviously heated so that it steamed, as well as provided some warmth for the diver in the 40 deg F ambient air. She then climbed out, making sure the onlookers got a soaking and remounted her platform, displaying her physique and setting up for the next coffee dive..

One float had a girl wriggling around on a huge fish hook dangling from a fishing rod held by a “fish”. Another had a satyr doing acrobatic somersaults in a mock drunken manner between big slugs from a “wine” jug. All in all, it was a very Cirque du Soleil experience. Just when we were thinking how a nice bottle of wine with go well with the show, we noticed a mom-and-pop shop on the street behind us. The owner happily sold us a 6 euro bottle of Valpolicela, uncorked it for us and gave us 4 plastic cups. The canal side party was now complete.

The following day was the boat parade at the same location. This time, it was all groups and organizations rowing every type of Venetian water craft. Each team wore theme costumes and it seemed that there must have been a competition for best costumes, themes, etc. The teams could also be seen on the Grand Canal rowing to their staging points and waving to the onlookers riding the vaporettos. Again, there was a wide assortment of costumes, many in elaborate Carnevale get-ups, others as Holstein cows (On Wisconsin!), and monks and priests with appendages that were borderline obscene. The Pink Lionesses were great. Their boat displayed the logo of the Mestre Ladies Lions Club.

There were a lot of people also wandering the streets of Venice in the full Carnevale regalia. They seem to be sponsored by Carnevale committee, as they happily posed for photos, and unlike the “Gladiators” in Rome, never asked for money. At the end of the parade there was another surprise, free food! Food stands were set up on both sides of the canal and the crowds lined up to get a plastic plate of whatever was being served. We got a plate of bean and carrot stew, others got spaghetti carbonare. The food was apparently prepared and donated by local service organizations. Lots of people were walking around in masks and children and even their dogs in costume. The mask shops and venders were doing land office business. All-in all, a quite enjoyable weekend.

To be continued.

Posted by
3809 posts

That sounds amazing - Venice at Carnival is on my bucket list. We've been to Venice 4 times, but next time I want to see Carnival. Hopefully in a few years (next year I hope to do tulip time in Netherlands). I'm curious - how far ahead did you book your accoms and how is the weather?

Posted by
7685 posts

What a fun time! Thanks for the report...looking forward to the rest.

Posted by
15578 posts

The Carnevale Grand Opening was Jan 31 this year, 2 full weeks before it really gets going on Feb 14 leading up to "Fat Tuesday" on Feb 17. We did book this summer but honestly had no idea that this would be going on until a few weeks before we arrived. My impression was that there was plenty of hotel space available as booking engines did not show a spike in rates. My guess is that rates would be going up this Friday as you get closer to the true Carnevale season.
I told all my friends that snow was unheard of in Venice in Winter, whereupon it promptly started a light buckshot snow fall for about 20 minutes Sunday morning. Temps were in the low 40's F on Sunday in overcast conditions. Monday the sun came out and it was in the high 50's.

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15578 posts

(Continuation)
We arrived Venice Airport early Saturday afternoon on the 31st. With 8 people we took a transfer to our hotel via water taxi. Despite the 1/3 mile walk to the ferry dock, it’s a great way to enter Venice when you have 7 or 8 as it is quick (30 minutes), competitive pricewise with the Alilaguna or bus/vaporetto ticket. Our Hotel, the Continental, was right on the Grand Canal just a couple of blocks from SL train station with its own taxi dock and outdoor restaurant terrace on the canal.

After check in, we walked to the Carnevale Grand Opening a short walk away (see previous post). When checking in we were handed a note with the following message:

“Dear Sirs,
Due to high tide we suggest you to have breakfast tomorrow 1st February at 6:50 am.
Our Staff remain at your disposal for any further information.”

Hmmm. At 6:30 am, what sounded like a tornado warning siren went off outside the hotel followed by a strange claxon sound which must have some type of information encoded within. With no need for a wake-up call, we headed down to breakfast. A nice breakfast buffet which besides the usual items included scrambled eggs and bacon was provided. After chowing down, someone with a canal side table stood up and announced “Hey! There’s water all over the floor!”. Sure enough, high tide was indeed coming in, and now, the somewhat cryptic message became crystal clear. The staff immediately hustled in to start clearing tables, tucking the table clothes up, stacking the chairs on the tables, and encouraging the remaining guests to grab a to-go cup and get out of the way. Doors were removed from the lobby rest rooms and other precautions that nothing made of wood would contact the water. The elevator was set to go no lower than the 1st floor. Fortunately, the lobby, check in desk, and stairway were a few steps above the restaurant level and apparently safe.

Outside the hotel on the Lista di Spagna, the raised walkways were set up and the street vendors protected their stands and brought out their latest wares, plastic below-the-knee walking overshoes. 5 euro, gettem while they’re hot. The water began bubbling up out of the street drains, slowly inundating the street in front of the hotel.

The Lista di Spagna is a main walking route between the train station and right bank of the Grand Canal, by 9 am with the water near max the walkway was a solid line of bodies, many hauling roller boards to and from the station. Interesting situation when two people with over sized suitcases met going opposite directions on the meter wide walkway. Add in baby carriages, large dogs, and children and it was quite the show. Venetians with stylish rubber boots and tourists with the 5 euro specials nonchalantly splashed alongside the walkways, bypassing the traffic jam.

By 11 am, it was all over, the water was down, the walkways were disassembled, and the hotel staff was cleaning up the dining room, hosing down the floor, then mopping up with bleach water before putting everything back in its place. Just another day in the life of Venice. This happened the other 2 mornings in Venice, each time one hour later than the previous high tide. We noticed a German tour group the next day by the Chiesa San Polo with matching plastic foot wear. Their guide was not about to let them use Acqua Alta as an excuse to miss out on a valuable experience. Hotel porters had their work cut out for them if guests had to leave to make a train or flight during the high tide.

But Venice just rolls with the punches. Don’t let fear of the Acqua Alta stop you from enjoying the city. In fact, it can be a fun experience in its own right. You certainly won’t get this unique sight anywhere else. Venice continues to amaze.

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15578 posts

(Conclusion)
I will now confess that I brought 60 of my friends to Venice after skiing in Switzerland for a week. In order to get a program of some things to do, I suggested the tours offered by Alessandro Schezzini. Alessandro will be familiar to RS fans as he has been featured on Rick’s TV shows and in his guide book, namely for his famous “Cicchetti” bar tour. I contacted him by email and we set up a plan.

Alessandro has 3 tours on offer from his website, the Bar Tour, the “Offbeat” Tour which is a pre-Bar Tour walk around the neighborhoods of Venice, and his morning Murano-Burano Tour. I put together signups and communicated the numbers to Alesssandro. We ended up with about 18 people wanting the Murano-Burano Tour, which was set for Sunday morning, 40 people for the Bar Tour, and about 6 for the Offbeat Tour. We split the Bar Tour into 2 groups of 20 for Sunday and Monday evening, with the Offbeat going on Monday afternoon. I was a little worried that 20 people might be too many and a bit overwhelming, but Alessandro assured me it would work fine.

I did not do the Murano-Burano tour myself, so I can only relate that the people who took it were quite pleased and enjoyed it immensely. It was not without some issues for the reasons outlined in my previous post about Acqua Alta. The high water coming right at the scheduled tour time disrupted the transport system a bit for moving the large group of people over to Fondamente Nove by vaporetto. The tour had to be delayed until 11:30 when things were back to normal. The tour lasted about 5 hours.

I took the Monday evening Bar Tour. The group met at the top of the Rialto Bridge at 6 pm and we then headed toward the Rialto Mercato district. The first stop was a private room in a restaurant, where Alessandro brought out glasses and carafes of red wine. With all full wine glasses, we did a “Salute” and he began his lecture.

Think of this as the “classroom” session before going out to lab. While waiters brought in plates of cicchetti to munch on, Alessandro began talking about wine. I will not steal any of his thunder by divulging the text of the lecture, but suffice it to say that he is definitely of the “Slow Food” bent. It’s all about freshness and genuineness in the food and the wine. He made sure are wine glasses stayed full as we ate various cicchetti, calamari, small potatoes.

After several glasses of wine, it was time to move on to the lab session. The next bar was in business for 30 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Many ancient copper cooking pots were hung from the ceiling for decoration and behind the bar, 55-liter carboys of wine. I wonder if locals groan when they see Alessandro coming with a hoard of tourists, usually Americans. The noise level increases noticeably, but the bar owners don’t seem to mind the business. After several glasses of wine and plates of cicchetti, it was off to the next establishment for field experience.

Here we would not go inside, but hang out on the street and drink our wine Venetian style. Alessandro asked us to be sure to keep a pathway open so that the foot traffic could get through, and try to keep the noise level below a dull roar. “Last night’s group was terrible!” (wink, wink). A couple of tables were outside and occupied by others. One person had a dog that seemed to know the lay of the land. People eat cicchetti, crumbs fall to the ground, dog gets cicchetti.

Finally, by 8 pm it was time to go. Alessandro led us to the Rialto Mercato vaporetto stop and bid us all Ciao and Bye-Bye. We asked Alessandro earlier how busy he was. He told us the tours are getting quite popular. In fact, he is already having to turn people away during popular months of May, June, September and October. The hot months of July and August are not as busy, as well as November to April. So if you want to do one of his tours in the high season, by all means book early ahead of time. Just google his name for his email.

Posted by
306 posts

Hi Sam,
Thank you for posting this. I am going to Venice in the spring and doing a tour with Alessandro.