A student living abroad in Italy gives advice and an inside look into four months of adventure and life as a twenty-something studying in a foreign country.
The first thing studying abroad teaches you is that it is exceptionally difficult to capture the feeling of a culture in a movie or in a restaurant. If you want a good laugh, watch “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” or eat at a Bertucci’s before traveling to Italy. I assure you, Italy is much more wonderful than one can fathom. If you are considering studying abroad in, or traveling to Italy, come in the spring and go to Venetian Carnevale to experience one of the most impressive and enjoyable aspects of Italian culture.
Carnevale (or Carnival) is celebrated in Christian countries around the world from Brazil to France to Trinidad, but the festival celebrated in Venice, Italy, is particularly well-known as an amazing spectacle. The celebration begins three weeks before the start of Lent, the season of repentance before Easter Sunday and ends on Shrove Tuesday. (This is known as Mardi Gras in the United States). Historically for Venetians, Carnevale was the time in which people of all facets of society could disguise themselves in elaborate costumes and masks and enjoy the close of winter in St. Marco’s Square. For travelers today, it is one big masquerade party.
What to Bring:
Your camera — There is beauty around every corner in Venice, but this is especially so during Carnevale. The costumes of Carnevale can be as intricate and detailed as a butterfly-bride in 18th-century dress, or as simple and silly as a roaming pack of Power Rangers. Do not miss out on the fun by forgetting to buy a mask. There are more mask shops and vendors in Venice than perhaps any other type of business, so buy one in Venice itself, as there is a wide selection. Masks cost anywhere from €5 on, depending on the style and quality. The cheapest option is face paintings on the street, but this can take up time, as there is often a line.
Your stomach — The theme of 2015’s Carnevale celebration was “enogastronomy,” or food, wine and taste. Venetian restaurants, cafés and sweets shops have pulled out all the stops to suit the theme. There are many foods and pastries that are prepared only around the Christmas and Carnevale season, so try those first. Among these is the popular treat, the frittelle, or Carnevale fritter, a fried dough ball with sugar, cinnamon and lemon. Another recommended sweet is Venetian fried custard. Foods can get expensive during Carnevale, but they are worth the expense, as they contribute to the spirit and traditions of the festival.
Travel preparations — Housing accommodations around the Carnevale festival are expensive and must be booked a great deal of time in advance. If you can, take a day trip over the weekend. Traveling by train to Venice is typically an easy and cheap option, but be aware of the train schedules and know when the last trains leave. If you do not mind crowds and a bit of chaos, the last weekend is the most popular and is guaranteed to have spectacular costumes and performances. If you are weary of the crowds, one of the earlier weekends is a better option, as there are typically fewer people, but just as many wonderful costumes and things to see.
If you’re traveling to Italy, break out the confetti and the capes. Venetian Carnevale is an experience not to be missed.