February 28, 2009

Carnevale Venezia '09

Leaving for the airport at 3:30 in the morning is always a good time. So is a three hour lay-over in Paris CDG. But we got to fly over the snow-covered alps, which made my year! And I got to play baggage-claim roulette in VCE Marco Polo airport, and won when my suitcase landed on 29 black! We took a water bus into the center of Venice. Approaching the Piazza San Marco from the water was quite an amazing site: with the palace, pillars, and basilica appearing in front of us. As soon as we stepped off the dock onto San Marco, we were bombarded with Carnevale masks and costumes. Stalls lined the canal and the square, with feathered and sequined masks. People dressed up from head-to-toe in elaborate Carnevale costumes wandered through the piazza as if they were out for a typical Sunday stroll.

The Alps

Baggage-claim roulette 

Approaching San Marco on the water bus

Carnevale masks greeted us

Carnevale costumes right on the docks

Our hotel was just a few side streets off of the main square in San Marco. It didn't take us long to find it, but it took them long to find us. After being greeted by a locked door, we called the hotel and the man assured us that someone was on his way to let us in. We called back twice just to make sure he wasn't scamming us, and finally I asked "where is he coming from?" hoping to get a better gage on how long it would take him to get to us, and the man on the phone scoffed and said "there are many roads in Venice" in a condescending tone as if he didn't have time to answer my silly American questions.

Piazza San Marco

It was worth the wait. We climbed four or five flights of steps to the top floor of the building to a door marked private, and opened on a living room with a pull out bed, kitchen, and bathroom. There was a set of stairs leading to the bedroom above which had its own private porch that over-looked the canals. It wasn't a hotel room, it was a two-level private condo! Thank you Laura for finding us this place!

View from the balcony of our hotel room

The theme of Carnevale 2009 was Sensation and Venice was divided up into six kingdoms, based on already present natural geographical divisions. San Polo was the kingdom of sight, Dorsoduro was hearing, Castello was touch, Santa Croce was smell, Canneregio was taste, and San Marco (where we were staying) was the Mind. San Marco was Carnevale central. Basically, everything worth seeing or doing for Carnevale happened right in the Piazza San Marco.

Some of the elaborate Carnevale costumes:

Our first night in Venezia, we headed across the Academia Bridge to Dorsoduro to see "Angeli & Demoni." Of course we stopped to buy masks first! "Angels and Demons" was described on the official Carnevale website as "the pick of street theatre and the evocative power of fire and dance come together in a treasure chest of wonders, light effects and surprise pyrotechnics." It took us a while to get used to the labyrinth of small side streets and alley ways that wove across canals, so we had trouble finding Campo Santa Margherita where the "Angels and Demons" performance took place. But after wandering a while in Dorsoduro, we heard a swell of music, and followed it until we saw fire in the open square. There was a giant burning marionette-of-a-man, and what looked like a giant hooded KKKer, a man flapping his burning wings like a devil bird, and a young woman shooting sparks out of her white umbrella. And all the while they were playing the Lord of the Rings soundtrack in the background... it was super intense. On the way home we passed through the Piazza San Marco just in time to catch the Drag Queen fashion show.  

Angeli & Demoni

Angeli & Demoni

Angels and Demons

Angels and Demons

Day two started out with a tour of the Doge's Palace in Piazza San Marco. We took the Secret Itineraries Tour, which took us behind closed doors to see the secret passageways and jail cells hidden within the palace. They gave us ear wigs and a radio called a Whisper. It was all very Jason Bourne: the three different currencies I had in my wallet, Leigh discretely hiding her cash in different compartments, Laura's two passports, Rachel making contact with an attractive guy who worked for the American government, and now ear pieces and radios to wear while exploring secret passageways in the palace!

Jason Bourne-ing around the Doge's Palace on the secret itineraries tour

The golden staircase in the Doge's palace

We were able to explore the rest of the palace after our Secret Itineraries Tour, and I walked across the famous Pont dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) where prisoners were taken from their cells, across the bridge, to face their fate with the jurors in the palace. Lord Byron romanticized the bridge in the 1800s, saying that the convicts of the inquisition would take one last look out at the beautiful waters of Venezia and sigh. You can't really see much of the water because of the thick stone grill on the windows.  Also, the bridge was around for over 200 years before it was given such a charming name and purpose (it also wasn't even around during the full brunt of executions). But isn't that the job of writers... to give the truth scope (aka make shit up).         

View looking out the stone grill on the Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs - it was being renovated

After the palace, we walked across the square and rode the elevator to the top of the bell tower. Now, there were spectacular views of the water from the top of the tower... enough to make you sigh. You could also see how St. Marks Square was quickly filling up with Carnevale-goers.  

The bell tower in Piazza San Marco

View of St. Marks Square form the top of the bell tower

View from the top of the bell tower

Rachel and I chilling at the top of the bell tower

That afternoon the six of us girls cavorted about San Marco, Dorsoduro, and San Polo. We grabbed pizza and calzones on-the-go for lunch and sat in a square eating and watching a street performers. We sauntered in and out of mask shops, but sprinted past tourists, ducking and dodging the major crowds, throwing handfuls of confetti at one another. We never tired of trying on mask after mask. We posed for pictures on bridges to marvel at the beautiful canals, and snapped photos of the costumed-Carnevalests who passed us in the streets. I had gelato for the very first time! Our wild antics of that afternoon were one of the highlights of the trip for me. After all, that's when we discovered (on one of the "many roads in Venice") the graffiti man who was so possessive of his radio!  

Somewhere in San Marco

One of the masks I bought for Carnevale

Helen, Laura, me, Leigh, and Rachel

Somewhere in Dorsoduro

Gelato - cheers!

Laura, Sophie and Helen had signed up for a cooking class in Connaregio that evening so they ran off and left Rachel, Leigh, and I to wander Venezia ourselves. We got completely and utterly 100% lost. The three of us basically walked the entire length of the island and back again. But even when we were lost we were having the time of our lives admiring the beautiful cobbled streets, majestic old buildings painted bright friendly colors, and the gorgeous canals (only stunning from above - I would never want to touch that water). My feet were definitely sore that evening from our grand trek.    

View of the canal from the Rialto Bridge

We all met back up at the exit to the palace in St. Marks square that evening. And all of a sudden we were two more... Jenny and Arielle showed up! What a treat to see some DGs abroad, even if it was just a brief rendez-vu. I think my favorite part was that they both called me "Pants"! Man I miss you girls and our crazy mixers! (And those pants)!   
That night we watched the "Best of Sensation" in St. Marks Square. All the best Carnevale performances from all over Venice were combined into one jam-packed show. Our favorite was the Heliosphere. It was a woman strapped to a hot air balloon flipping and twirling above the square. Then we had a fantastic Italian dinner (a glass of prosecco, four cheese farfalle, and tiramisu) and ended the night drinking red wine out on the balcony of our hotel. It was a bit chilly, but so relaxing and fun! 

Leigh and I collapsed in St Marks Square, exhausted from walking all day, 
waiting for Best of Sensation to start

Confetti after-math


Best of Carnevale Venezia Sensation 09!

Sunday, we headed across the famous Rialto Bridge that connects San Marco to San Polo and went to see San Rocco Church. Then, it was up to Cannaregio to see the Ghetto. In 1516, Jews were Merchants by day and then locked away in this Ghetto every night, and on Christian holidays. It was the first Ghetto, and the origin of the term "Ghetto". We all split up once we reached the Ghetto and went our separate ways. Leigh and I just plopped down on a bench in Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, the main square of the Ghetto. We people-watched, soaked in the warm sunlight, had a mini photo-shoot with our masks, and took a break from being touristy to just enjoy the atmosphere of the real Venice away from the Carnevale celebrations.  

Somewhere in San Polo

Somewhere in San Polo

View of the canal from one of the few bridges leading into the Ghetto 
that they would close off to keep the Jewish merchants in at night

We did an easy sit-down lunch and I had another amazing Italian pasta dish.Then Rachel, Leigh, and I wandered around the Kingdom of Taste (Cannaregio). At one point we were walking down a street lined with restaurants (obviously closed off to motor vehicles as almost all of Venice is). There were lights strung above us between the buildings, it was swarming with people, and I had a super blond moment and said: "wow, I feel like I'm in Little Italy." It took me a second, but then I snapped-to and said: "that's probably because I'm in Italy." At least I realized my own moment of stupidity before someone else could call me out on it! And, in my defense I lived across the street from Little Italy all summer long, in New York City, and walked the whole length of Mulberry Street almost every day from the supermarket to my apartment in Chinatown. So for a split second it felt like I was back in NYC, and that's what I had meant to say...

Cannaregio aka Little Italy

The Rialto Bridge

By the time we got back to San Marco that afternoon, it was completely packed. It was the last weekend of the festival. We almost lost each other in the crowds, but safely made it back to the girls' hotel. We ended the evening with a gondola ride on the canals (how we managed to fit all seven of us into one gondola... I'm still not sure how we did it).  

Gondola ride


We grabbed dinner and then galavanted about St. Marks, taking in as much of Carnevale as we could before we had to leave the next morning. We had confetti wars, did jumping shots, chased a cult of suns on stilts, caught the tail end of a jedi battle, ate more gelato, taunted a faun, and just wander-quested across the canals and through the squares of Venice:

The crazy faun

Then it was home to our hotel for belinis and packing (sad face). I did not want to go home, it was the most fun I've had on a trip since I've been over here! And if I took anything away with me from my jaunt in Venezia, (besides my three beautiful masks), it was the wise words of a local street artist: "Don't touch my radio!"

Words to live by

February 9, 2009

Snow-in-the-Dark Men

Lucy, myself, and Mr. Tumnus

Apparently it only snows in Edinburgh at night. Which, on the one hand is completely awesome, because night is my favorite time of day (hah), and I feel like I'm off in my own world while everyone else is sleeping, and the streets are turning white and going soft. You can understand my love of night if you read my Nocturnalism blog from October... I swear I'm not a vampire, even though Rachel has dreams that I am. So, obviously the combination of two things that I love, nighttime and snow, are fantastic. However, on the other hand there is a big fleecy mitten, because nighttime is freezing and we never get to enjoy the snow in the daylight and take pretty pictures of it.

Our home in the snow

Last night, The Mound was a mound of snow. There was at least two inches covering the streets when we ventured out at midnight in the still falling snow. We did all the things one should do on a snowday (or should I say snownight): we made snowangels in a cobblestone parking lot, we threw snowballs, we jumped in snowdrifts, and we made snowmen in front of the National Gallery. The mean snowplow dozed over them before daybreak, so sadly we didn't get any pictures of them in the light. 

Our snowmen in front of the National Gallery