Venice is an intriguing and awe inspiring city, set in a large lagoon it is made up of canals bridged by some impressive and elegant architecture, Venice has been given a few names including City of Canals, City of Bridges, City of Masks and the Floating City amongst other names, all of which fit perfectly, my favourite name for it though is Queen of the Adriatic, a suitably romantic name for this beautiful place.
Beautiful it may be, filled with reflections and Expressionistic shadows everywhere you look, nicely scented it is not. The canals can be quite pungent at certain times of the year, the high summer can be particularly bad at times and is best avoided in my opinion, as well as it being crazily busy with tourists then too.
I went to Venice for a short break as I was drawn to the photogenic canals and bridges as well as the famous Masked Carnival, which claims to be the Worlds largest and most famous masked party, it arose in the middle ages but flourished in the 18th century and nowadays people fly from all over the World to take part in this grand spectacle.
I arrived in the city at night and was instantly taken with how the reflections in the water, lit up by the golden light of the street lights made some of the buildings distorted and exaggerated, whilst others in still water looked identical to the real thing and if you got the angle right, you could take a mirror image photograph, where you can hold the picture either way up and find it difficult to tell which is the real building and which is the reflection, these are always fun to take.
The next day I could not wait to get out and explore the area and was not disappointed at all, the whole place was a visual feast and a photographers dream, I took hundreds of pictures at every turn it seemed and eventually came to the conclusion that I must slow down and enjoy the views with the naked eye rather than looking through the lens of the camera all the time, yet within minutes once again I could not help myself and continued snapping the shutter at everything in sight, the beauty of the narrow streets of water just has to be captured.
I then decided to go and look for a suitable mask and costume to wear to the Carnival, meal and Masked Ball for the evening, it was so exciting wandering into each shop and trying on different masks, there are very obvious differences between the male and female masks, the female mask is alot softer and usually can be quite flattering, the male masks were very characterised, some with long pointed noses to show off their masculinity, the classic black mask with long nose is actually quite intimidating, these were very popular and are seen everywhere, very iconic of the male Venetian mask.
The shops are filled with these masks, some basic black and white, others brightly coloured, some that look like humans, others in the style of animals or just ornate shapes that fit to the face with feathers springing from the sides or top, some have sparkles.
I went for a red velvet mask with some feathers and a silk red hooded cape to throw over a black dress, it seemed to work well and I was pleased that I had something comfortable but fun to wear for that evening, I also bought a softer green and lilac sparkly mask to wear about Paizza San Marcosquare where hundreds of people flock to either wear masks or just enjoy the spectacle and soak in the atmosphere.
Piazza San Marco is the place to be in Venice, famously described by Napoleon as ‘The Drawing Room of Europe’ it really is a colourful scene and the place to both see and be seen if you are wearing your costume, I found it thrilling seeing so many people dressed up in decadent costumes, it is totally surreal and the atmosphere takes you by the hand and insists on showing you around.
In the evening the whole atmosphere of the place changes and at Carnival time you cannot fail but get swept up in all the excitement, this night I was due to attend a concert followed by a masked ball party.
Even queuing up for the concert was exciting as people had gone to so much effort to dress up beautifully just to attend as the audience, it is usually customary to dress up for a concert in the UK of course, but this was on another level, some of the finery that people wore was just breathtaking to look at.
The concert was impressive in the grand hall and as I marvelled at the clothes of other people and the splendid decor of the hall as I listened to pieces by Schubert resonate around the building, it felt wonderful to attend and be part of that concert and got me in the mood for the second half of the evening.
I went back to the hotel afterwards and changed into the costume for the masked ball, for this I wore a red silk dress and matching cape with hood and of course the red mask that I had bought in the shop earlier with the feathers, just putting this costume on made me feel like a totally different person. Dressing up like this was allows people to become someone else, you can become a character or just feel as though you are anonymous in the crowd, it is quite liberating and of course it is also thrilling to see what other people are wearing too.
The streets quickly filled with people dressed in their costumes and masks making their way to the various balls that were going on that night and excitement could be felt wherever you went.
I enjoyed walking down some of the darker alleyways and seeing people in their capes and masks, there was something very ‘Phantom of the Opera’ about it. Although I wandered down a very narrow, dark alleyway which was clearly a dead end, I noticed before turning back though that there was a streetlight lighting up the wall at the end, on the wall was blood, a considerable amount, I quickly turned and left the area.
I took a fast boat down the canal to where this particular party that I had signed up to was taking place and enjoyed watching people in the Gondolas being punted down the canals in their finery, there was something very decadent about it.
Finally I reached my destination, a secret ball, the entrance was through what looked like an old trap door into an old cellar, getting off the boat you had to be careful and jump over onto the concrete quay.
As I stooped to go through the old wooden trap door, I walked into a darkened area which at first looked a little alarming, however once in it soon became an Alice in Wonderland feast for the eyes, down a narrow corridor lit with candles to a grand staircase and up into one of the most decadent halls I have ever seen.
Large mirrors were everywhere with chandeliers and long tables were set out for a banquet, gold and silver plates adorned the tables, wine flowed and although I felt rather awkward, I should have gone with a group of friends perhaps, once seated the conversations flowed as easily as the wine.
Food was brought out constantly it seemed, course after course of chilled soups, hot meats, fishes, roasts and then the most tempting sweet dishes, there was a chocolate fountain and also platters of fruit, there was something very regal about the meal.
After the meal it was down into the large hall for the dance, this was a totally different atmosphere, the hall was vast with stone pillars and polished floor, the music began and people danced, I watched from the sidelines and enjoyed seeing that some were excellent at dancing and had clearly had some tuition.
The colourful costumes all seemed to merge into one as I watched people swish about the room, I stayed until 11pm but then ordered a boat back as the dance turns into a Disco and this did not hold my interest, so back down the long corridor I went, gathered my cape and gloves off the masked man at the door and stepped out onto the waiting boat.
Speeding down the canals the cool air woke me up and I enjoyed the full moon and the crazy reflections on the water, I was pleased to have come and experienced this but in honesty never had I felt so utterly lonely, most people there had been in couples and although I a used to being alone, it highlighted to me that I really was alone,, it would have been grand to have had a man by my side to dance with instead of being a wallflower spectator at the side of the room, perhaps I will go back another time.
Pigeons in Venice are a controversial subject, often looked upon as a mascot of Venice, thousands of these birds congregate in St Marks Square, when I was there you could feed them and just a scattering of crumbs would draw them to you in seconds and you would be engulfed in these birds.
Famously in the 1950’s an Insurance company used the pigeons as a promotional gag, by scattering corn about the square so that the birds would flock to it, if you looked downwards onto the feeding birds you would see the initials of the company AG which stood for Assicurazioni Generali.
In the end the local authorities decided that the birds were a nuisance and banned the feeding of them, this is a shame as they were a tourist attraction and I am pleased that I got to experience them when I was there.
There are a few men who used to sell the birdseed cheaply to tourists, they have been particularly upset by the banning as they are out of work but also some of them were clearly passionate about the birds according to certain articles, however city officials are said to be offering them alternative work or giving them a cash payoff to apease them.
However to be fair, the pigeons have been causing damage to some of the buildings and to encourage them with feeding is only going to cause further damage and expense, they crave calcium for their eggs and peck away at marble statues to try and extract the stuff, there are pack marks and scratch marks over the historical landmarks which is making people angry and resentful to the birds.
Deterrents have been put on some of the buildings such as spikes which often mame the birds, I think this is particularly cruel and I hate to see it, so perhaps the prohibition of feeding them is in fact a better solution.
To sum up, Venice is a gem of a place to visit, I would definitely go again, the only thing I would change is that I would like to go with a partner, being one of the most romantic cities in the World it seems rather a waste not to be able to experience it with someone you love.
Perhaps I shall visit it again one day.