Taking part in the carnival in Venice in costume is a dream come true for many participants. Even though it is without doubt an amazing experience, it can also be an emotional rollercoaster.
Wendy and Bill Richardson participated for the first time to carnival in 2018. They went immediately with all the frills and designed their own costumes. I got in touch with Wendy a couple of months before she was leaving for Venice. Reading her stories before, during and after the trip made me laugh so much that I asked her if she wanted to share her experience.
Whether you plan to take part in costume for the first time and are looking for tips, or you want to know what drives these people in costume, you will discover it in this post. You will read how Wendy gets prepared for the event, which challenges she had to face and how she looks back on the whole experience. It’s a long read, but I’m sure you won’t be able to put it aside once you started. Wendy is a marvellous storyteller.
The text below are Wendy’s words as she kept me up to date about her thoughts via chat. Hence, the ‘I’ refers to her and not to me.
2 weeks before Carnevale: “Our costumes. I am super excited.”
I haven’t shown anyone the costumes yet, because I was waiting to get shots in Venice before I posted, but I was dying to share them.
Now that I spent all this time making them, all I could think yesterday was how much I dread lugging that giant suitcase across the world. Maybe next time I’ll just rent something there, but I wanted the whole experience, so we made our costumes.
Omg they are so heavy. It is quite uncomfortable to wear them (lol). And will be so fun at the same time. But a couple hours a day in them and then we will pop out of them into a much lighter version with open faces, so we can be comfy for dinner and balls in the evening.
We actually got a photographer who is going to get some photos of us in them in Paris and in Venice. If I get some fun photos with Venice in the background, it will be worth it in the end.
I can’t even wait to step off the boat again and just be there! I used your transportation info and decided to get a private boat from the airport to the hotel. The last time we took the public transportation, it just felt like it took forever to get there because of all the stops between. I was worried that with the events going on, it would be much slower so we sprung for the private little brown boats this time.
1 week before Carnevale: “Had we known four months ago what we know now, we may have went for renting a costume in Venice.“
We wanted for years to come to turn the YouTube videos on of this year’s event and be able to see ourselves there. So we thought we needed custom costumes that were new and not just something rented.
I spent four months creating them and yesterday, when it came down to time to put them in the suitcase, we found out that the heads were too large to fit inside. I immediately went to the store to purchase two new larger suitcases. My husband cut a couple wood boards to box in around the mask heads, so that they would be protected a little more from being slung about in flights between the US and Paris and then on to Venice.
Our worst nightmare has been that our luggage would get lost before we get there!
Making the costumes presented tons of challenges. They have to be comfortable enough to wear and see out of, but still be awesome. Mine weighs about 30 pounds (14 kg) and his about 24 (11 kg). So it’s a bit of extra work to navigate in them. I was happy that our hotel is only steps away from San Marco.
We made arrangements for private water taxi upon arrival because we have so much luggage to drag about. I was thrilled to find out that our public transportation stop requires no steps up and down between it and our hotel. Wooohooo! This is certainly a challenge in Venice.
Ready for take-off, or not: “Is carnival gonna be over before I get there?!”
After four months of making the costumes, 4 months of stitching and sewing and creating them, I admit that I was thrilled when I zipped them up and stowed them in my car knowing that it would soon be over and they would be headed to Europe.
We went to the airport and when we checked in, I couldn’t resist telling the lady at the counter that the huge cases contained my costumes for carnival. They rolled away and I almost had that pride you do when you birth a child.
Who knew that five hours later I would be dragging the giant cases right back to my car!?
Our flights were cancelled. Ugh. 24 hours later, we checked in a hotel and waited the night out and drug our costumes back to the airport again this morning and waited and then got cancelled again this afternoon. Drug them back to the car and spent a few hours at the library before returning to go through security and check out bags for a third time.
I hate our costumes already! (lol)
They cancelled us one more time. Bill made them literally go and find our costumes downstairs and bring them to us so that we could move to a new airline and have them in our hands again for the switch so that we could be sure they changed airlines with us. This has been a nightmare 48 hours and we are still in West Virginia in the US. We have one last flight to try to get out of here tonight. Then we will be in a larger hub airport and hopefully we fly to Paris tonight.
We made it to our Paris hotel. Lord, these costumes make me want to just donate them to a homeless person.
No elevator in our hotel is working today and we are on the fifth floor. By the time we got through the subway and all those steps and got to the hotel and then up the five flights, I wasn’t to just abandon them again (lol).
Ciao from Carnevale di Venezia: “We have an absolute amazing time.”
I have to tell ya that we learned a lot of things about the Carnevale thing on this trip.
Sweet heavens, it’s a ton of work. I don’t know how to even say how exceptionally tired we were at the end of each day. We got up and put our costumes on and went out to the square by 9 each day. We stood for photos with 15 pound (7 kg) heads on with little site or mobility for 10 hours each day. We didn’t eat, we just posed for photos nonstop.
For the most part, I would say we enjoyed it. It became a challenge quickly to get the best photographers to come to us.
We found most people amazingly friendly and polite, but also encountered an entire group of people who had no respect for the normal social graces involved in taking your turn. We had people physically fight over who would get the next photo and had people who just stepped into a photo without regards for the other fifty people who waited in line. It was absolutely mad.
We sometimes had to remind ourselves that we were having fun.
We found it a little frustrating after a few days that we could possibly never get photos of ourselves to prove we were ever at Carnevale. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that we probably had thousands of photographers snap photos of us. I would be willing to say there are well over 5000 photos. And I have less than twenty of myself.
We didn’t know in advance that there would be so so so many photographers. We just didn’t think of making some business cards to hand out to people who took our photos so that we could later find some of the photos. After the first day, I got paper and handwrote my email address 100 times and cut them up so I could hand them to a photographer that took particularly good time in staging the photos or took a large volume. I figure I will spend years searching for them on the internet (lol).
That part makes me sad, but it made me happy at the time when so many people came to us and smiled so big and said beautiful, wow and bragged that we were the very best. We loved watching the faces of the people who snapped our photo and appreciated the hard work and time we put into it before the event, but also appreciated the ten hours a day of posing for them.
Anyway, I would say that we will certainly return again for Carnevale. But next time, I would be more prepared so that we have a way to get more of the photos for ourselves later.
We ended up having a photographer today before we left that we paid to take some photos of us.
One year later: “Our experience with Carnival was one of the most amazing adventures we ever went on.”
It was so fun to have the experience for the first time. We were such babies though. We truly had no idea what to expect and found the whole thing to be completely overwhelming.
We prepared for the trip by creating our costumes. When I started, I had no idea what it would look like in the end. I just went into my craft space and started putting a piece on and then added to that and then more and more until I finally liked what we had created. I tried to find ways to build a mask that would fit on our heads and stay there. We ended up using a sort of helmet that cancer patients would wear during their treatments. It was something I had found, and it worked for the base, so I went with it. It was extremely light weight when I started. In the end, both of our headpieces weighed nearly 15 pounds (7 kg).
When I first started, I looked at the schedule and events and thought that we would be in costume for maybe two hours a day. Hilarious, right. We ended up wearing the costumes for four days from early in the morning until about 6 every evening. It was mad. We had bruises on our foreheads from where the masks were so heavy. It was the funniest thing we have ever lived through.
We started on our design about four months from the time that we knew we were going to Carnival and completed the design about four days prior to leaving. Now, I laugh that it never crossed my mind during the building of the costume that I had to put it into a suitcase and travel across the globe with it in tow. We took back up supplies in case anything broke along the way. I ended up needing to replace a few of the glass globes on my husband’s headpiece and a few feathers on mine. Other than that, we made the journey without much damage to the costumes.
It was a special treat when we landed and got to Venice and made our way from the ferry stop to our hotel. We found the person selling luggage assistance handy because we had many bags and few hands, and the bridges and steps made the task all the harder.
During the time we were in costume it was very, very hard to see when we walked. We pretty much couldn’t see our feet ever. If we bent our heads down to look, our heavy heads would send us tumbling over. So, we made our way most days to a spot and remained there and just let photographers come to us. A few times we were so swarmed with people that we literally could not get a break unless we removed our heads and carried them. Still, it was hard to get away from the people trying to grab a photo with us.
I was so unable to move in my costume that it made it super hard to communicate with anyone as well. My husband and I don’t speak Italian so that became a challenge a few times when photographers had directions for us. We tried to just use sign language and point a lot.
The future: “Next year we want to return to the event as a spectator.”
During our visit we stayed just off Piazza San Marco and if I ever get to return, I would make sure that I did that again. The closer you are to the square the easier it was. I also counted bridges so that I could be located in a hotel with as little bridges as possible because of knowing that we wouldn’t be able to see very well when we walked about. Once we got to the square, we were on flat ground and just moved very slowly.
We were sad when we got home and realized that they took a huge photo at the beginning of the weekend with tons of costumes in it. Because we were new, we had no idea where that photo was or that everyone would gather in a particular area to get a huge group shot. For us, we found the amount of information that was available to first time costumes very limited. It was hard to know what to do, when to do it and make the best of the time.
I would like for other newbies to know that there are so many photographers that you will never be able to find if you don’t have some kind of plan in advance for how to contact them later. After the first day, I realized we needed a business card or some way to hand our information to photographers. We still don’t have all the photos from the event and I go regularly to social media sites and search for photos of us.
Nothing has been more amazing than when I google up Carnival 2018 and find photos of us in the results. I wouldn’t take a thousand dollars for the photos that we have of our time in Venice Carnival this year. Because we were in costume so much, we didn’t get to see all the other costumes. We would like to go back this year and just walk around and enjoy getting to see everyone else’s outfits.
Venice is one of my very favourite locations around the world. We have been blessed to travel a lot, but Venice is the one place that speaks to me daily and calls me to return.
I want to thank Wendy for sharing her pictures and for all the fun moments she gave me. I could really enjoy carnival from a distance just by talking to her via chat. If you took a picture of her and Bill, she would be thrilled to receive it and add it to her collection. As you noticed from her costumes, Wendy is very creative. She also designs beautiful digital travel journals and calendars which you can use to document your own trips to Venice. You can find them on her Etsy page ‘Digital Planner Store‘.
If you enjoyed this story, you can also read the story of Faye and Barry who already participated 8 times to carnival in ‘Behind the scenes: The magic of Carnival in Venice in costume‘. If you plan to participate to this year’s carnival, you can find an overview of the events in ‘‘The insider’s guide to Carnevale di Venezia‘.
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