It was February. My family and I had traveled to Venice for a winter break vacation. My wife and son had never been there before, but I had visited once before many years ago. I was excited to show off some of the fun places that I had discovered, from the secret nooks and crannies of those winding Venetian streets to the colorful fishing huts of Burano. I couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces as we rounded every exciting corner!
We all had an amazing adventure, meandering through the labyrinth of canals and alleyways. When we stumbled on a picturesque cafe or restaurant, we would eat there. My wife savored the incredible Italian seafood that Venice offers. My son loved the pasta and dessert. Me? I loved it all, including my precious cappuccinos.
The jet lag never really adjusted in my mind. At 2 AM, I’d be awake, ready for a new day (which didn’t make sense mathematically, as New York time is behind Italy, but who am I to question my body?) I was faced with an option: either stare at the ceiling of our hotel room or go exploring. Off I went.
Venice is a different place in the late night. It’s very dark, and very empty. Solitude is overwhelming as one walks along foggy canals lit up only by an occasional gondola lantern. A sound of screeching metal can be heard in the distance, as harbor boats rub against the dock. Harmless but unsettling. As safe as Venice may actually be, it feels all too creepy when the footsteps of a shadowy figure approach you at this abandoned hour.
I soon grew to appreciate the darkness. It was charming in its own bizarre way. I walked and explored for hours until the sky began to glow into a hazy blue. Morning was finally coming.
It was at this point that happenstance brought me to the Piazza San Marco, the heart of Venice. Before me was a sight one never sees in this square – complete emptiness. There were no tourists, no charming violins or flocks of pigeons. Not a single selfie stick! Just me. Or so I thought.
On the other end of the Piazza, another man was strolling about. After a few minutes of taking in the lights of this famous spot, I found myself next to this solitary figure.
“Come to see the costumes too?” he asked me.
“What costumes?” I replied. And then it dawned on me. February in Venice is Carnevale, the exciting, flamboyance of traditional Italian costumes and masks. My family and I visited the city because of our own schedules, not because of Carnevale.
“Every Carnevale, the costumed characters visit this piazza in the early morning to show off their costumes to photographers and artists. It’s a tradition and a way to avoid the tourists that bombard them later in the day.”
Incredible. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. Some trouble sleeping and a random stroll had brought me to this perfect Venetian moment.
We waited several minutes, and eventually two beautiful costumed performers emerged from the fog. With flowing gowns, ornate trim, and fanciful masks, they posted for us. Sometimes with parasols, sometimes with elaborately decorated fans. The outfits were astounding.
As morning properly arrived, the performers bid farewell and walked out of the piazza disappearing down one of the skinny alleyways. I too said goodbye to my friend, wishing him a safe and happy trip.
The sun was out now, as cafes began opening their doors. With my hotel in sight and the smell of bread in the air, I sat down at one of the nearby tables. There was certainly time for a quick cappuccino.