The last time I lived in Italy, four (!) years ago now, I traveled to Venice for Carnevale, the major Italian holiday, and to be honest it was a little disappointing. Sure, people were running around in masks, but I had more fun enjoying the sights of Venice itself than the bustle of carnevale. This past Sunday I was just planning to have a lazy day at home, the previous week having been pretty stressful, but couldn’t turn down the opportunity when a friend shared that the school she worked for had an extra seat on the bus and ticket for the festivities in Viareggio, probably the second most well-known Carnevale celebration after Venice.
Viareggio is about an hour’s bus ride from Florence and is easily accessible via the train, for less than 10 euros for a one-way ticket, so it’s an ideal day trip from Florence and one that is often made during the summer for the beach. It’s an extremely popular celebration for Carnevale, the big festival in Italy (and some other countries) that leads up to Lent, going into Easter. Italy’s a very Catholic country, so holidays like this one are still a big deal. Carnevale is all about indulging prior to Lent, and each area of Italy has their own take on it. Surprisingly, Florence really doesn’t mark Carnevale with any major celebration, but Viareggio is a popular place for Italian families to go if they want a piece of the action since it’s so close by.
Viareggio is known for its parade, which typically occurs sometime mid-afternoon on Sundays and on the actual Tuesday before Lent begins. The floats are insane, and they run for a few hours in a massive loop alongside the beach. The town actually charges admission to the fair because it’s the only way they can afford to put it on, and when you go you will understand why– it takes over an hour to see every float and they are all extremely elaborate and incorporate movement in one way or another. Most of the floats also have some sort of political statement that they are making… though for most of them I couldn’t have begun to guess what that statement was! My friend and I started the day off right by grabbing fresh doughnuts filled with warm, melted Nutella… and naturally made a mess! They were delicious, though!
After the doughnuts we grabbed ourselves a spot along the curb for prime parade viewing. When in Italy, though… suffice it to say that Italians do not stand orderly alongside the curb as they wait for the next float to approach. They are instead milling about between and alongside the floats, sometimes close enough to nearly get run over. Never a dull moment. The floats, like I mentioned before, were incredibly elaborate. My friend and I also enjoyed a good laugh over wondering who got the duty of hosing the Silly String off the floats at the end of the night. The spider float below was incredibly elaborate and moved around like a real spider.
This float breathed fire out its nostrils.
I don’t think it’s that difficult to decipher what message this float is sending…
Of course all the people riding on the floats and the people wandering in the streets were throwing confetti like there was no tomorrow… I’m still shaking it out of my clothes. The float below was probably my favorite… I loved the detail in the bookshelves.
There were so many floats I could share oodles of pictures, but if you have the opportunity you should go see for yourself! What really surprised me was how much of a family affair the whole event was… and how elaborate people went for their costumes! My favorite costumes were the couple that dressed up as Mary Poppins and Burt… BEST EVER!!!! I definitely want to go back with a costume next time. There were so many more costumes than just people in masks… it was a blast.
After more than an hour of parade watching we beat a path for the beach, unable to resist. It was a gorgeous day, slightly warm, slightly cool, but sunny. It was so surreal standing on the beach and looking into the distance to see the snowcapped mountains over the parade floats.
Surreal, and stunning. Perfect end to the day.