I had hoped to be in Venice for the traditional February Carnevale but I realised that it was a long way to go and I was worried about being trapped on the wrong side of Italy if the weather changed and snow descended from the skies. However, my disappointment at missing the Venice Carnevale was forgotten when I discovered that they celebrated with even more fervour in the coastal Tuscan town of Viareggio. Each year, for the four Sundays leading up to lent, the main streets are closed off for a grand parade of extravagant carnival floats.
I’m nervous about parking as trying to find somewhere convenient and safe for Trixie is always difficult and even more so when such a popular event as the Carnevale is taking place. By some stroke of luck, I stumble across an Italian Motorhome Association that has taken over one of the public car parks for their members. After chatting up the president, he agrees to let me stay with them for free, as a matter of courtesy. I’m relieved to have saved some money on parking as the entrance ticket for access to the Carnevale parade is €15. I soon discover that it’s worth every penny as the atmosphere inside is electric. The floats are lined up ready for the parade and participants are dressed up in appropriate costume for the theme of their float. Locals and visitors have also gone to town on their costumes, with children and adults dressed as pirates, fairy-tale characters, superheroes, ghouls and even a family of bumble bees.
The music is loud and also themed with the floats. Beatles songs blast from a John Lennon ‘Peace’ float and Native American chants blast from a giant Red Indian. A young lady is singing live from a pastel-coloured float from where sweets are thrown. One hits me rather hard on the shoulder and I wonder how many people may get injured from this generous gesture. Surprisingly, there is not much security and people wander freely through the streets, weaving between the floats and marching bands. There are fairground rides to entertain the youngsters and plenty of unhealthy food and drink on offer. I succumb to a pot of Italian ice-cream and it tastes wonderful and creamy. I’m sure I’ve burnt off the calories given the 3km length of the parade route, which I have walked from one end to the other.
Viareggio Carnevale is notorious for the way in which the floats satirise the Italian Politicians. However, I can also see caricatures of other leading political figures, including Angela Merkel and Barack Obama. My favourite float is dominated by the figure of Neptune, surrounded by iconic Italian buildings (Leaning tower of Pisa, St Mark’s Belltower in Venice, Rome’s Coliseum and the Florence Campanile) and, of course, featuring naked Italian politicians!