Once a year in February, the Swiss city of Lucerne embarks on a crazy five-day Carnival celebration, where costumes and music take center stage. My boyfriend, Simon Renggli, grew up in Lucerne and one of his passions is spending months constructing masks and floats for Carnival with his brother Fabian. Many groups of friends and families join in on this tradition and compete during a daytime parade with elaborate floats centered around political commentary, pop culture, or even fantasy à la Lord of the Rings. The parade starts around 10:00 a.m.—when you see the most children with families—however once the sun sets (and it sets early!) the parade evolves into a citywide street party. Everyone dresses up and there’s endless day . . . and night drinking. The most popular drink is usually coffee or tea mixed with budget schnapps and a sugar cube. It’s cheap and I suppose gets the job done, but there’s nothing quite worse than a schnapps hangover. I can now attest to that two years in a row.
Last year, I attended Carnival for just one night, but this year I signed up for the full five days. Curiously there is a slightly more mellow spirit during the weekend, while the Thursday, Monday, and Tuesday nights are the biggest ragers. I am not the most brilliant costume designer (my best was dressing as a bottle of Pom Wonderful in the early 2000s as a nod to the outrage over the drink’s then-exorbitant five-dollar price tag), so Simon and his sister Andrea decided that the three of us would dress up as members of an obscure Swiss cult called Fiat Lux. I’d naturally never heard of the cult, but fell into a good Internet K-hole researching it.
At night, the floats park around the city and set up camp displaying their handiwork and selling their cheap schnapps concoctions to partygoers in an attempt to raise money to offset the cost of construction. People go hard and they go deep at Lucerne Carnival. They go till the sun rises and even longer. I didn’t quite make it that long, but Simon’s family were troopers and helped me fight my jet lag by feeding me schnapps and keeping me up at least until 2:00 a.m.
Sadly, on the second day of festivities, my wallet was pickpocketed from me in a crowded alleyway. We all made a (in retrospect) really silly attempt for an hour to look for it around the streets amongst thousands of people, but obviously we never found it. I spent the next day annoyed, calling all the appropriate companies, canceling cards, and reordering my driver’s license.
Luckily my passport was safe and sound and I made an executive decision for the two of us to ditch the final night of partying and head to Venice, a city I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager. Our hotel, Aman Canal Grande, sent a boat to pick us up at the airport (which has a dock next to it!), and within minutes of getting off of the plane we were cruising through the bay toward the city. It felt so much emptier than I had remembered because it was off-season (and quite cold!) and the Venetian carnival had just concluded.
We arrived at the hotel: a palazzo called Papadopoli that was built in 1550 by the architect Gian Giacomo dei Grigi as commissioned by the Coccina family. We were immediately floored and spent the late afternoon exploring the insanely ornate giant rooms decorated with Tiepolo frescoes while sipping Negronis and playing backgammon. When we got peckish we found a wonderful seafood fritto misto stand where we grabbed a cone of fried sea treasures and ate them with fresh lemon.
I don’t care how touristy Venice is, it’s truly always worth visiting. There may not be epic nightlife (unless, of course, you are there for the Biennale), but with the museums, canals, and gorgeous architecture, it’s impossible to deny its charm and romance. I had convinced myself after seeing it once I didn’t need to see it again. Wrong!
On our second day, we took a public ferry to the island of Burano. It’s littered with colorful houses and hundreds of stray cats. With hardly any tourists, we easily got a lunch table at the delicious and charming Trattoria da Romano. There was no need to have a game plan on the little island as we were more than content wandering around speculating about which cats were stray and which ones had homes. In the late afternoon, after much persuasion, I convinced Simon it was crucial we ride a gondola, no matter how touristy it felt. After a while he relented and immediately rescinded all his naysaying as we cruised through the canals during the golden hour.
Each evening we went to a restaurant recommended by friends that had recently visited. A highlight was Osteria alle Testiere and a lowlight was a very popular spot where I got a little bit sick off some very inky cuttlefish (which I always forget is more like a squid than a fish). Afterward we made our nightly futile attempt at going out only to discover the best we could suss out was an Irish bar. We’d give them a 30-second walkthrough and then decide we didn’t need to have a tourist drunk moment, opting instead for an earlier bedtime.
The days in Venice seemed to blend together because before I knew it I’d walked around the city a good six times, and suddenly it was raining and time to leave. On the boat back to the airport we weren’t able to let our hair blow in the wind because of the sudden cold rain. It was only then that I was reminded of losing my wallet and real life. The city and hotel had managed to do what every vacation is supposed to do: transport you to somewhere, someplace where you feel there is no worry or care in the world. I can say after four days in Venice I had shed the hangover of Carnival, and life, and left fully rejuvenated, determined to never dismiss the city again.
The post Ed Droste Goes to Carnival in Lucerne and Recuperates in Venice appeared first on Vogue.
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