When we first arrived to Viareggio, it felt like a small beach town similar to Huntington Beach back home in California. Fairly low-key and clean. In our minds we thought,"Where are the 100,000+ people for the carnivale?" We strolled around the beach after we checked into Hotel Esplanade, and stumbled into a small neighborhood where there was sign of life. It was a street fair with stands full of masks, wigs, costumes, etc. for the big day the following day. We were a bit hungry and dropped into a cafe that was present day called La Cubana Cafe but all its signage said Caffe Manaresi. I thought that given the city looks so bare it must've lost business recently and changed ownership... well, one will never know
The food was excellent there. We had our cappuccinos for the cold evening weather. Liz had the Spaghetti al Ragu (meat sauce) and I originally ordered Lasagna but got Spaghetti Pomodoro (tomato sauce)...lost in translation. This has happened a few times when we order food by pointing to it on the menu, but get something completely different. Opportunities to try new things, I guess. After we ate, we walked down the block and had some gelato because it was the right thing to do. Finally found out that at these gelaterria shops they also have Mousse...like I had in Venice. Liz ordered hazelnut and the old Italian lady warned her it was mousse and not gelato. Why was I not warned the other day? The tiramisu mousse I had threw me off because it was like room temp gelato. Oh well. It was delicious nevertheless. As we continue to peruse the landscape of the Tuscan town, we eventually went back to the hotel. Since the town looked a little quiet we decided to call it a night early as to be ready for what may be in store the next day.
The next morning after our included continental breakfast of assorted pastries, fresh slices of ham and cheese and fruits at our hotel, we headed out to the beachwalk where the Carnevale was taking place. To our eyes we were met with the most astonishing floats we have ever scene...and we went to Mardi Gras in NOLA and lived in SoCal with the Rose Parade. These floats were ginormous. The floats came to about 4 stories high and spanned the width of the street. What was different about these floats was that they were all politically-based.
Some of the local food stands were already open, and to our delight, we had to partake in the local cuisine...especially when there was a fragrance of something barbecuing close by. We had to check it out. It was an extension to a restaurant that was firing up a local panini called Panini della Sausiccia. This is a local favorite panini with sausage and sauerkraut. Liz also ordered the local fruit wine that was served hot. The residents in Italy are very proud of their regional foods and will openly share with you which are those dishes. They will encourage you to try them... In which you should.
Continuing going down the street, we came across a food truck with this cool looking contraption that spit out wafer chips called Brigidini. Brigidini was started back in 1910 by nuns and is another Tuscany delicacy. They taste a lot like a fortune cookie without the fortune. They also had a surprise hint of anise, which can be off-putting for those who don't like black licorice. It came in original or chocolate, and we got the mixed bag which was also drizzled in chocolate. There were not many people out around noontime when we were out, so decided to take what we learned from Spain and made a siesta time.
As we napped and relaxed after a couple hours, we start waking up to loud music and the distant sounds of a boisterous crowd forming. We knew at that point things were about to go down. Liz and I threw on our carnevale masks, quickly headed out and found the hoards of people we were to expect. It was like out of nowhere everyone took the same plane, train and automobile to get here. All the parking spots full. Sidewalks lined with folks dressed up in costumes reminiscent of Halloween (although not America's Halloween of scantily clad women in every occupations' "naughty" counterpart). These Italians are quite decent and kept it true to form. The only real scandalous thing going on were the floats. You could now feel the energy in the air and we wanted to be all about it. We found some Venetian masks that we liked earlier in the day and were rocking them along with the crowd.
Now about these amazing floats...they all came to life. Each one had hundreds of people choreographed dancing around it in bright clothing and even the floats moved with the music blasting within. These floats showed various political figures in compromising situations and positions like German Chancellor Angela Merkel dressed in a short skirt and breasts hanging out of a ill-fitted bra with legs open to dancing sperms with the euro on it and little babies with a man head. Another one that stood out was the float with Obama and Putin warming their hands over the globe because they are syphoning all of the worlds resources of oil while people underneath are shivering cold. The street dancers all had a purpose as well, usually carrying peace messages through the streets. There were other floats of completely naked politicians made of paper mâché (not pictured) as well.
What we found pretty astonishing was the fact that there were no clear definition of where the parade and spectators began and ended. People infiltrated the streets with their phone cameras and various recording devices standing in the midst of the performers. It was hard to fathom how these floats were going to pass by the thick crowds in the streets but like a well-oiled machine, this event has been for over a century and it actually worked out. The floats were like Moses...and the crowds were the sea.
It was definitely a different experience from America's Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which was actually Liz and my first excursion together when we first started dating. The Carnevale Di Viareggio was fun, almost family-oriented, had tons of kids and retired folk in costume in attendance, and was all political. It was much tamer than Mardi Gras since it didn't have the drunkenness, real naked people walking around, flashing boobies, the hint of shadiness, and wide array of beads.
...and now we zoom through the Tuscany countryside down south to our last leg of our Italian excursion to Napoli! Ciao!