Travel Log: Finding a Mask in the Heart of Venice

If thinking about masquerades brings Venice to mind, you’re not alone. I was lucky enough to visit the “City of Masks” eight years ago, and one of our most memorable stops along the way wasGET THISa mask shop, where I found one of my favorite souvenirs.

I only spent one day in Venice, but it’s a place that is close to my heart, like the memory of a fleeting yet ardent summer romance. It’s true: I fell completely in love with the city. If you’re spending any time in continental Europe, I recommend finding a way to see Venice. Even just for a day. Memories of the picturesque streets and the scent of the canal water will stay with you for a lifetime.

canal
View of the Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge
gondola
View from a gondola

I visited the city in the summer of 2006 as part of an educational tour of Italy. The group traveled to seven cities in nine days, and Venice was our first stop. I’ll never forget landing there and watching what looked like an orange dot in the water grow into a city as the plane descended. At once, I knew I was in a magical place.

Before the trip, I learned that Venice was famous for masks and got excited about the possibility of finding one to take home. Souvenir shopping and gift shops are basically my calling, so when I travel to new places I love to find keepsakes that hold special significance about the trip—usually some type of artwork or other unique find.

What I didn’t know in advance was that masks would be for sale literally everywhere in Venice.

Masks for sale from a street vendor
Masks for sale from a street vendor
masks2
Masks for sale outside a small tourist shop

Our amazing and passionate tour guide, Nicoletta, informed us that one of our scheduled stops for the day was a legit mask shop featuring authentic, handmade, paper mache masks. So I skipped the street vendors and held out for the real deal.

On the tour bus, Nicoletta gave us a crash course in Venetian mask history. For those unfamiliar, the rich history of Venetian masks extends back to the 13th century, when it was commonplace for residents to wear masks in public for most of the year, as part of Carnivale. This meant that peasants could mingle with the upper class without anyone batting an eye, since the masks gave them anonymity. Venice still holds a hugely popular Carnival festival today similar to our Mardi Gras. For an informative rundown on the different styles of Venetian masks and a glimpse into what it’s like to attend the modern Carnival, check out Luxe Adventure Traveler.

When we stepped into the mask shop, I found walls and glass shelves lined with gorgeous creations. I was overwhelmed with options. The masks were so beautiful and so artfully crafted, I could have spent hours browsing and appreciating each one…but we were on a schedule. Did I mention I love gift shops?

After Nicoletta’s lesson, I was leaning toward landing one of the creepy-cool “medical” masks with a long “beak” designed to hold fragrant herbs in order to help the wearer avoid inhaling plague toxins. Dope, right?

In the end, though, a different one caught my eye:

mask
This mask features a tag that reads “L’atelier della Maschera.”

 

Yet another win for my inner crazy cat lady. This mask is one of my favorite pieces of wall decor, and it will forever remind me of an unforgettable day in a beautiful city. It looks much better on my wall than on my face, so I’ve decided not to wear it to the office too often.

What are some of your favorite travel finds? Any special souvenirs that take you back to a wonderful day? Please share!

Alicia Kania

Alicia Kania

Alicia is a feminist mermaid on a never-ending quest to find the ultimate grilled cheese. She enjoys flower crowns, air conditioning, and singing to her cat. Please send her any and all funny animal gifs set to music. You can follow her on Twitter and visit her magical blog Alicia of Earth.
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