Yes, I am finally getting around to writing the entry on my first Karneval! (Or “Carnival” for those English speakers who were still maybe trying to figure out exactly what I meant.)
Here are some interesting historical facts on the festivities specific to Rijeka, Croatia: RIJEKA CARNIVAL.
If you follow that link, there is a menu on the right side of the screen with all kinds of historical facts on the carnival in Rijeka.
Most of the time when people think of Carnival, they automatically think of the one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While that may be the world’s largest Carnival celebration, the one in Rijeka has grown to be the biggest, after Rio and Venice. Carnival traditionally occurs right before the start of Lent in the Catholic calendar. (In the USA, we have Mardi Gras, which is essentially the same thing as Carnival.) Basically, it’s a giant festival right before the somber period of Lent, and it involves parades, costumes, street parties, and lots of revelry!
Even though I had experienced the tradition of MAŠKARE these past two years (the weekly costume parties leading up to Karneval), I had not been in Croatia for the actual Karneval celebration before this year.
Everything is essentially centered around the parade that goes through Rijeka. The parade route itself is rather short, but the parade lasts ALL day. (I think it was about nine hours.)
Different towns from all over register to march in the parade. People come not just from all over Croatia, but other countries as well. We marched with the Crikvenica group, but all the little parts of that town also had groups. (Crikvenica has areas that I would call “neighborhoods” that have their own names, and each of those neighborhoods had a group marching in the parade.) In addition to everyone in the parade being in costumes, people who go to the festivities as spectators also dress up. (And it took a little getting used to hearing everyone refer to costumes as “masks.” So if you have a good costume, someone will tell you that you have a “good mask.”)
Once each group is done marching, the individuals are free to go and party as they wish. Groups usually bring food and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), but many people go out to the bars and clubs to drink as well. We also brought some of our own alcohol in a back pack.
So that’s a little bit of backstory on the festivities. Now, for my own personal experience at my very first Karneval….
This year’s Karneval was on Sunday, March 2nd. We had been out at Maškare the night before until very very late. I really did start that last night of Maškare with the intention of not drinking too much. So much for that goal… I had way too much to drink, and was not feeling that great by the time we got back to the apartment. On any other weekend, the prescription for that would have been to sleep in and take it easy. But no! We had to meet the group at 7am. (Or 7:30am? Something like that.) So we got maybe two hours of sleep? (Maybe less, actually.) And then had to get up, get into our costumes, and walk about 20 minutes into town to join our group. I felt so terrible. I usually don’t get hangovers, but on this particular day, I was really hurting.
After getting make-up done, we boarded the bus to take us up to Rijeka. (Now that the new highway is open, it’s only about a 20 minute drive to get there.) We were near the beginning of the parade, but had a bit of time to kill before we got started. Most of the people we knew were hanging out at a restaurant called Mornar. The drinking for the day had started early for lots of people, but I couldn’t even look at any of it. I was finally able to eat some soup (which is SO good there) before we had to start. It was enough to give me an extra boost of strength to march the parade in a true performer’s fashion! (Because no matter how you feel, the show must always go on! I found the energy to not only march, but to do all the choreography involved as well. Put me in front of an audience, and my theatrical side completely takes over!)
When we were done marching, we found some friends and after hanging out for a bit, started visiting some bars. I was still feeling crappy, but was doing my best. After awhile though, I hit the wall. I felt so bad, I could barely stand. It was getting to be later in the afternoon, and I was actually tempted to take the early bus home. I didn’t want to ruin the day for Miloš, so I offered to just go back by myself so he could stay out. But he wouldn’t hear of it, and immediately went into super-awesome boyfriend mode. He took me back to Mornar so that I could eat some food. By this point, I wasn’t as nauseous anymore, and thought that eating could be a good idea. We got soup and I had some seafood risotto. (Miloš had steak.) The food was great, and I was already starting to feel better. We took our time, and Miloš took really good care of me, reminding me that whatever we did, it was going to be together. Always together. ❤
I took my time eating, and after awhile, my strength really did come back. We headed to Arka and spent a few hours drinking and dancing with friends. Originally, we were going to stay in Rijeka overnight at Miloš’ brother’s apartment, but heard that one of the other groups had a bus going back to Crikvenica at 10pm. We stayed at the bar until 8:30pm, then headed out to see the end of the parade. (We also left another time before that to go to the ATM and get a super quick snack to tide us over.) The parade wrapped up around 9pm, and we watched as the last group marched past us.
A little bit of trivia about that last group. It’s always the same – the Halubajski zvončari – they are dressed in almost what look like sailor suit costumes, but with giant animal head masks covering their own heads. They have giant cowbells tied to their waists, and as they march, the bells make very loud clanging noises. The noises and masks are supposed to keep the evil spirits away. And some legends say that these costumes scared away the Turkish invaders in ancient times.
At 10pm, we boarded the bus back to Crikvenica. I’m pretty sure we fell asleep really soon after getting home. I don’t even remember, I was so tired.
Here are some pics from Karneval! Costumes are truly “anything goes.” Croatia is not a country that worries about being politically correct, so there were ALL kinds of costumes, some of which I just can’t post about in an article aimed at an international audience.
Those last few pics were from the official Karneval website.
Overall, it was a great new experience, despite the hangover. (Haha!)
Now, I wonder what we’ll be next year!…..