Carnival Celebrations and Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday,” occurs 47 days before Easter and this year falls on Feb. 13. It is the last day of the Carnival season, ending in major celebration the day before Ash Wednesday and the solemn observance of Lent for Christians around the world. Travelers, regardless of religion, who want to join in the fun have plenty of choices.
New Orleans, with its mix of French, Spanish and Creole culture, is especially festive, with organizations called krewes putting on parades through Feb. 13. Each has its own unique history, elaborate floats and costumed marchers. Afterward, stroll through the Garden District with its shops and historic homes, and head to the city’s French Quarter to enjoy the nightlife, music and food that make New Orleans special.
In St. Louis, the festivities center in the city’s old French neighborhood of Soulard. The Bud Light Grand Parade takes place Feb. 10 and this year celebrates the centennial of The Muny, America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater. Soulard is also home to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, where you can take a tour. Of course, you’ll also want to visit the Gateway Arch, the 630-foot monument celebrating westward expansion.
Internationally, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro has a special vibe, a mix of Brazil’s European and African cultures. It’s a place to hear the rhythms of the samba in street parades and parties. Of course Rio’s beaches, like the famous Copacabana and Ipanema, are a big draw. Locals and tourists alike go there to soak up some sun or stroll the promenades lined with restaurants and clubs. Keeping watch over the city is the 125-foot tall statue of Christ the Redeemer, accessible by a train up Corcovado Mountain.
In Europe, Carnival is a magical time to visit the Italian city of Venice. Colorfully decorated boats sail along the Grand Canal and processions and costume contests are held in St. Mark’s Square, the city’s main gathering spot. St. Mark’s is also a place to relax at a café and sightsee. Attractions include the 14th-century Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, one of Italy’s most magnificent churches. Go to the top of the church’s 325-foot bell tower for great views of the city.
The German city of Cologne, spanning the Rhine River, offers a full slate of parties and parades during Carnival, with the biggest procession on Rose Monday, Feb. 12. Cologne is also home to a grand Gothic cathedral and a wide variety of museums, such as ones dedicated to the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to today, and to works of modern art, including one of Europe’s largest Picasso collections.
On the Caribbean island of Martinique, daily life practically comes to a standstill with everyone taking part in Carnival celebrations featuring processions, costumed dancers and the island’s most beloved musical groups. There is much to see and do on this small island, from the panoramic views on Mount Pelee in the north to the beautiful white-sand beaches in the south, to the colonial architecture in the capital, Fort-de-France, on the western part of the island.
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