| CNN RESOURCES|
Mardi Gras madness on the Web
(CNN) -- Partiers, mark your calendars: Mardi Gras, that penultimate party, that bacchanalian bash whose conclusion marks the beginning of the Catholic penitential season of Lent, falls on March 7 this year.
In the United States, that means a big bawdy in the Big Easy, New Orleans. In the days leading up to Fat Tuesday -- that's English for Mardi Gras -- throngs of revelers pack the streets of the city's French Quarter. They drink, they eat, they watch parades, they clamor for bead necklaces. They have what may be the best annual party in the U.S.
But the celebration is not limited to just that country. Elsewhere in the world, where the celebration is called Carnaval, people are getting ready for fat fun before lean times arrive. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, lays claim to what may be the planet's wildest bash -- a well-lubricated feast, clad in feathers and sequins and not much else. And, in Nice, France, and Venice, Italy, planners are preparing for more toned-down celebrations.
To help you plan a trip to any of these festivals, or just to learn more about it, we've tracked down several Web sites as resources:
Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy
This site goes to the nuts and bolts of Mardi Gras, explaining its origins and symbolism, giving a schedule of parades and answering frequently asked questions, such as "What To Wear To A Parade?" Visitors can also review a glossary of terms. (This way they won't be surprised, for example, when they bite into a "King Cake" and find a plastic doll.) Lastly it suggests how to make Mardi Gras a family affair, acknowledging that not many parents "want their kids exposed to ... well, so much exposure."
If you can't get to the Big Easy for Mardi Gras, this site can bring you live pictures via six Web cams. Among them are BourboCAM, which gives a round-the-clock look at the block party on Bourbon Street; Balcony BeadCAM, geared toward those anxious to see what people will bare for plastic trinkets; and OysterCAM, which lets viewers witness oyster shucking and slurping live at Acme Oyster House, in the heart of the French Quarter.
To get the real flavor of N'awlins (as the locals pronounce it), sampling gumbo, jambalaya and other Cajun/Creole creations are a must. This Web site says it has more than 500 restaurants with descriptions, price ranges and detailed maps. Search by cuisine style, neighborhood or keyword. It also lists recipes from top chefs, like TV's Emeril Lagasse, who gives his recipe for eggplant and shrimp beignets with remoulade sauce.
Hotel hunting is tricky if you haven't booked in advance. New Orleans' 25,000-plus hotel rooms are typically 95 percent filled during Mardi Gras weekend, according to the Convention and Visitors Bureau. But finding lodging is not impossible -- after all, there's still that 5 percent. This site has a search engine to help you find lodgings on the days you plan to attend Mardi Gras festivities. A list of seven luxury hotels appears at New Orleans Top Hotels.
International Carnaval Celebrations
Besides the lowdown on Mardi Gras in New Orleans, this site has information about Carnaval celebrations in the Caribbean and South America. One highlight is "travel tools," a handy way to find links for booking air and hotel reservations, or for getting safety tips and maps.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is considered tame by Brazilian standards. Carnaval in Rio embodies the decadent and debauched in a blowout before Ash Wednesday. Just check out some pictures and judge for yourself. This site has a primer for those unfamiliar with Rio's street festivities, parades (specifically The Samba School Parade) and Carnaval Balls. Sneak a peek of the city at on the Web cams at Live in Rio.
This year's theme for Carnaval in Nice is "Grand Charivari," which loosely translates to "Grand Hullabaloo" This site explains the traditions unique to the festival along the French Riviera, including the history behind confetti-throwing and magnificent flower processions. It advertises a soon-to-be-posted Web cam
This Web site explains the theme of this year's Venetian Carnaval, which is based on Italo Calvino's book "Invisible Cities." It also provides a calendar that describes each event, right down to price and proper costume. Links to help with costume rentals and hotel reservations are available too. Wild Web has a list of live international Web cams, including one for Venice. Click on "Europe," then search for "Venice."
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Carnaval in Venice
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