In carnival season, cities from Venice to Rio come alive with street parades and masquerades. But even the faintest rustling of costume feathers has me fleeing in the opposite direction.

What could possibly turn a traveller away from these celebrations of pre-Lenten joy? Well, colour me claustrophobic but a swollen, lurching crowd is the last place I want to let loose. Then there are the practicalities of visiting a carnival destination, like skyrocketing prices and disrupted transport. Disorientation and paying double for a dorm bed have a way of quashing carefree revelry.

Crowds at the Notting Hill Carnival. Diverse Images/UIG / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

I want to like carnivals, and I envy people who do. Moving to London, I was determined to love Notting Hill Carnival. Regulars described a feast of Caribbean culture, vibrant processions, and community pride made merrier by copious booze. But jubilance is squeezed out of me (quite literally) when I’m wedged between a Fanta-coloured tutu, dancing fit for a mosh pit, and a lost five-year-old tugging at my jeans.

I persevered, using all 30cm of my available space to ‘have a good time’. I swayed. I clutched a can of something tepid. I watched costumed dancers jig past. But soon I was wringing Red Stripe out of my ponytail and dodging a rank-breathed gent who seemed sure we’d be concluding the festivities with a jig of our own.

For me, the party was over, despite the feeling I should be having the time of my life. But carnivals are rather like Hotel California: you can check out, but you can’t leave. Your party spirit ebbs into the gutter – along with so much warm beer and glitter – but the carnival behemoth stomps on regardless.

I fantasised about crowdsurfing out, kneeing my new ‘friend’ in the eye along the way. Instead I ducked between sharp elbows and tiptoed over a pool of vomit. Even then, I wasn’t free. Security personnel waved survivors through a diverted pedestrian system so confusing, Escher would have pegged it a masterwork.

Transport disruption, I’ve learned, is one of the four horsemen of carnival apocalypse (the others being rising hotel prices, vuvuzelas, and inexplicable beads). So I should have learned from my Notting Hill failure during a road trip in France when ‘diversion’ signs clogged my route to the medieval town of Besse-St-Anastasie. By sheer coincidence, I was arriving on festival day.

Oblivious to what lay ahead, I navigated my rental Polo through Besse’s narrow streets. Part-way through a U-turn, I heard music blaring. Suddenly a swan-shaped float careened around the corner, headed for my car. Masked party-goers leaned out and cheered as I stalled the car spectacularly (you try keeping a steady foot on the clutch when attacked by a papier-mâché bird). After painfully manoeuvring past the float, I completed the crawl to my hotel, slamming the brakes each time a reveller staggered into the road.

So spare me the hard sell on carnivals and their showcasing of culture. Call me a carnival curmudgeon but I’ll be there after the parades, once the last headdress has been downed, basking in the calm of returning normality.

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