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VENICE, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Using plastic piping from a furniture store, and sandals and garments bought on Ebay, Briton Hayden Nash made her own Roman female warrior costume for this year's Venice carnival.
Rather than buy an outfit that can cost 1,000 euros ($1,360), Nash like other revelers decided to make her own, complete with a Union Jack flag on her shield, for the centuries-old celebration that can easily turn very expensive for credit-crunched partygoers.
"Eating and drinking and buying stuff here, particularly near the piazza is really crazy. We're living in a rented apartment, going out to the supermarket mainly and cooking at home," she said, posing in San Marco square with friends.
"Personally, I spent so much money on everything else that I'm living quite frugally for the week to get by."
The Carnevale di Venezia is one of the world's most renowned festivals, with 10 days of partying in the Italian canal city, but the pinch of the economic crisis is being felt this year.
Hotels still have rooms available and others are offering promotional deals, at times cutting prices by 15-20 percent to attract business.
The budget for the carnival, which runs until February 16, has been cut by 40 percent to 1 million euros, and organizers Venezia Marketing & Eventi have looked for sponsors.
"We have organized the 2010 carnival keeping in mind the national and international economic crisis and we wanted to give a message of quality and excellence with our artistic programme but to deliver it in a sober style," said head Piero Rosa Salva.
"We rationalized costs, especially on the organizational side."
Although the programme remains relatively unchanged from 2009 -- with a masked costume contest, a drag queen beauty pageant, concerts, cooking lessons and theater performances -- he said there were more volunteers helping out this year.
Italy, known worldwide for a rich cultural heritage that includes the Colosseum in Rome and Uffizi Gallery in Florence, has seen its tourist sector hit by the crisis.
The industry lost 1.7 billion euros last year and for now has cut 75,000 jobs, according to association Federalberghi Confturismo. It is looking at 2010 with "total uncertainty".
The Venice Carnival began centuries ago as a period of excess before Lent, the 40 days of fasting that traditionally precede Easter. Venetians could then hide their identities behind masks and do as they pleased.
Today visitors fill Venice's narrow streets taking pictures of outfits on display. The rich usually enjoy themselves with lavish dinners and parties.
Vittorio Bonacini, chairman of the Venice Hotel Association, said the first weekend of the carnival had gone "not as bad as expected" in terms of room bookings and many hotels were working on promotional deals to attract customers.
"Compared to last year, I can say that the amount of people staying in hotels is about the same but the income made will be inferior to last year's," he said.
About 1 million people came to the carnival in 2009 and Rosa Salva hopes this year's event can match that number, especially if the weather is good.
Nash, for one, is looking forward to a wild week.
"For me, it's a once in a lifetime experience -- the expense, the effort is so much," she said. "It's a good week ... I know there's a credit crunch but go for it when you can."
Editing by Steve Addison