We arrived in Venice wide awake and refreshed after a brief 13 hour overnight train ride from Paris, got to our hotel, and started our day with a bang. Well that may be the standard plan and the 13 hour part is true, but the rest, well not so much.
Venice is a beautiful, unique city, but finding an address of an obscure, already booked place to stay is impossible.
Normally I would qualify impossible by saying nearly or almost impossible, but finding any address is Venice is actually impossible without a bit of luck and GPS.
Your Very Own Theme Park
Venice has the unique quality of being a real life adult theme park. Stocked with plenty of tourists, gift shops filled with Venetian masks and glassware, and old buildings run down just enough to make it feel too perfectly done. Like you’re on a movie set. As cities go, Venice is one of the most unique.
What were commonplace in London and Paris, cars and bicycles, are simply nonexistent here. The streets and alleys are tiny and after adding in trainloads of people and fully booked hotels, maneuverability through the streets with anything more than your feet is extremely difficult.
Even the waterways, although the preferred mode of transportation, are still fairly congested during peak hours. Interestingly enough though most of the city shuts down at 8pm as a result of the median age of residents being fairly high (according to our host) so any time after 8pm it is easy to get around. The only problem is that at that point nearly everything’s closed.
“Even I Can’t Find Addresses”
So like I said we came into town on the overnight train. It wasn’t a bad ride, but a small 4 person cabin with beds that have just enough space for an average sized person doesn’t make for the most comfortable of sleeping arrangements. That aside we made it into town fairly rested and ready to take on the day.
Marla books our stays so a night or two prior to the train ride she got us all situated in our stay, which turned out to be a bed and breakfast. Before we left Paris and our internet connection, she clicked the link from her email which opened up the iPhone GPS to our destination and we were off.
Getting into town we simply checked the phone and started walking. On the way we found a store selling Wind SIMs so we stopped in and got our internet connection for Italy. Just like in London we were told that it may take upwards of 2 hours before it’s active, but unlike London, this was actually true.
So we had a SIM for the phone, internet on the way, and a destination to walk to. So we walk, and walk, and walk. Twisting and turning, navigating through hundreds of people all while marching with our still adequately heavy bags and an iPhone that, although the address is plugged in, doesn’t have a full map due to the lack of a data connection to refresh.
So we walk along hitting waterway after waterway (deadends) constantly turning around and trying other paths. This goes on until we finally get to Piazza San Marco, where we realized that the little blue dot seemingly directed us to the wrong spot. By this point we had been walking for quite some time, probably an hour to an hour and a half and although we had seen much of the city, we still had no idea where we had booked our night.
Still no internet, we stopped in the nearest hotel and asked for directions. The concierge remarked that he wasn’t exactly sure where 4201 was, but he figured it was near the Rialto bridge.
A little skeptical that the hotel concierge simply chose not to fully help us reach a competitor, we marched on. Twists and turns and still finding nothing we stopped and asked at the reception desk of the concierto that was about to begin, we asked at at little kiosk shop that sold maps, and we even asked a gondolier. All giving us the same response, “I’m not sure where that is.”
At this point we realized, no one, not even locals, know where addresses are in Venice.
The gondolier didn’t instill much hope when he said, “I can show you where you are on the map, but even I can’t find addresses.”
After quite an experience searching the city I can give you the gist of how it works. There are numbers on buildings ranging from one to seven or eight thousand. These numbers are unique to Venice (only one of each number exists in the city), but not necessarily in any particular order. One side of the street may be in the 7000s while the other side is in the 5000s. You may be following numbers as they increase and then, as you’re forced to make a slight step over with the jog of a street, they begin to start at a completely different count.
The addresses in Venice are an impossibility. After walking for, I believe about 3 hours, we may have not even seen any more than a few buildings in the 4000 range. It wasn’t until we were exhausted and sitting on a bridge watching the gondolas pass by that Marla pulled up the hostelworld app and clicked on the built in map.
Although the internet still wasn’t activated, she had already looked at the map previously so it was cached. No street names or addresses mind you, which even Google can’t find, but a big hostelworld icon that was placed, probably manually, right where we were headed.
Finally, after hours of searching and walking and general exhaustion we had found our hole in the wall and checked in. (the sign was about 4″x3″ right above the door, so even if we had found the correct street we may still have been out of luck because it was a bed and breakfast in a normal Venetian home).
Playing It By Ear
Initially I was going to write this post exclaiming how you should never reserve a place to stay in Venice because you will stumble across places around every turn.
But then I found out that our place was booked solid for weeks. We happened to check on the single day that they had a single room available for one night. He told us that it was high season which lead me to believe that many other places may have already been booked up as well.
So my advice to you is this. If you’re coming to Venice you probably want to reserve a place to stay, however you need to have a way to find it. Contact them ahead of time and ask how far they are from major landmarks such as the Rialto Bridge or Piazzo San Marco and how specifically to get there from the nearest landmark(s). The more directions they can give you the better.
This way, when you’re frantically searching for your room you can simply look for the signs that are all over directing you to the main parts of the city. Because if you’re lost and only searching for a number you better hope to be lucky, or comfortable sleeping under the stars because it takes more than simply skill to navigate.
What’s funny though is that the city isn’t all that big. After ditching our bags and marching to destinations that we already knew the locations of, we were able to get around in minutes instead of hours. Although it’s still very simple to get turned around so you’ll want a good map, but keep an eye on which one you pick up. Some of them have a limited listing of street names, which of course doesn’t help all that much when you have no way of finding where you are on the map without an intersection.
Also consider what you want to experience in Venice before deciding on how long you will stay. It’s a cool and interesting city that you’ll enjoy seeing, but if you’re planning on making your visit an extended one, bear in mind that the city is nearly all shopping and food, with some interesting architecture and just a couple museums. (NOTE: Read Steven’s comment for a more accurate depiction of Venice from a resident’s point of view)
You do have to take the obligatory gondola ride (we took ours at night, more expensive, but empty and dramatically lit waterways), but there’s not all that much more that will keep you occupied. With a noticeable lack of any parks or general public sitting areas, you’ll find yourself grabbing a slice of pizza from a small storefront and standing to eat it outside. This isn’t a bad thing, especially when you can have fun with the pigeons with your left over crust, but Venice is no Paris when it comes to spending a day in the park. Just keep that in mind.
We definitely enjoyed Venice and are both very happy that we made it there on this journey, but for us a day and a half was enough time to see and experience everything that we wanted to, so we’ve already moved on to our next destination, Milan.
What hurdles have you come across when visiting a new city for the first time? Let us know in the comments.