Grand Canal - Venice, Italy
Grand Canal - Venice, Italy

Finding an Address in Venice: An Impossibility

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.”

The Logic

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.

Success!

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.

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Comments

  1. Lou Cannata, Minnesota says:

    Marla & Jeff,

    Wow, I’m enjoying all the “first hand” information, but was wondering, what was the weather like in each country that you have visited so far?

    Could you tell us more about your train ride to Venice? realizing you were sleeping most of the way? lol Did the train have a diner? what speeds? any stops? etc…

    I was also wondering if you were having any problems with the language?, money exchange?, service?, especially at restaurants?

    What are the people like? do they generally like Americans? do any of them mention the wars in the middle east? how about 9-11?

    Is there any further time changes in each country? and if so, how do you manage to keep track and get the proper rest?

    Wondering, where do the canals in Venice get their water supply from? how deep is the water in the canals? and is the water clean? Do they allow any motorized water vehicles?

    Do you two speak Italian? or French?

    Thanks again, for keeping us posted.

    God Bless And Keep You Both Safe !!
    Louie (Lou) Cannata :)

    P.S. Beward of the pick-pocket and thieves !!

    • So far the weather’s been perfect, up until some rain today. In London it was in the 60s (F) at night and the low to mid 70s during the day. Paris was slightly warmer, and Venice was in the 80s. We just arrived at La Spezia and there’s been on and off rain, but we still hiked 3KM up the mountain from the train to our hotel (I think the concierge thought we were crazy) :) Its 61° F right now at 6:37pm.

      Hopefully we’ll have some time to touch on more of the questions that you have in future posts, but I think Marla’s gonna briefly put in her 2 cents on some of the questions when she logs on a bit later. :)

    • Louie’s my new hero for asking all the burning questions I wanted to know! But I already hassle Jeff enough so I play nice here on the blog.

      Et non, ils ne parlent pas le français. Dommage! ;)

      … now I have to go find my online temperature converter!

    • I’ll answer all the questions about the train in an upcoming post.

      It’s funny that language really hasn’t been too big of an issue. Most people we’ve come in contact with speak enough English to be able to get by. By no means is their English the same as ours and even though they seem to be speaking the same language we often have to ask people to repeat themselves, and the same for others who are talking to us. We have been trying to speak both languages and brought along two little phrase books for French and Italian but when we come in contact with people they wind up speaking English to us anyway. It seems like it must be a requirement if you work with any sort of tourist to speak some English because when we go to restaurants or get service from transportation providers, for the most part, they have spoken English to us.

      As for exchanging money, it hasn’t been an issue anywhere, but I do feel we’ve overpaid. At the airport and train stations there are money exchange locations and because of convenience that is where we have gone as soon as we have arrived somewhere new. I’m sure if I were to look into it more I would have found other places to go but that was not as high of a priority to research.

      The people all over seem to be running on their own clock and not really paying any attention to us, except for little giggles in reference to our shoes. I have not heard any mention of war in passing with people and surprisingly we were near the Eiffel Tower on 9/11 and again, nothing.

      Well we’re heading out now, but I’ll get back to your other questions soon. Keep commenting, we love um! :)

  2. Venice sounds both beautiful and horrific. I’d probably have about 14 ADD meltdowns in the space of 5 hours, so probably not a city I should visit, but ahhh… no cars, old buildings, little streets to explore and shops and food… that sounds amazing.

    Don’t forget the pictures ;) I want pictures.

    How I visit a city for the first time: From home, I figure out what’s to visit in the area and what there is to do. I google hotels, see how far they are from these locations, figure out if I can use public transport or need taxis, where will I park… I get all my tourist information ready, my Google maps printed out and my “alright, here’s what’s going down on this trip” all set.

    It’s a bit of an ADD coping strategy – if I have my shit all set before I get there, then I can prevent a few spinout moments and have a good time.

    The alternative, though – which is just wandering into some place I’ve never been and exploring – is just as awesome and I love that. BUT! I have to be 1) well rested, 2) fed and 3) in a good, positive mood so that I can capture the adventurer’s spirit and deal with anything happily. Otherwise…

    Uh. Yeah. Spinout and meltdown. *sigh*

    • Ha, from an ADD perspective horrific may be the right word, but you definitely should see it one day. As long as you go in knowing what to expect I think you’ll be fine :)

      And don’t you worry about pictures, there’s plenty. I think if I have time I’m gonna setup a little photos section on here, hopefully before we get home, but if not definitely then.

      Your plan for visiting a city does work well and would hopefully serve you well in Venice. Assuming Google is good with the address locations (if they are they may be the only ones!)

  3. Just came upon this post and though my response is over 2 years late, your depiction of Venice as being “all shopping and food” with just a couple of museums is just so completely wrong I felt compelled to write, lest someone else stumble upon your post and actually believe you.

    Having now lived in Venice for over 2 years I can assure anyone with eyes to see, or even simply ears to hear, that everyday I step out my door I discover something new. Venice is actually a very small city, just a little more than twice the size of Central Park, but every step takes you past evidence of centuries of history. Of course it helps if you wander a little off of the densely-routes between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto, and it also helps if you make even the slightest effort to find out a little about the city’s history. For of course, it was not just a city, it was one of the most powerful Republics of the early Renaissance.

    Take out a video on Venice from the library, or watch some of native Venetian Francesco da Mosto’s BBC 4-part program on Venice on Youtube, and you’ll quickly come to a better appreciation of the city when you visit. And when you visit, be sure to get out on the water–not necessarily in a pricey gonodola, but simply on one of the city’s water buses that take you around the island, or to another island. Venice’s great Republic depended upon the water, and it’s important to see it from that perspective. For life here, even today, is still very much tied up with the water.

    If you are bored in Venice then you are either wasting your time in the wrong places, or it’s simply not your thing, or you are one of those sorts who, like a eunuch in a harem, would be bored anywhere. But it would be a shame to waste your time here, and not enjoy what it has to offer, simply out of sheer ignorance.

    • Hi Steven, thanks for chiming in and setting the record straight. I appreciate that you took the time to add some tips and, as a local, provided a more accurate depiction of the beautiful city of Venice. Reading the post back, now two and a half years later and now that my travel experience has grown immensely, I’m sure I would now write that little section that you’re referring to quite a bit differently; likely omitting it completely. Being that this trip was my first time abroad and it was quite a rushed one at that (London > Paris > Venice > Milan > La Spezia > Pisa > Florence > Tuscany > Rome – all in 22 days), I simply saw the Italian leg of the trip through different eyes, though I’m quite certain a journey back to Venice (which I hope to make one day) will yield a different experience.

      Thanks again for chiming in! And I went ahead and updated the post to refer readers to your comment for a more accurate depiction :)

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