Saturday, January 19, 2008

Getting around Venice

Venice is not like other cities, or haven't you noticed? I know, people talk about the "Venice of the North" and the "Venice of the East." Pshaw! There is only one Venice. And one of its chief characteristics is that it is not linear (even by Italian standards) and thus not so easy to get around in.

The city is divided into six sestieri (something like a borough, but then again, not like a borough). On the left bank you will find (see map above), coming from the station: Santa Croce, San Polo, and Dorsoduro. You will need to cross a bridge to get from the train station to the left bank (this is one reason so many traipse through the other side). On the right bank, also coming from the station: Cannaregio, San Marco (where many monuments and attractions are), and Castello. Normally, Venetian addresses are not street or square plus number. That would be too much like a mundane city. They are the sestiere name plus the number. You will see things like 2647, San Polo and 4391, Cannaregio.

As you can see, these semi-boroughs are rather large. This address form obviously favors the natives, who can get an idea just by the number what part of the sestiere the venue would be in. You can of course use interactive maps with zoom which show you exactly where something is located. But when you're just wandering about, preferably without your laptop or GPS device, remember the old-fashioned, no-tech habit of Venetians for using the nearest Church as a landmark. For example, La Zucca restaurant in Santa Croce is near San Giacomo dell'Orio. Further, some larger streets (calli) or squares (campi) will have a regular address. Sometimes, especially for outsiders, the name of the street, square, or a nearby bridge will be added. Guides will also feature the nearest vaporetto (water bus), just as you might indicate the nearest subway stop for orientation in another city. Finally, it is useful to know where the bridges and traghetto (cheap shuttle gondolas going from one side of the other of the Grand Canal) stops are, so that you can cross from one bank to the other semi-efficiently.