Venice By Numbers: Fabulous, Fascinating Facts To Add Magic To Your Trip

Happy Birthday Venice! Or maybe I should say tantissimi auguri! March 25th is the official birth date of Venice, although there is no documentation for when the city on the water actually started. This date was chosen because at noon on the 25th of March in 421 A.D the first church of Venice was dedicated. This was the Church of San Giacomo on what was then the tiny islet of Rialto.

How Venice Started

Do you know how Venice got started? After the fall of the Roman Empire the Barbarians (Huns and Longobards) invaded Italy, looting and pillaging and destroying everything in their path. Some of the Veneti (people from the Veneto) escaped by hiding out in the marshy lagoon that lay between the mouths of the Po and Piave rivers, and the Adriatic Sea. This swamp was full of raised mud mounds or mini islands (islets)

The island of Torcello was first settled in 452 and has the oldest of Venice’s treasures.

They couldn’t build their town on the silt and mud so they had to come up with a clever idea. The end result was an engineering marvel that not only built the floating city but has kept it going for 1600 years! Those original buildings are mostly gone but there are buildings in Venice still standing after 1000 years.

They devised a system where they took huge wooden poles – essentially tree trunks, up to 10 meters long, and drove them down through the silt and mud of the marshy islands until they hit the hard clay way down below. The put these poles or pilings side by side so they were touching, then filled any space between with rocks and stones. The pilings were of water resistant wood like oak and larch, and they didn’t rot because in order for rot to set in you need both water and oxygen. Not only was there no oxygen below the water level, but the lagoon was full of silt and mud that absorbed into the wood and then over time became petrified and hard as stone.

Two layers of wood went over the pilings, then a layer of stone or marble upon which the houses and then palaces were built. Brilliant, no?

Venice By The Numbers

Venice is full of secrets along with some pretty fascinating facts and figures. So let’s look at some of the numbers.

The Sestieri

Map of Venice via Wandering Italy

Venice is a really small city, broken up into 6 neighborhoods or sestieri. There are 3 neighborhoods on either side of the Grand Canal. The first three are: Cannaregio (by the train station)which is also the most populated one, San Marco, in the middle and where perhaps the most famous tourist sites are, and Castello, the largest of the six.

On the far side of the Grand Canal there is the Dorsoduro at the top, roughly opposite San Marco. This is where the huge white church, Santa Maria della Salute watches over the canal. Next is the smallest sestiere, San Polo, amongst other things home to the Rialto fish market. Lastly curving around the bottom is beautiful Santa Croce.

Three islands immediately off of Venice each belong to a different sestiere. Giudecca is considered part of Dorsoduro, San Giorgio Maggiore is part of San Marco and the cemetery island of San Michele is part of Cannaregio.

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The Canals

grand Canal Venice
The Grand Canal in Venice

Venice has 3 canals, the most famous of which is the Grand Canal. The two other canals are the Cannaregio Canal which until the train line was built was the main route to Venice from the mainland, and the Giudecca Canal which is also the throroughfare for the cruise ships.

A rio in Venice

The little waterways throughout the city are not actually canals, they are called rii. (One rio, two rii). There are 150 rios or rii in Venice. As Venice needed more terra firma some of the rii were filled in and became rio tera’. Which essentially means earth filled rio. There are 53 rio tera’ in Venice. There are two types of rio tera’, the rio terra tombati which are completely filled in and the rio tera’ con volti, which still have water flowing beneath them.

Gondolas and Gondoliers

You will fall in love with the gentle swish (not even a spash) sound of the gondola in Venice. A ride on a gondola should be on your list of things to do while there, just stay away from the main tourist areas. Ask your gondolier to take you down some side canals/rios to get away from the traffic and the tourists, and get him to tell you about the things you are seeing. Most tourists seem to try and squash as many people as possible onto their gondola to try and save some money, then spend the whole time taking selfies and getting instagram fodder. Your best experience is to only have a couple of you on board, relax back into the cushions and let your gondolier tell you his story.

There are currently only 400 gondolas in Venice. At the height of the 17th and 18th centuries it is estimated there were as many as 10,000 gondolas! Custom made for the shallow lagoon, each gondola is made from 8 types of wood: lime, larch, oak, fir, cherry, walnut, elm and mahogany. Or 9 if you count the oar which is made from beech. Gondolas have been around for nearly 1000 years, with the first documentation of them dating back to 1094.

The gondola’s S shaped iron prow represents the bends in the Grand Canal, the 6 teeth represent the sestieri or districts of Venice, the curved top is the doge’s cap and the 1 ‘tooth’ sticking out the back represents the island of Giudecca. If you look closely you will notice that gondolas are lopsided. This is to balance out the gondolier’s weight.

Gondoliers have incredible posture. Watch them and you’ll see that along with their oar they are maneuvering the boat with their feet, hips and shoulders. It’s not easy to become a gondolier. The training alone takes more than 400 hours, the exam is difficult and even if you pass it there are only 3 or 4 new licenses issued per year!

My favorite gondolier move? Watch the way they slip a leg out and gently push off from any wall they come too close to. It’s almost like a ballet.

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Streets and Such

That’s Santa Maria dei Miracoli peeping out at you from behind the bridge.

Venice only has 1 strada (street), the Strada Nuova in Cannaregio. Those other streets and walkways? These are called calli (one calle/two calli) and there are roughly 3000 of them. Then there are 367 rami, the small streets or ‘branches’ connecting the bigger ones. There are 10 rughe, streets lined with shops and named after the French rue, and 42 salizade, the first paved streets in Venice. These were important streets and were paved with a stone specific to Venice called masegni.

Islands, Bridges and Wells

Venice is actually a series of 118 mini islands, connected by 435 bridges. There are only 4 bridges crossing the Grand Canal. From the top down they are the Accademia Bridge, the Rialto Bridge, The Scalzi Bridge and the new guy, the Constitution Bridge, also known as the Calatrava. (Calatrava is the Spanish architect who built it.) There is only 1 bridge that has no railings, the Ponte Chiodo in Cannaregio. This bridge is also interesting because it dead ends into a house. Which by the way is now a bed and breakfast. (There is another railing free bridge on the island of Torcello, known as the devil’s bridge.)

The Ponte Chiodo in Cannaregio

Ever wonder how they got fresh water in Venice before it was eventually piped in, in 1884? If you keep an eye out you will notice that in every campo (piazza) except for Piazza San Marco, and in all the courtyards there is a well. Look a little closer and you’ll see the ground isn’t quite flat – it dips toward the well. This is because through another completely genius feat of engineering the (very) early Venetians devised a plan to capture rainwater, filter it and keep it in these wells. This blog post from Venezia Autentica explains how they did it. It’s worth checking out because did I mention – it’s brilliant!

In 1858 a census of Venice’s wells found there were 180 public wells, 6046 private wells and 556 wells that had been closed or removed. Although no longer a source of water, an estimated 600 of these beautiful and decorative wells are still scattered in the campi of Venice.

The Pilings

Photo of pilings below Venice via Venice by Venetians. Post linked here

I always think of them as poles or tree trunks, but the pilings have their own story to tell. If you look around you’ll notice there are no forests around Venice. The wood for the pilings mostly came from 3 places: Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. And of course they came across the Adriatic on boat and barges, centuries before boat motors were invented. Lots of them. There are more than 10 million pilings below the city of Venice. The Rialto bridge sits on 30,000 of them and the church of Santa Maria della Salute has more than 1 million pilings underneath it!

Want more information about Venice? Get a free PDF of my 10 Favorite Secret Places In Venice These are fantastic places to escape the tourist crowds and see something different in the floating city. You will also automatically get any other secret Venice information I release over the next 6 months. Get your PDF here

The Churches

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
The church of Santa Maria della Salute in the Dorsoduro sestiere, Venice

There are 159 churches in Venice, which basically means there is one every few meters. 27 are desconsecrated, there is 1 Anglican church and 1 Greek Orthodox.

Mass Tourism and Cruise Statistics

Seriously, why are these stupid boats even allowed inside the lagoon??

Little Venice (it really is small) has the hideous ranking of being the 7th busiest cruise port in Europe and the 22nd busiest cruise port in the world. Had covid not shut down the travel industry a minimum of 56 ships would have made 518 port calls in 2020, each dumping an average of 3360 passengers. The estimated number of cruise ship passengers in 2020 that were expected to disembark in Venice (a very small, very fragile city) was 1.23 million. Despite news reports that cruise ships would no longer be allowed into the lagoon in reality the cruise ship traffic growth for Venice for 2020 was projected at 18%.

The MSC Magnifica cruise ship is seen in the Venice Lagoon on June 9, 2019, as people take to the water in the annual Vogalonga rowing regatta in Venice. – Thousands of people took to the streets in Venice on June 8, 2019, calling for a ban on large cruise ships in the city following last week’s collision between a massive vessel and a tourist boat. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP) (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

Cruise ships not only destroy the view for anyone trying to enjoy Venice and make life a nightmare for local Venetians, they also cause catastrophic damage to the environment and the city.

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The average depth of the Venice lagoon is 10.5 meters (34 feet) with a maximum depth of 21 meters (74 feet). The displacement of a the cruise ship pictured above is 154,000 tons according to the MSC website, and the gross tonnage is 95, 128 GT. These ships cause damage not only in wave damage but also with their wake and undertow eroding and destroying the city’s wooden piling foundations. On top of that the Venetian Port Authority had to dredge a 10 meter (33 feet) deep canal across the lagoon to accommodate the below water depth of them. This in turn allows the Adriatic to pour more water into the lagoon at high tide, causing even more flooding. Although not the sole source of the increased flooding in Venice it is a huge contributor. You can read more about it here and in this 2011 article from the Telegraph.

How is this even considered to be ok??

Venice’s Population Counter

Mass tourism is destructive on many levels but one of the worst (along with the staggering environmental damage it causes) is the effect it has on the local population. It makes living in that place almost untenable. Imagine your neighborhood suddenly getting 5 cruise ships worth of people (as many as 20,000) dumped on it each day ~ it would be a nightmare. As such between the impossibility of functioning in daily life (think doing groceries, taking kids to school, going to and from work, going to the dentist etc) and their home city being turned into a cruise ship Disneyland, local Venetians started being forced to move to the mainland.

A pharmacy on Strada Nova has a digital counter that keeps details of the locla population count. In 1973 the population of Venice was roughly 148,000. This is the count of Venetians born and bred living in their home city. As of February 6th 2021 it was down to just over 52,000.

image via Cecilia Staiano

You can read Cecilia Staiano’s article about the depopulation of Venice here. The photo above is hers taken from her Feb 6th 2021 article.

Venice’s main income source is tourism. The city needs you to come and visit, stay a few nights and enjoy her beauty, her artisans, her cuisine. Fall in love with her buildings, the magic quality of light and her gorgeous ambience. Just please don’t come on a cruise….

Digital Health Passports: Why You Will Absolutely Need One If You Want To Travel

For those of us who live to travel the world Digital Health Passports, also known as Vaccine Passports, may be our ticket to finally getting back to flying the friendly skies.

Years ago when I was off exploring the world there were multiple countries requiring proof of vaccine to enter/or your home country required you to be vaccinated to travel to. (I no longer remember which way it went). As a world traveler I was vaccinated for all of it, everything from Diptheria to Typhoid to Yellow Fever. I took a 2 week course of Malaria pills before one trip, and from memory when I lived in London I had a cholera vaccine too.

But It Got Tricky…

But here is where it all gets tricky. Back then you had a card clipped into your passport and/or some vaccinations may have been stamped into your passport or to a separate paper, and herein lies the problem. I don’t remember how all these vaccines were tracked. There is no record. Whether it was stamps, pieces of paper from the doctor who administered them or the carte jaune, however these vaccines were recorded is all long gone.

Sample Carte Jaune /Yellow Card

Since being vaccinated I have gone through multiple passports, became a citizen of a second country and then had two passports, have moved to different countries and then moved within those countries. Long story short I couldn’t tell you the name of my old doctor in L.A let alone who I had in London. With nothing digitized there is no way to trace this random information.

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What Is A Digital health Passport?

A Digital Health Passport or Vaccine Passport is simply a digital means of tracking which vaccines you have had and when you had them. Information from covid test results can be uploaded as well. This keeps all your pertinent vaccine travel information in one uniformly accepted place.

When you travel to different countries their passport control will be able to scan the QR code on your digital health passport at the same time they scan your passport, and know whether to allow you in or not.

How Do They Work?

Digital Health Passports or Vaccine Passports are merely a higher tech and more efficient version of what we currently have. They will likely be in app form, making it easier to get your information uploaded quickly.

As far as I know if you are traveling anywhere that requires a yellow fever vaccine you still have to present your Carte Jaune/Yellow Card on arrival. (I lost mine somewhere in the world, God only knows when.)

If you have children then you already know that at least here in the U.S. you have a card with all their vaccination information on it, and copies of it have to be sent to schools/colleges/a variety of other places your child goes.

Now this information will be stored digitally in one place, will be difficult to forge, and will enable all countries to somewhat safely allow travelers entry.

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Are Vaccine Passports Necessary?

By the middle of 2021 the expectation is that countries will pivot from just requiring a negative covid test to requiring proof of vaccination in order to open their borders to travelers. For now most countries are still closed to travel and with the proliferation and highly contagious spread of variants such as the South African and Brazilian strains of the virus, negative tests aren’t proving adequate in stopping the spread.

Think about where you live. How would you feel if 1000 people from country X descended on your neighborhood tomorrow? 1000 people who had no proof of vaccination or testing negative for covid and its various strains other than a piece of paper that anyone with very basic photoshop skills could forge? What about if 2000 people arrived all at once? The average cruise ship holds 4000, so imagine 4000 people arriving all at once, with only a piece of paper saying they were safe to be where you go about your life?

Las Ramblas Barcelona crowds
Barcelona’s Las Ramblas during tourist season. How covid-safe would you feel in that crowd?

Just as a regular passport will flag you if you are a danger to the country you are trying to enter, a vaccine passport will flag you if you potentially pose a risk.

Covid 19

It looks like Covid 19 and its variables will be around somewhere between a long time and forever, so if the world is going to open back up and get some semblance of normalcy we will need a way to track safe admission into every country. Beyond that we need one type of testing that is universally recognized along with a small group of regulated covid vaccines that are monitored and recognized worldwide. Like the Polio vaccine. Or the Measles vaccine, or Smallpox, or Typhoid or any one of multiple vaccines.

The Common Pass and IATA Travel Pass

The two biggest contenders in the worldwide digital health passport category are The Common Pass and the IATA Travel Pass.

The World Economic Forum got together with a Swiss non profit to create a means to open world economies back up. They created The Common Pass, a digital passport utilizing the criteria above. More than 2000 international airports along with numerous foreign governments have already signed on to the program, which provides a standardized format so that all countries use the same testing protocols and group of vaccine options.

IATA, the International Air Travel Association are working on another international digital health passport called the IATA Travel Pass. Multiple airlines have already signed on. Read more about it here

Between the two the world should hopefully be able to reopen somewhat safely in the not too distant future.

Covid tests will only be accepted from approved vendors using specific protocols – just like the current system if you want to travel to Hawaii.

In all likelihood it will be impossible to catch every case, but as the majority of each population get vaccinated the spread of this particular virus should come close to stopping.

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When Will We Need Them By?

At the time of writing this post Digital Health Passports are still being worked on. The assumption at this time is that by mid 2021 they will be available and will become the new mode of entry to crossing international borders. There is thought that without a digital health passport/vaccine passport travelers will be banned from entering most countries.

What Are The Downsides?

One downside to the Digital Health Passports is that not all countries will be up to speed with vaccines at the same time. If they have vaccine availability they may lack the critical infrastructure necessary to make this system work.

Third world and developing countries will be disadvantaged, although I would expect their national airlines and the other major international airlines who route through these countries to come up with a vaccine plan, just to keep business moving.

What About The Anti-Vaxxers?

Not everyone can be vaccinated. Some medical conditions preclude getting vaccines.

Then you have those who will just refuse vaccination.

I’m not sure what the world will do about those who cannot be vaccinated, but those who choose to opt out will no doubt be refused the ability to travel internationally. Which is fair enough. Unless someone can persuade me otherwise (with rational argument, not hysteria) I don’t think anyone who chooses not to take the vaccine should be allowed to travel internationally.

Where I live a frightening percentage of people are caught somewhere between believing Bill Gates wants to microchip them (it would be more efficient to just track their phones, but whatever) and that vaccines are going to kill them/sterilize them/be too dangerous. Short of a really good marketing drive explaining the covid vaccines I can’t see them ever getting vaccinated.

Imagine this was your neighborhood, and within this crowd are multiple people who chose not to get vaccinated.

I don’t want thousands of people flying in to my country and swanning around my neighborhood with highly contagious variants (or any covid actually) and getting infections growing again. When you look at how devastating Covid 19 has been to the entire world and all economies, it makes sense not to let anyone travel internationally without proof of vaccination and negative covid tests.

It will be interesting to see what happens and how all of this pans out.

But in the meantime keep an eye out for the Common Pass and the IATA Travel Pass digital health passports.

I am keeping my followers up to date on everything to do with vaccines and international travel in my twice monthly newsletter. The newsletter is primarily about travel in Italy. If you are interested in Italy travel stories and want to stay abreast of covid vaccine + travel news you are welcome to join us here

5 Things You Absolutely Must Do In Beautiful Turin!

Several years ago I followed a gorgeous blog that was written by an expat living in Turin, Italy. The blog was just fabulous and I really looked forward to it arriving in my inbox each week. I would take time to curl up with a coffee and read through each glorious word, pore over each photo, and dream about the perfect trip to Torino.

Then one day, poof! it disappeared. Gone as if it never existed. Over the years I have searched to try and find it but I guess she took it down because no matter how I search I just cannot find it anywhere. There should be some rule that fabulous blogs need to stick around in perpetuity for us to always be able to enjoy!

Anyway, not too long ago a friend of mine, Olivia (@livguine on Instagram) fell in love with a handsome Piedmontese fellow and moved to Turin. She leads a dreamy life there full of visits to wineries (she has a wine background) exploring and cooking Northern Italian dishes.

For those of you who belong to my Newsletter Liv has sent me a recipe for a hearty pasta dish specifically for the newsletter. If you are not a member of my newsletter group you can join here.

I asked Olivia to give me a list of 5 things you absolutely must do when visiting beautiful Turin. Here is the list as created by a resident of the city, not a traveler:

5 Things You Must Do In Turin

Monte dei Cappuccini, Turin

1. Visit Monte dei Cappuccini

This is a beautiful late-Renaissance-style church on a hill overlooking the River Po near the bridge of Piazza Vittorio Veneto. It was built for the Capuchin Order (an order of Franciscan monks.) Construction began in 1583, and was completed in 1656. From Monte dei Cappuccini you have a stunning view over beautiful Turin.

View of Turin from Monte dei Cappuccini

Be sure to go up there on a clear day though – Turin is famously foggy!

2. The Basilica of Superga

Basilica of Superga. Image via

This church on the hill of Superg was built in 1717-1731 to celebrate Turin defeating the French and Spanish in the Battle of Turin. It is home to the tombs of the Savoy family. In 1949 a plane carrying the Turin football team crashed into the basilica, (which was hidden in the fog) killing everyone onboard. There is a tomb commemorating them at the back of the church.

While there be sure to visit the royal apartments and also climb the dome! You can read more about what to see at the Basilica in this blog post from

3. Visit The Cinema Museum at Mole Antonelliana

The Antonelliana Tower watching over Turin

Did you know Turin was the birthplace of Italian cinema? Italy’s National Museum of Film is housed here in Turin in the Mole Antonelliana, one of the city’s iconic landmarks. The museum is interactive and really fantastic. You can also go to the top of the tower and take in the majestic views of this gorgeous city, all th way to the alps.

4. Bicerin And A Stroll Through Quadrilatero

Bicerin, image via La Cucina Italiana

In Turin, the locals don’t drink hot chocolate in the winter time, they drink bicerin! It’s a delicious concoction of chocolate, coffee and milk topped with cream. The best place to sip on this is at Caffe Al Bicerin, before taking a stroll through the oldest part of the city that dates back to the Roman ages.

5 Vermouth And A Royal Palace

Palazzo Reale Turin

Who doesn’t love wandering through a European royal palace?

Palazzo Reale Turin

Turin was home to the Royal family of Savoy and they left their mark with the beautiful Royal Palace in the city centre. Stroll through the beautiful palace before joining the locals at aperitivo hour with a glass of Torinese vermouth.

If you are interested in learning more about things to do in and around Turin be sure to check out my friend Olivia’s website, (A play on her name and linguine – Liv is a fabulous cook and shares recipes from Torino on her website. She also has this post about 48 Hours In Turin. You can also listen to her fabulous interview on the Untold Italy Podcast here. I guarantee you will absoluteely fall in love with her story!