This is how you do it. I just did it a week ago - took three days off and went to Florence, boarding the Freccia rossa, the fast train from Rome, one of the fastest in Europe, we traveled at 250 km/hour, thrilling!
And I wanted to share with you the best day I had in Florence, with my husband of 36 years (that too helped!)
First, consider visiting a monument few tourists ever get to see, yet it's right in the center of the old town, five minutes from the train station, in Via della Scala: the old pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella, recently restored, called in Italian, Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica.
It has a long story, it began with the Dominican monks, shortly after their arrival in town in 1221. The friars cultivated medicinal herbs in their gardens to prepare medications, ointments and balms for the convent's small infirmary. Then, after the fame of their amazing products had spread beyond Italy, they opened to the public in 1612. By the 18th century, they were known as far as Russia, the Indies and China. Eventually, in the 1800s, the pharmacy was bought by Cesare Augusto Stefani, the nephew of the Officina's last director. Today, the Officina is in the hands of Eugenio Alphandery that has made it a center of excellence for the herbalist's art, using the highest quality of natural, raw materials...Here is the entrance (unobtrusive on the street, look for for number 16):
And here's the second room:
And here's the third, where you can have tea, coffee or hot chocolate and a lovely, light pastry:
When the weather is nice, you can have your coffee outside (but I chose to stay indoors that day, hence the reflection on the window pane!):
And here is the dried herbs room, very artistic:
And here's the heart of the pharmacy, where all the ointments and balms are carefully displayed:
This is what you can buy here:
But you also have more sophisticated displays in other rooms, like this one:
And what would be a pharmacy without its own chapel to pray God when nothing else works? Here it is, recently restored:
And look outside before you leave: you'll see that the pharmacy borders on one of the wonderful Santa Maria Novella cloisters:
Next stop after the pharmacy: the Uffizi, restored back to the old splendor. The galleries full of sunshine are surely one of the more special places on earth:
The light can play wonders with ancient art:
And don't miss out on the view over the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, a fantastic angle on old Florence:
By now, time for lunch! The Uffizi terrace is the perfect place - with a unique back view of the Duomo:
To be honest, after the many hours spent at the museum, we went back to our hotel and collapsed for a well-deserved siesta. The evening was dedicated to roaming the old, narrow streets, and at the beginning of Via del Moro, entering it from the Arno river enbamkment, there's a wonderful, old trattoria, Da Giovanni, on the right (at number 22). This is a classic restaurant that will serve all the traditional florentine dishes like the "ribollita" (a tasty bread-based vegetable soup) to "maialino di latte" (suckling pig). We shared both the maialino and "involtini di melanzane" (eggplant rolls stuffed with meat), with an excellent Chianti, a 2011 Badia a Coltibuono:
But what turned out to be most enjoyable at this place was Giovanni himself. He is short and vivacious, jumping all around his guests, looking after everyone, suggesting dishes, making sure you order the right wine. Here he is in full action behind the bar, a silver-haired elf:
Yes, it was an unforgettable pre-Christmas holiday.
And I hope that, wherever you are, dear reader, you have an equally enjoyable Holiday and a Very Happy and Successful 2015!
Update on my latest book: a new cover! See here:
Hope you like it! The book also exists in printed format from Create Space (here) and as an e-book here in the Kindle Store.
By the way, it's not dystopian in the sense that it is dark, sad and hopeless. The world of "Gateway to Forever" may be going to pieces, and yes, that's pretty dark but some people find a way to survive, there's always hope. Find out how they manage and enjoy what one reviewer called "a thumping good read" for your holidays!