Penny did it! Read her story…

Fancy a wee sojourn in or around Florence? A tailored adventure guaranteed to scintillate your senses, tickle your taste buds, inspire your creativity, enhance your cultural understanding of this fine region?  You need Penny. That’s what she does. Yet just three years ago, Penny was on a completely different career trajectory. Here Penny shares the story on how she found her career ‘bliss’…

The opportunity of a lifetime – don’t look back – just do it! They used to say I was like a stick of rock – cut me open and I would have Bupa written inside me all the way through – and I was really proud of being the person who would work all hours to ensure that a job was completed on time and within budget – even if it did mean working till after nine at night and keeping my long-suffering husband waiting for his evening meal – I delivered didn’t I?

And that was what mattered!

Of course, as someone who could be relied on to deliver I survived several rounds of redundancies and after 33 years began to think this wouldn’t happen to me……which of course is when the plan fell apart!

The news that I had become dispensable hit me like a sledge hammer! It was all handled professionally and impeccably, after so many years at a senior level the pay-off was generous and pensionable age was just around the corner – I wasn’t going to starve – but what about my identity?

That was my crisis point – without my job I really thought I didn’t exist – the first thing people asked when we met was “How’s Bupa?” I was seen as someone obsessed with my work – which I was – so what to do now I was being scrapped?

My advice to anyone in this position is to relax.

First – take a deep breath and listen to that tiny inner voice that is actually relieved that this insane work pressure is going to stop…. the world will keep turning without you running round frantically like a hamster on a wheel ..and you might have time to notice how wonderful it is?

Second – listen to the poor HR person who is gently trying to tell you that this change is an opportunity – you are grieving – and still in the anger stage so you don’t really hear it, but the truth is that unless you have a huge unpaid mortgage and no resources you are probably not going to be on the breadline instantly – and you have been given a few months finance to consider your next steps.

Third – if you are given the opportunity to use an out-placement company – such as Right Management – do take advantage of it – even a small amount of counselling is helpful and in my case it was just exactly what I needed to kick start me into a whole new life changing career – not only in a different industry but even in a different country!

My new friend Anthony Payne at Right Management (London) was delightful – clearly used to listening an taking notes from people who feel their life has come to an end – he was carefully probing for any positive ideas I might come up with , repeating them as if they were wonderful novelties – which they most certainly weren’t – and writing them down – I actually felt bored on his behalf so uninspired were my suggestions! Then I played my most difficult card – I had a flat in Florence – and I was – sob, sob, – going to have to give it up – sob – unless I could use it in someway to build a new career…..? His pen stopped doodling and he looked up at me “What do you have in mind exactly?”

“Well I was thinking about starting an activity holiday business – using my friends to run painting and language classes – maybe a cookery school – oh! and some lectures about Vivaldi!”

“And do you have such friends?”

“Well yes, whilst in Florence on three month sabbatical in 2007 I made good friends with a local Chef, a Professional driver who took me and visiting friends on wine tours, a Maestro who specialises in Vivaldi and my best friend from when I took my Art Degree is one of the UK’s top portrait painters….it might do to get me going? – and I do love Florence!”

“Well why on earth would you even consider doing anything else?”

Job done! – I had approval that my idea wasn’t completely crazy and I was busy again working on the most ambitious project I had ever taken on.

I was now completely without the financial resources and backing of a multi-national business – but they had given me the experience and skills to know what needed to be done to set up a business – and career change always offers a good opportunity to reconsider your skill set.

For the next few months I was flying, calling in to Right Management to get the boxes ticked I used my existing home computer to work on Business plans and budgets on Excel spreadsheets,

My market research on proposed company name was run from my house, I did my initial Website design on a cheap and cheerful hosting site called Fasthosts,

My brochures were written by me and designed by another friend who had been made redundant from Bupa Miami – it felt good to be already helping someone in a similar position.

My first stage of virtually free advertising was done through what Anthony referred to as my Fan Club – all my friends got a round robin e-mail in which I asked them to tell their friends what I was up to, just in case they had trips to Florence planned.

It all worked well and I took my first group to Florence on the week after I left Bupa ……We did a couple of City Tours, an Italian lesson with a friend from my language school, a day-long cookery class, a trip to Fiesole, wine tasting in Chianti and had an exclusive lecture about the life and works of Vivaldi in a little Church that is not usually even open to the public.

I am absolutely loving my new career and eagerly embracing new ideas of things I can do to make my news friends visits to Florence a full and memorable experience – such as helping Lisa Clifford to set up and run a Writers retreat in Tuscany and helping to organise a Conference Concert and Symposium around the Feast Day of Florence’s Patron Saint St John the Baptist.

In short , to paraphrase the quote I adapted from EM Forster’s famous book about Florence – “A Room with a View” – I want them to remember a bit more than seeing a “Yalla Dog!”   http://www.beyondtheyalladog.com 

Penny in Florence

Ohhh David…

At first I’m struck by the size of David’s hands, they’re enormous and surely disproportionate? The thought quickly replaced with awe as closer examination reveals vein and muscle, the hand could quite literally reach out and I would gladly grasp it. I now know where the expression ‘statuesque’ comes from. As I view the slightly frowning, thoughtful expression etched on his face I can feel the intensity of emotion as he devises a strategy for slaying Goliath. The Statue of David, finally viewed first hand.

I officially declare this a day of statues!

20130608-114905.jpgTearing myself away from my new love, I make my way to the Piazza della Signoria to take a snap of a copy of Michelangelo’s Statue of David as photos are not allowed in the Accademia. 

Next a peek inside the Palazzo Vecchio where I fall in love with a pair of sweet Lions.



20130608-115104.jpgNext an up close and personal sojourn with thestatues residing in the Loggia dei Lanzi. 

Baccio Bandinelli’s Heracles and Cacus; two statues by Giambologna. The equestrian statue of Grand Duke Cosimo I. And one of my personal faves, the Rape of a Sabine, the fine detail of fingers pressed into her flesh continues to intrigue. Beautiful work. As well, Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa.

And of course who can ignore the Neptune Fountain, designed by Ammanati and particularly spectacular at night.






Right, Statues done, wrap the morning by finding a tiny little restaurant with the very best spaghetti yet…but that’s another story!

NB: If you are considering an exploration of Florence and surrounds, check out ‘Beyond the Yalla Dog’ web site Beyond the Yalla Dog


Lonely Firenzian snapshots…

My traveling friend is winging her way home and I’m now on my own. Totally alone, a tad daunted and feeling misplaced in a sea of Italians and tourists. Determined to shed the ‘tourist’ label and become officially ‘local’ I head out with purposeful stride, a determined smile…and a list.

20130606-222451.jpgBuy train ticket for Monterosso and an Italian SIM card, a triple A battery for my Bose NC headphones (no you dirty minded persons, ‘they’ take size C!!), a ticket for The Accademia to later see Michelangelo’s Statue of David and generally wander…and what a lovely experience…

A thunderstorm without benefit of the three raincoats and two umbrellas back in the Hotel. No matter, it’s only water. Warm raindrops, hot paver steam, lightening. I’m afraid of lightening yet view it with disengaged curiosity. A 50 minute queue to buy train ticket at the Santa Maria Novella Salone Biglietti. No urgency, take your time, I’ve all the time in the world. And I do.

A young Italian couple 20130606-222239.jpgin heated hand gesturing argument. She walks away. He doesn’t follow…a relationship breakup with one witness…me. Tourists with brash American accents seeking off street leather outlets, gelato dripping down their arms. Mine’s in check.
Polizia gossiping on corners, Nigerians hawking umbrellas, women coveting jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio while their men sit patiently in nearby Ristorantes sipping beer and sweating over smoldering credit cards. Leather markets in full swing, the banter, the colours, the smell. Another couple, lips locked in passion oblivious to curious passers by. Observed break up now negated.




20130606-222637.jpg Waiters spruiking punters to their Ristorantes only to studiously ignore them once seated. The pretty carousel in the Piazza Della Repubblica. The magnificent Duomo, marbled greens, pinks and whites freshly rain washed and sparkling to the thrill of photographers gathered around her base. My iconic compass for finding the way home.


A classical guitarist, a comedian, a jazz trio, a singer, pavement chalkers, live statuettes all clamoring for attention, hawking their talents to win meagre coins from jaded tourists. Endless visual feasts and photo moments.

Now officially exhausted, sipping a Chianti, fighting a persistent Pigeon for my Bruschetta while marveling at the ambient sunset bathing the city from my terrace table. Duomo bells ringing, swallows fluttering, I stroke the ladybug silver trinket on my leather wristlet, a testament to friendship and gifted by my dear traveling friend, and conclude…Florence really is a mighty fine place to commence a journey of discovery.



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