Pharmacies on vacation

A traveler's guide to using pharmacies

A farmacia in Bologna, Italy
European pharmacies can be quite striking, like this barqoue apothocary in Bologna, Italy.
In most parts of the world, when people feel sick, they don't call their doctor. They head to the local pharmacy, where the dying art of the skilled apothecary and knowledgeable druggist still lives on.

You can do the same. Just walk in bravely, put your charade skills to work, and point to whatever hurts while moaning.

I've entered Florentine apothecaries clutching my throat and left able to swallow again, stumbled in an exaggerated feverish delirium around a Toledo drugstore (Spain, not Ohio), and on one memorable occasion in a Greek pharmacy performed a Oscar-worthy pantomime of vomiting violently. After they stopped laughing, they gave me the medicine I needed.

How to find a pharmacy

A farmacie in Paris, France
A farmacie in Paris, France
Most drug stores hang signs with a plus-style cross on it, often in green neon (sometimes red).

Helpfully, the word for "pharmacy" in most European langauges sounds roughly similer, some variant on "farmacia"—except, oddly enough, in Great Britain, where they call it the "chemists."

Drug store hours

While most pharmacies keep local regular business hours and are often closed on Sundays, municipal powers also know that people tend to get sick round the clock.

This Milan drug store posts a list outside the door of the city's farmacie di turno, detailing which remain open after hours an on Sundays.
This Milan drug store posts a list outside the door of the city's farmacie di turno, detailing which ones will remain open after hours and on Sundays.
Most towns have set up a rotation system whereby all pharmacies take it in turns to remain open late at night and on Sundays (in cities, often one stays open per neighborhood).

In many places, all pharmacies post this roster near the front door, so you can see which one is open on any given day. You can also always ask your hotel. Failing that, most cabbies know the shceudle as well, so just hail a taxi and ask them to take you to the nearest open pharmacy.

In big cities, there are often one or two 24-hour pharmacies, often located in or near the major train station(s).

When a pharmacy just isn't enough

If you do need to visit the hospital, just find the nearest one and march right in. With the notable exception of the United States (where hospitals exists primarily to make money, not to treat patients), most hospitals anywehre in the world will take care of you speedily, with minimal paperwork and at little to no cost... Full Story

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in August 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.