ATM Reject – not banking with the Medici in Firenze

As much as Paris and all things French are at the top of my favourites list, it is time to journey elsewhere,  set my pink-sneakered feet in another part of the globe and discover what gems and treasures (of the travel kind) lie ahead. After all, the possibilities are endless and the world is my oyster, where enticing picturesque travel guides invite me to stop by, visit and linger for a while.  Something must have triggered my current obsession with all things Italian, as all of a sudden I was bombarded with images, words and advertisements proclaiming the magnificence of this jewel of a country.  Watching the film “Under the Tuscan Sun” did me in, as the writer/traveller in me desperately wanted to be able to also leave the rat race behind, jump on a plane and purchase a villa in Tuscany, enjoying “la dolce vita”  while living in a picture perfect postcard.  Only able to afford perhaps a paltry doorknob or window and not an entire villa, my limited funds permitted the luxury of only a few weeks in the boot shaped country.  Did someone say boots? If there are boots, then there would also be handbags, and my inner shopaholic was salivating at the prospect of yet undiscovered handbag acquisition opportunities (a slight obsession of mine, if you hadn’t already noticed).

And so Italia it was! The perfect marriage of being able to acquire an abundance of small leather goods while at the same time enriching my soul, contemplating Michelangelo’s “David” while sipping vino at an outdoor pizzeria, gawking at centuries old masterpieces housed in the Uffizi Gallery, and shopping for one of a kind olive oils along Firenze’s medieval Ponte Vecchio bridge. Could it get any better than that?

Enveloped by the Arno River, Florence is a showcase of medieval cathedrals, palaces, renaissance architecture, and the birthplace of Dante, Machiavelli and the Medici princes, a veritable magical fountain endlessly spewing out some of the greatest thinkers, artists and creators of all time.  Visualising ambling along the same cobblestoned pathways that Galileo gazed up at the heavens at, as well as perhaps sitting in the exact pew that Botticelli worshipped in the magnificent Duomo, my imagination spun out of control,  zealously anticipating the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of history.

Responsible for revolutionizing the banking system by creating the gold florin coin, the powerful Medici banking family singlehandedly propelled the city of Florence into a privileged position of economic and political dominance.  Patrons of the arts, the Medici invested heavily in promoting and encouraging artistic expression, catapulting Firenze into a flourishing cultural centre, the birthplace of the renaissance.

It therefore seemed quite ironic then that my bank card was continuously being rejected at almost all of the bank machines (ATMs) in Firenze.  My 2nd day in Florence and I had already run out of Euros,  dizzyingly seduced, intoxicated by the laboriously designed “one a kind” pumps, sandals and satchels artfully stitched and handcrafted by the skilled artisans who had perfected their craft generations ago. Down to my last 5 Euros, barely able to splurge on a slab of pizza and a cappuccino (heck, it’s just way cheaper to consume vino, at 2 Euros for a small carafe), I was in a bit of a pickle, desperate to access my bank account, and maintain my “shop till you drop” Italian purchasing frenzy.  Or, as in my case, “no Euros, no shop” unfortunate predicament.

 Squandering valuable shopping hours, I raced from bancomat to bancomat (bank machine), in a futile attempt to extract moola from any of the big name financial institutions that cared to spit out a couple of colourful bills to an increasingly frantic shopaholic. Saying a silent prayer to the “gods of prosperity” I slid the card into the “Plus”  labelled bank machine, punched in my 4 digit code, pressed “English” for my choice of language and keyed in the desired amount of Euros required.  And just like clockwork, the same “error” message appeared on the screen, instructing me to contact my bank, denying me access to my funds.  This can’t be good. Having now frequented at least five of the big name bancomats, from the Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas and Banco di Napoli, I was at a loss as how to successfully infiltrate the Italian banking system and liberate my cash. 

Desperate measures called for desperate actions and I was consequently forced to place my pink-sneakered foot inside an actual bank. What is the problemo, you ask?  Just open the door and walk right in, non?  Not quite. The entrances to most of the Florentine banks are secured by a Star Trek glass/plastic tube-like vertical structure that you have to step into, which then locks into place, swivels around, and deposits you on the other side, where you then find yourself inside the bank.  For the claustrophobic in me, this was not a do-able task, as the thought of having to enclose myself in a tube in which I might somehow end up permanently stuck, trapped, unable to escape from, was neither a viable nor rational option.  So, not only was I now on the hunt for an agreeable bancomat willing to fork over some cash, but also to try and locate an “entrance friendly” banking establishment.  Like, seriously?

When I did eventually stumble across a “tube-free” bank entrance, some several hours later, the bank manager politely informed me that he was unable to help, as I did not have a European based bank account and that I should just keep trying to access my money at random ATMs.  Offering the incredibly enlightening explanations that “sometimes the bancomats work and sometimes they don’t” but “perhaps tomorrow the bank machine will work” to “many tourists have complained that they have also experienced the same issues” ending the conversation with “that’s just the way it is in Italia”. Oddly enough, these phrases were immensely comforting, giving me a sliver of hope that somewhere out there is a random ATM that “will go all the way” and hand over my cash.

Luckily for myself and especially for the economic revival of Florence, I successfully tracked down a lone bank machine that spewed out Euro after colourful Euro, and faithfully trekked to this very same bancomat each morning, in order to replenish my continuously dwindling Euro stockpile.  That was my cash cow.  After all, I couldn’t risk taking any chances, as one never knows what type of foul and mischievous mood Signore Bancomat could be in tomorrow. 

Yikes!! That would be an awful lot of pink sneakers to have to replace!

Come jet off to Italy and discover the intricacies of Florentine banking with me…

Pink Sneaker Helpful Tidbits of Info:

·         Do not forget to let your banking institution know that you will be out of the country so that your Visa card and/or bank card is not declined.

·         European PIN numbers are always 4 digits.

·         Banking hours are sporadic, from 8:30am to 1:30pm and 3:30pm to 4:30pm.

·         If, perchance, an ATM refuses to spit out money and rejects your card, don’t despair or get discouraged and just keep searching for one that will.

·         Look for Bancomats that accept the CIRRUS and PLUS symbols.

·         On the very odd occasion, especially around a holiday, the bank machines oftentimes run out of cash, requiring restocking the following day.  I would suggest extracting your money on the Friday evening as opposed to waiting to take out money late on Sunday before a holiday Monday.

·         My Visa card was able to give me a cash advance and was not rejected at any Bancomats.  My bank card, on the other hand, did not work in those very same bank machines.  Go figure.

Next week – What other adventures await in medieval Firenze? Stay tuned!

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