Friday was a holiday, at least for me. June 6th is my service anniversary date with my employer. I declared this a work free day a few years ago. Perhaps this one is a bit more special, given it is likely my last.
Monday is a religious holiday in Hungary, a last minute gift of sorts since I only learned about it on Thursday. It seems a “b list” holiday which no one is able to explain. That works for me. I’ll take a four day weekend anytime, with or without explanation.
I start special days in a coffee shop. Correction. I start all days in a coffee shop. Italians dash into an espresso bar; toss back a single, medicinal shot; and bolt out the door while the caffeine high kicks in.
Not me. I settle in, write in my journal or draft a blog post. Some days I read. I never rush. Rushing implies I have someplace more important to go. This might be the most important part of my day. Enveloped in idle tasks, I nurse a long espresso for twenty minutes. The entire coffee house routine takes up to an hour.
Yet it has never been about the coffee. Caffeine makes my heart race. I limit myself to a solo espresso, sometimes with a splash of hot water to make it last.
Budapest is one of the best cities in the world to foster a coffee house obsession. Within a five minute walk from my apartment, I can choose from ten or twenty coffee shops – coffee with good food, coffee with no food, sit outside or maybe sit inside. Every coffee house has a stack of blankets to wrap up in. On cool mornings, I grab one.
Generally, I skip the Trotsky inspired, old time coffee houses with cream tiled floors, cracked mirrors and nutty brown polished bars. They serve tourists from a menu of mediocre and over priced items.
I skip the new hipster coffee spots that are popping up everywhere, too. Coffee perfectionists from Turkey or Morocco or any of a number of exotic countries where coffee is an art and the maker an artist explain their roasts of the day. I listen attentively as a passionate young man with bookish glasses ticks off the three daily choices in ponderous detail. No matter what he lists, I reply, “I’ll have your favorite.”
Coffee drinking is a sit down event here – and across all of Europe. I seldom see anyone walking or driving while sipping. Coffee comes in a glass cup, as it always should. Civilized. Back home, I am guilty of grabbing a paper cup and dashing on my way. Or even worse, drinking a paper cup full of coffee as I sit and relax. Paper diminishes the experience for me.
Today, I wrote this blog post at the coffee house, Brios, on Pozsonyi street. Yesterday, I read a series of travel essays from authors who lived in Paris at a place called Panini Cafe only steps from my front door. Tomorrow, who knows where I’ll go – perhaps a bit further to A Table, a french coffee shop/bakery with a selection of breads and pastries made on the premises. They have a tiny area to sit with walls covered in old sepia photos of Paris. It makes me insanely happy to drink my coffee there.
I usually decide based on what time I wake up. Some coffee shops open by seven, others not before nine or even ten. Some coffee houses close on Sunday. The hours are loose, the rules even looser. Panini sells bagels, a rarity here. When I walked in yesterday, the Rastafarian waitress said, “Bagels won’t be here before nine. You wake up early, but unfortunately our bagel maker does not.”
I love the laissez faire attitude surrounding the coffee culture – a total contradiction to the caffeine imbued stereotype.
On work mornings, I fly out of the apartment by 6:45. “Pat, I have to run, I’m late for work.” We both realize this isn’t precisely true. The train leaves at 8:11, and we live ten minutes from the station. The coffee shop near Nyugati opens at seven. I grab one of the coveted stuffed chairs overlooking the Eiffel Square and unpack. I hate it when I’m late.
Yet, in spite of a wealth of choices, my favorite coffee house isn’t so much the one with the best coffee or bagels or a Turkish barista. My “go to” place is the one which starts to brew my order when they see me pull open the door. Where they greet me in English even before hearing my bumbled attempt at a “jó reggelt ”. Where I can say, “I’ll have the usual.”, and get just that – my usual.
Summer is upon us. We have plans each and every day of this long weekend. Yet we keep our mornings free. This is my sacrosanct time, when I sit at the coffee shop busily doing nothing. It’s something I’m great at.
Categories: Insiders Budapest