It’s always tempting to attempt- to attempt to achieve a goal, to run faster, smile bigger, or whatever it may be. These attempts at great love and vicarious life are what keep us going. They are noble and wonderful aspirations. And when it comes to traveling, our mindsets are no different. But I think the temptation can be.
When I travel, I am so tempted to try to “see it all” as we are so often conditioned to do. However, oftentimes, seeing it all equates to bouncing from monument to tourist attraction, restlessly (albeit excitedly), all day. I don’t know about you guys, but I get exhausted when I travel. Truthfully, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t! You are seeing the most amazing wonders of the world, but what does that all mean to you if there’s no stopping for thought or reflection? You guys, I tried to do this in Rome, and it didn’t work. By the end of day one, my travel buddies and I were exhausted and stressed. It doesn’t have to be like that.
On my first day in Vienna, Austria, our cab driver told my friends and I that Vienna is home to over 5,000 cafes. Now, I had always assumed Paris had that market cornered, but as it turns out, Central Europe is full of surprises and there really is something to that Viennese coffee (and the culture that goes along with it.) So although racing around Rome was exhilarating, I decided to take my short tour of central Europe slow. And as it turns out, it was just as exhilarating.
I think there is a lot to be said about café culture, but even more about the culture found in cafes. Being back in the US currently, I’ve regrown accustomed to saying hello or waving to someone in the local Starbucks only to come to the realization that their ears have headphones in them and their eyes are fixated like laser beams on the screen in front of them. This says a lot about the culture in the United States. We tend to go fast, but my feet were failing to keep up with my mind, and I knew I had to slow down. And I knew the way to do this in my travels was to stop trying to fit it all in.
In Prague, Budapest, and Vienna my friends and I probably averaged 2-3 cafes a day. Sometimes this meant our long list of activities had to undergo a few modifications, but I think it was worth it. Because although I am a firm believer that many popular tourist attractions are popular for a reason (seriously, we need to stop shaming people for wanting to see the Eiffel tower sparkle at night or the inside of the Sistine Chapel), I am also a believer in the day to day normality’s. So when I sit down for a mid-day cup of coffee or tea in an unknown city, my heart starts to race. Maybe it’s partly due to my self-proclaimed caffeine addiction, but I think there’s something else to it. Watching people from a culture completely different to yours live their everyday lives is a little bit exhilarating. It’s exciting to try and “live like a local,” and understand the way of thinking or of life. There’s something special about doing normal things in not-so-normal places. But although we can try, I don’t think we can ever fully be a part of what we’re watching around us. And I think that maybe that’s why it’s so magical.
To Central Europe, thank you for your beautiful castles on hills, unique histories mysterious alleyways and kind people. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t need to do it all or see it all. And thank you for teaching me how to be more present in my travels.
Below, I have listed my favorite spot in each pretty city I had the pleasure of visiting.
Café Kavarna Retezova to feel your literary mind open while sipping a sweet chai.
Espresso Embassy to fit in (or try to) with the hip Pest crowd with a quick espresso shot.
Café Centrale to drink coffee at the same place Freud and Trotsky frequented. Get a Viennese- this is where it all started.