Is it “slow travel” to visit the same coffee shop 4 days in a row? I like to think it is. Slow travel allows you the opportunity to run into the same people, make some acquaintances, and start recognizing faces in a foreign city.
Coffee & Friends was my coffee shop while in Vienna.
Discovering My “Regular” Place in Vienna
I struck out on foot from my Airbnb, mid-morning, after arriving from Rome the previous evening.
It was a gloomy day, so I was more inclined than usual to duck into the nearest coffee shop. Even without the weather, though, I would have been drawn in by this sidewalk sign:
“Coffee, because crack is bad for you,” written in chalk that was hanging on to the board through the rain. The inside was small and cozy. And the barista was super friendly! She was not the first shop employee to mistake me for a German-speaker, and if I hadn’t been slacking with my German studies I would have been able to respond. But instead, she easily slid into English when addressing me for the rest of the hour.
After ordering a double espresso I found a place to sit and pulled out my trusty travel journal. It’s been with me since my 2014 internship in London, so I flipped to the back to start chronicling my last two days.
It was a peaceful respite, as I’d been in bustling Rome for the past 5 days. But after 45 minutes or so, I packed up my journal and thanked the barista.
Days 2 & 3
Since Coffee & Friends was so nice the previous day, I went back to pick up a double espresso to go.
(Yes, yes. When traveling I tend to let my caffeine addition get to ridiculous heights. I can’t risk being too tired to do what I want to do!)
The barista was different. She was polite, but I also missed the other, more chatty woman who I’d almost decided to make friends with. When I went back on day 3, however, my almost-friend was there! We made some small-talk after she recognized me and spoke English as I walked up.
She asked if this was my first time in Vienna. I said yes. I told her what I had seen and enjoyed, and she gave me some more recommendations. Then, “I hoped you would be back! I was interested in what you were writing the other day.” So I told her about my travel journal for a bit, where I’d been, and where I was from.
Then I asked where she was from… I didn’t know Austrian accents very well, so I was surprised to hear she was from a different country! As she handed over my espresso, another customer entered so I pulled out my journal, enjoyed my coffee, and wrote for a bit. Our conversation started up again a few more times before I left for that day’s sightseeing.
Day 5: Making Friends Abroad
It’s different. Once you’re out of your routine, suddenly you feel open to connecting with strangers. When travelers meet up, the friendships happen very fast. (I realized this when I lived in London for 5 months.)
But even when just one of you is passing through, if the other is interested in your travels (or bored at work), you can get quite friendly. And I think becoming friendly with a barista, a server, or an Airbnb host can help you feel more grounded in your travels. That human connection can help a place feel more real. Even after you leave.
When I stepped into Coffee & Friends on my final day in Vienna, my friend was there! She greeted me warmly and asked if I wanted my usual. I did. I told her about her recommendations that I had visited throughout the city, as I asked her to grind up a bag of coffee beans for me to take with me.
She did tease me for bringing espresso home from Vienna when I had just been in Italy for a week. I acknowledged that this specific souvenir wasn’t the most intuitive. And we talked for a bit longer before I headed back to my Airbnb to pack, a bag of the espresso I’d been drinking that week under my arm.
And I felt a bit more connected to this city I had only been in for 5 days.