Madrid street near Royal Palace

A café on a street near the Royal Palace of Madrid

By Geri Dreiling

When I visited Segovia during my first trip to Spain, E’s parents suggested stopping at a café. During my second trip to Spain, E’s parents suggested a café stopover when we arrived in Toledo. And in my most recent trip, E’s friends Carla and Germán suggested stopping at a café in El Escorial before heading back to Madrid.

It finally dawned on me to ask E if a café break was a typical Spanish custom. “Yees,” he said with a patient smile.

With the exception of a four-mile walk in Chicago on a hot day while battling jet lag, E had been following my frenetic travel pace without complaint. My instinct is to cram every experience possible into the shortest amount of vacation time available. It means I’m one of those annoying tourists racing from place to place so that they can be crossed off my must-see list.

Savoring the experience is sacrificed for efficiency.

But what I discovered is that stopping at a café for a café con leche (coffee with milk), café solo (strong black coffee), tea, beer or wine and perhaps a plate of olives doesn’t rob me of time. It enriches the experience.  

Nearly a month has passed since I was in Madrid. And this work week has been particularly intense. Looking at this photo — taken in an area between the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Royal Theater on a January morning — makes me wish I had suggested a café stop instead of just taking a picture and hurrying off.

And, just maybe, I don’t have to limit the café experience to Spain. Instead of driving through Starbucks and jamming a tall coffee in my car’s cup holder or lugging a laptop to a coffee shop to work, maybe it is time to add a third option. Maybe it is time to just sit down in a café, order a hot cup of coffee, savor the moment and enjoy the company.