A Life in Coffee Shops

I currently hold a Level 7 Fresh Brew badge on Foursquare. That’s 30 different coffee shops, 30 different venues for leisurely chats with friends, afternoons reading the paper, quick pit stops before catching a flight or caffeine acquisitions before work. In a probably-not-unrelated note, I reached gold-card status at Starbucks earlier this week.

I frequent the Starbucks in Rosslyn, Va., a few times a week, primarily because it’s close to work, inoffensive and predictable. On my own time, though, I patronize locally owned places. There a few that I love in D.C.:

1. Qualia, a neighborhood gem in Petworth that roasts and grinds its own beans and toasts your croissant for you. Sipping a cold latte out on the back patio on a hot day makes me feel like I could do anything. Earlier this week, when I needed a break from non-stop fiscal cliff updates with work, I went to Qualia.

2. Chinatown Coffee on H Street, a utilitarian oasis of hard floors and spare tables and a long bar. I’ve met friends here, and I’ve simply snagged a table and read the news. The 7th Street pandemonium is only a few minutes’ walk away, but you’d never know it.

3. Peregrine Espresso; I’ve been to its Eastern Market cafe and its Union Market counter. No fuss, quick and efficient and potent. It’s a superb quickie in between shopping stops, owned by a husband-and-wife pair.

Each place serves a different function. I go to Qualia to unwind, Chinatown Coffee to socialize and Peregrine for the pick-me-up-and-go. I vividly remember my first experience with each and I anticipate being a regular at all three for as long as I’m a Washingtonian.

Coffee shops, whether independent ones or chains like Starbucks, seem to be compartmentalized: They’re either homogenous big-box stores, or annoyingly twee. I love these three because they avoid falling into either trap. They offer moments of rest, sanity and, yes, sweet sweet caffeine when I need them the most. And for that, I’ll hold onto them always.

Paris: Day Four

Read about the first, second and third days in Paris.

Monday, our long weekend in Paris came to a close.

Lauren and I rode the Metro to Gare du Nord and stashed our bags in a locker, so they’d be safe and we wouldn’t have to carry them . We had breakfast — crepes, coffee and apple juice — at a cafe by the train station.

We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon up in Monmarte, visiting the beautiful Sacre Coeur basilica, which is on a hill and can be seen from across the city, and walking around the district. We stopped outside the Moulin Rouge for photos.

We had heard about good flea and farmers markets in Marais, but unfortunately the ones in which we were interested were closed.

Our next stop was the area around the national opera. After taking photos of the building’s exterior (the interior of lovely also), we visited the Apple store for the free WiFi and got coffee at a very opulent Starbucks. We’re talking chandeliers, tiles ceilings, shiny metal fixtures. It was swank. I also dragged Lauren into the United Colors of Benetton and picked up my souvenir of the trip — a UCoB shirt with “Paris” on it. I have one from London, too. It may just be my new collection.

With the afternoon left to kill, we went back to the Eiffel Tower so Lauren could see it in the daylight. It was so cloudy out that going to the top would have been pointless, as the view would have been obscured, so we hung around down at the bottom, took photos and watched souvenir peddlers run away from the police. Good times.

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We walked across the Seine to the Trocadero, a complex of gardens and museums. The complex has an impressive history in international affairs — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed there in 1948, and it also housed the first headquarters of NATO.

Lauren and I had one last late lunch together in a restaurant off the Trocadero, before heading back to Gare du Nord. I set up shop in a cafe with a coffee and a croissant, waiting for my train depart. Lauren took an overground commuter train to Orly, from where she was flying back to Germany.

So there you have it. Four eventful days in Paris. Très bon, oui?

A damp day in London

I get a bit of a rush whenever I step off the train at a London station. I got it when I went from Reading to Paddington, and I get it when I go from Canterbury to St. Pancras. I love going into London, because it exhausts me — I’ll sleep like a baby tonight — and it challenges me, as I try to find my way around, discover new places and keep up with the fast pace. Best exercise I’ll get all week.

I don’t get to go into London very often, about once or twice a month, so when I go, I leave early and come back late, so I get a full bang for my buck (quid?). Take today, for instance. Instead of leisurely seeing two or three things, I covered a lot of ground, most of it in the West End or in Chelsea/Knightsbridge.

First I hit Hummingbird Bakery near Soho, where I picked up a red velvet cupcake (the house specialty) and a cola cupcake (Friday special). I ate my red velvet cupcake with a peppermint mocha at Starbucks on Regent Street, and visited the Regent Street Apple store, the world’s largest by area.

After that I walked from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square, where I ducked inside the National Gallery to see a few of my favorite paintings: Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II and Da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. I went to the National Portrait Gallery to say hello to the Tudors and all of their associates — Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Henry VII, Catherine of Aragon, Mary Stuart, Mary I, Catherine Parr, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Edward VI. They’re all there, although poor Anne Boleyn was getting her portrait cleaned.

It was lunchtime after that, but I was dismayed to find that Tsunami wasn’t accepting lunch walk-ins. Making a note to make a reservation next time, I braved the Charlie Foxtrot that is Tottenham Court Road(work) for the foreseeable future, and had tacos at the UK’s only Chipotle on Charing Cross Road. Verdict: Just as yummy as at home, but they get brown rice as an option!

I was in a museum mood today, so next I stopped by the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum has all kinds of animal skeletons, ecosystem exhibits and fossils, so it’s a popular place with school kids. The V&A Museum has a lot of sculpture, textiles and “industrial”/useful art. Harrods was just down the road so I went to look at expensive handbags, Seven for All Mankind jeans and the selection of dog collars. Harrods is already dolled up for Christmas, and the display theme this year is Peter Pan (when I was at Reading the theme was Casino Royale).

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Harrods was also unbearably hot, so after I finished there I went to Kensington Gardens and found the Peter Pan statue (I saw it once before but it was dark) and walked over to Hyde Park. By then it was getting a little dark and rainy, so I took the Tube to Covent Garden, where I promptly walked out onto the street, slipped on the wet stones and fell flat on my rear. How embarrassing.

There was another bakery near Covent Garden that I was going to try and find, but with the early darkness and rain I didn’t get to it. I grabbed coffee to give myself a boost and get out of the rain, before I went to a hopping Leicester Square to see “Let Me In” at the Odeon. The movie was pretty good and a nice twist on the vampire genre.

After the movie I took the Tube back to St. Pancras, where I observed the people just getting in from Paris and Brussels, grabbed some McDonald’s for dinner — first time I’ve had it since moving here — and caught my train home. Whew!

I’m going in again on Wednesday, and that day I’m shooting to see the Tate Modern, the British Museum and a few of the other parks, or at least St. James Park. Oh, and that second bakery …

(Today was also Guy Fawkes Night, but more on that tomorrow.)