I'm afraid I have to admit that after traveling all over Europe and several other countries, one tends to become a little spoiled. You raise your expectations and find that settling for second just doesn't cut it. Especially when you've lived in countries where people seem to really care about the quality of their food that they produce.
While living in Milan Italy my daily routine, became, well...routine. We lived on via Luigi Settembrini just around the corner from the Caiazzo subway station. And this was about three blocks from the Milano Centrale train station. I would catch the greenline to the Loreto station, jump over to the red line and head straight to the Precotto stop where Technimont's office was.
There under the ground just about 40 feet from where I would get off was a small, and I do mean small, cafe. The smell of fresh baked brioche mixed with the heavenly scent of fresh brewed coffee would come wafting out. I loved this place. I looked forward to it every morning before starting my work day. The cafe was almost completely glass and I could look in as I approached it. There were the signs of the two workers bustling about serving customers at the bar. Exchange of money, etc. In fact, it wasn't too uncommon for some of my fellow co-workers to come up to me while I was inside, thump on the glass, wave to me and quickly move on.
I would walk through the door in my confident American Air. People would turn, look at me for a second and then turn away.
"Good morning, Mister Brown!" The server said. That was not my name. But that was what he called me everyday he saw me. Later, I found out that this was the Italian generic name for Englishmen.
I would sheepishly smile and say good morning back. It was all in English. The other server would look at me and smile and say "buon giorno!" as he would open the oven door, remove the fresh baked croissants and other morning pastries, then quickly shut it. The smell...was intoxicating.
I would reply in kind.
The first server would ask me "what would you like today?" I don't know why he always asked me. Of course, he knew what I wanted. It was the same every day. Today I was sort of pressed up against an older, short woman in front of me. She turned and faced me and only said "Scusa!". I tried to back away as much as I could in the tight surroundings.
"Uno croissant e Cafe' Americano" I would say.
Cafe Americano. A very strange thing indeed. For the life of me I don't know how this name came about. But to Italians it is espresso diluted down with hot water. In fact, they would make the espresso in a large cup and serve it to me with a small pitcher of the hot water. As I would drink, thus lowering the level in the cup, I would add the hot water. The effect being that the coffee was getting more and more dilute and tasting more and more like hot water.
But whatever Milan lacked in American coffee, they more than made up with the fresh brioche. Warm, crisp, soft croissants. Some plain. Some filled with marmalade or with almonds.
The place was small and filled up easily. I found a little nook around the corner of the place where I could sit privately and read from my PDA catching up on the news from back home.
Afterwards I would make my way to the door, waving goodbye. "Ciao!"
They always smiled and replied in kind. Thus, was the beginning of my day.