Airline travel is always uncomfortable for me; practically the minute I'm off the plane, regardless of how long (or short) the flight, I go hunting for espresso.
When my husband and I visited London in April, I wandered the local coffee shops near our Covent Garden hotel in search of an iced mocha. No one, short of Starbucks (and I didn't want to go there), seemed to know what I wanted. Was it a milkshake? A cocoa?
I found what I wanted - and much more than espresso - by accident on Neal Street.
Cafe Eterno, a cozy, brightly-colored cafe that's in one of London's most popular shopping destinations, has belonged to London City Mission for more than a century. A former hospital for those without medical care, it's now a cafe that serves a healthy and delightful range of food and drinks. You can get kalamata olives and hummus, panini, espresso drinks, snacks and brands of bottled drinks that give a percentage of profits to charity, all for insanely reasonable prices in an otherwise outrageously expensive city.
While much of the neighborhood has changed - it used to be poor and overcrowded - the Mission's good works have stayed. The proceeds from the cafe help support the nonprofit's centers, where those in need can get food, clothing and shelter. The day I found the cafe, one of the staff gave coffee, food and shelter information to a woman who had wandered in off the street. Paying for my drinks, I blurted out, "That was so nice of you - that's what Christians should do!"
At the hotel later, excitedly, I called my dad, a retired clergyman who's nauseated by today's brand of corporate Christianity, and shared the story. "That's what Christians should do!" he said.
I fell in love with Cafe Eterno's staff; notably Diane, whose last name I regrettably didn't get, although we discussed American politics; and Shirley Phillips, the cafe manager, who told me that she "wanted nothing of religion - just faith."
If you're ever in the area, check it out. You'll get more than what you pay for.