Day 40: Pure indulgence.

40 cups. 40 cafes. 40 days.  i’ve done it. and what i can say except… it has been a completely, utterly amazing experience.

but, i’ll have another post in a few days about what i’ve learned and experienced. a kind of debriefing and list-making. perhaps in “top ten” form. for now, i’d like to share with you my last fika for this project. and what a celebration it was! i decided to end my 40 days of fika in downtown asheville, at a place that i have reserved until the end… a place that’s different. a place i’ve always wanted to visit, but never did. a place that is filled with chocolate and decadence.

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now, i like chocolate. i like it a lot. but, i’m no chocoholic. however, i do appreciate fine chocolate like one appreciates fine wine or a beautiful sunset or an early morning walk on the beach. so, i thought that i’d slow down, really slow down, for this last fika and savor every little drop of every little moment.

i thought about having fika with someone, but i decided that being alone was exactly what i needed to close out and enjoy the ending of a wonderful, life-changing project.

so, i drove downtown, found a parking spot, and walked a bit to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. it was a gorgeous and very warm autumn day. once again, i found myself in awe at the beauty that surrounded me. even in the middle of the city nature glowed and gave off vibrant hues of yellow, red, and orange. people were everywhere, tourists visiting for leaf season. business people in a hurry to get to wherever they were going. and others, just exploring and doing their thing.

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i arrived at the door of the lounge and felt excited about going in. i can’t believe i’d never been here before, and i just knew i was going to love it.

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and i did. from the windows, to the brick walls, to the blues and reds, to the unbelievable smell of thick, rich chocolate, this place captured my heart. and i knew that i’d waited for a reason.

i took a few photos, as usual, when i entered. then, i noticed a stairwell calling my name. i climbed the stairs to find a second level seating area. very cozy. very private, and yet open. a great place to sit for a long while. undisturbed. i made a mental note: return here to write and work. but, i decided that it was too secluded and cozy for my purposes on this day. on this day, i wanted to soak in people. i wanted to be in the middle of everything.

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i headed back downstairs and grabbed a menu, overwhelmed by the sheer number of chocolate choices that were before my eyes. chocolate drinks, warm or cold. chocolate desserts of all kinds. wine. beer. and some food. well, of course, i was having chocolate. and i was gonna go wild and try something completely off the hook crazy amazing. or at least i hoped so.

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i stepped up to the chocolate barista and told her that this was my first visit here, so i had no idea what i wanted. well, i knew i wanted dark chocolate. i love the tiny bit of bitterness. i was stuck between deciding on something with a little mexican flair or something a little more inspirational. i finally decided on this:

the buddha –  a liquid truffle (yes, i did say liquid truffle) made with dark chocolate and coconut milk. i paid and got my little number thingy to put on my table, walked over to a table and waited for the deliciousness to arrive. in the meantime, i looked around and noticed tons of interesting things about the place. for one, there was an envelope on the table asking for donations for the haywood street congregation’s welcome table… a place for homeless to receive meals. i also noticed a manifesto on the wall, proclaiming the cafe’s belief in being an earth-friendly, community-driven, high standard place of excellence. i was impressed.

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and then, it arrived. my buddha.

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i confess that i had an extended photo session with my little espresso-sized cup of chocolate love. but, soon, i was over that and ready to taste it. i swirled my spoon in it for a while, feeling the creamy dreaminess of it. when i lifted my spoon and touched my lips, i think i closed my eyes, sighed a deep breath, and then experienced a little taste of heaven. seriously folks. it was warm and yummy goodness on its way to my belly. i loved it. so much.

i pulled out my journal and begin writing, reflecting on this journey of mine, and i realized something…. the reason that this was the perfect place to end my 40 days of fika was because it made me slow down. it was literally not possible to drink the chocolate quickly. no, it required, deliberate, intentional attention. it forced me to slow down, to savor it. and in doing that, i was able to savor all the memories and thoughts i was having about my 40 days of fika. i was, in fact, able to connect with myself and experience that spirituality in a cup that i have talked about.

it was perfect. every little thing about this moment.

and then, when my little cup was empty,  i knew that i had celebrated. it was a quiet celebration. but, it was exactly the best way to experience the last fika of this project. now, it was time to move on.

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namaste. /liz

10 S. Lexington Avenue . Asheville, NC . www.frenchbroadchocolates.com

remember, i will be writing more on the blog here. i have at least two more follow-up posts about the 40 days of fika: one top ten list of the things i have done, and another post with a playlist i have created of great tunes to listen to while sipping coffee. so, check back and stay in touch. more importantly, don’t forget to fika! contact me at justbelovealllivelife at gmail dot com, if you are in the asheville area and would like to fika together some time. i’d love to!

Day 33: buddha says, “champagne and books feed the soul.”

well, get ready for a ton of photos. seriously. i’m sharing so many with you because this place is absolutely beautiful. it’s like walking into an old, english library. or a museum. or an early 20th century men’s billiard room (without the billiards). well, it’s actually all three rolled into one. and it is perfect.

a few weeks ago, i planned to meet someone here for fika, not knowing anything about it. but, it was closed because of some renovations going on to the building’s exterior. based on it’s name, i somehow knew that it would be amazing, so i was quite disappointed i didn’t get a chance to go.

but, today i was doing errands downtown and realized that it would be perfect to walk across the street and explore this fantastic place where my expectations were already set as high as the roof. however, this time, in no way, was i disappointed. in fact, my expectations were majorly surpassed. i mean majorly.

i walked into the battery park book exchange & champagne bar and it took my breath away. that’s right. i said, book and champagne in the same sentence. now, if you’re like me, those two things together indicate a little piece of heave on earth. but, there is not only champagne, there is coffee. so, i could totally visit and call it a fika.

i walked through the doors and was absolutely awe-struck. there were books everywhere. from floor to industrial, exposed-pipe ceiling. it was dark and cozy. there were books and crannies every freaking where. have i said that before?  books. and books. and more books. immediately, i knew that this place was made for fika. the idea is to come in, find a book, buy or exchange a book, read a magazine, chat with someone, do some work alone – and all the while, sip on coffee or champagne or wine. i had absolutely died and gone to heaven.

i wandered and wandered, around the corners, up the stairs, between bookcase after amazing bookcase. i must have looked like a tourist in new york city for the first time, craning my head upwards with my jaw hanging wide open. in complete awe.

i got stuck in this one place. there were books, and sofas, and a table. and there was a buddha statue. in that moment, i knew that these things all symbolized things that ground me, that center me in life – books, words, and spirituality. it was a sacred little moment there. surrounded by the warm, burnt orange walls, and the dark wood bookcases filled with any book title you could imagine, and the little buddha, staring back at me with such peace. i vowed right then and there that i would return here – to spend an entire afternoon, or an entire day. multiple times.

as i sipped the best pumpkin spice latte that i’ve had this season, i felt a peace rise up from within my soul. the kind of peace that reminds you that you are where you are supposed to be – maybe not just physically in that moment, but in general, in life. i knew that this place tapped into a deep longing and love of mine – the love of words and spirit.

yes, this book exchange and champagne bar delivered this beautiful, unique experience. oh my gosh, i can’t wait to go back. but, for now, i’d like to share with y’all all the photos i took of this place. they don’t do it justice. you truly have to make your way down there, and give yourself some time and soak up every bit of the atmosphere. i’ll meet you there, ok?

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namaste. /liz

battery park book exchange and champagne bar . 1 page avenue, suite 101 . asheville, nc . 28801 .

www.batteryparkbookexchange.con

Day 32: Dream a little European dream.

there is a place where i can go if i am homesick for sweden. well, perhaps not sweden specifically, but at least something that’s a little bit european.

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that’s right. in the middle of downtown asheville, on broadway street/biltmore avenue, lies a tiny, little european-style cafe. owned and run by a hungarian woman, the cafe specializes in hungarian pastries, along with other bakery favorites. and, of course, coffee. the lady who owns the cafe also bakes from recipes that her grandmother taught her back in the simple, little town in hungary where she grew up.

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melinda, the chef & owner, moved to the states in the early 90s and began following a bakery and restaurant path that led her to this place about three years ago. she sounds like an amazing woman, a fighter, a female entrepreneur, and someone who chased the american dream… and found it. i didn’t have a chance to speak with her, but i simply must. she sounds intriguing and inspiring.

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on any given day, when i walk past the cafe, i inevitably see people sipping lattes and espressos outside at one of the sidewalk tables. i peeked inside all of those times that i have passed by, but never gone in. and then, i finally did.

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i went in and immediately ordered a regular coffee and no pastry, even though i was extremely tempted. however, i was meeting someone there… someone i didn’t know, who wanted to chat with me about what it was like living in sweden. so, i didn’t quite feel like having some yummy, gooey mess all over my face as we chatted. hehe. the guy i met found my blog, or heard about me, or something, and just wanted to pose some questions to me about my experiences in sweden. from what i gathered, he’s toying with the idea of making a big move in his life at some point perhaps. and he’s just weighing his options. so, we met at old europe to talk about, what else? europe!

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the cafe is a fairly small cafe. but, it’s cozy small. the perfect size. only a couple of tiny two person tables flank the warm orange, washed walls where the counter is. but, then, there are also two small openings to another little section, only as wide as a hallway and only large enough to fit 3-4 two person tables down the “hallway”. one of those tables, the one towards the front of the cafe, sits beside the window. and, oh my gosh, it looks cozy. it was occupied when i was there, so i gotta time it right and go back when i can grab that spot.

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i don’t know if the chef, the lady, uses organic anything. i don’t know if it’s local or not. i don’t know if she focuses on fair trade or all of the other things that many of her fellow cafe owners in asheville focus on. and while all those things are important, what is also important is the love that someone pours into a place. old europe certainly isn’t decorated with the hip, industrial, funky designs that most cafes are using in asheville. it’s not a warehouse-turned-cafe. no, this cafe evokes simplicity, warmth, and a sense of deep caring with a personal touch. it’s as if the walls ooze with the journey the owner has taken in order to reach this point in her life. it’s easy to feel the pride and joy she must have because she followed her dream – something that i am quite familiar with (in my own way) right now.

we all have our own dreams, don’t we? just like the guy i met for fika – who is beginning to wonder and discover his dreams for a different kind of life. what better way to ponder our dreams and plan how to make our dreams a reality than by grabbing a cup of coffee and a delicious pastry (i should have gotten a pastry, dang it.), sitting down, and just dreaming away. you see, fika, really is a spiritual discipline. or, it can be. it’s a chance to meet someone new. a chance to talk about dreams. a chance to reach out to another, or to just reach into yourself.

after 31 fika days, i needed a little european cafe to remind me of the simplicity and purpose of fika. it’s not some hip or cool new fad. it simply is. it isn’t some new starbucks-y campaign to draw in more people and entice them with cool furniture, designs, and coffees. fika is a swedish tradition, handed down through the years, just like the recipes for the pastries at old europe. and taking time for fika has survived all of the busy-ness that 21st century life throws at swedes. surely we can add something that is positive to our lives, right?

fika is something that’s real. it’s a real part of a real culture. a healthy and amazing part of the swedish culture, in my opinion. and it is an honor for me to be spending my days bringing the idea of fika to the city and people of asheville. not that we will ever do it the same here, as swedes do it in sweden. but, we can fika with the same intent. we can share in the same values of good coffee and good company, or by taking time every single day to let ourselves be and breathe, just a little more than usual. i promise that it makes a difference.

you know, we all need a little time to do like the europeans. we all need a little down-time. we all need a coffee and a pastry and a friend. we all need a little fika.

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old europe . 13 broadway street . asheville, nc . 28801 . www.oldeuropepastries.com

day 29: coffee + books = heaven.

let’s face it. there is nothing better than coffee and books together. they go together like peanut butter and jelly. like peas and carrots. like tom and jerry. don’t ya think? i certainly do. so, to get my week started off right, i decided to head downtown to malaprops... THE bookstore in asheville. a staple in asheville’s cultural and artsy scene. an independent bookstore, a supporter of local authors,  an advocate for peace & equality & coexistence, and a community-oriented gathering place. but, it’s not just a funky, cool bookstore with lots of books of all kinds  – mainstream, and not so mainstream. it’s also a cafe. and it’s a cafe that encourages sitting down, sipping coffee, and reading books.

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malaprops is serious about reading. and education. and peace. you can tell by the signs in their windows, huh? the bookstore/cafe combo is located on the corner of haywood and walnut right smack in the middle of everything. you can most always find a lone person strumming a guitar or a banjo outside the store, belting his or her heart out. of course, it’s just a common to find a trio or so with their fiddles and banjos and conga drums beating some bluegrass as you walk by. it’s all part of that amazing asheville scene that i’m always telling you about.

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malaprops unapologetically invites people in to experience the amazing journey that comes from reading. there are several book clubs that meet during the week, reading everything from the latest hits to local literature to obscure, offensive, and banned books. i am seriously planning to join one of these book clubs sometime soon. totally. don’t you think it’s just amazing to sit and discuss books, hearing all different kinds of perspectives and opinions?

they also have authors come for workshops and/or book signings quite often. just a month ago, i got a book at malapropos, read (most) of it, and then went to hear the author speak one sunday afternoon. and it was COOL. the cafe was open and i ordered a latte. then, i sat down with my journal, pen, and the book ready to soak up the wisdom the author had to offer. then, i got her to sign my book and she gave me her phone number, telling me to call her to discuss some of the parts i was interested in further & more personally). double freaking COOL. this is the kind of place malapropos is… it’s about connecting people, using literature to inspire and bring about change, and lifting up people.

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today i was really excited to visit malaprops knowing that my purpose was to experience anew, so i could write this post for y’all… when you enter the doors, after standing outside and “window-shopping” and reading all of the posters and cool things in the windows, you always see a table with books right in front of you. well, you see books everywhere. and it’s all so warm and inviting. or maybe it’s just me and my obsession with bookstores.

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and then, to the left, is the cafe. which is quite a large space, actually. there are stools, tables, outlets for computer cords, and book and trinket displays. this is where they have book readings and workshops as well. it’s no tiny, little place at all. it is a full-fledged cafe that is part of the bookstore.

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today, i went up to the counter and ordered a coffee as soon as i walked in. i knew that i was going to sit and just enjoy the atmosphere, no stress about finding a book or anything. this was all about observing and being. as usual, there were people sitting quietly reading alone. others were sitting together, looking at their computer screens, having lively conversation, or having a business meeting. i ordered the “special” for the day, which is always written on the black espresso machine at the counter. today it was pumpkin spice mocha. sounds gross, huh? i thought so, but it was de-double-lish.

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 most of the time, i admit that i sit down with my computer and do some surfing or whatever. but, today, in honor of malaprops, the bookstore, i took out the current book i am reading (which i found in the local section a few weeks ago) and just read. it was so great. so calming and peaceful. i just sat and read. and read and sat.

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 until i decided i needed to wander around… not a good idea. why? because i always, always, always, find a book or two or ten that i simply must have. strike that. that i need. today, it was books on buddhism. i have a little eastern spirituality obsession going on in my life right now. however, i resisted the temptation and only looked at the books. (i did make a note of the titles for future reference. wink wink.).

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what you’ll find in malaprops is a little it of everything and everyone. yes, it is a hippie, leftist magnet. but, it’s loved by locals and tourists. it s a funky, must-see place if you are just passing through. but, it’s also a haven for asheville area residents. i mean, who can blame everyone? a place that promotes education, equality, acceptance, and challenges us all to read and think and be a little more than we have in the past… now, that’s my kinda place. plus, there’s the whole coffee thing too.

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namaste. /liz

malaprops. 55 haywood street . asheville, nc. 28801 www.malaprops.com

Day 25: Peace, love, happiness & a special fika.

today was a special day. it was my first co-fika. that’s right. i finally had a chance to fika with someone, getting the full effect of the other way to fika – together. remember, there are two ways that i like to categorize fikas: those when you enjoy a coffee by yourself, whether you are working or just reading a book. and there are those fikas when you meet someone and enjoy a long cup of coffee, or two, together. this is the heart of the swedish fika – sharing moments together. creating community. nurturing friendships. enjoying family. (to read more about my understanding of fika, click here).

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today’s fika was a shared experience. the creator of AshevilleBlog (where my fika project is also featured) and i have been trying to get together for weeks. like really. and every single time something came up for one or both of us. but, on this day, we planned to meet at a cool place i’d never even heard of – book exchange and champagne bar (which also serves coffee, of course!). i was super excited… about the exchange/bar and about meeting AB in person!

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alas, it was not meant to be. oh, we were actually able to meet, but just before our meeting time, i got a message from AB that the book exchange was closed for renovations. so, where would we go now? well, since it was a beautiful fall day and i was already downtown and most definitely in the mood for walking a little bit, i suggested an old favorite of mine… a place i have not visited since being back in the states, and a place i have not experienced as part of this project, but one of my absolute favorite places in asheville. like… i looooove it.

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on lexington avenue, one of the most fun avenues in downtown asheville, sits a little cafe full of funkiness and good vibes. izzy’s coffee den. the very first time i visited izzy’s i thought to myself, “i want to live in asheville and come here all the time. i want to be a local and sit here, doing work with people over coffee, chatting with my love. i want to know enough people that i can stand out outside & chat, where people gather & hold their lattes while they shoot the breeze.” well, after how every many years, i can do just that, if i want. of course, after this fika project is over.

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i walked inside and immediately began snapping photos. part of what i love about izzy’s is the atmosphere. it’s eclectic, a little darkish, industrial, and funky. of course, it has a warehouse feel to it, with the exposed brick and pipes. there are little lights strung across the ceiling – you know i love that – and art displayed on the darkly painted walls. the vibe is calm and cool and relaxed.

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by the counter, there is an area filled with information and announcements. and there is a lot of stuff there: tips on art exhibitions, music & bands, spirituality, activist issues, alternative health, protests, and, typical in these more progressive and funky coffeehouses, free condoms. a veritable plethora of cultural and alternative resources. immediately that communicates to me that this is a place that thinks, that cares, that accepts.

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there was a a bit of a different crowd than i remembered last time i was here. it was older. still a bit more funky and alternative, but older. at least the crowd that was having there coffee to stay. a group of men huddled discussing something. some middle-aged men sat alone in the back, both working on their computers. a man & a woman, perhaps in their 30s, sat at the bar working on their computers. some younger folks came in and got coffee to go, but it was a chill, quiet, nice crowd of people. the thing is, this is a place (as others) that is openly welcome to all people. it is a coffee den, a place to come and hang out, as you are.

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i caught up with AB now, who was actually already in the cafe, when she texted to tell me she was there. i had gotten wrapped up in taking photos. oops. we put down our things and stood at the counter to order our coffee. a pumpkin latte, in honor of autumn, was on the docket for me. then, we sat down and chatted away for about 2 hours. a real swedish fika, folks. it was really fun & super cozy. and i love meeting new people.

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with pumpkin latte in my belly and a smile on my face, i said goodbye to izzy’s for the day and headed out to wander the streets of asheville again. i slowly walked, snapping photos whenever something beautiful caught my eye, and thought about the amazing opportunities that life brings – if we are willing to get out of our comfort zones. and, how easy it is to meet people, or at least strike up a conversation with them, if we are just willing to be aware and open. and who knows where those conversations may lead…

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amazingly, as i was thinking about these things and walking, i was approached by a woman, who was filling her parking meter with quarters, who said that she loved photographers. she thought that we (photographers, that is!) are so cool. i did not dispute what she said. i am just admitting it. i am a photographer & a write. period. hehe. love that. then,  continued on my way. i turned the corner and headed toward my car, when a man stopped me and  asked for a quarter. he was so calm & polite. and apologized fro disturbing me. and he only asked for a quarter. of course, i began rummaging through my wallet, knowing i had no cash, but perhaps some coins. i emptied my coin area and gave him about 33 cents. he was extremely thankful. he told me that it was hard on the streets, and i asked him how long he had been homeless. since last november, he said. i told him about some places that could maybe help him and then wished him well. he looked me in the eyes, i looked directly back, and he said, “you know what, m’am? peace, love, and happiness to you.” i then smiled really big and told him that i wished the same to him… and that i say peace, love, and happiness all the time. he then replied that he believed that he thinks that is what life is all about. i agreed wholeheartedly, we smiled at each other again, and then went our separate ways.

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just as i was about to approach my next destination (a bookstore!), i saw this heart drawn on the building near me. and i just felt compelled to capture it. a message of love to the world… a reminder that, as the man said to me: peace, love, and happiness. that’s what it all about it.

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namaste. /liz

izzy’s coffee den. 74 lexington avenue . asheville, nc . 28801 . www.izzyscoffeeden.com

Day 22: One cup of coffee that makes a difference.

i pretty much had no idea what i was getting myself into when i visited the downtown market. it sounds like a regular place. you know, cafes with the word “market” usually sell some sandwiches and soup. it sounds like a little bit of an upscale place where you’ll find middle-aged people. lots of tourists. so, when i typed in “downtown asheville cafes” in my phone and downtown market popped up, i thought i knew exactly what i was in for. the only thing was, it was a little bit out of the way from the center, center of downtown, on a street headed toward the river arts district – known for its artsy-ness.

i followed the directions from my phone and drove right past the cafe the first time. i mean, i didn’t see a cafe. after turning around and heading back up the street, i noticed a sign and understood that the downtown market was, indeed, inside a big, long, brick building. and then, i realized that i had no idea what lay behind those doors.

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i parked my car on the street, across from the building, got out and just stood there. speechless. there was also a little sign that said “hi fi cafe”. so, clearly there was a little cafe inside this building. but it had a different name. i shut my car door, spun around, and immediately got distracted by this beautiful volkswagen van in a nearby parking lot. i walked over to it, almost like there was a magnet drawing me to it, and began a 5 minute photo shoot with the van, drooling and dreaming of my own cross-country trip. you know, sleeping in the van, traveling, writing, visiting diners and national parks. oh, i had a major case of wanderlust set in.

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little did i know that the van was only the beginning of the little hippie-inspired experience waiting for me across the street.

i walked into the building, following other men & women, seemingly coming out of nowhere. when i opened the door and stepped in, i think i must have giggled out loud because a lady looked at me. my eyes scanned from left to right. all i saw was stuff. lots of stuff. tons of stuff. vintage stuff. old stuff. cool stuff. ugly stuff. stuff. stuff. stuff. i was in the middle of a freaking flea market. the downtown market is a flea market – and by the looks of it, a very popular one. come to find out, when i searched later and after spending an hour there, i realized that it is quite the loved place among people who want to thrift and up-cycle (a better word than recycle). all kinds of people were there. all ages. the clothes are cheap. and fun. and cool. there’s quirky, funky stuff. buddha statues and other sacred figures. there are antiques. furniture. books. records. art. every-freaking-thing. it’s all there. and. it. is. awesome.

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i strolled around. taking photos. sifting through different booths and spaces, seeing things from my childhood and plenty of things much older than me. i could have stayed there for hours and hours. i could have shopped there – but, it would have taken a day to look through all the clothes. i am certain, though, that there are gems & treasures there. i have simply got to go back.

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as if that was not enough, i turned a corner, and realized that one of the areas of stuff i saw when i entered was, in fact, a bar. yep. a real bar, complete with beer and wine. right there in the flea market. decorated with stuff for sale. truly amazing.

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and then, i walked further and came upon the cafe. i snapped a few photos of this simple space, but i moved on because something caught my eye…. around the corner from the cafe was a grocery store. what?!

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that’s right. the amazing savings market is connected to, or an extension of, the downtown market. it is asheville’s only discount and organic grocery store. and it is amazing – as the name suggests. a veritable haven for people concerned with cost, a desire to buy local and organic goods, and with a taste for something different. what an great alternative in food shopping.

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after wandering through the grocery store, i headed back to the cafe for a little cup of coffee. served in a mug – nothing special. just a thrifted mug. and with a pasta noodle as a stirrer – organic. makes no trash. smart and cool idea, huh? i sat there and thought about this crazy, unexpected find. i loved this place. i loved everything about it. how it’s wrapped up with the asheville community. how it makes a difference to people of all kinds. how it’s weird and funky and eclectic. how everything they do has a purpose and a meaning – and it’s all about making people, the community, and the earth a better place.

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needless to say, when my 40 days are up, as a resident in asheville, i will be returning… again & again. it may not be on the radar of tourists, but it should be. this is what the heartbeat of asheville is like. if you wanna know about asheville, come here. meet people. talk with people. and do something to help the community.

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wow. the downtown market touched my soul and i left completely inspired.

namaste. /liz

the downtown market . 45 south french broad avenue . asheville, nc . 28801 . http://www.downtownmarketasheville.net

Day 21: On the corner of sunshine and yumminess.

it was a beautiful early autumn day and i could feel the pull of downtown. i had nothing at all planned. no idea where i’d get my coffee from, but it needed to be downtown. i don’t know why. so, i parked my car and started walking the streets. i just felt good. you know, one of those days when you feel really alive. the sun was warm and shining. the sky was bright blue. the moon still hung in the sky, fading away as the bright day took over. and the leaves were just beginning to get that hint of color on the tips on some trees. everything just felt good. and i walked.

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before i knew it, i was right in the middle of downtown. pack square, to be exact. very close to where i was on day 12. i thought to myself that this felt right, and i remembered that there was another little coffee shop on pack square, so i decided to give it a visit.

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bomba is right on the main corner of pack square, just under the vance monument, and in the middle of everything. like, for real.  it’s not really big, but it’s noticeable, with it’s bright red door and complete glass walls. it’s nestled among quite a few other restaurants and cafes, most of them fairly fancy & nice, i think. at least the ones on the biltmore avenue side. but, on the patton avenue side, headed down the street, there are more restaurants, but seemingly a little more regular folk. i could be wrong with my preconceived ideas… i haven’t actually eaten at many of the restaurants or cafes. it’s a highly tourist-filled corner.IMG_4248

as i stood across the street, i felt that bomba was inviting me in to order a cup of coffee, and that it would be a perfect day to sit out in their little seating area and watch the world go by. so, i crossed the street.

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bomba sells coffee, sandwiches, pastries & other goodies, and beer & wine too. it’s got a little bar and some seats by the window, but the outdoor area looks the best to me.  it’s meant to be a place to come and grab a little drink or a snack, not to sit and linger. however, the owner has other restaurants in the area, including salsa’s – a great mexican/caribbean restaurant just next to the coffee shop.

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i went in and ordered a little mocha. without even asking, i got it in a paper (recyclable, of course!) cup. the barista who made my coffee noticed my camera and asked me if i was a photographer. i’ve been asked that quite a bunch from people, i think i’m gonna start saying that i am – or at least that i am a writer, taking my own photos. something like that. i mean, i’m no tourist. anyway, we started talking some about cameras and i gave him a few tips. he was a sweet, young guy.IMG_4249

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i took my little mocha and headed outside. i had a new book with me, thinking i could sit back and read, but i couldn’t seem to settle down. there were just too many people to watch. and too much traffic. and i mean that in a good, entertaining kind of way. i do believe that i accomplished what one should accomplish while hanging out at bomb… good coffee, on the go.

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before long, i gave up sitting there all by myself, watching people. i felt like i should be on my way… like this wasn’t the place the hunker down for the entire morning. so, since the weather was lovely and perfect, i tucked my book away, grabbed my to go cup, and headed off for a little wander through some of the parks downtown. just, nice & lazy.

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if you’re on the go, or just want to have a little break, then this cute coffee shop on the corner of biltmore and patton is just what you need. grab some java. drink a beer or a glass of wine. snack on a tiny bite of food. sit in the sun, or lean on the bar inside if it’s raining, if you need a little break. you’ll find just the respite you need to help you get moving again. and while you’re there, keep your eyes peeled, because i promise you’ll see lots of the fun, funky, weird, amazing people who make asheville the eclectic city that it is. entertainment and good coffee. perfect.

DSC_0261namaste. /liz

bomba . 1 pack square . asheville, nc . 28801 . http://bombanc.com

 

Day 19: Sunning in the city.

It was a totally last minute decision to head to Charlotte Street and visit the City Bakery Cafe. It’s a fairly popular place for people who live in Asheville, at least I think it is. Though I am not sure where I am getting that information from. In any case, it was another beautiful day and I was just dying to be outside. For some reason, this cafe popped into my mind and I headed to Charlotte Street, hoping they had outdoor seating.

You know, I can never get enough of the urban architecture in Asheville. There are so many brick warehouses, art deco spaces, arts & crafts cottages & bungalows… and Asheville businesses and individuals are really into repurposing, reusing, and redecorating. i mean, just look at this building where the City Bakery Cafe is located… above the first floor, where the bakery is, are a few apartments. i can just imagine all of the character and amazingness up there…

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jackpot. there is a small outdoor seating area. it’s a busy road, but, who cares. i was ready for a little cup of coffee – and perhaps a bite to eat. hehe. time to go in…

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city bakery cafe actually has two locations in asheville, one in the middle of downtown, and this one… just north of downtown on charlotte street. as most of the coffeehouses and cafes in the area, they work with other local businesses to create organic, local, and fresh coffee, pastires, sandwiches, and breads. oh, the breads… the cafe bakes fresh breads daily… it smells heavenly, as you can imagine.

the inside of the cafe surprised me (surprising, huh?). for some reason, i pictured it as a more pick up and go kinda place. but, there were people coming in and out constantly, people working on their computers, people chatting with each other. i immediately spotted an amazing red chair by the window that i wanted to snag and soak up the sun streaming in the window. but… i promised myself to go and sit outside. so, after order coffee and a fluffy, american biscuit, i went to find a little space in the sun.

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as you can see, downtown is there in the distance. so, it’s not that far away from the action. actually, charlotte street is quite a coveted neighborhood area, with tons of those bungalows and cottages and arts & crafts style homes. some have been converted into apartments. some are single family homes. but, it is one of the places to be… albeit a little on the expensive side.

i sat at one of the wrought iron tables and watched the traffic moving past, both people traffic and driving traffic. by the way, there were people darting in and out of the cafe the entire time, picking up a cup of coffee to go or fresh baked bread. well, i sipped my coffee and just sat there… watching people and enjoying the amazingly warm indian summer day. i just love the bright blue skies of autumn around here.

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after a while, i decided to cross the street, so i could get a little photo of the front of the cafe. i scrambled across, in between all the traffic, balancing my keys, my coffee, my camera, and my trash. i caught my breath and  snapped a few photos before realizing that i needed to go soon. si i risked my life again, crossed the street and entered the cafe one more time to throw my trash away.DSC_0219

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and , man i am so glad that i went back it. as i threw away my trash, a newspaper caught my eye. my eyes immediately fell on my horoscope, which lay there wide ope, right in front of me. i picked up the paper, sat down in that empty red chair in the sun, and soaked up the amazing words before me. it was such a great message. i’m not usually a horoscope kinda girl, but i do believe that when we are open, there are little messages and signs all around us. it’s actually more about just being aware. here’s what it said:

“the most important thing is to find out what the most important thing is” wrote shunryu suzuki in his book zen mind, beginner’s mind. that’s your assignment for the next three weeks. do whatever it takes to find our beyond any doubt what the most important thing is. meditate naked an hour a day. go on long walks in the wildest places you know. convene intense conversations about yourself with the people who know you best. create and sign a contract with yourself in which you vow to identify the experience you want more than any other experience on earth. no waffling allowed, libra. what is the single most important thing?

i looked up from the newspaper, feeling inspired. directly above me was this piece of art work. a sort of mosaic of the asheville area… the small vertical pieces in the middle symbolizing the downtown area, and the rest of the symbolizing the natural area surrounding the city. i thought it was magical. and i must, say, that it moved me. so, feeling completely connected and grounded and inspired by all that i had seen, felt, tasted, and read, i was quite ready for… well, anything.

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isn’t it amazing what a little fika time can do?

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namaste. /liz

city bakery cafe . 88 charlotte street . asheville, nc . 28801 .  www.citybakery.net

Day 18: I just had to listen to the Beatles as I wrote this.

there is a cafe that i have seen many, many times, yet have never gone “in”.  or rather, “to” it. but, the sun was shining, the air was warm, and i had just enough time, so i decided that this would be the day!

western north carolina people, did you know that there was a real, live double decker bus from england in the middle of asheville’s downtown? and, better yet, did you know that it has been converted into a cafe?! for. real. admittedly, i went for years seeing this big, red bus on the corner of biltmore avenue and ashton street simply thinking it was another piece of art, a decoration, if you will. and it is just that. but, it is oh so much more!

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if you take the time to slow down and look as you pass by on the sidewalk, you will notice that this bus is a working cafe. now, whoever had this idea was freaking brilliant. i mean, who doesn’t think that a double decker bus is fun?! kids love it. grown ups love it. it’s just a big ole red bunch of eclectic fun! and to realize that you get to go inside this bus, tucked away under some trees and yet in the smack middle of downtown, to order coffee, well, that just makes it all the more amazing. but, it’s not just the bus, it’s a courtyard patio as well. little concrete tables and bright, red umbrellas to match the bus are available for outdoor seating. i’d had enough of just ooo-ing and ahhh-ing this place from the outside, it was time to board that bus!

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oh my gosh. kill me now. i’m in love…. my thoughts exactly as i entered the bus all decked out with a coffee bar from the middle to the back. the front half was a counter for preparing your coffee & waiting in line. there were posters, ads, and other funky decorations making me feel right at home. after i finally shut the fold-in bus doors, the barista greeted me with a smile. i was so excited i just had to exclaim that this was my first time inside and admit to the sweet barista (who must have thought i was a weirdo) that i was pretty freaking excited. i looked at the plethora of coffee yummies and desserts on the menu and decided to go for a pumpkin spice latte, the flavor of the season. yes, i was splurging and mixing it up, instead of simply going for regular coffee. i wanted to celebrate. just because. y’all do that, don’t you?

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i entertained myself as she prepared my coffee by snapping photos, thoroughly enjoying myself. when i got my latte in its recycled paper take-away cup, i headed upstairs to the second level to check it out. holy 60s flashback love! i felt as if i was plopped into the middle of a beatles video recording, but i was the first one there. or, perhaps, it was an across the universe movie set. either way, i was channeling a 60s vibe. and i loved it. have i said that before in this post? sorry.

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after my little self-tour, as much as i did not want to leave the funkiness inside the bus, i decided that i needed to experience the little patio area too. so, i headed outside,  found a spot under a glowing tree, sat on the cool concrete, and sipped away…

how about a little information about the bus? yes, a history lesson. but, i promise it’s cool. this particular bus was used in the 60s and 70s in bristol, england. a fun fact for me, since i’ve been to bristol. and the time frame must be why i was channeling a 60s/70s vibe. just think of all the people who used this very bus as their daily transportation, with their beehive hairdos, butterfly collars, beatles music, hippie beads… gaaah. so interesting. somehow the bus ended up in atlanta, georgia in the 70s and served not only as a mode of transportation, but gained a reputation through its used as a party bus as well. again, were my vibes spot on, or what?! in 1999, it made it way to its current home in asheville. and there is at least one happy girl that it landed here. i hope it’ll stay forever.

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as i sat and reveled in the glorious day, enjoying every little moment, i noticed a man stumbling his way through the gate and into the courtyard. he stumbled his way all the way to my concrete table and sat down. he reeked of alcohol. and his eyes were completely glassed over. he was totally and completely wasted. i had my camera and my coffee cup on the table, so it was obvious i had money. he began mumbling and i asked him if he was ok. he replied that he was, and then asked if i had a dollar. i asked him what he was going to use it for. he asked me if i wanted the truth and i said that i did. he told me he wanted beer. when i  suggested (no, just flat out said) that he did not need any more, he tried to convince me that he did. i asked if he’d had any already, and he said yes. we then began talking about the beautiful weather. and he asked me where he was… i told him. asheville. and inquired if he was from here. no, he was from tennessee and had no idea how he ended up here. before i knew it, he stood up and staggered back out the gate and onto the sidewalk. perhaps the double decker’s owner spooked him. in any case, he was gone in a flash. and i just sat there… (that’s him in the white jacket, in the photo below).

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i took a deep breath and just let myself be for a moment. people who live on the fringes, outcasts, do not frighten me at all. i usually enjoy my interactions with them. but, this one disturbed me, in that my hear was hurting after our exchange. it was that helpless feeling of not being able to do anything. my only hope is that i provided that man with a few minutes of rest and kind conversation. though, i know he won’t remember a single thing.

dear universe, please take care of that man…

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i turned my attention back again to my cafe project, but kept him in my heart. you know how i said there was this cute courtyard outside the bus, and it was where i had been sitting? well, when i turned around and looked behind me, i realized that it continued around the back of the bus. there were more tables and chairs, all nestled under beautiful trees. it was the ultimate little oasis. a natural setting for peace and relaxation, complete with a fountain and lights strung in the trees. note to self: come back after dark!

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i have to say, this place is fun. unique. you seriously need to stop by sometime. it’s filled with a positive, upbeat, peaceful, and funky warmth. i felt the history of the bus. i loved the latte.  i can’t wait to sit under those trees through the changing of the seasons. and i really can’t wait to have a few people with me, head to the upstairs of the bus, and channel those hippie, party, celebrating life vibes that are oozing throughout. peace out, man.

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double d’s . 41 biltmore avenue . asheville, nc . 28801 .  doubledscoffee.com

Day 16: Chocolate heaven, baby.

what’s your feeling on chocolate? like it? love it? addicted to it? and how do you feel about chocolate and coffee? i, for one, love enjoying some of the yummy dark, sweet stuff and sipping on some coffee. and that is exactly what i did.

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i have the pleasure of having some office space in downtown asheville, so i am close to everything…. including a very unique building. the grove arcade. something of an upscale mall, something of a historical landmark, the grove arcade houses shops, restaurants, and businesses. it’s a little too froo-froo for my tastes =  i don’t shop there, but i completely appreciate this history and the architecture. it is a beautiful, big, two-story art deco building, with an atrium-like feel on the inside. it is unique, elegant, and simply lovely. i feel as if i am catapulted back in time whenever i am there.

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the grove arcade was the brain-child of e.w. grove, a self-made millionaire who lived in asheville in the early 20th century. he envisioned a place that would be the hub of downtown asheville, bringing style and class to a place where people could gather. unfortunately he died two years before the grove arcade was completed in the late 1920s. but, his vision lived on. at least until the the federal government took over the building during world war II. the public outcry for the next 50 years finally resulted in creating a non-profit organization & the “taking back” of the grove arcade to return it to its original purpose… today, the beautiful building is once again a hub of business, commerce, and style.

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and it just so happens that i decided to visit one of the cafes for fika there. true confections... doesn’t that just sound lovely and delicious? well, it was.

now, i had been to this little cafe before, but it was years and years ago, and i had one of the best… wait for it… chocolate cheesecake. my absolute favorite dessert of all time. no kidding. so, i thought that perhaps i’d go and enjoy life and have a little pre-birthday celebration (next week is the real thing!).

i walked in and smelled… chocolate. glorious. fabulous. divine. chocolate. there were homemade goodies everywhere. tables sweetly decorated. cool colors on the walls. lights in the windows. outdoor seating. all the ingredients for a place that i love.

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i stepped up to the counter, after waiting in a little bit of a line – it’s a popular place, and ordered my coffee and chocolate cheesecake. eeeek! i sat down at a table, pulled out my journal, and savored every creamy, amazing bite. oh, gosh. truly. it is the best i have ever tasted. just like i remembered it. oh, thank you, true confections. seriously. it is that good. of course, the food is all made there. and they use local and organic ingredients. score.

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after i finished the cheesecake heaven, i decided to move outside and sit for a while, sipping on my coffee. camera and journal on the table, coffee in hand, sitting back all relaxed and content, i watched tourists and locals walk by.

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after a few minutes, two men from georgia and two women from germany (there were traveling together, but i have no idea their connection. i suppose they were military men now married to the women, and interracial couples too. cool), strolled by. the two late middle-aged men sat on a bench nearby and the ladies walked on. they asked me if i owned the cafe, and i responded that i did not, but that the treats were amazing. one of the men got up and walked inside, emerging a few minutes later with a giant slice of coconut cake.

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in the meantime, the other man and i chatted and he gave me his take on asheville: a super friendly, funky city with a 70s vibe. his words. for real. he asked me if i was a photographer. i never know quite how to answer that. umm… yes. i take photos and use them, it’s not just a hobby. but, no, i am still not getting paid for anything.  he then stated that he noticed that same 70s vibe from me… best. compliment. ever. he then, advised me to write about the cafes and asheville, including the great atmosphere of the city. – we had talked quite a bit about this blog project.

isn’t it cool that tourists feel this way about asheville? and, if you don’t live here, don’t you want to come & visit after that review? what’s so much fun, is that it is so easy to talk to people in this city. locals, tourists, business owners, homeless people. everyone. just flash a smile and soon you can be engaged in conversation with someone. it is truly amazing.

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so, if you want to experience a little history and enjoy some deliciously yummy treats while enjoying some hot coffee and people watching, i’ve got just the place for you. meet you there?

namaste. /liz

true confections . 1 page avenue . asheville, nc . 28801 . 

Day 14: Old School Fika.

i’m not perfect. and there are some days that you just can’t do everything you want or plan to do. you know that feeling… like 24 hours in a day are not nearly enough. and the way the weeks have been speeding by are not helping the matter. some days it’s just not possible to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together…

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what i’m trying to say is that i didn’t visit a new cafe today. i know. bad girl. you see, i’ve had a good flow and the perfect time of day to do my cafe visits, and so far, that’s been working for me. and it still will work just fine. it’s just that today i had other business to tend to. important, amazing business. sometimes you’ve just got to prioritize, you know?

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but, i did fika. just not downtown. i didn’t live in sweden for 3 years for nothing! of course, as always, i’m gonna share my fika break with y’all. from home. because, if you remember, i have written about the importance and complete coziness & joy of hosting a fika at home. i’d say that that’s how fikas began, and how they should be. yes. that’s right. i had an old school fika break.

in my apartment complex we have a clubhouse, as many places do. our clubhouse is located on the ground floor beneath us, so that’s super convenient. in the clubhouse they have coffee available all. day. long. and i’m not talking about some machine with hospital, water-downed coffee, in a little white styrofoam cup. no siree, bob. this coffee, station – let’s call it that – has a machine that grinds the beans and brews them fresh, right then & there. all i need to do is put my cup under, make a few button choices, and voila! fresh brewed coffee. anytime of the day. and, they have a fridge there with creamer inside, incase you need to make your coffee a little more creamier, which i do. they have ice. for iced coffee, of course. sugar, stirrers, a sink, tables, chairs, barstools, sofas, a tv, mac computers. yeah. its’s pretty pimped out.

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and would you believe that i had not been down to get coffee until yesterday?! how sad is that? but, i brew my coffee in my home in the mornings and then i have coffee out & about during the day. i’m not much of a coffee drinker at night. by then, i’ve moved on to wine or beer. so, i haven’t needed to go to the clubhouse for coffee. but, i’ve watched people come in and out with their cups and mugs full of piping hot coffee as they sit down by the fire pit outside. or in their travel mugs as they head off to work. saturday & sunday mornings are the most active. my balcony overlooks all of this, so i can see all the comings and goings. hehe. lucky me.

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sunday i couldn’t stand it any longer. i was home all day, so around mid-afternoon, when i started craving coffee, i decided that this would be the day! yep. i grabbed our two thermoses and walked down to fill those babies up with fresh coffee. i was all alone inside the clubhouse, but on my way back up to my apartment, a fellow resident (who was sitting by the fire pit) began chatting with me.

thirty minutes later, and a long conversation about the viet nam war (he was a war vet – and doesn’t believe in war because of the things he saw & did), two friends who had passed away in the past two days, his desire to take off & move to the coast of maine, and the meaning of life (we literally talked about that), i was back upstairs ready to enjoy my fika break.

today, i haven’t had an inspiring conversation like yesterday’s, but i was just as inspired during my fika break. by the way, i just peeked outside and saw the man (i never got his name.) sitting by the fire pit, talking to another man, i am sure about the meaning of life again. anyway, i am inspired and excited because of all that happened during my regular cafe visit time. you know, that business i had to take care of…

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you see, after perusing craigslist last thursday for small office spaces for rent in downtown asheville, just for the heck of it, i found one that looked interesting. and dirt cheap. so, what did i do? i ringed the number on friday morning, and before i knew it, i was meeting the owner downtown to see the space. it is a shared office, with a lady who is a counselor, but only needs it on mondays. it’s in a old building (shaped like an iron!) with an amazing rooftop view of asheville and the surrounding mountains. it was all so surreal that this possibility was unfolding.

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i loved the little office space, only a room maybe 10 x 10 (ft.). and i couldn’t believe that it was in the middle of everything. and the landlord was super nice. but, i needed to think about it over the weekend. i couldn’t be totally impulsive, could i? well, to be honest, i actually didn’t really think about it during the weekend. i just kind of let it be… until monday morning. then, it was time to face the music. should i get it, or not? i was terrified of making a decision. my love tried to help me see all angles of the decision, even making a decision for me in order to help me see what my reaction would be – and yes, phoebe totally did that when rachel was pregnant on friends. well, i clearly felt disappointed and like i was being stupid if i didn’t take it. and if i did, i felt scared.

so, i closed my eyes for a few moments and took some deep breaths, and after a while, it was clear. i realized that, for me, there was no question. yes, i was frightened by what other people might think – like how crazy i would be to rent a tiny office when i don’t have any clients or a business. and i was also frightened by the fact that it meant that i’d be taking a serious step forward. and i told my love all of that. but, when it came right down to it, i knew what was really right, deep in my soul.

so, i called the landlord. and i met my new office mate downtown about an hour later to get my keys.

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that, my friends, is what i was doing during my regular cafe/fika time today. that’s why my fika has been at home. nevertheless, i met a new person, had new conversations, and even made another fika date with my new office buddy – a fellow writer & counselor. i followed my dreams and took a leap of faith. we’ll see what comes of it!

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i’ll be back on track tomorrow. today, i needed to soak all of this in and enjoy the excitement and possibilities that lie ahead. hope you understand. wink wink.

namaste. /liz

Day 13: Going around the world just to find home.

confession time: i have been to this cafe a few times already. ok, A LOT of times already. i guess you could say that i like it. but, what do i like some much about it, you ask? i actually can’t really put my finger on it. i mean, the atmosphere – the global theme and all that – is right up my alley. there are cozy spots to sit inside. the coffee is good. and cheap. and there are places to sit in the windows. i mean, seriously, that in and of itself makes it cool, right? on top of all of that, there is ample outdoor seating. cute, little wrought-iron tables & chairs. and it is right in the middle of a great area, with tons of people. all stuff that i like very much. all things that make a top choice of cafes in my book.

but, i think there is another reason i keep going back…

i’m a local there. well, almost.

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the flat iron building between battery park & wall street. freaking awesome building. world cafe is down there on the right side.

the second time that i ended up at world coffee cafe, i recognized some people. and, dare i say, they recognized me? i did trade a few smiles with a few of the regulars – or at least they were regular in the sense that they were there also the last time i was there. and, also,  as i sat at one of the outdoor tables with my book in my hand, someone passed by that i knew. and we chatted for a short minute or two. i felt like a real local yokel then, ya know?  of course, the real test is when the baristas know what i want before i ask for it. i haven’t been there that often, and quite a few days or weeks have always passed in between my visits. but they’ll know what i want soon. i’m sure of it.

i keep showing up there, because it’s just so easy. it’s like my go to cafe when i have a little time to kill. and it is a place i can enjoy for hours on end. for real. i can sit at the tables and chairs outside and either work on my computer or read all afternoon. and i have done that once or twice. i’ve even had some conversations with random people.

on friday, when i was there for my “40 days of fika” fika, i did just that…

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i had an appointment with someone about something (it’s a secret right now, but it’s super cool!) and he suggested that we meet at world coffee cafe. so, that’s why i decided friday would be my world coffee cafe fika day. we met outside and shook hands, then he led me to the space we were going to visit together – in the same building, just on the 5th floor.  after our short little meeting, we said our goodbyes, and i headed into the cafe to get down to 40 days of fika business.

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i ordered my coffee and began snapping shots of the inside of the cafe. it’s quite big, as there are some different rooms in the back. it’s decorated with art and stuff from all over the world – asian, african, middle eastern. european. i l love that. my wanderlust-y self feels inspired by all of the global artifacts around me, and my travel fever rises.

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of course, since it was beautiful outside i didn’t stay inside, and i decided to grab a little table just off the sidewalk for myself. no longer than i had sat down, and a 20-something girl/woman/lady/chick (?) came over and began chatting with me and my table neighbor, a man on his laptop. all three of us were conversing for a while, then the man dropped out somehow. the girl kept chatting with me, as she smoked her cigarette, balancing it on her lip and swaying back and forth as she stood near my table. she never sat down, though i offered, because she said she was on her smoke break and she sits all day. she also worked in that same building, on the 5th floor.

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she told me of her amazing dad (i don’t know how we got on that subject) and gave me tips on good beer places in west asheville. and we shared our mutual love for asheville as a funky, all-accepting place. we chatted for about 20 minutes. oh, how i love that. you know, that carefree, not-afraid-of-each-other way of striking up a conversation with a stranger. she finished her cigarette and hurried back upstairs. i’m certain we’ll run into each other again.

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i finished my coffee and headed out to take some photos downtown. i didn’t feel like i needed to stay extra long in order to soak up the atmosphere of this cafe… i’ve already got a good grip on it. and i’m hooked. i thought back to why i love this place so much. and i realized that, as i am slowly approaching the mid-point of these 40 days of fika in 40 different cafes, i yearn to go back to many of them. becoming a “regular” means that i have begun to establish a community. and that feels good.

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but, for now, i fika on. ready for the next one… because, it is so much fun to get out of my comfort zone and to discover new places. i’ll have plenty of time later on to establish a favorite, go-to places. there’s no time to get stuck now. actually, i suppose that is a good lesson for life, huh? why would we even want to get stuck in the same routine in life? think of all that we miss when we don’t try a new cafe, meet a new person, travel to a new place, jump on a new opportunity?

at the same time, we also need those places that ground us. that feel like home. we need to return and meet people we know. we need to reflect and recharge in familiar setting, and then set off again on our next adventure!

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fyi: the mug that i carry *almost* everywhere with me is made by my sweet, “sis”, trista hudzik reynolds. she’s a potter in the river arts district, and i love telling everyone about her – since everyone asks about my amazing mug!

yeah. soon i’m gonna know all about 40 different cafes. and i’ll have my favorites, i’m sure. and in a few of them i’m sure that i’m gonna be a real. true. local. world coffee cafe will probably be one of them…

i’ll let you know when they know what i want before i order.

namaste.

world coffee cafe . 18-20 Battery Park . Asheville, NC . 28801 . http://worldcoffeecafe.com

by the way, i’ve started posting in the mornings about my fika experience the night before. don’t ask. it just seems to work better for me. no changes for you, as you can keep enjoying your morning coffee/tea with my fika post. love & coffee. /liz

Day 12: In the middle of it all.

ok. i admit it. my tastes are all over the place. when it comes to coffeehouses and cafes, i like everything. or at least, i like something about everything. i think that’s my stubbornly optimistic, idealistic, find-the-positive-in-everything personality. annoying to some, perhaps. but, to me, it’s just how i am. i can’t change. i don’t want to change. and i don’t think i even could change.

i am the eternal silver lining girl. and it’s not that i’m living in some dream world, some little happy place where i pretend that everything is ok all of the time. that’s not it at all. if you know me, you’d know that i face the difficult stuff head on with my stubborn idealism and hope, knowing that transformation occurs because of the pain & suffering. and i know that because i’ve lived through the light that shines through the darkness. i have seen the morning glory after the dark night… in my work with special needs and gang teens. in my work as a minister in a church, surrounded by death and people dealing with all of life’s problems. in my own divorce. in my denial of ordination rights because of who i am now married to. in my wife’s battle  through (and near death because of) anorexia. and so on… i’m not saying i’ve experienced the worst that can happen, i’m just saying… i know what it’s like to suffer, sister. i know what pain and fear feels like, brother. and it sucks.

but more than that, i know that there is hope. i know that, every day, we have a choice of how we want to live our lives. do we want to be messengers of peace and love and joy? or do we want to add to the pain and injustice? do we want to seek out the good in something and appreciate the beauty that is around us? or do we want to wallow in self-pity, anger, and hate? do we want to focus on the positive, or the negative? i believe that we are responsible for the energy that we bring into this world, that we share with everyone we meet.

i want to be someone who brings light and hope and truth.  i want to be someone who chooses, hundreds or thousands of times every day, to focus on the good, who chooses to find something positive, who is aware of what is true, and who spreads that goodness & truth. bottom line, i don’t want to make people smile some fake, let’s ignore all the tough stuff smile, but i want to be with people and see them smile as they discover that all will be well. it may not be happy and fun in any given moment, but all will be well. and in the midst of anything that is going on, there is beauty, peace, and hope to be found.

 and that, my friends, is why i choose to see the good in every single little thing.

i’d say that today was the complete opposite of yesterday, in terms of my fika experience. but instead of comparing the two places, i am only going to lift up the two for what they are. they have different missions and visions as business. and that it totally fine. the thing is, both are following their vision for the kind of gathering place they want to be, and they are both doing a great job at it. i found good things to enjoy & respect in both places. just like i have found in all 12 cafes i have visited so far.

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i headed downtown again today. this time, i had no plan. and i really didn’t have much time. so i parked close to the very center of town and decided to walk up to pack square. for those of you who don’t know, pack square is the absolute center of downtown. it may not physically be the center, but it is known as the center. it’s famous for it’s big monument, the vance monument, which towers above the streets, surrounded by a little park area. this whole space got a face lift not too long ago, and i’d say it looks quite nice. but, i never hang out here and take advantage of its beauty. so, today, i decided i would.

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behind the street vendor’s cart is the beginning of the park/monument area. the whole space is known as a gathering place for protestors and on any given day you can see people standing on the street corner, waving their signs and protesting any and everything. of course, i love that people exercise their right to voice their opinions and concerns. today, after i had to leave, there was a peace protest against any possible war/military action in syria. yes!DSC_0893

i decided to spend some time just wandering & soaking up the atmosphere a little before i headed into the cafe, which lay across the street from the park. it was so beautiful out. and people were milling about. and there was this amazing fountain… i must have taken 100 pictures. hehe.

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the biltmore coffee company doesn’t look like much from the outside. but, what did i learn the other day? oh yeah… don’t judge a book by its cover. well, the cafe is located in a rather modern (= boring to me) building which houses the corporate offices for the biltmore estate, a phenomenon that you cannot miss when you visit asheville. it’s the largest private residence in the states, though it’s not lived in now and tours are available. oh lord, it’s got a hotel, organic farm, a winery, stables, gardens, and the giant mansion. anyway, the offices are located right here, and the cafe, i assumed was part of the biltmore company. i was right.

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i stepped inside and was greeted by a refreshingly modern, open room… packed with seating areas. there were people sitting having meetings and a few who ahd come on their own to grab an early lunch. i made sure to take photos without people, so it looks like no one is there, but i was just being sneaky. there was a coffee bar with food & coffees, and then it was just seating. round, wooden tables and red, plush leather chairs. gray sofas and coffee tables. counters & bar stools. big, oblong tables for meetings and such. it was nice. but, i didn’t feel out of place, or unwelcome. it didn’t feel too fancy or uppity. oh it was stylish and posh, but in a relaxed kinda way. and the floors… yeah. i was crushing on the floors. i fell in freaking love with them.

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i ordered my regular coffee, added my cream to it, and made myself at home at one of the round tables in a super soft red leather chair. people came in and out, all kinds of people, but it felt like most of the business came from business people who work in the surrounding buildings. some tourists dropped in, and a parks & recreation worker came to grab some coffee. so, yeah, it was an open place. but, hey, with it’s location in the smack middle of everything, i’d hope that it’d be a place where all people came. or at least were welcomed. of course, i’m not sure i’d see many homeless people coming in to this cafe. still, what do i know?

i sat and stared at the beauty of the cafe, with it’s warm colors and cozy mix of wood, metal, and leather, feeling quite at peace. wishing i had more time to pull out my computer and just sit and write all afternoon. but, the gorgeous weather was calling my name, so i moved outside to the outdoor seating. i wanted to get a good look at all the hustle and bustle on the streets and in the park by the monument.

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IMG_3688you know, the biltmore coffee company may have catered to a different crowd than the cafe i visited yesterday, but it was still a place with a purpose… at least for me. i got some work done. did some people watching. and mostly, enjoyed being in the middle of downtown.  i sat back in my chair, sipped my coffee, and felt quite satisfied and at peace…

there is beauty in every moment. there is beauty in every thing. every person & every place has a purpose.

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the biltmore coffee company. 1 north pack square. asheville, nc . 28801 . www.biltmorecoffeeco.com

Day 11: Totally worth the wait.

today’s fika experience was a little bit different. i had it all planned out. (mistake number 1). i knew well in advance where i was going to go, so i drove downtown, parked in the parking deck, and descended the stairs from the grove arcade area to wall street. yes, asheville has a wall street – like nyc. only not at all like nyc.

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asheville’s wall street is really cool i think. it’s lined with independent stores and vegetarian restaurants/cafes. it’s a  tiny, short street. almost like an alley-way. and from what i understand historically, it was a back alley once, where deliveries were made. the shops & cafes on this cute street are actually the backs of other, bigger businesses which line one of the main streets going through downtown asheville. so, while it could have been a forgotten area, funky little places have popped up and are doing pretty darn well, for the most part.

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DSC_0851i was on the hunt for a little cafe called wall street coffeehouse. i had never heard of it, much less seen it. after strolling up & down wall street 2 times, i decided to take a peek at my phone to get the street number of the cafe. ah ha. i hadn’t even passed it yet… it was a little further down from where i had wandered. a little bit past the main area of wall street. no biggie. it was just a few more steps passed these cute little kitties that decorate one area of wall street… a little art in remembrance of the historical story behind the name of the street.

you see, as i said before, wall street used to be an alley fro deliveries, and this space, where the fence is in the second photo below, is on the top of a wall that was built to keep the hill above from falling down onto the buildings below. ya gotta love mountain architecture. and back in the day, the doorways on wall street could only be reached by a catwalk, hence the little kitty statues you see. interesting trivia, huh?

DSC_0850just beyond the cat on the pole, i noticed a coffee cup sign and figured that it had to be my place. i walked across the street and shot some photos of the outside, and then made my way to the door. i was definitely craving some coffee by now.

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DSC_0857from the outside, the cafe looked pretty tiny. cozy, i thought. and it felt a little more local, not so touristy or chain-y, which is always a good thing in my book. it also looked a little dark inside. hmm… one quick look at the hours on the window, and my suspicions were confirmed: closed. well, damn. however, it would open in an hour, which would still give me time to at least try it out, but i’d have to kill and hour and not spend as much time as i’d like. what to do, what to do? i sat down on a chair on the cute outdoor furniture and watched some birdies play while i decided what to do. it was really nice to just sit there. people walked by, but otherwise, i felt as if i’d found a little secret, out-of-the-way place. after some time, i decided i was hungry, so i went up the hill and grabbed a bite to eat.

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after lunch, i headed back to the coffeehouse and knocked on the door. i asked the lady who answered if i could come in. she warned me that she wasn’t quite ready to open yet, but that i was welcome. i told her i just wanted some regular coffee and to sit down. then, i shared with her about this 40 days of fika  project, what i’m up to, and such. i also asked if i could take photos of the place. theresa, the lady, said she’d rather me not take photos of the art on the walls, and then, she explained that it might be pointless to take photos of the rooms/space because she would be moving where her lease is up.

i admit i was a a little disappointed, but i completely understood and respected her wishes. so, today instead of getting all wrapped up in taking photos, i wrote down what i saw. i talked to theresa, and i just let the place sink in.

do you know the definition of a coffeehouse? well, it’s not starbucks. i mean, starbucks is a house of coffee, but let’s get back to the original definition of a coffeehouse… like the kind you’d find in grreenwich village in the 50s, 60s and 70s. a coffeehouse is place of social interaction. during the beat generation, it was a place for open mic nights. there has been a link between coffeehouses, folk music, poetry slams, book clubs, free expression, art, and social & political action. instead of just being a place to grab coffee and either chat with someone or sit alone & read, true coffeehouses (in my opinion) have an element of community, and seek to be active in society. if you know anything about me,  you know that this right up my freaking alley. this is what i’m all about. coffee. conversation. social/political action. literature. music. art. a coffeehouse combines all of my passions into one place.

and that is exactly what this place is.

the art on the walls that i couldn’t photograph? it was done by homeless people, regular people, amateurs. the tiny cafe that i thought this was, opened up behind the coffee bar into a huge gathering space, filled with sofas and coffee tables and other second-hand furniture. there were games and books. and as i talked with theresa, i learned that the coffeehouse is open from 1-9 or 1-11 (in the evenings) because there is community, social stuff happening there. like meetings. and groups. open mic nights. art shows.

wall street cafe is a safe place, a place for people on the fringe of society. a place for those who may be struggling and need a sense of community and belonging. a place to learn and to be creative. and, of course, a place to just sit and be and philosophize. it’s not flashy or fancy. it’s very simple, but filled with meaning. it’s not just a cafe with tables. in fact, it’s not really that at all. it’s a place for resources, for inspiration, for action, for connection.

i was freaking out with excitement as i talked with theresa and learned more about wall street coffeehouse. overwhelmed and astonished at her sheer love for what she does. as we chatted, we discovered that we could relate to each other in our current lives. as i mentioned before, her lease is up soon, and she i looking to move to another location. she has no idea where, or what’s in store for her, or for the coffeehouse community she has built up. i personally think some organizations and business need to get behind her and help her financially. i didn’t even meet any of the people that hang out there, but i know she is making a difference. i could see it and feel it.

we decided that we’d stay in contact with each other, and, at the least, offer each other support and pep each other up… reminding ourselves that whatever the universe has in store for us, all will be well. and it will be exactly as it should be.

unfortunately, i couldn’t stay very long , and just as i was settling in, it was time for me to go. it felt really great to meet theresa and to know that we’d keep in contact with each other. we exchanged contact info., and just before i was about the walk out the door, she invited me to teach some classes there, if i wanted. WHAT?! i could hardly believe my ears. in a sense, it was an offer for me to create some small groups to teach whatever i feel that i can offer/is needed.

this was (and is) overwhelming to me. it’s like a dream. of course, there is still no money in it. gaaaahh. money is so unbelievably annoying. still, to have a chance to use my gifts, to give back, to connect with people, and to use this coffeehouse as a meeting place… it is an amazing opportunity. like. amazing. so, i’m gonna spend the rest of this week planning, thinking, and searching.

i think i’ll probably stop back by the wall street coffeehouse one more time this week as well. if you live in asheville, you should too.

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even though it was closed when i first got there, and i had an hour to kill, it was totally worth the wait. and it’ll be worth the wait to se what happens to it as well. i’ll be sure to keep you informed and let you know when they move.

namaste. /liz

* 62 wall street . asheville, nc . 28805 . http://wallstreetcoffeehouse.webs.com

Day 9: The Sanctuary at Asheville’s Dobra Tea Room.

i did something a little different today. as usual, i had not planned where i was going, but i did know that i needed to be in the downtown area. i had heard about a noon “pray for peace in syria” gathering, and i felt compelled to participate. so, after strategically parking in a parking deck, i made my way to trinity episcopal church. now, i’m not a member of an episcopal church, but i’m all for ecumenical gatherings of all faiths. especially when we are united for one common cause… peace. besides, how else are we going to achieve peace than by meeting with each other, accepting our diversities, but relying on our common, human values?

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i entered the sanctuary, with images and symbols all around me, and it felt as is should feel. sacred. holy. safe. it was silent until the bells tolled alerting us that the time of meditation would begin. what followed was a a lot of ritual and tradition, of reciting words together and listening to words of wisdom, all of which were very comfortable and familiar to me…  it was a moment of awareness for me. i felt present. alone, and yet, surrounded in a loving community of strangers and friends who had gathered for one common cause… peace in syria.

it felt good to connect to a religious tradition for a few minutes, to be surrounded by familiar words and practices. however, i am in a place right now in life where one religious tradition does not do it for me. i need, i want, i feel connected to god, the source, the universe, the mysteries when i am experiencing the traditions, rituals, and words of many traditions… buddhist, christian, native, sufi, jewish, etc. in addition, i feel connected to the great mystery in nature, and with people, when i am alone, meditating, protesting, writing & reading, or even just drinking coffee. right now, in my life, it is more about relationships than denominations or institutions.

anytime that i am truly present, whether i am alone or with people, i am connected to a higher source that, i believe, connects us all. and i believe that a balance of time alone to meditate and simply be, to connect to myself and who i call god (you may say something else, or nothing at all), and time spent with other people is the key to a spiritually balanced life that seeks to live an authentic life and make a difference in the world.

ok. enough of that.

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so, filled with the community spirit of praying for peace, i headed out on the streets of asheville to decide where i would have my (somewhat shortened) fika time. i passed this sign on a pole, marked the date in my calendar, and then suddenly, it came to me: dobra tea house. i have seen the outside of the tea house many times, and the eastern-looking exterior has always intrigued me. since studying theology in seminary, i have known that i am deeply drawn to the mystery of eastern religions and lifestyles. i knew that going there would be the perfect transition and continuation of my focus on peace during this day.

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i had no expectations this time. in fact, i don’t think i was even really thinking about what it would look like when i entered. i did love the huge open window, though, so i was pleasantly surprised to see lots of round, cafe-sized, wicker-ish tables and chairs right when i walked in the door. there were people there having tea and conversations – it looked like the epitome of fika. there was another working on his computer. and straight ahead of me, i saw a counter-space, with tons of little, tiny bowls with different tea leaves in them. and i mean tons. like 40 or more, i suppose. there were drawers and cabinets behind, places where the tea was stored i suppose. i admit, i don’t know much about tea, so i am totally guessing. i saw a buddha on the wall. funky, asian-inspired lights, pottery, tea pots, tea cups, photos of people from the east, and candles. it was like heaven to my eyes. and to my nose… oh, the smell of the tea. it was like incense. everything was telling me that this was a place that would touch my soul. be still, my bohemian soul.

i approached the counter and talked with the person standing there, telling him i had never been there before and ready to receive to some instructions about the process of this tea experience. i could just tell that, here, i would not just sip tea in a tea cup, i would have an experience. and i was so right. i also explained that i’d be taking photos, if that was okay and that i was doing a blog about different cafes in asheville. he seemed receptive to my idea, and that felt good.  he told me to wander around and decide where i would sit, and then he was come and explain everything to me. super friendly, thanks!

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he explained that there were three different seating areas  = three different atmospheres, and i could pick wherever i wanted to sit. there was the front room, that had the wicker tables & chairs and was open to the outside. then there was the middle space – an indianish inspired red & gold area with little tables and benches in a u-shape. and finally the back area. a space oozing with atmosphere and mystery. it was a dark turquoise blue color with only floor seating, as far as i could tell. pillows, low tables, beads. i so wanted to sit here, but i felt that i’d have a better chance for photos in the middle area. so, i sat myself down in the corner of one of the u’s and pulled out my journal.

the guy came over to explain things to me right after i sat down. here’s how it goes:

  • there is a big book with all of their teas in it, arranged by type of tea (black, green, etc.) and land from which it comes (china, india, cambodia, etc.). they also have little snack foods and tea cakes & cookies.
  • i could just peruse the book and read about each tea at my leisure in order to decide which tea i wanted to try.  – whew. that took a while, as there were so many different teas. but, i knew i wanted black. now… which country?! india!
  • once i decided, i was to ring the bell that he bought to me. someone would be right with me after i rang it – and they were. i ordered & then sat back and waited. well, i took pictures, wrote a little, and smiled to myself. this was cafe heaven. it was a sanctuary in and of itself. not the same as the episcopal one, but one in its own way,  nevertheless.
  • my tea was delivered on a wooden tray with a tea pot and a little cup. simple. organic. beautiful.
  • i poured the hot tea into the cup and set my spoon in it (the spoon was a gift i received from a dear australian friend in the mail the day before. i promised i would use it during my fika time. i loooove the spoon. so delicate. so perfect with the tea.).
  • then, i simply sat and sipped.

what tea did i order? well it was a black tea from india called assam brahmaputra. the description of the tea in the menu book states that this tea is one that is suitable for drinking before a long journey. i had picked out this tea before i realized that. but when i did, i knew that it was the perfect tea for me. why? i don’t know i just felt it.

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DSC_0782dobra tea’s story begins in prague in the late 80s/early 90s, during the fall of communism. tea had been reserved only for the government & military elite, but a few passionate tea lovers began smuggling in rare and exotic teas from china, japan, and india. in 1992, after the fall of communism, a group who called themselves “the society of tea devotees” met and opened the first tea room in prague. the tea room was known “as a shelter, a place for safety, where like minded individuals could gather and taste the world of tea. much success blossomed with Dobrá’s idea and the company began to spread its tea concept to many small towns throughout czech republic, hungary and poland. in 2003 dobrá tea opened its first u.s. tearoom in burlington, vt.”  the tea room in asheville opened in 2010 (quoted from the website). what a great story. and history.

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i soon realized that time was moving more quickly than i wished, and i needed to leave if i was to make my next appointment.  i quickly finished my tea – which went against everything in my coffee/tea/fika nature, and headed to the counter to pay. then, i took one more peek at the back room, just because i could. it was everything i want in a place to just be. it felt just as sacred and holy (in a completely different way, of course) as the big episcopal sanctuary i had visited earlier. i yearned to take off my shoes and sit in one of the dark corners with a book all afternoon. oh, it looked like heaven. my contemplative, introverted self was quietly whispering to me to just breathe & relax…  i would be back. today was not the day to stay.

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there is no question if i might find time to come back to dobra tea. i have to come back. and i will… even before the 40 days is over. i need to return so that i can slowly enjoy my tea and the atmosphere. i need to return here, just like i need to return to churches, synagogues, nature, pritchard park. i felt inspired here. i felt the holy here. and isn’t that what spirituality is all about? meeting the holy in the midst of the every day… because, that which is spirit, that which is divine and sacred, it is not up there in the clouds or out there somewhere. our journey is not a journey to some place. it is all within. the sacred. the journey. the divine. spirit. we carry it with us. and these holy places remind us of that. they remind us to tap into that spirit, that gut feeling.

today, i found the holy within the prayers of a community of faith in an episcopal church praying for peace in syria. and i also found the holy in the silent moments sipping tea in an eastern-inspired tea house. earlier this week, i encountered the holy in four different men that i met on the streets of asheville. i saw the holy in the beauty of nature surrounding me. and i met the holy in the moments i spent with my wife, my brother, my friends, and my parents.

yes, dobra tea room, you are a beautiful sanctuary that welcomes all pilgrims to rest for a while on their journeys of peace.

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namaste. /liz

dobra tea . 78 n. lexington avenue .  asheville, nc . 28801 . dobrateanc.com

Day 6: Open your mind & be who you are at Firestorm Cafe & Books

i didn’t end up on the wrong side of the tracks or anything (which i usually do in my personal life anytime i explore some place new), but i did leave the comfort of the touristy, main streets of downtown asheville and ended up on a smaller, alley-ish-like street behind all the typical places. but i was so in that kind of mood today.

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let me back up. it all started with a nice little walk through pritchard park, a park well-known to ashevill-ians as a place of beauty and unique diversity in the middle of the city. people gather there to rest, to chat, to seek respite, to play games, to dance (on friday nights), to show off their creativity, to mingle, to be alone. and all kinds of people gather there. homeless, families, tourists, couples, hippies, street preachers, protesters, police, photographers, artists, loners. some days it’s full of activity, some days not so much. on this day, i was planning on taking a photo of a tree in the park, which i did. afterwards, i sat down on a bench for a few minutes to bask in the sunshine. soon, a man came and sat on the bench beside me. it wasn’t long before we smiled at each other and then broke into conversation. a 30 minute long conversation about everything under the sun and then some, including practicing counting to 10 in several languages. he was a kind, intelligent man. those kinds of moments and conversations always inspire me and leave me feeling humbled & alive.

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in the midst of our conversation, a man rode up and just interrupted us by saying to me that i was doing exactly what i supposed to be doing. huh? how did he know me? and then i remembered that this exact thing happened to me years ago when i was in alaska. a woman came up to me, a stranger with piecing blue eyes, and said the exact same thing. upon remembering this, i took this guy on a bike a little more seriously. he continued to talk with me and tell me that it was important that i take pictures of people, of asheville, and make the world aware. he then said that so-and-so (insert the name of a minister i know) was very pleased with my work as well. now, this minister that the guy on a bike mentioned is someone i emailed back in the spring as a possible contact person to help me with networking. i have never met this minister face-to-face, but we have emailed each other. so, the guy on a bike mentioning him was just another weird coincidence in a long line of coincidences… or was it? in any case, i heeded the feeling that i was having in my gut: something was happening. things were lining up. the universe was conspiring. god was moving. my soul was bursting. something big was going on. and i knew that i was in the middle of it, no matter if the guy on a bike was crazy, or if he was mistaking me for someone else, or is he was a prophet of some kind. i had gotten a message through his words, like i did before in alaska, and i knew that they were for me. what the message was, i don’t exactly know. perhaps an affirmation of who i am, my dreams, and what i am doing/who i am being. what i did know was this feeling i was having, so i just let it sink into me.

after finishing my conversation with my original guy friend, i ran into that guy on the bike, thomas, three more times during the day. very interesting.

it was both of these interactions with interesting people, that had me in a mood where i felt connected, grounded, and inspired. i felt that this was a day that would mean something. and that i should try something new. not just go to the same old kind of easy, relaxed place, but to embark on something a little different. and boy, did i.

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just to the right of the purple thirsty monk building, on the back side, near the cellar entrance of this popular beer hangout, lies firestorm cafe and books. i think i’d been in this cafe one time before, but it was year and years ago. so, today was actually my first real visit. i walked right in the door, without even giving it a second thought. you see? i’ve gotten over my little fear of entering some place new all by myself.

well, i took a few shots of the outside of the cafe while a twenty-something year old guy smoking a cigarette watched everything i did (i admit i was a little creeped out), and then i confidently walked inside. the first thing i saw was an area of books, which, of course i was drawn to. looking at the titles, i noticed that they were all books on activism, social issues, global issues, sustainable living and anti-capitalism/institution. i realized that this was not your cutesy, downtown tourist cafe. toto, i was not in starbucks anymore.

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down a little ramp there was the coffee bar on the right and a few table on the left, including a table with a computer for free internet use by customers. it actually turned out to be available to anyone who walked in – even to just use the computer. and plenty of people did that. cool, i thought. a nice way to be open and welcoming to any and all people, which is a theme running through the cafe/bookstore.

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not only is it liberal in its books, and ecologically friendly in its food & coffee, but it is lgbtq friendly as well. the bathroom had a very obvious sign that all people, regardless of gender or gender expression were welcome in any of the bathrooms. and just out side the bathrooms… contraception. for free.

there was clearly a philosophy that ran every thought, word, and deed of this little hidden, dark, coffee shop. you know, come to think of it, i thought of places that you would find in greenwich village (nyc) in the 50s, 60s, 70s. a place filled with poetry slams, open mic nights, and full of radical, free-thinking liberals discussing taboo topics and reading censored books. this is exactly what this place is, only in 21st century asheville.

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while i was sipping my regular coffee with almond milk at a table near the front of the cafe, i wrote down some words in my journal which popped into my mind as i sat there:

grassroots, community, anarchy, censored, anti-establishment real, radical, free, share, diverse, open, education.

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the barista was a very friendly and intelligent expressing herself in her own unique way… like we all should do. the patrons who came in were from all walks of life, though the cafe was never super duper crowded. there were just enough people at all times. there were charles manson worshippers (i know that for a fact because the man i talked to in the park tried to talk to the charles manson couple about jesus), lesbians planning their day, middle-aged men having a discussion, people on alone on computers, a mentally disabled young man, seemingly in a gang or something like that, who talked with me for about 15 minutes, a few tourists who dropped in for some food, some tough guys, men who i believe used the restrooms to bathe, hippies, middle-aged women sitting and drinking coffee. i’m telling you, all kinds of people. and every single one of them was welcome – just as they are.

it’s like you might feel at out of place when you first walk in, but soon you realize that everyone is out of place. you can’t define this cafe. and so, everyone fits in because no one fits in. get what i mean?

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now the thing that makes this cafe really unique, as if all of the above stuff is not enough, is it’s philosophy: it’s a co-op. there is no boss. instead the workers who work there are the owners together. they share responsibilities. and they make their vision well-known with a giant sign over the coffee bar and little charts on every table. they want you to know that this is not a top-down, hierarchical place. instead, it is run by horizontal, equal management. in other words, it’s run by the people. on the tables you can read about firebooks beliefs: providing radical literature, using vegan and organic goods,having free computer resources available to anyone & everyone, providing free event space for sharing knowledge and talent, building community, and mobilizing for social action.

in fact, this evening they were open for a gathering of people who wanted to come & volunteer and prepare activities, posters, etc. for the upcoming international day of peace on september 21. i almost went back, but it didn’t fit into my schedule. but, i will go and take part in some community social action at some point. that’s a promise.

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so far, this cafe has been the most intriguing. it has triggered the most thoughts and feelings within me. not that it’s my favorite so far. actually, i don’t have a favorite yet. all of them are my favorite for what they each are. but, this one has made the biggest impression on me. it is a place that i recommend that to you so that you get out of your regular ol’ routine, get yourself ready, open your mind, and get out of your comfort zone. so go. get some coffee. just observe. just listen. just let yourself be. you don’t have to agree with everything… that’s the beauty of it. just be yourself, and while you are there, you’ll find a place that allows each and every person to simply be themselves too. it’s refreshing. and challenging. and a beautiful thing.

for that matter, go check out any community hidden off the main drag. find someplace and some people who are really different, and challenge yourself to go in, open your mind, listen, and soak it all up. you’ll thank yourself for the experience. i promise. besides, this is how world peace is made.

namaste.

firestorm cafe & books . 48 commerce street . asheville, nc . 28801

Day 5: High Five!

IMG_2785just down the street, under the highway 240 bridge,  and only a few blocks walk from lexington avenue, lies a little coffee shop in the bottom corner of a fairly newly built, arts & crafts style building on broadway (just behind greenlife grocery).  i think i had passed the coffee shop before, but never really noticed it. it’s not that flashy, and it just sort of blends in with the rest of the building, which is used for offices on the bottom floor and apartments on the top floors. of course, that’s the point, i think. i was expecting a very hip, starbucks-like atmosphere inside, but what i found what completely different.

i am beginning to learn that nothing is every anything that i expect it to be. for real.

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this neighborhood, just north of downtown and close to five points, is known as a walking-friendly area. residents in the cute, cottages that dot the streets behind high five walk everywhere. to the grocery store. to downtown. and to this coffee shop. so, even though there is ample parking in a gravel lot across the street (which i didn’t know to begin with, of course), i parked on the street in front of one of the cute cottages and walked the block to the coffee shop. i actually always like walking places, especially since i don’t walk as much as i did in sweden.

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i walked up to the building and the first thing i noticed was the large amount of outdoor seating in front of the shop. little tables and metal chairs, and then some big concrete slabs with stools. very unique. i like that. let’s see what happens when i open the door…

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i entered the industrial-inspired room and noticed the buzz. there were people chatting, coffee steaming, beans grinding. and music playing. but, it wan’t too much. it wasn’t noise overload or anything, which surprised me. and even though the floor was hard, the tables were high , the ceiling had exposed pipes, and so much was going on, i felt a sense of warmth. it was definitely a hip place. but, it was warm. like a little coffee community.

it could be the community tables. this is a unique and freaking cool feature of high five. and i love it. i made my way to the counter, ordered my regular coffee (but forgot my mug. gaaahh!), and looked around as i waited. there were a couple of tall, curvy tables with stools, which were very inviting. it looked a super easy place to sit and not feel awkward even if you were sitting with strangers. there were also counter spaces facing the windows with bar stools. and then, the mother of all places to sit. little round-ish wooden tables on a platform. but they were close to the ground, so you have to sit on a pillow when you sit around these funky tables.  soooo cool.

i didn’t get to sit at one of these cool tables, because it seems everyone else thinks they are cool too. so i put down my coffee, pulled out my book, and plopped myself down on one of the stools at a tall, curvy counter-table thing. i didn’t even mind that there were 2 other individuals sitting at the table. we could share. ok. i did freak out a little inside – introvert alert.

but, the other two people were quite involved in their own activities… reading, writing, surfing. it is a coffee shop that works well as a place to visit on your own. it’s also a great place for conversation. there seemed to be quite a few students, or at least people studying. but, there were also middle-aged, young families, and elderly patrons. some were funky, some were granola hippies, some were hipster, and some were tourists (you can tell by the maps and the cameras). the thing i noticed most about the people, was that they all seemed to be totally away of what’s going on there = they are locals. still, it was a welcoming place.

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i sipped my coffee and read my book, looking up every now and then to see what was going on. i never really chatted with anyone, but then, again, i got really absorbed into my book. and pretty soon i realized that this was a cafe i could visit quite often.

there is another thing that i have realized as i spend time in cafes around asheville… i love studying and reading. and people fascinate me. i am considering beginning a program in an area i have dreamed about/felt called to for quite a few years now. the book that i am toting around with me is reaffirming that sense of desire. if i do sign up for this program, it will take two years, and then i will be certified as a spiritual guide, a mentor. my idea is to not focus on any one spiritual tradition, but to use bits and pieces from many different ones. as a part of this program, i will also get me memoir done. and the cool thing? the spiritual school is just outside of asheville. more about all of that at a later date…

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what i am saying is, that spending this intentional time by myself has helped me to slow down enough to observe the things that i feel the most passionate about, and the gifts/skills that i have. the quiet time has given me some space to breathe and to just be. and so, i feel a sense of direction. i feel a sense of comfort and inner peace. and all of this from only 5 days in cafes, with limited conversation with people. i wonder what the next 35 days have in store for me?!

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who knew that a cup of coffee could trigger so many thoughts, ideas, dreams, and opportunities?

how ’bout a high five for that?!

namaste. ~ liz

high five coffee bar . 190 broadway street . asheville, nc . 28801 . www.highfivecoffee.com

please let me know (leave a comment) if you’d like to meet up with me one day for a fika. i’d be more than happy to share this project with any of you!

Day 3: Over Easy

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i loved the place i went to today. like loved it. big time. and the thing is, i had no idea i’d end up there.

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instead of going back to haywood road for a third day in a row, i headed downtown. i just felt like i needed the vibe of the eclectic, artsy streets of downtown asheville. i wanted to wander and walk. for some reason, i had a little more time than usual, so i figured i’d window shop and take photos. and boy, did i!

i parked in a parking deck – perhaps the cheapest way to park downtown – and then walked toward lexington avenue down walnut street. it was early enough that there were not that many people out and about yet. the city was just beginning to come to life, as if there was a little orchestra warming-up in the background before the overture begins signaling the beginning of the play.

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i turned left down lexington avenue and held a slow, deliberate pace, stopping whenever i wanted to photograph something or whenever something shiny and pretty in a window caught my eye. as i walked, i discovered a hidden garden nestled in between two tall brick buildings. an oasis of sorts. the sunshine gave this little garden, a special glow and i entered to soak up a few rays and moments of silence. after about 15 minutes, i continued on down the street, knowing that i would know where to stop when i came upon it. you see, there are tons of cafes from which to choose in downtown asheville. and lucky me, i get to visit most of them because of this project! i’m no dummy. hehe.

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after almost an hour of wandering down alleys, enjoying a little urban photo walk of my own, i headed up broadway toward the center of downtown, pack square. on my way, i saw the cafe where i knew i’d have to stop. it was THE cafe and it was calling my name. there were two tables outside on the sidewalk, both occupied with people waiting for their breakfast/brunch, which was a promising sign. i don’t know why it was a promising sign, it just was. perhaps it’s because i love places that have outdoor seating because i love eating outside. at the door, there was a little podium where a very hippie young lady took my name and told me i’d have to wait about 5 minutes. no problem, i thought. i was getting really excited about this place, even though i still hadn’t darkened the doors.

as usual, i had no idea what to expect, but when the girl (can i call a 20s-something person a girl when i am in my 30s?) invited me in to sit at a place at the bar, i was not ready for what i saw.

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over easy is a small, intimate, funky cafe bathed in turquoise and metal. very industrial. very cool. and very homey in a way that’s difficult to describe. there was no air-conditionaling and the fans were running. the front door was a screen door. there were flowers on tables, and local art on the wall. i sat at the bar, at a stainless steel counter, directly in front of the staff of 3 who filled drinks, prepared fresh fruits for smoothies, brewed coffee and created lattes. i could see everything, from the transparent refrigerators filled with fresh vegetables ready to be cooked and jugs of milk being chilled to fresh fruit being chopped and dishes being washed. i loved the atmosphere of busy-ness and action. and yet, it wasn’t overwhelming or loud.

i received a menu and a cup of coffee, water, and cream without even really being asked. the coffee wasn’t any kind of gourmet coffee, but diner coffee. steaming hot, dark, and strong. in other words, super yummy. i decided then and there that i’d eat something, and that i’d make that part of my fika adventure – one day a week, i’d celebrate with a little cafe food in addition to my cup of joe. i ordered potatoes and eggs, just knowing that they would be yummy. after sipping on my coffee a bit and snapping some photos, a lady came & sat beside me. filled with courage and excitement from my conversations with eli yesterday, i just up and started talking with my bar-mate. she had been there only once before, but loved it. i told her i was an over easy virgin.

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soon, i got my food. fresh, organic, and piping hot. i devoured it, and discovered that not only were my potatoes fresh and yummy, they mixed regular potatoes and sweet potatoes.. .what an extra special surprise. and then the eggs, fluffy and free-range. people, this is the place to go for brunch. really. i highly recommend it. there was tons more on the menu that sounded delish.

so, it’s more of a restaurant, than a cafe where you sit and read for a long time. but, it seemed like a perfectly acceptable place to enjoy a meal and some time alone. speaking of alone, i’ve learned one thing about myself already. i have no trouble going places alone. it doesn’t feel weird or lonely. i don’t imagine people whispering to each other about “that poor lady who’s all by herself.” perhaps it’s because i’m older now. perhaps i’m comfortable with myself. perhaps it’s a common and acceptable thing in asheville – i see other people fika-ing on their own. in any case, i am enjoying these little cafe visits every day. and while everything is always more fun with my wife by my side, i am using this alone time to simply be. i am free to think, act, be, go and do exactly what i feel like. what a sense of freedom that is.

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i believe i was at the counter of over easy for about 45 minutes. of course, people-watching. and feeling the funky vibe that the entire cafe was giving off. it felt positive, relaxed, and eclectic. from the decor and environment to the hippie, lesbian, tattooed, hipster, outdoorsy people whole stood on the other side of the counter.

i’ll tell you what… i’m going back. and soon.

perhaps brunch this weekend?

namaste.

over easy
32 braodway
asheville, nc 28801