Bad Cake Karma In Alcalá de Henares

Those of you who read my Weekly Don Quixote post a couple of days ago will know that I absconded with my friend Maria to Alcalá de Henares earlier this week, a town located ca. 35km northeast of Madrid. Like Toledo, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not quite as scenic and arresting as Toledo or Segovia, but still fairly respectable.

Maria and I had a really good time, but one thing that will forever be etched into my memory about this visit is a rather unsatisfactory cake experience.

After a morning’s wandering about and taking photos, we treated ourselves to a tasty sushi lunch. However, as is so often the case in Asian restaurants, the dessert choices left much to be desired, and so we decided to go elsewhere for coffee and cake.

This should be easy enough… unless you’re in Spain. They do have nice cakes, but these tend to be sold in bakeries/patisseries not equipped with coffee machines or tables, and are strictly take-home only. It was no different in Alcalá, where we’d been ogling sumptuous pastry creations in bakery windows all morning.

Eventually, we spotted a place that seemed to offer the whole package: delectable cakes and a coffee frother inside, as well as tables and chairs outside.  But, would you believe it, they were closed for lunch! (Many shops still follow traditional business hours, and this means a siesta-conducive marathon lunch break lasting from 2pm to 5pm).

Maybe, just maybe, this is not the absolute smartest strategy if you’re in the business of selling coffee and cake, but seeing as there was no suggestion box, the owners may never cotton on to the revolutionary concept of giving people what they want when they are most likely to want it. Sigh.

We tried the restaurant next door, asking if we could have a coffee and a dessert, but we were promptly told no. They were serving either a full lunch or nothing! Paradoxically, the place was flippin’ empty, and it was 3.30pm, which is the tail end of Spanish luncheon time. What famished last-minute hordes were they expecting to pile through the doors at this hour?!

I’m constantly being told that “customer service is a lot worse in the South”. To be honest, I cannot imagine that. Nor do I want to.

In the end, we settled for a place on the main street where they were happy to give us a table outside in the sunshine. Unfortunately, although the coffee was top notch, the cake, a gooey choc brownie concoction, was crap. It sure looked promising enough on the plate, but it turned out to be afflicted by that characteristic aftertaste of having been deep-frozen 😦

I shall leave you with some pics of the town…

The Cathedral

Part of an ancient Roman residential area

There was a large Roman settlement before Alcalá came into being. These remains were once part of a residential area.

Roman Mosaic

Floor mosaic in a school for posh Roman boys. Like an ancient Etonian outpost…

Front of the University Building

Front of the University Building

University interior courtyard

University interior courtyard

Maria in university doorway

Maria in university doorway

Alcalá's main street

Alcalá’s main street

A handsome pair of gargoyles

A handsome pair of gargoyles
There's a whole nest of them...

There’s a whole nest of them…

Cathedral towerIf you examine the Cathedral tower closely, you’ll see something that Alcalá is very famous for… more about that in my next post.

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22 thoughts on “Bad Cake Karma In Alcalá de Henares

    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      You’d think!!!
      I suspect this has something to do with the fact that in Spain, people don’t really tip. So, for the waiter/waitress, who receives a fixed salary, turning customers (= hassle) away must be very tempting at times!

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      1. Expat Eye

        You should have spoken in your best English or German and she might have thought you were a silly tourist and would leave a massive tip – next time! 😉

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  1. Debbie

    I’m planning a road trip around Spain for later this year or maybe spring next year. I have taken note re the cake situation. I may have to plan the route around good cake. Shops!

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  2. northern_star

    Always so very disappointing when your cafe of choice is closed. I can just imagine your little faces pressed up against the window.

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  3. Anna

    That’s one of the things I was not crazy about in Spain – cakes, breads, pastries etc. I prefer to stick with the almond candies and just eat those on the go.

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  4. TBM

    When I first moved to London I was shocked that pubs and restaurants didn’t serve food after lunchtime until dinner time. Coming from the US this is unheard of, at least in the cities I lived in. I’m not advocating all places should be like the US and be open 24 hours since I feel for the employees who have to work to keep the places open 24 hours (including holidays, but that is a different matter that irritates the crap out of me). But, when it comes to cake, they should be open 😉 This was a cake emergency after all!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      It’s even worse in Spain… plus their lunch/dinner times do not correspond with those of other European Countries (lunch does not start till 2pm, Germans want to eat at 12, dinner is from 8pm, Germans want it at 6, etc). This is a major hassle for tourists, and seeing as tourism is Spain’s major source of revenue, it’s all very poorly thought out. Everyone’s talking about the BIG crisis. Maybe it’s time to fix/adjust the little things…?

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      1. ladyofthecakes Post author

        It’s much deeper than that… they could be getting so much more money off visitors and tourists… they are just not catering to their audience. If your economy is based on something that you’re too obstinate to do well, you are heading for trouble. And they are very, very deep in the shit.
        Sure, this did not cause the crisis, but it could be helping them to get out of it. But it’s not.

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  5. gina4star

    Aaaah I’d forgotten about the mammoth siesta lunches in Spain! No, there’s no business sense behind that at all. Loved your description of the cake, crap!!!

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  6. americantaitai

    Amazing… and I’m puzzled by the lack of business initiative… but hey, I guess it’s siesta time? I suppose you could have bought the pastries to go and eaten them in the city square? The food mostly sucks in the US, but there’s something to be said about customer service and convenience.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      It’s a never-ending topic, this customer service issue. It’s still difficult to get coffee-to-go here, so that would have been the missing component to your suggestion 😉
      The US does breakfasts very well!

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