If you asked me to describe the qualities I would want in a city I would say it should be beautiful to look at with lots of fine architecture to see, it should have lots of art, and it should have a river or sea. Also, cake. It should have plentiful amounts of cake of the highest quality known to mankind. The city I have described could be Vienna, which has all of this and more. That is not to say that it is a perfect city, there is still too much traffic and despite having a river and other waterways these are not the prettiest. I was surprised to see the famous ‘Blue’ Danube in Vienna is not that special to look at, but make no mistake Vienna is certainly one of the finest cities in Europe, if not the world.
Vienna seems to be very proud of it’s history, or some of it, anyway (more of that later). The Hofburg Palace and the Schonbrunn Palace are two of the residences of the Hapsburg dynasty that ruled great swathes of Europe and married into the Royalty of where they didn’t rule. The Opera house is grand and much of the old centre is filled with beautiful architecture and boulevards from the 19th century and in an art nouveau style. The Volksgarten is one of the pleasant public gardens that gives Vienna a place for people to relax by the flowers and temporarily escape all of the overwhelmingly pretty buildings.
One of the things Vienna is best known for, and which I am exceedingly pleased to report that it still does magnificently is the café culture. There are many cafes in Vienna and when I talk about Viennese cafes I mean the beautiful wooden paneled interiors, the period lights, the large coffee menu, and of course the cakes. These really are sublime. Café Central, very close to the Hofburg, is a joy to look at it both outside and in, and they offer some superb apple strudel. There is a statue of Peter Altenberg, a writer and poet, who was a famous regular of the café. Perhaps better known customers didn’t get their own statue because they were somewhat more divisive. This is the place that Trotsky, Tito, and Hitler came. Sigmund Freud was also said to have been a regular here and the nearby Café Landtmann (also superb). To imagine that all of these people and more were all in Vienna around the same time, in the same places, is quite a thought.
Vienna is packed with things to see and do. Two of my favourites were seeing ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimpt, displayed in the Belvedere Palace, which also has beautiful gardens and a superb fountain, and in the Military Museum seeing the car that Franz Ferdinand was in when he was assassinated in 1914, eventually leading to the outbreak of the First World War. I found this fascinating to see.
As a further point of interest it was nice to discover that Vienna supposedly has some of the purest tap water in the world. The water is from the mountains and the infrastructure has been in put in place as such that it is not pumped. The water comes into the city by gravity alone.
Vienna and Bratislava are the two closest capital cities in Europe. The train ride takes approximately one hour with the Slovakian capital located very close to the Western border. I took a guided walking tour around the city, which is much smaller than Vienna and saw most of the main sites, which are predominantly in the Old Town. Napoleon once laid siege to this city but the city did not fall to his control. Many houses were damaged and as a way of compensation to the unfortunate people, it was decreed that anyone whose house has been hit would no longer have to pay tax. Subsequently many citizens sought out stray cannon balls to claim that their buildings too had in fact suffered from hits.
Today Slovakia has one of the lower tax rates in Europe and has also made a concerted effort to lure major car manufacturers to the country, which has been successful. I was told that in order to encourage these companies to relocate, they were offered a tax rate of zero. If tax isn’t for you, perhaps Slovakia is.