Vienna and Bratislava

Anniversary dinner in Le Loft

We spent three nights in Vienna and celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary there. We stayed in the beautiful new Sofitel and had a stunning corner room one level below the top floor Le Loft Restaurant. A funny thing happened on our first day there. We had been out exploring the old city and were back in our room in the late afternoon. We had bolted the room door and put on the do-no-disturb so we could shower and relax away from the sweltering sun. Without notice a man from the adjacent room barged into ours, having opened two back-to-back doors that connect the rooms. These doors can only be locked by keys held by the hotel staff and we naturally assumed they couldn’t open. We were disrobed at the time and in shock when it happened. He quickly went back to his room after seeing us. I had to call the hotel staff to come and lock the doors between the rooms. This is how the hotel responded: They only billed us for one night of our entire stay; they treated us to an expensive dinner and drinks for our anniversary in the lavish and solidly booked Le Loft restaurant with the best seat in the restaurant with dedicated service. We felt guilty however as part way into our meal a Russian couple was seated at a table behind us. They had booked a view table weeks in advance and they were complaining in English about not getting it. They were given a bottle of wine as an apology and we knew we had their table. They had made room for us that night even though it was full. For the rest of our stay the entire hotel staff greeted us by name and went all out to help us in anyway they could. The General Manager contacted me directly and gave me a run-down on how they were going to modify the locks for the entire hotel to make sure this could not happen again. Our anniversary dinner was exceptional. On top of our aperitifs I had six remarkable glasses of wine paired to the six courses whose highlights included seared foie gras, surprisingly delicious frog legs,St Peters fish with risotto and fresh chanterelle mushrooms, and succulent lamb. It was a night to remember and a gracious gift from the hotel.

Changing of the Guard in Bratislava

On the day of our anniversary we took a boat directly from the edge of Old Town Vienna to Bratislava, Slovakia. It was a fast 75 minute trip down the Danube and we reached speeds of 70 kph. We explored the city by foot and quite enjoyed the old part of town, however there were a couple things I did not like during our visit. I didn’t enjoy seeing a life size poster of the Boston goalie, Tim Thomas, who robbed the Vancouver Canucks of the Stanley Cup. It was posted beside the door to a school we wandered past when we were following the recommended tourist walk. We also climbed up to the castle on the hill and were disappointed with it. It had been in ruins since 1811 and was rebuilt in 1957 but it lacked character and charm. We were also suffering from the intense heat and felt like the climb was not worth it, but it did provide an interesting vantage point to look over the drab, high-density apartment blocks in another part of the city that were built during the communist era. When we made it back into the old town we had lunch at a shaded Belgian Café before going to visit the residence of the President of Slovenia. We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard. We took the train back to Vienna that afternoon. It was a hot ride and we were so happy when we were able to transfer to air-conditioned light rail transit back in Austria. We were pleased with the trip and ready for our special dinner that night.

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

On our last full day in Vienna we rented bicycles to travel between all the city sights. We started by the amusement park and made our way past the monuments and the many city parks and squares. We visited The Belvedere palace and went inside to admire the masterpieces on display. As we made our way through the city we struggled a bit with the bike paths. They had unexpected detours to avoid busy road sections, and disappeared in places forcing you to ride with traffic. We had very friendly help from a local to get us back on track while we were studying our map at one point.  There a few things I should comment on about our bike trip. At the start of the day there were ridiculous winds that gusted so strongly we felt like we would be knocked over. Many of the city parks do not allow bicycles to be ridden in them, which was really annoying. When we walked our bikes through a number of the parks we discovered they were closed due to the severe winds earlier in the morning. After seeing the major landmarks and returning the bikes we took a train out to Schonbrunn Palace. It has one of the largest and most attractive grounds of any in Europe. We did the long walk across the length of it. In the evening we ate in the old town at a recommended modern restaurant tucked away in a tiny square. It was one of the best steaks I have ever had.

Bratislava was well worth the visit and is easily done as a day trip.Vienna is enormous and has so many things to see and do you need plenty of time there to give it justice. It is ranked up withVancouver in the short-list of most liveable cities. It is overflowing with culture and has all the benefits of major cities like New York and Paris, but with fewer problems. It is very safe, however it does lack natural beauty. The imported beaches established all along the Danube Canal are popular, but comical at the same time. They are all set away from the water with about 5 meters of pavement between the two. Their outdoor swimming pool in the canal is a good concept, but it accentuates the dirtiness of the Danube. This aside, it is one of the great cities of the world.

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