Vienna, Austria

We'd already been through Vienna quickly to get the train to Bratislava. We arrived back in Vienna on the Twin City Liner, which travels along the Danube (Donau) river and then the Danube Canal to deliver passengers to Schwedenplatz, which is in the centre of the city. There's a U-Bahn station right there, and a 24-hour VOR ticket, allowing travel on all forms of public transport in central Vienna, cost us only €5.70 each.

Our accommodation was the pleasant Hostel Ruthensteiner, located on Robert-Hamerlinggasse not far from Wien Westbahnhof train station. A three-bed room cost €19 (just over fifteen pounds sterling) per person per night, though the room has only a basin. Shared showers and toilets were just outside the rooms.

photo: Red and yellow parasols mark out an al fresco drinking area outside the green and gold styled Karlsplatz Café. photo: The wood-panelled inside of the Riesenrad gondola is covered in graffiti messages. Mark stares out of the window at the amusement park below. photo: A pale white structure is topped with a large orb constructed of gold-coated leaves.

After wandering about, taking in the grandiose buildings (and the less impressive Euro 2008 Fanzone which was taking up far too large a chunk of Vienna's historical district), we headed to the Prater amusement park and rode Vienna's giant ferris wheel, the Wiener Riesenrad. This ferris wheel has been in the same place since the end of the nineteenth century, and it does show its age. The inside of every gondola on the wheel is covered in graffiti, though this doesn't spoil the view over Vienna as the old wheel creaks and lurches through a revolution.

Another long-standing structure is the Hofburg Imperial Palace, and it costs nothing to wander about admiring the exterior's ornate stonework and green copper statues. I was taken aback while staring at the entrance to the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek) when my friend told me that it was the balcony from which Hitler addressed huge crowds in 1938. All that filled Heroes' Square (Heldenplatz) this time was another large section of the Euro 2008 Fanzone.

Not far from Hofburg Imperial Palace, and more or less the same age, is St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom) in Stephansplatz. Entry to the dimly lit cathedral is free of charge, but if you like city views and want a closer look at the cathedral's elaborately tiled roof, it's worth paying to ascend the north tower. Be warned if you're at all claustrophobic: the lift that carries you to the viewing platform is a small, windowless cylinder that carries only five or six people (lift operator included).

Far brighter is the inside of Karlskirche, a big white church in Karsplatz, though you do have to pay to enter. You can take a glass lift up to a viewing platform (supported by a fairly ugly scaffolding) for a better look at the artwork on the inside of the dome. If you want to peer out of the windows inside the top of the dome you can ascend an ugly scaffold staircase, though I was too exhausted to do so myself. The scaffold carries a sign warning that no more than ten people should be on it at once, though nobody was counting, and it wobbled gently as people went up and down the stairs. Karlskirche is also home to a modest museum of religious items. I wasn't paying much attention at that point, however, as I was too desperate to find a toilet, and Karslkirche makes none available (the nearest is a fee-taking cabin across the square outside). Save the drinks for afterwards.

photo: The roof of Saint Stephen's Cathedral slopes down, beyond is a view of the street far below. The roof is tiled with a pattern of two eagles, wings spread. photo: The scene above the altar of Karlskirche is illuminated brightly, showing a figure carried on a cloud by angels. photo: A large church of white stone walls and engraved pillars, topped with a large dome whose copper has turned a weathered green.

There are plenty of options for drinking in Vienna, though we kept finding ourselves back at a bar called 1516 Brewing Company on Krugerstrasse and Schwarzenbergstrasse. Possibly because it was pleasant to sit outside, and possibly because it is located fairly centrally, being almost equidistant from Stephansplatz, Karlsplatz and the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Finding somewhere to eat proved more difficult as our group comprised a vegetarian, a fussy eater, and someone who demanded a decent dessert. We walked in circles for over an hour, stopping to pore over menus in doorways, rejecting one restaurant after another for either failing to have a vegetarian option, for having nothing plain enough, or for not having desserts. Eventually we settled on 7 Stern Bräu, and were pleased to find it an excellent pub and restaurant. The food went down well, the Wiener Nussauflauf was a tasty dessert, and the beer selection included a hot chilli brew that threatened to bring tears to the eyes of grown men.

If you're a fan of tea with milk, you might want to avoid Café Sperl. The waitress gave one of our group a filthy look when he asked for milk with his tea. If he'd told her she was due to work an extra shift without pay she couldn't have looked at him with greater displeasure. Still, the hot drinks and food were tasty all the same, and the outdoor seating was in a nice spot.

If you're planning a trip to Vienna, consider taking the short trip to Bratislava while you're so close. You can get there by train or boat within about an hour.

Vienna is a great place to visit, full of historic sites, grand architecture, excellent and cheap public transport, and plenty of bars and restaurants. Just don't ask for milk in your tea.