It’s not easy being green – except if you’re in Vienna, where it’s hard not to be. I’d heard a lot about the quality of life in Austria’s capital, with Vienna perennially topping Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey due to its low crime rate, excellent public transport and, of course, great swathes of green space. And, after a relatively short (at just under six hours) but extremely pleasant flight from Dubai on Emirates Business Class, I was feeling fresh and ready to discover why Vienna is so highly thought of.
The old city centre was everything I had expected from one of Europe’s imperial stalwarts. As I meandered through – my head tilted back and mouth slightly open in wonder as I marvelled at grand buildings that have stood for centuries – I carelessly wandered out into what I soon found out was one of Vienna’s many cycle paths. “Watch out for bikes!” yelled my guide, Diane, as a rider who was clearly in a hurry flew past, leaving only a gust of wind and an almost inaudible ring on his frankly inadequate warning bell.
That was a close one. Just as close, in fact, as immediately afterwards when I stepped backwards away from the cycle path and was almost flattened by a horse and carriage! From that moment on, “Watch out” became something of a catchphrase for the trip, generally shouted by Diane as each member of my party walked out in front of Vienna’s various modes of transport.
And there were certainly plenty of ways to get around. There was bicycle hire for a bargain one euro (about Dh5) per hour, and my Vienna Card entitled me to three days of free travel on any bus, tram or underground in the city – and loads of discounts on entry to museums, shops and cafés – for about Dh100, so it was easy to see why there were hardly any cars on the road. In my whole time in Austria’s capital, I didn’t see a single traffic jam.
Once I’d got the hang of the cycle paths and realised that I was safer standing in the road than anywhere near them, I began to really enjoy looking around the city. Grand edifices dominated the surprisingly low skyline, each with its own intricate detailing – a carving over the door or a statue on the roof – that told a story of its past.
As dusk fell over Vienna, I was stunned by the beauty of the Imperial Palace, which was lit up against the increasingly gloomy sky. And I’m not the only one who was impressed by the palace. Along with St Stephen’s Cathedral, which is also in the city centre, the Imperial Palace has been recognised in Unesco’sWorld Cultural Heritage List of outstanding monuments of mankind alongside wonders including the Taj Mahal and the GreatWall of China.
The following morning I was up bright and early and, despite there being more than 100 museums in Vienna, I found myself drawn back to the magnificent Imperial Palace, to see if the inside was as spectacular as the outside.
Within the Palace is the Sisi Museum, a celebration of the beautiful and hugely popular Empress Elisabeth (or Sisi, as she was affectionately nicknamed), who was married to Emperor Franz Joseph and, much to the country’s horror, assassinated in 1898. I was transported back in time as I perused the various items of Sisi’s belongings, which were arranged in the same grand, centuries-old rooms where she lived. Many people have drawn parallels between Princess Diana and Sisi and, after learning more about her incredible life, I could see why.
After a quick break for a typical Viennese meal of wiener schnitzel (thin, breaded veal) followed by