Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Most Livable City"

In the 2009 Mercer Report on Quality of Living of cities, Vienna takes the #1 spot. Why it took so long for them to recognize that is beyond me. I reached the same conclusion on my first visit to Vienna almost 15 years ago. At least, they agree with me now.

Enroute to Toronto from Kiev, I stopped in Vienna for a week in April this year. It was my 5th time there, my 2nd time during Easter week, not by design but due to scheduling. This time I had a whole week to explore and chill out. My past trips were weekend getaways or brief stopovers while in that part of the world. (The cozy airport, VIE, happens to be a hub from/to eastern Europe and beyond.)

The city remains the same as in previous times: charming, civil, cultural, cosmopolitan, efficient, uncomplicated, upbeat combining quaint, grand, clean and safe in one adjective. Although there seems to be a lot more tourists, I don't think it has grown in size. It is as civilized as it can get especially when it comes to your wallet. You get more bang for your euro than in other European capitals.

I stayed off downtown at a no name pension near Volkstheatre, about 25 minutes from Stefansplatz, the city center. Except for one time when visiting a family friend, I generally book at Penzion Sacher, a favourite apartment hotel on Rotenturmstrasse, with a great view of Stefansdom, day or night. Yes, operated by a branch of the famous family name as in Hotel Sacher and Sacher torte. (The Sacher family no longer owns Hotel Sacher nor have proprietary rights over the name of the famous cake.)

Staying away from Stefansplatz had its blessings. The downtown core seems to be undergoing a major facelift. The cobblestones on the streets radiating from the Cathedral were getting ripped up, replaced with rectangular concrete blocks. On the Graben, a popular pedestrian mall, construction crew, material and equipment share the landscape with cafes, bistros, espressos, gelatos and hot dog stands. The pictures explain the scene.

I wondered if this is Vienna's version of the stimulus package or Boston's "big dig". But in a place where bitte is the most commonly uttered word, it wasn't so bad going around construction barriers. Just a few bitte this and bitte that.

p.s. I discovered "bitte" in Austria is more than just "please". It can have 1001 uses, all polite.