My wife and I have just arrived back from our summer trip to Central Europe, taking in Bratislava and Vienna via the Danube. We have developed a bit of a love affair with this part of the world over the past few years, having visited the Czech Republic, Croatia and Bosnia, Hungary and Switzerland. This latest sojourn was every bit as enjoyable.
It was a tale of two cities really. Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, is a much smaller and humbler capital than say Prague or Budapest - and certainly less so than Vienna.
Prior to arrival, we had read some poor reviews about Bratislava as a cityscape, focusing on the concrete legacy of Soviet Union dominance when it found itself forcibly named as the Slovak Socialist Republic and locked into a federal union with the Czech Socialist Republic. Since 1993, Slovakia has been an independent liberal democratic republic, largely in the mould of its Western European neighbours, and a member of the European Union since 2004. In turn, it has invested heavily in restoring its 'Old Town' - its cultural heart - on the one hand and and its commercial districts on the other.
We loved the city as a whole and were we to consider moving to Europe for work, we both said we would not discount it as an option. Yes, there is clearly a legacy the country is still dealing with but there was also a entrepreneurial and creative spirit in the city - summed up, for us at least, by its Danubiana project (we are not modern art fans but this was a great way of doing modern art for the non-believers).
Vienna on the other hand has all the pomp (and more) of a former imperial capital, having been the centre of the Habsburg dominion and a centre of the Holy Roman Empire. We were quite taken aback with Vienna, just at the sheer number and scale of palaces, cathedrals, theatres and so on. Indeed, we became a little weary on a second day of sightseeing and made efforts to explore the different sides to Viennese city life - taking in the Therme Wien spa area, the Vienna Hills (including Kahlenberg, a key point in Vienna's defence during the second siege by the Ottoman Caliphate) and the traditional market areas slightly out of city centre.
We went to Bratislava and Vienna for a break, so I will refrain from slipping into any political or religious meanderings - but suffice to say we were enriched by more than just sunshine and good food from these visits to our European neighbours.