Vienna, a city in North-Eastern Austria, relatively close to the Danube River. Currently, the capital of Austria, formerly the capital of Austro-Hungarian Empire, formerly yet the capital of Austrian Empire (same territory as Austro-Hungarian Empire but quite different politically).

Called Wien in German, its English name, Vienna, comes from Latin Vindobona.

For the capital of a fairly small country of about 8 million people, Vienna is huge. Vienna alone is the home to about 2 million people. Yes, that means that about one fourth of Austrians live in Vienna!

Of course, it used to be the capital of a huge Empire, that is why the city is so big.

If you plan to spend some time in Vienna, make sure to buy a weekly (or monthly) pass which will let you use all public transportation at no additional charge. Trust me, you will get lost a couple of times, and you do not want to deal with buying individual tickets.

I grew up in Bratislava, a cite only some 35 miles from Vienna, yet I visited Vienna for the first time when I was in High School. Not because I was not interested--I certainly was--but because there was thing called the Iron Curtain that was in the way.

Anyway, I was 16 or so, and stopped in Vienna on my trip to Naples, Italy (Napoli). My father was my guide. Two things were immediately obvious: My father had been to Vienna many times before, and, Vienna had not changed much over the few decades my father could not go there.

Yes, my father showed me the most important and most interesting and most historical parts of Vienna. And I? I was extremely disappointed. I expected one of the seven wonders. But I had been to Prague so many times before, and after Prague Vienna was a disappointment.

Now don't get me wrong! There is a lot to see in Vienna. I certainly learned that many years later when I actually lived in Vienna (mostly from September 1979 to March 1980, but I technically stayed a resident of Vienna for several years during my studies in Rome, and went back to Vienna several times).

I was also not a teen-ager anymore.

At any rate, if you visit Vienna, the first thing you want to do is buy a city map. A good city map! (And the weekly pass I mentioned before).

You want to open the map, and find a big circle in the middle. This is the "downtown" to use an American term, or the historical center to use a more appropriate European term.

Anything inside that circle is fascinating and gorgeous. Anything in there also is within the walking distance from anything else inside the circle.

Try to spend as much time inside the circle as you can. Keep track of where you are and how to get back from where you started (use that map!). As long as you do that, roam freely, and forget your tour guides!

At the very center of the center is St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephans Dom, in German). If you get lost and have no map (in which case you ought to be ashamed), chances are you can find the way (or ask someone) back to Stephans Dom.

Very near the cathedral is Kärtnerstraße, a pedestrians-only street, a very popular place for the Viennese to take a stroll. Chances are you will see several musicians playing, with people throwing money into their hat, or guitar case, or whatever is suitable.

Within the center, you will find a number of antiques stores. One next to another, street next to a street, all filled with antique furniture, and nary a customer inside. I never understood how they could afford to keep those places open.

As you walk through the center, you will find several caffes, which serve Viennese coffee, and absolutely delicious desserts. Try ordering a slice of Sacher Torte a special pie invented in Vienna. A word of warning, however: If you are an American, expect never to enjoy any pastries back home for the rest of your life. Not after eating what they serve in Vienna.

There are many important tourist places outside the circle, such as the Schönbrunn (the Imperial Gardens), Belvedere (smaller Imperial Gardens), and the world famous Prater. To get to any of those, you'll need to take the subway (your weekly pass will be good for that).

Anyway, Prater is, in my opinion, highly overrated. The Imperial Gardens are well worth the visit. Another place often visited is a tower by the Danube. It is a high tower with a view of Vienna. Well, sort of. It is actually pretty far from the city. The Danube River actually splits into two before Vienna, and reunites after (I think it is a man-made split, if I remember correctly after all this time). Only a small piece of Danube gets into the city, but the "real thing" is outside the city. I suggest you visit the tower only if you are spendingconsiderible time in Vienna, otherwise there are more interesting places to visit.

But, whatever you do, try to spend most of your time in the center, free of any tour guides. Only then will you appreciate Vienna!