A great BA flight over, only about half full. The sun sets orange on our right as the moon rises the same colour on the left. A military jet screams past in the opposite direction well below as an enthusiastic flight attendant tells us about the changes in their roles.

800 miles later we arrive in Vienna (Wien), a small chunk of former Germany with about 2.3 m people, nestled on the Danube, and hemmed in by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. The airport is in the south east and we are in town within 30 minutes. The Hotel Nestroy is clean and smart, and the city is small with a reliable cheap underground. We head immediately to the 1516 sports bar on Schwarzenbergstrasse to watch England beat Spain 1-0 in a football friendly.

The next day we cover a lot of ground. Having seen the Stephenshof Cathedral by night, we view it by day, and admire the impressive interior, complete with enormous stained glass windows. Walking south west takes us to the huge Hofsburg Palace complex, Albertina Platz, through the Burggarten, across the dangerously named Kunsthistoriches Museum area, and over to Rathaus Park. The mood is festive, and we wander around with a mug of Gluwein amongst the pre-Christmas stalls opposite the opera house. Sarah wasn’t impressed with the dumpling in the soup at the Café Landtmann, and the apple strudel is bigger than your head, but I enjoyed the goulash soup.

A late run takes us out to the surreal Hundertwasserhaus project, named after the inspired Austrian architect Friednsreich Hundertwasser. It’s a brilliant and colourful example of how to make social housing charming.

After a long day we stop for beer at Frauenhuber on Himmelfortgasse, where they claim to have had impromptu performances by Handel, Mozart and Beethoven, but not recently. Austrians do tend to live in the past. Dinner opposite is at the excellent Danieli – pizza and pasta with an old world feel.

The next day we head south to Schonbrun, the massive palace used by a range of kings and queens, and Napoleon, amongst others. Much of the garden is being dug up, the statues are covered, and it is cold, but we can still admire the splendour and see through the mist to the enormous summer house on the hill. The zoo contains some brilliant sights: hippos cavorting indoors at the closest range you would ever wish for, two beautiful jaguars (one normal pelage, one black), tigers, arctic wolves arguing over bones, a recently born elephant, red pandas, a lovely old sleeping cheetah, five calm lions enjoying the peace, and much more. It’s good to see such places on calm days, and we round off with a hot chocolate in the charming neo-classical central teahouse.

Heading north takes us over the Danube (Donau) and we walk through Uno City to the Donauturm, or Danube Tower. This is like a Russian housing project, with a dash of Canary Wharf, to arrive at their equivalent of the BT tower in the middle of a park. It appears to be shut, but it’s fully operational, and we speed up to 500 foot to have lunch in the revolving restaurant, with spectacular views of the river and surroundings. One revolution takes 26 minutes.

Dinner is at the splendidly named Zum Weissen Tiger and tonight is Ganzlzeit – goose time. It’s traditional at this time of year so we have goose pate, followed by roast goose and goulash. The final morning it’s a crisp stroll to Prater Park to stare at the Ferris wheel made famous in Harry Lime’s Third Man. It’s mercifully empty which allows a more pleasant experience than if the funfair were packed.

We like Vienna.