There are few more satisfying components of travel than the European cafe. It is artfully synchronous with the seasons: after the first tentative outings of spring, the tables sprawl across the boulevards all summer long before being wafted away by the autumn. Then, as the year slides into the gloom of November, the cafe interior comes into its own as an all-embracing den of humanity.
Each cafe contains its own complex society. Smart addresses in Paris are strictly stratified: your position on the terrasse, in the salle or at the comptoir defines you as a first, executive or economy-class tourist. Across in the former Eastern Bloc, many cafes remain fervently and endearingly egalitarian. At these strongholds for the working man and woman, your Pilsner arrives accompanied by philosophy.
Where, though, is Europe's repository of cafe chic? Austria, France, Spain and Italy can each make a forceful claim to the title. Every traveller has his favourite venue; my ideal retreat is parked on the most prominent street corner of one of the great nodes of Europe.
Winston Churchill cited Trieste as the southern terminus of the Iron Curtain. This nominally Italian city is thoroughbred Austro-Hungarian, and lies pinioned against the Adriatic by Slovenia. So you get a good mix of people at the Caffe San Marco.
Every customer makes a theatrical entrance through a doorway that doubles as a proscenium arch, and becomes part of the drama played out at the Pinteresque pace of the creakiest old waiter.
Heavy tables, stained to a uniform shade of mahogany, are guarded by stern, high-backed chairs that glare across the polished floor at a bloated leather Ottoman.
The furnishings are upstaged by the well stocked bar, whose shelves support a global binge of bottles in all manner of alarming shapes and shades.
The players are equally heterogenous - in age, appearance and gender. Giggling students slurp drinks in primary colours; men with faces as creased as croissants play out their final moves on a chessboard. When the ensemble is multiplied to infinity by a platoon of tall mirrors, you feel as if the whole of Europe has converged on a Trieste street corner.
In the European network of cafe connections, Trieste is closely linked with Vienna and Venice - the first two venues on offer as prizes in our competition. A weekend for two in one of these cities - or Paris, or Madrid - can be yours in return for answering three questions and adding a zesty tie-break.
The Cafe Creme Guide to the Cafes of Europe 1998 is a glossy new guidebook that takes you on a cafe tour around the Continent from Bath to Berlin. The writers adopt the same policy as the travel pages of The Independent: the guide is independent in its editorial selection, and does not accept free hospitality from any cafe mentioned. So The Independent is pleased to launch, in association with The Cafe Creme Guide, a competition that could win you a weekend break in one of the great cafe societies of Europe.
Today and for each of the next three Saturdays, we will be offering a great weekend for two. You will receive a return flight from London (Eurostar in the case of Paris); transfers to a three-star hotel for two nights' bed-and-breakfast accommodation; pounds 100 spending money; and a copy of The Cafe Creme Guide. Twenty-five runners-up will each receive a copy of the book, which retails at pounds 12.99. If you are unlucky this time around, you can buy a copy at a special price of pounds 9.99, including postage and packing; just call our hotline on 01582 842112.
Today's destination is Vienna; the next two venues will be Venice and Paris Just answer these questions, complete the tie-break and send your entry to Vienna, Cafe Creme Guide to the Cafes of Europe Competition, PO Box 4013, London E14 5DE. You may enter each of the subsequent competitions if you wish.
Usual Independent Newspapers plc rules apply. The Editor's decision is final.
1. Sachertorte, as calorie-laden as cake can be, is a speciality of the Cafe Sacher. In this context, is Sacher: (a) The name of the 16-year- old apprentice who created the dish for Prinz Metternich; (b) The owner's pet poodle; (c) The nickname given by the Viennese to the schmaltzier works of Mozart.
2. Is Nockerln: (a) The feared 6ft-6in striker for Rapid Vienna FC; (b) A kind of pastry; (c) That rather twee suburb of Vienna on the road out to Linz.
3. A regular television programme is filmed in Haus Haus, the bar overlooking St Stephan's cathedral. Is it: (a) The Austrian version of Can't Cook, Won't Cook; (b) Blau Peter; (c) A political programme.
Tie-break: in 20 words or fewer, describe the dreamiest cake you have ever eaten in a cafe.Reuse content