Twelve Hours in Geneva

Today was my one and only day to see the side of Geneva outside of the CICG, and I was determined to make the best of it.

My Genevese acquaintances say that it’s very cold here, unusually so for this time of year; I joke that it seems warm to me, coming from Canada. But it was cold here today — bone-chillingly, humidly, nose-runningly cold. But there is no snow, and most of the cold goes away when you move out of the wind, and, hell, it’s Geneva, so there are plenty of distractions.

I let myself “sleep in” until 8:00 a.m., forcibly ignoring the fact that it was 3:00 a.m. back at home. After breakfast at the hotel, I walked two blocks over to the far side of the main post office where the Tourist Information Centre is located for the 10:00 a.m. walking tour of the city.

I signed up for the tour mostly to get my bearings — Geneva is a geographically cryptic city to the uninitiated. Not only did I get my bearings, but I got a good overview of European geo-political history over the last millennium to boot. The tour guide — an expat upstate New Yorker with a broad knowledge — guided a young couple from Barcelona and me around the old city, explaining all the way how Geneva came to be a rebel Protestant enclave in a sea of European Catholicism.

Two interesting snippets of new knowledge stuck out: first, the Napoleonic Wars — you’d think I would have heard of them by now! — ended in 1815. Two years later, in 1817, Isaac and Henry Smith sailed for Charlottetown. Our tour guide characterized the post-war period as a time of heavy “wow, that was long, let’s get outta town for chance!” So perhaps this played a role in their decision to head west? Just a guess.

Second, the Red Cross was founded in 1863, and a year later, on August 22, 1864, the First Geneva Convention was concluded. Nine days later, across the street from my house in Prince Edward Island — a world away — the Charlottetown Conference began. Unrelated, of course. But an interesting coincidence of important events.

After our two hour tour through the chilly streets of old Geneva, we parted ways in the middle of Place du Bourg-de-Four and I set off to find lunch.

I tend to run my tourism against the grain — I went to Thailand and never visited the beach, and I’m in Geneva and not going skiing, etc. — do I decided that I would continue to indulge my passion for variations on the falafel theme by grabbing lunch at a small storefront kebab stand, a stand so small it didn’t have a counter, and the customers and the owner and cook just mingled all together. I had a “vegetarian,” which turned out to be a kebab minus the meat (just like Burger King’s old “veggie burger” but a lot tastier) and left sated.

I walked up along the Rue du Marché, by all appearances the main shopping street in the city, to the Pont de la Coulouvrenière where I caught the tram towards the Nations terminus for my next stop, the Museum of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

I knew nothing at the history of the Red Cross, and reasoned that if I was ever going to learn, this would be the right time and place. The museum turned out to be a very worthwhile visit. Although it suffers somewhat from the “overuse of complicated multimedia” problem that afflicts so many museums (in this case, a wildly complicated slide-tape show, perhaps the most complex I’ve ever seen, was the capper), the combination of the audio guide (3 francs extra, and worth it) and the text gave me a solid grounding in Red Cross history. And, indeed, as the Red Cross story picks up once things settled down in Geneva, it also filled in the gaps in my “short course in European events” for the day. Oh, and they have a decent peach flan in the cafeteria, along with a very confusing coffee making system, and very comfortable red chairs.

As “a trip on Lake Geneva” seems to be listed in all of the “must do in Geneva” lists, I decided to walk down from the Museum, around the United Nations, and through the Botanical Gardens to the lakefront for the next stage of my day. Along the way I stopped inside an octagonal greenhouse in the middle of the gardens that was an excellent respite from the cold, and also a fascinating piece of greenhouse architecture, complete with a staircase that lets one walk through the tops of the trees that tower inside.

From the gardens I crossed under the Rue de Lausanne, and started back towards the centre of the city following the network of parks and paths that rings the entire Geneva lakefront. At Perle de Lac, I caught the 4:35 p.m. ferry across the lake to Genéve-Plage. Given the bitter cold, and the fierce winds, the trip across was quite an adventure, with the boat rocking to an extent that would have pushed Catherine, literally, over the edge. From Genéve-Plage, I caught a bus back downtown (all the buses, trams and ferries in the city use the same tickets, good for a certain amount of time, so I just continued on with the same ticket). I got off near Rue du Marché, where I’d left off around noon, did a little last-minute shopping, and then walked over the pedestrian Pont de la Machine towards my hotel.

In a sudden burst of “I can’t call it a day yet,” I caught a quick dinner at a horrible Thai-Chinese takeout place near the train station, and then saw the 6:30 p.m. showing of Mrs. Henderson Presents at the Cinema Central. I quite enjoyed the show and, if nothing else, I was completely cured of my deep dislike for Bob Hoskins. The cinema itself was, like the Cinema Nord-Sud where I saw Match Point earlier in the week, an old school anti-plex with glowing green seats, a balcony, and a no-popcorn policy; again, a perfect settings to watch a movie.

As I type it’s coming on 10:00 p.m., and I’ve got to pack and get to sleep soon, as my easyJet flight leaves at 7:00 a.m., which means I’ve got to get up very early in the morning. If all goes according to plan, it’s Geneva to London to Montreal to Charlottetown tomorrow, arriving home at 1:30 a.m. Geneva time. Which seems like forever from now.

Good-bye Geneva. I’ll be back.


Marian's picture
Marian on February 5, 2006 - 19:34 Permalink

Hi, Peter. Since you’re into travel, I thought you might enjoy these photos of Mexico I put up on my former blog.