It is the 4th most expensive city in the world. It toggles in 2nd and 3rd highest quality of living in the planet. It is the site of more than 200 international organizations including the United Nations, World Health Organization….The list goes on. It is the birthplace of the Geneva Convention….but of course!
H and I were looking forward to stopping in Geneva on our waydown to Northern Italy from the UK. We crossed the English Channel at dawn that morning and drove relentlessly, stopping only for meals and diesel, with the intention of arriving in Geneva before dark.
We entered the city proper on a rush hour, when all employees and students were just about rejoicing in chorus: “Thank God it’s Friday!”. And when it’s your first time in Geneva, driving a left-hand drive British car with no map (except for a GPS system which is stowed away in the car locker), getting squeezed between horn-blowing maniacs who were speeding to get home, being overtaken by one-handed cyclists (because their other hand is monopolized by their mobile phones), the whole thing is tantamount to suicide. Not to mention the road diggings in every corner as if Geneva suddenly decided to undergo a complete facelift.
Everywhere we turned to was traffic at stand still and it was seriously getting dark and we were desperate to find a parking lot. We still didn’t know where the old town is.
Meanwhile, disappointment was slowly building up on me. I haven’t seen a single urban sight of Geneva that would make my jaw drop. I haven’t seen a trace of the lake either. Oh well, we were probably miles away still from the old town where all historic monuments are preserved.
We turned into a quieter road. The sign says “Veyrier”. Great, this must be the exclusive suburbia of Geneva. I could visualize the grandiose villas hiding behind thick matured gardens and ivy-covered gates. Suddenly, more and more cars were cruising the same road. We had to stop every now and then to give way as we were not really sure where to turn and those cars can’t wait to blow their horns if they sense a fumbling driver ahead of them. Humps every few meters are becoming a nuisance making it extremely unpleasant to drive in Geneva’s thoroughfares.
H: That’s it! I’m turning on the Tomtom!
M: It’s about time!
And just as soon as “Catherine” (the GPS system’s female voice) came to life, we held on to everything she said like she was our lifeline to reaching Geneva’s old town, except of course when it was clear that she wanted us to drive through a dug and barriered road that we had to stomp our feet and say “No!”.
Carouge Car Park
We parked in Carouge which is a suburb of Geneva located 2 km away. Reason number 1: We suspected that parking in the city proper is tantamount to giving a blank cheque to the Parking authorities. Reason number 2: Finding a parking space in this most-visited city is almost an impossible task.
Luckily for us, the underground carpark of Carouge was neither of the two. First: The total parking fee if the car stayed till the afternoon the next day would only amount to 5 euros. Second: Being a suburbian square’s carpark which gets vacated after work hours, there was enough space to accommodate a large football field. Hurray! That was a lucky find!
And now, it’s time to hit the Old Town!
“Follow the tracks of the tram. That would lead you to the center of the town. ” Such was the advice of two passersby. We did just that and eventually found ourselves standing at the intersection of Place du Cirque. As we were already starving that moment, the sight of restaurants in the area had us scouring the menu boards but the prices are insane. We probed the streets further and found an Asian restaurant.
This self-service restaurant was packed to the brim. The beehive-of activity, the kitchen is in the center. It’s like Hong Kong has come to Geneva. All the chefs were moving in breakneck speed. Woks flying around and noodles jumping from pot to pot. One takes his order from the counter, take a seat, wait for his number to be called and go collect his order. The whole procedure seems to take only two minutes!
The place was bustling with people of different colours and different nationalities. Of course, we had to remind ourselves that Geneva is an International City. One in 3 residents holds a foreign passport and around 180 countries are represented here. Everybody speaks in different tongues. French, Spanish, Japanese, Americans – it’s like the canteen of the United Nations!
And just as soon as a table is vacated, another set of customers would quickly take over. Who says that restaurants in this time of recession are struggling? The food is actually tasty and each serving is generously filling!
Full and satisfied, we were ready for a night of sightseeing.
I mentioned earlier that I haven’t seen a single sight of Geneva that made my jaw drop. Well, the sign above, seen posted outside a building, had indeed strained me in putting it back!
Infront of an imposing building, we saw a crowd dressed like they are going to attend a gala. Victoria Hall. A classical concert was about to begin. Indeed I noticed earlier, while driving through busy Geneva roads, queues on concert halls or theatre venues were just about everywhere. Geneva is a city of culture.
Victoria Hall, Geneva’s classical concert venue, is home to the world-famous Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
Plaine du PlainPalais
After Victoria Hall, we stumbled upon an avenue of clubs, winebars and more restaurants. Some of these establishments have glass facades so that passersby could see the action inside. One winebar looked like there is a wine-tasting going on, bottles of expensive looking wine lining up the counter. The scene was like the “Who’s Who” page of a Lifestyle magazine where a beautiful crowd chatted and laughed with wineglasses in hand. A club next door was like hosting a cocktail. Same sex groups, mixed groups. Something out of the ordinary caught my attention. Solo men and women just enjoying themselves alone with their glass of wine. Just goes to show that clubbing is generally safe in this city.
Amidst this crowd of cultured yuppies and civilized seniors are the younger set, the students, walking the streets whose idea of a Friday night fun is to scream and yell for no valid reason except, I suspect, to celebrate the end of another school week. Yelling seems to be the practice of the entire adolescent populace of Geneva. We saw them yelling from the window of a passing limousine. In a corner street, we passed by a group of girls yelling at their highest pitch as if they are holding a yelling competition. In the Place du Cirque, we chanced upon two College-age boys cycling and yelling at the same time. It’s probably a Geneva trend, this Friday Night Shouting.
Time to call it a day so we started walking our way back to the carpark. But as usual, without a map and relying only on directional signs to Carouge, we ended up walking endlessly until we could hardly lift a leg. Every hundred meters I had to stop and squat on the pavement to give my stretched-to-the-limit leg muscles a chance to rest. And the farther we walked, the more we saw a mirage of the car park waving at us in the face, but alas, it was just an illusion. To cut a long story short, we wished we had “Catherine” with us that night.
Next day: Saturday
We needed our fix of coffee in the morning and found a café next to the Place du Marche where the Saturday market vendors were just starting to set up their stalls. The lady proprietor was nicely coiffed and well-dressed and always ready with her “Bonjour!” to everyone coming in. She obviously is trying hard to make her place welcoming by providing newspapers and fresh flowers on the table and making it impeccably tidy but I could not warm to the place. Well, literally, because she kept the door open for but it was freezing cold outside, bringing in a wisp of freezing air inside; figuratively, because it is not cozy. If this was France, they would make sure that their café exude charm and character so customers would feel more relaxed, stay longer, order more coffee, thus more money clicking into the cash register.
We ordered coffee and were given each a minute cup of espresso accompanied by a tablet of chocolate and 2 sticks of sugar. Wait. Unless I take a full mug of white coffee in the morning, I can hardly function normally so a miniscule serving of coffee, without sugar, is a big NO-NO anytime before 9am. I asked the Madame for a café crème but she didn’t seem to understand. It’s because they don’t mix coffee with milk in Switzerland, unless it’s an Italian or French café.
“This is not France!”, H reminded me.
Oh well, it tastes good anyway. The tablet of chocolate glorified the taste of the coffee. I asked for a second cup.
So for four espresso cups and two buttered tartine, the bill came to 17CHF (11.23 euros). It’s definitely cheaper in France.
With very limited time and we wanted to see more of Geneva and get to the lake quickly, the tram, we thought, was the best bet. So after a relentless struggle with a machine such as the ticket distributor, we bought an unlimited pass for two people for a day which costs 10CHF.
In reality, we shelled out 20CHF because that is the minimum amount for a cart@bonus.
This is the ticket distributor but we bought our pass from a tabac (cigarette shop) simply because we didn’t have the proper change. Anyway, the pass can be used on trams, buses, trains and boats.
Waiting for the tram
Along the Rhone river
The Jet d’Eau is undoubtedly one of the best sights of all Geneva. It is Europe’s highest fountain at 140 metres. It is visible practically from every point of the city.
Seen from the Paquis Pier
….from our moving boat
….from Pont Noir
Yes, that’s a rainbow!
One of the most photographed spot is The Flower Clock next to the English Garden. It is a masterpiece of technology and floral lart. It changes its flowery landscape every change of season. It is a reminder that Geneva is the birthplace of watch making in Switzerland.
Lake Lehman (or Lake Geneva in English)
At the Promenade of Quai Gustave Ador, we were impressed at the many water sports activities going on: water skiing, paddle boats, sailing.
Then we came upon a bike rubber playground on the beach. It’s the Baby Plage.
To the Old Town
Personalized house number..
A: Bring your own food and eat it on a public bench.
A cabaret in rue de la Fontaine
It’s only a painting!
Rue de la Fontaine
The historic clock at Place Bourg de Four
At the Place Bourg de Four
At a little corner of Place du Bourg de Four is the emaciated statue of Clementine.
Created by Heinz Schwarz (1922-1994) it has come to symbolize the plight of abused children, domestic violence against women, among others.
The Treille Promenade
Another one, the bicycle-go-round
At the Park des Bastions
The Flea Market in Plaine de PlainPalais
Applauding the dancers