Geneva, Switzerland is interesting. I flew back to England from there yesterday, and was surprised at just how boring England is. When I got out of the plane at the airport in Geneva, the first thing that hit me was the heat, although I am reliably informed that it is freezing in the winter, the temperature was in fact 35 degrees Celsius, which is hot, (well, it was to me, I live in England remember).
The first thing to do when you arrive in Geneva is to get to your hotel or hostel, or in my case, flat. No matter how tempting it may be, do not rent a car unless you intend to travel around Switzerland and France a lot. If you are in Geneva, the public transport is the best way to get around. To get to your hotel, first get two maps, one, a map that shows the location of your residence, and two, a bus map. Work out where the nearest stop to your accommodation is (it will not be more than 200 yards) and make a note of the name, (my stop was Servette), you will be using it a lot. Now look for Cornavin, all busses go through here and so it’s your best bet for a first stop. Now, go outside and buy your bus ticket. If you plan to move a round a lot buy an all day pass for two zones (6SFr which is around £3 or $4) if not buy a half hour pass for two zones. Now get on the bus.
The public transport system in Geneva is incredibly efficient. Every few hundred yards there is a bus stop, or tram station. At each of these there is a ticket machine, the tickets are very cheap, unlike the rest of Geneva, and you can buy them to suit your needs. Geneva is divided into two transport zones, with several zones outside it. Therefore you can buy tickets for one, two or all, zones. You can also buy tickets by time, half an hour, an hour, two hours and all day.
Tickets are checked only very occasional
ly, (in one week of staying there, mine were never checked), but if you are caught you are fined sixty Swiss francs
, and humiliate
d in front of everyone of the bus. This means everyone buys a ticket
, and the system works perfectly.
Be warned, bus
ses and trams will not wait more than a few second
s for you, and even though there is a bus almost every five minutes to anywhere, it’s best not to be caught unaware
s. Once on the busses, (of which some are articulated
) you cans it or stand wherever you like, but the busses accelerate very fast and so if you stand, be sure to hold on.
Once you arrive at your destination, unpack, take a shower, relax etc. Then go out. Find a supermarket and buy some basic food. Eating out in Geneva is expensive and is not recommended for day-to-day sustenance. If your hotel provides meals with your room, lucky you. Otherwise, buy enough food to keep you going. If you do decide to eat out, however, there are literally café’s everywhere, serving anything from sushi to fries (there are six McDonalds in Geneva).
, (or “Bert’s with a Y
,” as we called it), was one place where I tended to eat, since it is fairly cheap. It is a sort of fast food place with a slightly less greasy
feeling, they generally have sport
s on too, and they serve a delicious feta
The other place, which you must try, is the Manori. This restaurant is basically a huge hall, with about seven tables piled high with every form of food imaginable. There is one table full of different salads, another for pasta, another where they prepare a custom pizza for you, another where they prepare a custom omelette for you, one of ice cream, one of fruit and one stir fry. All you do is select a plate size, small medium or large and pile it as high as you can. If you are good with architecture, you can get a very good, very cheap meal out of it, if you’re not so good, odds are you will have to pay for a slightly bigger plate. Either way, the food is excellent.
There is lots to do in Geneva, and there are plenty of web sites documenting it, I recommend
the Geneva guide, (www.geneva-guide.ch), which recommends many places to visit, and what to do when you see them. However I must touch on a few un-missable sites.
The first is the fountain, take a bus down to the lake, or walk from Cornavin, and wander around the right hand side. Around half a kilometre around, you will come to a causeway, or jetty-like structure about a meter to a metre and a half wide, and made of stone. If the wind is under 8mph, and you look across this jetty, you will see the fountain. It is forty metres high, and quite spectacular. Now, walk along the jetty, you will feel spray, and, depending on which way the wind is blowing, you might be able to stay reasonably dry. However, the wind can change suddenly, and it is not uncommon for unsuspecting tourist to suddenly be caught in a deluge of water. Of course, if it’s a hot day, and you aren’t wearing anything expensive, this might be welcome.
Another thing to do is take a boat trip out on the lake. It costs between ten and forty Swiss francs, depending on what boat you go on, and is quite interesting. Of course, you could always rent your own boat or peddleo
. (if you get a peddleo, try to get one with a slide
on the back, it’s more fun like that, and, on a hot day, they lake is heavenly.
For the Christians amongst us, I recommend the Church of the Living Saviour, which is a Congregationalist church near Servette. It is as multinational as the rest of the city, and is run by a very enthusiastic pastor named Mike, who will, if you ask him, tell you some quite incredible stories. The choir is very happy-clappy, and they encourage everyone to dance and sing and “get loose.” The reason I mention it is not because I’m at all religious, (too cynical really), but because it was a member of the church that gave me a place to stay when my hostel was double booked. (Her name is Vince and she plays the guitar, so, say hi if you see her. She also has a very sarcastic cat named Keelah.)
If you get a chance, take a bus up to the Palaix De Nations, which is the headquarters for the United Nations in Geneva. Guided tours are given if you ask, and it really is worth seeing. Many of the walls are covered with beautiful works of art, and the buildings themselves are impressive. There is also the Palaix Wilson, which is the Head Quarters for the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and hosts the Working groups on contemporary forms of slavery, torture, unlawful detention, and women’s rights. However, I am not sure whether or not it is open to the general public.
Finally, you must take a bus to the French border and ride up the mountains in a cable car. You are around a kilometre above sea level, and your ears will pop on the way up and down, but the views are spectacular. You can also take paragliding lessons, or pay to go tandem. It is quite exhilarating to be floating so high off a steep mountain, scary though. There is also the mandatory, ridiculously expensive, restaurant at the top, but it is built in such a way, that when you look out of the window, you feel as if you are floating in mid air.
Despite what other sources say, Geneva does have a nightlife, the pubs and clubs stay open until five in the morning on normal days. If you don’t speak much French, or have trouble with it when drunk, Mr Pickwicks is an English pub-like-bar, run by some Australian men. The beer is expensive (twice as much as in the UK) but the wine is cheap. (This may be because one of our party snogged the barman, we can’t be sure.) As for clubs, the best one is reportedly Shaker’s, but, having never been there, I can’t tell you anything more about it. The club I went to’s name I never knew. It cost twenty Swiss francs to get in, including one free drink. A little advice is to make your drink last. I paid twenty-three Swiss francs for a Jack Daniels and Coke!
As for gift shops, there are three kinds, the Toblerones, the watches, and the Swiss Army Knives. These may be scattered with cuckoo clocks and cows. The Toblerones come in sizes ranging from 50g to 4.5kg, I was going to buy a 4.5kg one, but that would have taken my hand luggage over the edge. Watches are popular, if expensive. There is also the entire range of knives available, and suitable for any conceivable purpose. However, as with everything else, these are very expensive.
Geneva is situated on Lake Geneva, and is surrounded by French Mountain Ranges. On a clear day you can see Mount Blanc, the highest peak in western Europe. The mountains are stunning, and it’s quite an odd feeling to look across the shining, blue lake at their snowy peaks, that would look unrealistic on a postcard. Surroundings-wise, Geneva is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
As a town or city, Geneva is impressive. Although not as built up as the big American metropolises, almost no building in Geneva is below four stories. The architecture ranges from old medieval buildings, with beautiful gothic architecture, to the bland, sixties style, architecture with square, boring, high-rise blocks, to ornate structures decorated with modern looking sculptures. There is also the gold-domed orthodox Russian church, which is truly stunning.
Walking around, the lack of litter on the streets is quite amazing since people there are generally law abiding (aside from a riot or two), but there is a lot of Anti Bush/War/Establishment/People/Politics/Globalisation/Everything graffiti, in a variety in of languages and scripts (Arabic graffiti is impressive).
The people in Geneva are friendly, not just polite, forced, English-style friendly, but genuine, nice, kind, helpful, friendly. The number of nationalities is astounding, it is a common sight to see people walking down the street wearing Indian, or African clothes, and there are any numbers of languages spoken, although French is dominant. It is impossible to describe just how multi-national Geneva is, but the statistics show that only 40% of the people there are in fact Swiss. This is backed up by the huge numbers of hotels.
Property is expensive in Geneva, (a small house costs in the range of one to five million Swiss francs,) and so most people live in rented apartments. The rent is usually about five hundred to two thousand Swiss francs a month, but the apartments are generally nice enough, although they do have very little storage space, and parking is extra. If you want to just stay in a hotel, you had better be prepared to pay anything from one hundred Swiss francs a night to two thousand.
If you do go to Geneva, and if you get a chance, you should. Bring plenty of money
, or plenty of food. There is a lot to see and do
, but it does tend to lighten your wallet. This is a truly multicultural city, with one hell of a lot of charm. (At least, I think so).