Mont-PÃ¨lerin, Switzerland: The Country Manor & The Cable Car (1st of 6 parts)
Vevey, Switzerland: The Old Town, A Great Big Fork, & Charlie Chaplin (2nd of 6 Parts)
Vevey, Switzerland: The Market & The Museum ”“ 2 Photo Essays (3rd of 6 Parts)
Lausanne, Switzerland: Up The Hills & Fondue for Two (4th of 6 parts)
Geneva, Switzerland: The Smallest Big City In Europe (5th of 6 parts)
Fondue x Four: Food in Switzerland (Last of 6 parts)
Contrary to what others believe, Geneva is not the capital of Switzerland (it’s Bern). Geneva is also very small, a mere 282 km2 of enclosed land sharing almost its entire border with France. Considered the central crossroads of Western Europe, Geneva is only an hour by plane to Paris or Milan and less than two hours from London, Rome or Madrid.
While other Swiss cities like Zurich and Basel outnumber Geneva in population (roughly 450,000 in the Canton of Geneva), Geneva ranks first with its number of foreign people within its population: around 45% are foreigners representing nearly 180 nationalities. Over the centuries, these waves of refugees brought their skills and made Geneva a world capital of watch making, printing, and textile manufacturing. This international city is also the European headquarters of the United Nations (UN) and is the birthplace of the International Red Cross. It’s no wonder Geneva is known as “the smallest big city in Europe.”
An hour-long train ride from Vevey brings my Bin and me to Lausanne. The energy in this city is palpable, definitely more fast-paced than any other city I’ve been to on this trip. It’s exciting!
Leaving the la gare (train station) we come upon Rue du Mont Blanc, a long street lined with cafés and shops, most of them selling specialized Swiss souvenirs such as pocket knives, fondue pots, and cow mugs.
I squeal when I catch sight of the Jet d’Eau, Europe’s tallest fountain and considered the emblem of Geneva. It takes two powerful groups of motor pumps weighing a total of 16 tons to shoot water up 137 meters (450 feet) at a speed of 200 km/h (130 miles per hour). A lot of numbers there but it serves to bring home the awesomeness this sight inspires, even from afar.
Strolling along the bridge across Lake Geneva leading to the City Center, there’s a striking formation of buildings ”“ soldiers situated shoulder to shoulder ”“ authoritatively announcing the names of some of the most prestigious watch brands in the world. There’s no doubt we’re in the watch making capital.
I look down at the lake and am tickled to see two sleeping ducks, their heads tucked into the “crook” of their wings. In the middle is another duck, wide-awake, standing guard over his dozing companions. I must take a picture.
Geneva is a paradise for chocolate lovers. Even a trip to the supermarket reveals an astounding array of sweets, but there are also chocolate specialty shops that are an experience in themselves. One we come across is Teuscher, a family business using recipes passed down through the generations. It’s a store that’s renowned for its truffles, most especially the champagne ones.
The store in itself is a sight to behold. Like some kind of Aladdin’s cave of treasures, it’s a sensory overload of flowers in delicate pastel colors hanging like trellises with accents of deep red contributed by the Valentine hearts. I’m told that the décor changes per season, up to five times a year. The sales-keeper is kind enough to let me take these photos and she hands me a free truffle too, one with a liqueur filling. “You’re going to have to buy something here,” my Bin whispers. And I do, walking out with a few chocolate bars and some truffles.
Geneva’s City Center extends from the banking district to Eaux Vives which make up the parallel streets of Rue de Rhone, Rue de Marche, and Rue de Rhive farther on down. These are Geneva’s famous shopping points filled with designer boutiques and of course, watch stores. (No wonder there are so many banks in the area). A train that runs on electricity glides noiselessly through the center of the street, sharing space and all around us, the buildings’ and structures’ faÃ§ades echo their glorious pasts.
This is the Place Neuve (above), a square that’s the artistic heart of Geneva and home to the city’s oldest and grandest performance and exhibition halls. Off to the distance in the photo above is a statue of a man on horseback, General Guillaume-Henri Dufour (1787-1875), an 18th century multi-hyphenate: general-engineer-university professor-and-editor of the most complete map of the mountains of Switzerland. And I thought multi-taskers were a “new” product of the 20th century!
Right across the Place Neuve is the Parc de Bastions, a former botanical garden turned into a promenade embellished with fountains, monuments, and statues. Over-hanging trees provide a canopy of sorts, blessing us with their shade. Attractions of the park are the life-sized chessboards with equally formidable playing pieces. My Bin and I watch as players actually lug/push the heavy things. It can really be quite an intense game as seen from the seriousness of the two players above.
We pay reverence to the Reformation Wall along the old city wall also inside the park. The Wall was erected in 1909 in celebration of the four leaders of the Reformation in Geneva: Guillaume Farel, Jean Calvin, Théodore de Béze, and John Knox. As we gaze at the monument, some mischievous boy is climbing up onto it, making his way to the top. When he gets there, he stands and grins: an ant among giants.
Right across the Reformation Wall is The Academy, which was founded by Jean Calvin in the 16th century. Now a university, it cuts a striking figure of an imposing pink (!) building embellished with cut stone.
I pant heavily as my Bin and I “climb” our way to the Old Town (Vieille Ville), set on elevated ground. Below, the Parc de Bastions has become a speck on the landscape. Bursting with ambience, the Old Town is full of narrow, cobble-stoned streets lined with historic limestone houses. There’s a feel of stepping back in time. The area clusters around the Place du Bourg-de-Four and the Cathédrale St-Pierre.
The Place du Bourg-de-Four (above) reminds me of Paris, with its open square graced by an 18th century fountain and 16th century houses standing side by side with art galleries, antique shops, and plenty of cafés, some of which even serve tempting chocolat chaud (hot chocolate)!
This is the Cathédrale St-Pierre, Geneva’s oldest and magnificent architectural gem. Built over a span of 70 years beginning in 1160, it’s a confluence of styles from early Romanesque (groin-vaulted naves) to somewhat clashing Neo-Classical (towering columns, symmetrical silhouettes).
The woman at the Geneva Tourisme Office urged us to see the relief map in the Maison Tavel, right here in the Old Town. “If you can spare just ten minutes of your life, you won’t regret it!” She gushed in her charming French accent. Though we aren’t museum people, my Bin and I are here at the Maison Tavel, built by the family Tavel in the 12th century. It’s now Geneva’s oldest private house and has, since 1986, housed the Museum of Old Geneva, which depicts through artifacts the history and daily life of the “Genevois” from the 14th-19th centuries.
The relief map ”“ I don’t know if it’s the world’s largest, but it’s certainly Switzerland’s biggest ”“ is everything the woman at the tourism office said it would be. Depicting Geneva when it was a walled city in 1850, the map is impressive not just because of its sheer size but also because of the detail it comprises. My Bin and I, stunned into silence, run around the width of the map trying to view it from different angles. It’s stupendous, no matter how we look at it.