An Idyllic Summer in Geneva, Switzerland
La suisse n’existe pas. (Switzerland doesn’t exist.) That was how Switzerland introduced themselves at the World Exposition in Seville in 1992. Of course, Switzerland does exist as a country, and is known for its diversity—citizens speak either French, German, Italian or Romansh. Aside from being a business hub for banking and finance, the country prides itself for its cheese, chocolates, and clocks, and I couldn’t wait to soak up the culture and beauty of the land.
From the plane, I was greeted by the huge expanse of Lac Léman and the numerous peaks of the Alps and Jura mountains that bookend the city. When I finally landed, I could almost make out the frosty cap of Mont Blanc, which was such a visual treat to start one’s day. As the taxi weaved through the city to take me to my apartment, I feasted my eyes on the 18th-century Italian architecture in Carouge, the 11th-century medieval architecture of Old Town Geneva and the Jet d’Eau in the middle of the lake.
Like John Keats once wrote in a letter to family and friends in 1819, “I should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva, and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.” Indeed, Geneva carries with it a certain charm and a sense of tranquility that compels you to idle the day away.
Play a game of chess at the Parc du Bastion
As I wandered around the city, I found myself at Parc du Bastion, and was surrounded by bright yellow sunflowers in full bloom with bees buzzing around them excitedly. It was midday, and many people were taking a stroll in the park and chatting with friends. I soon discovered that they were students of Université de Genevè, located within the park. There was also the Reformation Wall filled with larger-than-life majestic carvings of the major events and figures of the Protestant Reformation. As I made my way to the other end of the park, I saw giant chess boards, and stopped to watch the players make their moves with intense concentration. Although my French was elementary at best, chess as a game unites people universally.
It’s hard to miss the jet of water shooting out from Lac Léman. Known as the Jet d’Eau, it is the most iconic landmark of the Geneva. According to my new friend, Liz, the water jet was originally built in 1886 to control and release the excess pressure of a hydraulic plant at La Coulouvrenière. However, it soon became recognised as a symbol of strength and was moved to the centre of the lake. The water jet is extremely powerful, pumping 500 litres of water per second to a height of 140 metres.
To catch a better view of the jet, Liz recommended going to the Bains des Pâquis, an artificial peninsula perfect for sunbathing in the summer, and equipped with hammams and saunas to keep you warm in winter. Admission is CHF2 for adults and they open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer. Alternatively, you can always catch the mouettes, or the yellow taxi boats that shuttle between 4 harbours in the city, to get up close and personal with the Jet d’Eau.
Natural History Museum of Geneva
When the people in Geneva say they are going to the museum, what they mean is that they are going to the Natural History Museum of Geneva. As you enter the exhibits on the second floor, the sounds of animals and rustling leaves transport you immediately into your own private safari. The top floor is dedicated to geosciences, astronomy and the evolution of man. It also hosts moonstones donated by NASA. Keep your eyes peeled for Janus, the two-headed turtle that is the pride of the museum.
Plainpalais Flea Market
After picking the freshest fruits from the Saturday Farmer’s Market, I headed to Plainpalais to check out the Flea Market. The place was filled to the brim with old knick-knacks and the chatter of people. I found a stall selling artefacts from the Second World War out from a car boot, another selling faded and yellowed photos of people. You can find a good leather jacket going at CHF20 or a rusty bird cage perfect for your living room at just CHF40. “Ça coûte combien?” is a handy phrase to ensure a warm reception from the owner and perhaps a discount or two.
The Plainpalais Flea Market runs every Wednesday and Saturday. Do arrive early to avoid disappointment as university students and young locals alike flock there to suss out the best deals early. It is also near the Patek Philippe Museum and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Both are worth a visit after a morning of bargaining at the flea market.
CERN is probably best known for its cameo in Ron Howard’s Angels and Demons, where antimatter was stolen by the Illuminati from its secret laboratory. The European Centre of Nuclear Research is the biggest and most sophisticated physical research centre in the world built and operated by the joint efforts of 21 member countries post-WWII. It is also the birthplace of the World Wide Web. On your visit, be prepared to be wowed by their Large Hadron Collider that has a 27-kilometre ring of superconductor magnets. Although you can only view the machine through a 3D movie due to safety reasons, visitors can go underground to see it in the flesh from June 2018 onwards. The machine studies the collision of particles that may help scientists understand more about the existence of mankind.
Guided tours in English are available at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. from Mondays to Saturdays. They are free and last for about two hours, so book online ahead of time.
United Nations Office at Geneva
The highlight of my trip was the United Nations Office. The building, named Palais des Nations, has been home to the United Nations since 1966. It was built during the aftermath of the First World War to house the then-League of Nations to prevent another world war from happening. However, it was terminated and replaced by the United Nations after the Second World War. The building still bears the logo of the League of Nations on the iron-wrought gates guarding some of the rooms. Inside, I got to visit the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room, the Salle des Pas Perdue, The Assembly Hall and The Council Chamber. Although I did not manage to catch any conferences or meetings conducted on our tour, the grandeur and serenity of the place would leave anyone in awe.
If you have additional time before your tour starts, consider heading across the street to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum to view their permanent exhibition titled “The Humanitarian Adventure”, and learn more about their movement. Admission is CHF15 for adults and it includes an audio guide and a pass to their temporary exhibition.