Its so rad being in a place for more than a couple of days, so much so that we have been spending as much time out as possible… resulting in a definite relaxation of the need to blog… but for you guys, anything!!
Geneva has been super relaxed, after our incroyable (in a French accent please) adventure to the wine country on Saturday we spent a couple of hours exploring the North side of the lake. Walking down the promenade to the gardens bordering the United Nations HQ, we watched the Geneve locals make the most of the beautiful weather. There were barbeques (it’s not a braai when its not in SA) on the go in the park, people tanning on the pier, and even a roller skate party with music and beer, oh yes, the pink panther and superman had even made an appearance! We finished Saturday off with drinks and snacks on the Bain de Paquis pier at sunset. Sunday was much the same, we took a walk down to visit the Jet d’eau, a jet of water in the middle of the lake reaching up to 115m into the sky, and on the way back we joined a great party on the pier where everyone was having a grand old time.
Since then we have been sleeping in, spending the afternoons sightseeing and the evenings hopping from restaurant to bar and getting to bed after midnight. Geneva is an interesting city, there is definitely a work culture, but only during the week…on the weekends, Genevians spend their time on the promenade, tanning in the park, and eating out in cafes all over the city. At least when it’s sunny, when it’s raining and cold like now, they disappear into cafes and restaurants and close the doors
Geneva’s history stretches back many centuries when Geneva was a centre of early Protestant reformation (a self-expulsion from the doctrines of Catholicism), Jean Calvin who lived in Geneva was a major motivator of this movement. In order to protect themselves from attack by the Catholic church who wanted to re-reform Geneva to Catholicism, they built monstrous walls and trenches around the city and barricaded themselves in (an unbelievably detailed model was built showing what the city looked like in the 1880’s and it stands on the 3rd floor of the Maison Tavel in the Old Town). The city was originally built around one end of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and served as the most strategic and defensible location from Medieval times (Thanks to T for explaining all of this to me!). Obviously, when times changed and the city began to grow, a brave town planner suggested that it was time to demolish the walls and build out into the countryside. Eventually, this is what they did, and there lies the distinction between what Genevians call the Old Town and…what they don’t! You can still see some places where the wall once stood. In fact, some years back when developers tried to dig underground to build an underground parking garage, they came across the ruins of a small part of the wall. So they stopped building and excavated as much as they could, and there it still stands today, modern parking garage on one side and centuries old wall on the other.
Whilst exploring in the old town we found, thanks to T’s dad Trevor, that there are so many hidden parts to Geneva that you would never find on your own. There are secret pathways, gated up for your own safety, that were used by the monks and also some used by soldiers to escape the enemy. Once a year, on the closest Sunday to the 11th of December (the original day of “L’escalade”) I am told, they open up the gates and let the people explore the city and see Geneva from a different side. Also in the old town is the Cathedral St. Pierre which is beautifully old and full of character, going up to the top towers we found the most spectacular views not only of Geneva but also of the mountains in France! However, beneath the church lies an even more spectacular find, an archeological site displaying 10 centuries worth of ruins that have been built upon over and over again. The museum, worth the entrance of about CHF8, gives a description of the site showing the ruins from each century in a different colour making it incredibly interesting to see the history that lies in front of you.
More treasures we found in the old town include the botanical gardens with activities like giant chess and a sand pit for the kids; the Reformation Wall describing the history of the constitution and religion in Geneva; the longest park bench-stretching almost 100m; an antique shop full of
scientific and meteorological apparatus such as barometers, telescopes and microscopes; Clementine, the statue of a women who has become the listener to the protesting people of Geneva; beautiful cobbled streets; water fountains (with drinkable water) sprouting flowers of all different colours; and quaint squares like “Bourg-de-Four” where locals enjoy long drinks in the sun after work and on the weekends.
Although these may seem like a lot of sites, you can actually see most of them in one day. Once you’ve seen them all, you start to make up your own interesting stories such as “…and this is the fountain under which the General buried his favourite horse”…(you never know?). So as you can see, eight days in the Geneva city itself can become a bit much, unless you’re content to hop from café to café drinking and eating all day (not a bad plan-if you’re a millionaire). For the more adventurous types, such as us, cycling trips around the lake and day trips to the surrounding towns are a good way to see Switzerland!
The weather was so lovely on Monday that we hired a couple of city bikes and we went for a ride (yes you read it right, I rode a bicycle) along the Quai du Mont-Blanc all the way to the Geneva plage (beach), past the UN headquarters and the chair with a broken leg which symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.
Unfortunately, the weather did not stay as perfect as it was and Tuesday morning was overcast, and it rained, a lot. However, off we went to Gland and to Nyon for the afternoon. In Gland, which is basically just where the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has its head offices, we visited T’s dad’s offices and then went off to find some lunch-a sandwich on the only dry bench we could find.
In Nyon, our next stop, we enjoyed walking around the originally Roman town and finding the last pieces of history. There is an Amphitheatre there that was found, also by accident, and is currently being excavated. It is said to be from the original Roman ruins. I am sure Europe is full of those historical reminders of the past, I find it very fascinating to think that those ‘storybook’ people lived here so long before all of these modern cities were built. Eventually the rain got too much for us and we headed back to Geneva to get dry. It rained so much that day that T’s shoes were soaked right through, and we ended up heading to H&M for a quick replacement pair.
The following morning we woke up to a large layer of snow on the nearby mountains! Beautiful as it was, it caused the average temperature to drop
by about 15 degrees Celsius, although at least not as much rain as the previous day. We headed off to meet my parents and show them around the Old Town, as they are in Geneva on holiday too! After the grand tour we ended up at the Museum of Art and History, a great collection of artifacts and paintings showing centuries of European history and culture-and the best part about it is it’s free! We also found the Russion Orthodox Church was having an Ascension day service as we were walking past, complete with incense and a beautiful choir filling the air. With its gold turrets on the outside and black and deep red décor on the inside, it was a magically moving experience. Its rare to find such a specific denomination celebrated in such a majestic way.
We caught a glimpse of the sun for the first time in three days so T and Trevor took advantage by cycling from Nyon to Lausanne. They wound their way down the Lake, passing small villages and breathtaking scenery. I took the train to Lausanne and meet my folks for lunch. It was a fantastic afternoon, being a public holiday, and all the Lausanne locals out in the parks and along the promenade. Of course, there was as usual lots of beer, chocolate and local food involved and everyone got home happy and exhausted from all those hills!!
I hope that this (very long) post has updated you on our week so far, as you can tell, it has been busy and full but also really relaxed. Check out our Photo Gallery page, where you can view a selection of our photos from the last couple of weeks! Also, if you read our posts regularly, why not subscribe to our emails, if you’re not already!