Geneva skylineThis entry actually starts on Tuesday, November 2nd with a lot of travel. Malev, the Hungarian Airline, is okay. Nothing fancy but then there doesn’t need to be. I made my flight (not as easy as it sounds, I got confused at the gate – there’s a difference between Gate 22 and Gate 22A – and they took me into a special room to make the power cord of my computer wasn’t a bomb) and made it back to Budapest easily enough. I even felt like a native as I was able to help some newly landed folks find their way to their destinations.

My own destination, though, was a different terminal (which was only accessed by public transportation or a more expensive airport shuttle). At the terminal I waited in line for the check in gate to open and then hung out in the cafe downloading TV shows courtesy of the free wifi. And then when they called for the flight, I had to jam everything into my one carry on. See, EasyJet is very cheap, but that’s because they skimp on everything. Everything! Checked luggage is extra. Drinks on board? Extra. I think even the electronics on the plane are cheap since on both Malev flights I had my iPad working (reading or watching) during take-off and landing and no one said a word. EasyJet? Made me shut it off.

Anyway, we landed in Geneva and I made friends with a local who promised to get me to the train station. In exchange, I found a free ticket for the train to get us into town.

I found my tram and headed towards my hotel. I was a bit nervous but ultimately, it was fairly easy to find. It’s not bad, and for Geneva, relatively inexpensive. Not hostel cheap but not bad. I got in, sorted everything out and got to bed. I knew Wednesday was going to be a long day.

So I woke up and headed out to explore a city built on anonymous banking, knives for a neutral army and chocolate worth starting wars over (except they have those cool knives so no one ever does!) First things first though, as always in a new city, I hit the information desk and got some maps and brochures.

Look, I freely admit it, I like being a tourist! There, I said it! and I’m not gonna apologize for it, either. I like seeing the things everyone wants to see (at least the first time I’m in a place). When I get back from somewhere, and I tell someone where I’ve been, they are for sure going to ask “Did you see…?” And while I’m not gonna always be able to answer yes, I’d like to at least some of the time. So anyway, I’m at the information center and they guy gives me a map with a walking tour laid out. Now, those of you playing at home might remember the last time I went on a walking tour suggested by the guy at the information desk so I was pretty much prepared for anything.

“Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly so dramatic. Instead, after a few missteps early on, I followed the path and saw most of Old Town Geneva. Naturally, I stopped and did a few tours along the way. The first was in place called Maison Tavel, literally “the Maison House.”

It’s one of the oldest houses in Geneva and they’ve done the museum up right. Some very cool stuff showing the ways various owners had changed things, how people lived during various centuries and of course, the room of doors. There was a room with doors, old pub signs and a number of keys and locks. Awesome! They also had some of the original stone pieces which had been rescued from outside and had been restored, but they didn’t want them in the weather, so the ones outside were fakes while inside we got the real deal – close enough so you could really examine ’em, too. One of them looked like a 3D rendering of a playing card figure.

I also walked through the Promenade de la Treille, home to a beautiful double row of chestnut trees and the longest park bench in the world. This was the 16th century equivalent of lovers lane. Come to think of it, this may have been the original. The centerpiece of old town (but not the symbol for the city) is Cathedrale St-Pierre. No pun intended, but it towers over the city. It’s on the highest hill and the two towers (separated by the gothic bell tower) can not only bee seen from almost everywhere, but they themselves offer a commanding view of the whole valley. How do I know this? Easy, I paid the four Swiss Francs for the privilege of walking up the 170 steps to the top. I did get some great pictures of the city from the balcony around the north tower and some interesting graffiti from the display room at the top of the south tower. Continuing my walk, I went to the Espace Rousseau (birthplace of Jean Jacques Rousseau, philosopher/writer), saw a great park where people (and small children) were playing large size chess and I ended with the Flower Clock.

The one thing, besides the church, which can be seen from anywhere in town is the Jet d’eau – a huge plume of water which rises over 400 feet into the air, releasing over 100 gallons a minute. THIS is the symbol of the city. And it’s pretty spectacular. It runs most days until dusk, only being turned off for inclimate winds (over 12km/h). My first time seeing it up close (and yes, you can walk right out to it) there was a rainbow and it cast a beautiful mist over a nearby lighthouse.

Since it was still early-ish in the afternoon, I decided to take a boat tour up into Lac Leman. It wasn’t the best as far as tours go, but it did give a nice overview of things on the shoreline. I did, however, miss Villa Diodata, the house where Byron wrote part of Childe Harold and the location of the infamous dark and stormy night where Mary Shelly came up with the idea for Frankenstein. I was kinda bummed about missing it since, as far as literary events go, those were a couple of biggees and the villa itself is in private hands and not open for visiting. So having missed it here I didn’t think I’d get the chance to see it this trip.

On the other side of the lake was the facade of the UN and a number of other entities (WHO among them). I was hoping to get up to see those, so pictures were also in order. and then there was the Little Mermaid of Geneva. Still not entirely sure on the story behind this one, but it’s a nice sculpture in front of a great house. In fact, there’s a number of fantastic sculpture pieces scattered around town. Europe has a thing for public art and I can’t really say I disagree.

After the boat ride, I wandered the streets, just taking in the sights. It’s a lovely city… well the old town is. Out in the suburbs it’s the same as anywhere else but the main drags are incredibly expensive shops with names I’ve heard of but can’t afford.

Not a bad first day.

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