February 6, 2015

European Adventure 2014: Part Two- Geneva Surprises

I did not want to go to Switzerland

Now that I've admitted to it- and sound like the spoiled brat I can be because of all my travel blessings- let me admit how wrong I was. Very wrong. Once again. (In fact, you Disney park lovers take note: We had more than enough miles to go to Tokyo to finally visit Tokyo Disney Sea- the Holy Grail of Disney parks- and I chose Switzerland instead. And I'm glad!)

During the planning stages in February and March, we left home and spent a leisurely and late lunch at Diego Zhang'san incredibly creative eatery locally owned and operated. It is literally across town but worth the drive. As we walked in, I greeted the owner. She took our order and saw our travel guides. When she learned of our plans, her response was that the South of France was a favorite. Having visited several times, she was excited to share her varied experiences, giving us some favorite locales and regions to explore. We were thrilled to have this insider information. France would be the center of our 12 days away.

We really wanted to spend the time in one other location and make it a "two country" trip. After exploring several possibilities, Geneva was chosen due to it being the European city that required the least amount of frequent flyer miles to reach and also had the largest number of discount airlines to fly from to other destinations.

The travel guides- even the wonderful, photograph filled DK Guides (i.e.. Eyewitness Guides") seemed to present Geneva as mainly a business center situated on a lake. Really nothing more. However, we decided that since we were beginning and ending our trip in Geneva, it made sense to at least see the city before we flew to Nice, France. Our desire was to go to Provence and the Cote d'Azure, the French Rivera

I was not happy with the prices. Every room seemed expensive, even for Europe. We found this to be true all through Switzerland. However, we bit the proverbial bullet, deciding to spend our first night at one of the few available rooms. At least it was just blocks from the lake. Then, an amazing thing happened. We started to really research the surrounding countryside and its attractions, finding there were many places we wanted to see. Excluding our travel days, the split was 4 days in Switzerland and 6 days in France.  

Finally, the departure day came and off we went. I have already told you about Air Canada losing for luggage for 5 days and my wife's for two. It was not a good beginning, but we arrived safely.

Normally, we wouldn't pick a place that seemed like a cliche.
But rooms were not plentiful - or cheap.

Surprisingly, public transportation from the airport to our hotel was complementary. Cheap ("Free is Good" says one of my friends) and efficient, we only had to walk a few blocks to our hotel. As we'd flown all night and then had to spend time reporting lost luggage, we were exhausted when we arrived. Upon check in, the desk attendant graciously upgraded us without being asked. It was a pleasant surprise and a taste of things to come.

After a quick shower to refresh, off we went exploring. It's one of our favorite things to do, discovering a new city and not knowing what we'll find at every turn. 

Geneva's lovely waterfront.

We began at the lake, finding it windy and slightly cloudy but very temperate overall. There was a narrow strip of manmade beach on each side of the boardwalk leading to a lighthouse and the city landmark, Jet d'Eau. Folks were sunbathing, families playing in a special area where the water wasn't as deep due to a created barrier. The Jet d'Eau became the infamous 450' fountain we never saw. The entire trip, it was turned off due to wind.  

Once we had seen enough of the lakefront, and about the time the sun came out, we went into the city, starting with the business district across the street.  Geneva is an  incredibly clean city, reminding me in many ways of Victoria, Canada. Even the business center had it charms. The photo at the beginning of this post is right in the heart of the district. 

That very efficient, clean, and cheap light rail carried riders almost silently throughout the town. The business area slowly transformed into a tourist hub with shops and restaurants all around. It was a Saturday afternoon, and many people made it a lively place. 

The city's beloved clock. Right off the shoreline.

The first order of the day was to buy me a clean shirt. H&M fit the bill for only a little cash. After our Starbucks stop, sitting in the sunny square, and visiting a local toy store (we are grandparents after all!), we bypassed the light rail in favor of traveling on foot. 

Shades of the back streets of France.

As we turned the corner off the main tourist area, we saw a hilly slope with a pedestrian path. Off we went.Without knowing it, we stumbled into the Old Town. These are always the areas of a city that we love. Getting lost for the day is our favorite way to spend it. Even though we had read it was mainly a business town, we found the city of Geneva very tourist friendly with much to see and do.

Wandering the streets, we found beautiful fountains, "secret" courtyards, and various little shops which held treasures for those seeking a special souvenir of their journey. It was truly a photographer's paradise, even for an amateur like myself.

The rush of discovery began to fade as the day lingered on as we were very tired from our flight. Yet, each new turn brought about something new to see, and that bit of coffee seemed to do the trick in keeping us alert. 

It was sunny but cool. Easy to forget that it was colder than it looked. We came upon this charming corner (below), and we were both temped to stop in for a bite. It was still a bit early for dinner, and of course, with so many options, we just had to look around a bit more!

I've always loved photographing signs.

There were two must stops for us: One, the Cathedrale St. Pierre, and two, the Reformation Wall. Both are famous landmarks in the Christian community of Geneva and place an important role in the spread of Protestantism in Europe. 

The cathedral was built in the 12th century and in the early 1500s was the church home of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. One of the aims of the movement was in effect to move Christianity back to its roots and away from the Roman Catholic Church. The plus side was a renewal of interest worldwide in believers reading and studying the Bible for themselves (without the priests) and the renewed emphasis on the saving faith in Jesus Christ being the only way to an eternity in heaven versus the doctrine of works and indulgences. As a Protestant, I certainly appreciate what was accomplished. As a many with Catholic family, I appreciate the humility and simplicity I see practiced by them. And as a traveler, I appreciate the structures built!

Calvin's chair. Surprisingly small!

Honestly, the inside of the cathedral was very pretty, and in some ways, very common to others I'd seen in Europe. Climbing to the top from one of the stairwells, it was another story altogether!

Stunning view!

From the top of the cathedral, the view was something so different than what we has seen in cities such as Paris, Venice, or even Florence. The lake sparkled, the sky almost seemed as a painting. The quaint buildings below were studded with more modern ones, making the grand vista something worth lingering over.

The park next to the Reformation Wall, 
on the grounds of the University of Geneva, founded by Calvin.

It was getting later in the day, so it was time to move on. We wandered through the city on our way to the Reformation Wall. In doing so, we stumbled on a beautiful park. It was filled with people playing chess and checkers on large playing boards using giant pieces. This leafy park was also the home to a wedding reception in the lovely pavilion found there. We sat on a bench and people watched, enjoying the afternoon and all the activities around us.

Heroes of the faith.

Fourteen figures are depicted on the wall, men clustered in three different locations. Included are Calvin, John Knox, and Oliver Cromwell. It's an impressive piece of art, a nice place to sit and reflect not only on their work but on the life changing message of Jesus Christ. As sometimes happens in modern European cities, graffiti mars even the most choice of monuments. In this case, some "artist" decided to paint a giant penis on the nearby electrical box with provides power to the lights. Talk about disrespect.

Not quite dinnertime yet.

We were becoming very tired by this point in time.  We took the light rail busses around the city for a couple of more hours until 6pm or so. Finding an indoor eating court of sorts, (to call it that is a travesty), we finally settled on a  restaurant that served dinner omelets. Accustomed to American food courts, we were pleased by receiving real flatware, ceramic plates and being seated at beautiful wooden tables with all the condiments placed in  real glassware. The meal was reasonably priced and very tasty. As we gathered around the open seating, we struck up conversations with a couple of locals (always the sign in finding a good place) and an American woman who used to live in Denver. 

Walking back to the busses, we happily settled into our room for the night. We were fully tired and completely happy with our choice. Geneva was beautiful! Tomorrow we would leave the city and explore the region. We couldn't wait.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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