We arranged an eight-day train journey around Switzerland for the beginning of October. Not eight days on the same train, but a series of Swiss train trips to crisscross the country and, hopefully, see lots of snowy craggy mountains. This post, as well as a few to follow, will chronicle some of our Alpine journey.
To start, we drove from Carcassonne to Geneva. This was a drive, with rest stops, of about six hours. The French highways, or autoroutes, are excellent. They aren’t free however; the tolls added up to about US$66. But a pleasant drive through the southern French landscape.
Nine years ago, during a vacation in the Burgundy region of France, we drove up into the Jura Mountains, which are just west of Geneva. From a high vantage, we were able to look down on the city of Geneva. We could see the city’s emblematic water jet in Lake Geneva, or properly Lac Léman. Somewhere in the foreground is the site of CERN, which is the European Organization fo Nuclear Reseach. It is in CERN’s subterranean particle accelerator where a huge international team of researchers confirmed the existence of the Higgs Boson in 2012. I had always wanted to visit CERN as well as to experience cosmopolitan Geneva. This post is about our experiences in Geneva, and the next post will be a fully geeky focus on CERN.
We had the good fortune of a beautiful sunny day for our arrival in Geneva. Immediately, we headed out to walk along the banks of the lake. You can’t but focus on the water jet, known in French as the Jet d’Eau. In 1886, the city built a fountain to control and release excess pressure of a hydraulic plant nearby. The engineering led to a delightful focus for the lake the city. Upgraded over the years, currently it pumps every day of the year (excepting times of deep freezes).
From the walk along the water, we could see Mt Blanc, about 80 km away. (We saw Mt Blanc last fall from the French resort town of Chamonix.)
To our knowledge, Geneva is known as an international city, thanks to the UN and other diplomatic and NGO organizations, and thanks to many financial institutions. It is also known as a very expensive city. On the many blocky buildings along the lake and river fronts, we saw large signs for just about all the luxury brands that we could think of — Rolex, Patek Philippe, Hermès, Tissot — and lots of banks.
The side streets look more French. Geneva lies in the French part of Switzerland. It is culturally and linguistically very much like the France that we’re familiar with.
However, it was immediately obvious just how international its residents and visitors are. As we walked along the lakefront and within the city, we heard languages from all over the world. We passed people of all ethnicities. We stopped for an apéritif in a waterfront café. There was no need to exercise our French: all the staff and most of the customers were speaking in English, although with a huge range of accents.
We visited Geneva’s Old Town, or La Vieille Ville. At its center is the Place du Bourg-de-Four. The fourin the name comes from forum, the Roman word for the commercial center; this was the site of Geneva’s original Roman marketplace. Some of the buildings that surround the square date from the 16th century.
We appreciated the rustic planters and seating that relaxed the square.
St Pierre Cathedral was started in the 12th century, although today it is fusion of many styles, including romanesque, gothic, and neoclassical. It was from this cathedral that John Calvin preached Protestantism in the 16th century.
The red flag with the white cross is Switzerland’s flag and ubiquitous symbol. The flag of the canton (roughly, the state or department) of Geneva includes this symbolism:
- The eagle symbolises loftiness, justice and protection.
- The key symbolises ecclesiastical rule, treasuries, and responsibility.
- The arms of Geneva are actually two shields fused: half the eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, and one of the two keys of St. Peter (the “keys of heaven”).
As often is the case in the ancient part of European cities, we find picturesque vistas around each corner.
Nice framed passage to a vantage above the Parc des Bastions.
As always, we enjoy new places through their food. Since Geneva is so international, we selected cuisines that were different from French.
Our first evening, we chose a tiny Japanese-style restaurant called Chouchouette. Just one cook and one server. Delicious creative maki sushi.
For our second dinner, we found Pachacamac, a Peruvian restaurant. Attractive comfortable space on a rainy evening. There were plenty of tasty ingredients that we had not encountered before. The Altamar ceviche was stupendous: fresh, sharp, spicy, complex. The menu said: Dorade, gambero rosso, poulpe, calamar, noix de Saint-Jacques, citron vert, coriandre, lait de tigre aux piments fumés, mousse de patate douce, maïs grillé. My translation: Sea bass, red prawns, octopus, scallops, lime, coriander, smoked tiger’s-milk peppers, sweet potato mousse, grilled corn.
As I’ve noted before, we are thoroughly happy to live in France amid wonderful French food. That also means we heartily appreciate the cuisine of the rest of the world too.