I don’t really know why, but for some reason I’ve always been interested in going to Switzerland. I just think it seems like a beautiful country and I think its history is interesting. Of all the countries I wanted to visit while I was abroad, Switzerland was one that took a little more precedence over most of the others. When all my flatmates and I arrived in London and settled into our flat, we inevitably talked about all the places we all wanted to go over the course of our three months in Europe. I think I was the only one who mentioned Switzerland, and as the weeks went by, my Switzerland trip turned into our Switzerland trip, and as January wound down, all of us in the flat save for two people bought plane tickets to Geneva for Valentine’s Day weekend. As far as the “my” trip turning into “our” trip, I don’t say that bitterly or regrettably – I’m glad people wanted to come with me.
When I think back on it now, I’m still not really sure why we chose Geneva. Aside from Berlin, where the itinerary of my activities was pretty self explanatory and pre-determined with the film festival, Geneva was to be my first trip from a purely tourist point of view. I guess we figured it was famous by name and there’d surely be enough to do there. Not to say that we just picked a place at random. We did look it up and found some things that looked cool to do there. I think mainly we chose it thought because the airline we were flying with only really flew into Geneva and Zurich. Anyway our flight was for something like 6:30am so I just ended up staying awake all night until we had to leave at like 2:30.
Now listen Caleb, I can’t talk about Geneva without mentioning this, but I won’t go into any explicit detail. Ok, anyway, Caleb was supposed to come with Alyssa, Amanda, Emily and myself on the trip, and at around 12:30 or 1am, Caleb came home positively inebriated. This was about an hour or so before we all had to leave to catch our bus to the airport. Without going into detail, we had to leave without him. The girls and I made our easyBus on time and arrived at the airport an our later. Caleb had phoned Emily saying that he got a cab and he’d meet us at the airport. After going through security we found him sleeping in a chair underneath the departures screen. It was quite the morning.
Now before I go into the meat of Geneva and explain what we did and how my experience was, I want to say a few things first. As you will find, I didn’t particularly care for Geneva. I had fun and it was nice to be somewhere different, but on the whole I was disappointed. It’s our own fault for not going somewhere different, but be that as it may, it was a very fickle trip. I say this now because I don’t want it to seem like I may be complaining later. Because even though I didn’t like it that much, I’m still glad I went and I’m still glad I have the experience of being let down by a trip, as strange as that might sound. I know in the future to plan better and all that kind of stuff, so it’s not like I didn’t learn anything from the whole endeavor.
Because I didn’t bother sleeping that night, I was really tired on the flight and fell asleep. When I woke up we were about 20 minutes away from landing and the sight outside the plane was incredible. The alps stretched to meet us below and there was snow everywhere. The plane dipped a bit and soon we were flying pretty low over a huge lake, turning sharply eventually to get to the airport. Switzerland is famous for several things, but one of the biggest is watches/clocks. Rolex is here and their clockmaking history is pretty staggering and impressive. So when we left the plane (filled with a bunch of people with skiis) and went into the airport, I wasn’t surprised, but I was, I don’t know, rather charmed by the amount of watch ads that were littered all over the place. It was crazy. Rolex this, Rolex that. The watches advertised looked incredible, though.
Once we collected ourselves, we had to figure out how the heck to get into the main part of Geneva and how to get to our hostel. But first Amanda and I had to exchange our money from pounds to Swiss francs. The franc is cheaper than the pound but more expensive than the dollar. The exchange rate is $10 = 8.74 francs, and 10 pounds = 14.5 francs. I detail this because one of the main reasons why the trip was a disappointment and also rather limiting and restrictive is because Switzerland is expensive. New York is expensive, London is expensive, but as a tourist visiting Geneva, Switzerland was, to be honest, so expensive it was uncomfortable and kind of offensive. I wouldn’t realize the full extent of how expensive it was until later that night, but I got my first clue when Amanda and I were at the exchange desk. I exchanged my money and thought I got a pretty good deal. Tens and twenties and a fifty or so. I was complaining. But when Amanda exchange hers, she got a 100 franc note included in her bills. She figured it was too large and probably didn’t want to go through the trouble of having to break it awkwardly somewhere, so she asked if she could have it in two fifties instead. The exchange person urged her not to. “The 100 franc note isn’t the large bill here,” he said. “The 1,000 franc note is.” He then told her that its not uncommon to buy your coffee with the 100 note. What did that mean? I guess we’d find out.
After we got that sorted we fumbled along and pantomimed our way communicating with people until we were directed to a train that would apparently bring is to the city. The swiss people are french speaking and Geneva is right on the border of Switzerland and France, so I guess they’re pretty much french people. I don’t know if they would get offended over that or not. Once we got to wherever the train ended up, we got out and figured out where we were. It would be way too expensive to buy a public transportation pass, but we figured out our hostel was pretty much in walking distance to where we were, so we just had to figure out where to go. I took either three or four years of french in high school, so I took it upon myself to try and communicate with a worker at the train station. We knew the road the hostel was on, so I just asked where that road was. I managed to have a broken conversation with the worker and understood enough to know where to go from the station, so we all left and, to my delight, ended up exactly where I thought the worker told me to go. We found the hostel rather easily about ten minutes later. We couldn’t check in yet though so we left our luggage with reception and went to walk around.
Our hostel was about a 4 minute walk from Lake Geneva and we could see the Alps in the distance, which was very cool. The big claim to fame in Geneva is the Jet d’Eau, which is just a really big jet of water shooting up into the air. Apparently it’s the biggest man made water jet in the world, or in Europe. But I mean…….it’s water. Anywho we walked around, took in some sights and went to a grocery store to get some lunch. It was really cold out so we didn’t venture far and eventually we wound up back at the hostel to check into our room, which was pretty nice, about on par with Berlin.
We left the hostel to go out and explore some more. We took the trolly/cable car around and we went to a watch museum. This was one of the highlights of the trip. Geneva, as I said before, is known for their watch and clockmakers. The museum was really fascinating and the amount of supremely old watches and clocks in there was really amazing. There was some artisan clocks from the 1800s that looked like old guns, but when you pulled the trigger a clock came out. They had stuff like that and it was really cool. The amount of wealth in that place was staggering.
After the museum we were hungry for some dinner and we wanted to get some famous Swiss fondue and we read of a small place that supposedly had good fondue. We found it inside a little tent in the city. Herein comes the best example of the fact that Switzerland is ridiculously expensive. I guess the tent just opened because there was no one there. It was pretty big and well heated with a little fire place in the middle and tables making up the circular inside. We sat down and looked at the menu. The staff spoke mostly French but we awkwardly communicated enough obtain some menus in English. Fondue is, as you would expect, simply a pot of boiling, melted, creamy cheese accompanied with bread and dried meat to dip in the cheese. That’s all there is too it. The fondue was 35 francs per person. So expensive that we all literally sat there talking amongst ourselves if it was worth it to eat here for about a good solid 10 minutes. The staff kept looking at us and were obviously getting annoyed at our indecision, but eventually (and, to be honest, reluctantly on my part) decided to get it. It was good. Not great, I don’t think, but good. The cheese was unlike any kind of cheese I’d ever had. It sort of melted and dissolved in your mouth as soon as it gets in your mouth, which was interesting and unique. The meat they gave us, though, I wasn’t a big fan of. Certainly not worth 35 francs per person. Highway robbery, am I right?
After the restaurant I think we walked around a bit more until we wound up back at the hostel. We were all dog tired and welcomed sleep like something clever welcomes a good simile. The next day we planned on going to the top of an Alp called Mont. Blanc. Except it was something like 100 francs so we decided not to. It was shaping up to be a nice day, so instead we walked by the lake and took a water taxi to the other side, where we played with some swans and walked further into the city on the other side. The city on this side was nicer, I thought. There were more little shops and unique storefronts. We got some quick lunch at a cafe (I ate a whole baquet) and we walked up further, towards the mountains. At this point I wanted to walk further and go towards the mountains (deceptively far away, I’d soon discover) but the others (Alyssa, Amanda, Emily and Caleb) wanted to go do something else. So I ventured on alone further up towards the alps. I kept walking and walking up to the mountains but I didn’t seem to get any further. I passed a road sight that pointed to “France” but kept going straight. I went into a local Coop and bought some Swiss chocolate and turned around there, giving up my quest to follow the sign to France. When I found it again I turned right and kept walking on the sidewalk of a busy double road. I had to meet back up with everyone at 5 and it was only about 3 at this point, so I wanted to walk as far as I could. I continued for about an hour until I suddenly saw a sign announcing I was in France. I poked around for a little and then turned back. So I walked to France. That was cool.
I got lost on the way back to the hostel but I eventually found it and after taking it easy for about a half hour, we all went out to dinner at what seemed like a sort of bar and grill type place. Alyssa, Amanda and I tried a five beer sampler and I got an interesting hamburger that was rather good. Afterwards we went back to the lake area and took it in at night before going back to go to sleep. Some of us resolved to get up early and see the sunrise over the lake
I think that usually when it’s crappy out in the morning it’ll turn into a nice day later, and vice versa. I think that’s true most of the time. Unfortunately when we woke up at 6 it was rainy and we couldn’t get a good glimpse of a sunrise, but we went out anyway and the morning air was really refreshing. It was a nice thing to do before we left at about 11. We didn’t have any trouble getting to the airport like we did coming from it, and we got into London on time. Like I said above, I’m grateful for this Geneva experience but certainly wouldn’t go back or recommend it to tourists or travelers. My next excursion to Siena and Florence would prove much more fruitful.