Ah, Geneva. The name of the city conjured up images of international importance and political neutrality, as one of the homes of the United Nations and the place where the Geneva conventions themselves were signed. It was also known for the lake that bore its name, Lake Geneva. Geneva wrapped around the corner of the lake as it emptied into the Rhône River. This massive lake formed much of the southwest border of Switzerland as it jutted into France. It also hosted Lausanne, the home of the International Olympic Committee, and the famed resort town of Montreux. But, I wondered, what was it really like? Was it a high-brow and blandly modernized city filled with international government buildings or was it a special place with history and scenery on its side, and oh by the way happened to host the United Nations? So, I went there, and found that the answer was perhaps a little of both. Yes, it had its history and terrific surroundings being nestled among the Alps, but it did have a sanitary feel to it at times, particularly when venturing around the embassy zone. It was also a very expensive place, so my meals were mostly at American-brand fast-food joints.
However, the scenery of Geneva was compelling. Just look
first photograph. I took this shot from the top of an Alpine cliff over
the nearby village of Veyrier, a twenty-minute bus
ride away. Plainly visible were the surrounding Alps and the Arve River
at the bottom of photo. The Arve joined the Rhône
just a little further to the city's west. The fountain was in the center
of a small bay pointed toward the Rhône, and the main commercial district sat at
the Rhône's mouth. The part of the city in the foreground (the eastern
bank) was residential, and that was where I spent Saturday. Sunday was on
the opposite side
I arrived at the Geneva-St. Charles train station (in the west) and immediately spied the Cathedrale St. Pierre, shown in the third photograph. The Cathedrale was on high ground above the eastern bank, promising a good look over the lake. So that was where I first headed. I made my way to the west bank of the lake and headed around to the numerous footbridges crossing the Rhône River. The banks hosted several massive hotels and shops in older-style architecture. Mounted above the river mouth were a series of huge metal wind chimes that clanged about. Cutting inland a bit, I came upon the Rive district, the busiest section of Geneva. Included was the market street shown in the second photograph that climbed up the grade to the Cathedrale.
From lakeside, it appeared that the Cathedrale was on the highest ground overlooking the lake (somewhat like the Church of Our Lady in Marseille), but it was deceiving. The road continued to climb and I found myself crossing a couple additional market squares that were equally busy as the Rive. There were several very prominent structures nearby -- including the Museum of Art and History, Le Petitpalais, and brilliant white Orthodox Church (at least it appeared to be Orthodox). I then followed my way back to the lake. To my surprise, I found that one could get very close to the fountain. A small brick wall led out to the fountain, and with the afternoon being very hot, the wall was packed full of people using the fountain spray to cool off. The banks contained numerous little marinas with primarily sailboats, not so many yachts. Given the hot day, I was surprised that there weren't more boats out on the lake. It was after my wanderings around the Rive that I headed to Veyrier, which pretty much concluding my Saturday touring.
I got up very early on Sunday morning and headed to the west bank, or the Rive Droite. By contrast to the other side, this bank was more of a series of parks. Each park contained one large building that looked like a previous noble residence. Some of them became museums, such as the Museum of Art and Science building shown in the fourth photograph. Others were subsumed by the city and turned into government buildings. But what was refreshing was how the city kept the place looking so nice with the flower arrangements. This made for a very refreshing walk. The house of David Thoreau was handsome, while the Perle du Lac had rows of same-colored flowers arranged in rainbow fashion on the bank, reminiscent of the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands.
After a while, I turned inland and toured a lovely conversatory and botanical garden that was free admission. These were at the edge of the international quarter -- dominated by the Palais de Nations, the United Nations' second headquarters. Sadly closed on the day I went there (visiting hours are very limited), I was at least able to get the fifth photograph showing the flag-borne entranceway. Not far away from it was one of the more unusual outdoor sculptures I had ever seen -- that of a twenty-foot tall chair with one of its legs broken away. This was located in the middle of a traffic circle with signs all around it pleading for a "world without [land]mines." I continued up an incline to the Ariana Park, which was lovely. Its purpose seemed simply to showcase different cultures. There was a Buddhist-style gong, a Greek or Roman-style museum building, and other little monuments scattered about.
Not far away was the Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, adjacent to the International Red Cross headquarters, shown below. That museum was probably one of the best I'd ever visited. It was astonishing and moving, because it told some incredible stories about both humanity and inhumanity. The exhibit that left the greatest impression on me was the public showcase of the entire card files of the hundreds of thousands of World War I prisoners -- makes one realize that one really doesn't need a computer to do wonderful things!
I concluded my tour by circling the embassy district up to the massive office structure containing the International Labor Organization. This was a very sanitary area containing the largest embassies all tucked away from the road and guarded with huge gates. I also reached the roundabout guarding the entrance to the World Health Organization, the OMPI (the international body governing intellectual property right) and Geneva's international school for the children of her many expatriates. There was little to see except for the various monuments along the way.
I was very impressed with Geneva, although I can't say I would consider it a major tourism draw, not like various other smaller towns in Switzerland. Geneva would be a spectacular place to do business, however, and certainly I don't think I'd mind working there.
Trip Taken 21-22 July 2001 -- Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin