J&D's Travelog


Geneva, Switzerland

January 7, 2006

Grazing chamoix
Grazing chamoix.

Pont de Caille
Pont de Caille spans the Usses gorge.

After her holiday visit with D, who was still working in the French Alps, J had just enough time for a day trip prior to her return home. After weighing the options, we decided to make a run for Geneva to spend D's leftover Swiss francs.

The Swiss have a long-standing relationship with money. If it's not evident from their reputation for banking, it most certainly is with regard to the toll that they demand to enter their country. While the French are content with charging $10 here and $5 there, the Swiss charge $30 to pass into Geneva. Although it's a one-time charge, they don't prorate it. So whether you buy the toll vignette on January 1 or on December 30, it's going to run you $30 and it's going to expire on December 31. A brilliant scheme aimed at gouging the tourist. The French living near Geneva have even developed a black market for used vignettes.

We aimed to avoid making the investment, not for financial reasons but on principal, and therefore decided to go cross-country and take the back roads into town. It gave us a chance to see a little of the Haute Savoie that we would otherwise have missed.

Wooden facade
A wooden façade in the vieille ville.

Geneva's Hotel de Ville
The courtyard of the Hôtel de Ville .

Reformation Wall
The Wall of the Reformation.

Swiss watches
Swiss timing.

Smart car
The Swiss-made Smart Car looks like an oversized roller skate but gets 60 mpg.

Jet d'Eau
At the Jet d'Eau.

Vieille Ville

There is nothing ordinary about Geneva. Located on the western-most extremity of Switzerland and the western-most point of what the locals call Lac Léman, it shares 95% of its border with France, leaving only a narrow strip of land to connect it to greater Switzerland. The layout of the city is segmented by the Rhône as it makes its way from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, the Rive Gauche containing the former walled origins of the town and the Rive Droite accommodating the more modern Geneva. Historically, it has always been a major player having been a major outpost for the Romans before passing to the Burgundians and eventually Charlemagne. The Dukes of Savoie repeatedly attempted to control Geneva in order to consolidate their Alpine territories. One such incursion in December 1602 resulted in the Savioe army attempting to scale the city walls. The citizens of Geneva fought them off with anything they could lay their hands on including frying pans and kettles of hot soup, eventually routing the invaders while losing less than twenty of their own. The event is celebrated annually as l’Escalade (the scaling) with a city-wide festival involving the smashing of chocolate cauldrons filled with marzipan vegetables. The departure of the Savoyards was followed by a brief French occupation until Geneva was finally admitted to the Swiss confederation in 1815.

Geneva’s shoreline and scenic views of the Alps made it a major stopover on the famed Grand Tour of Europe in the late 19th century. Voltaire and Rousseau called the city their home, and it was also the setting for much of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. However, it was the arrival of the exiled preacher Jean Calvin during the Reformation that elevated Geneva to a center of Protestantism and earned it the nickname of the “Protestant Rome”. Having avoided the destruction that so many other war-ravaged European cities, the 16th century vieille ville (old city) of Geneva is a well-preserved, albeit small, nest of winding cobblestone streets lined by the unique wooden façades of shops and restaurants. The St. Pierre cathedral dominates the hill on which the old town was built and contains the chair from which Calvin preached his doctrine of reform for thirty years. Outside the remaining ramparts in the Parc des Bastions is the Wall of the Reformation which is dedicated to influential Protestant figures such as Martin Luther, Oliver Cromwell, and Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, but it is dominated by the four statues of Guillaume Farel, Théodore de Bèze, John Knox, and Calvin himself.

As one wanders down to the bridges that span the river to the Rive Droite, it is impossible not to notice Geneva’s aquatic symbol - the Jet d’Eau (water jet). Originally, a pressure release system for a reservoir project, Europe’s tallest fountain now has a dedicated pumping system the shoots a plume to a height of 450 ft and at a rate of over 100 gal per second. The walk out along the narrow pier leading to the nozzle can be a harrowing experience on a windy day – especially in January.

Jet d'Eau
Along the quai on Lake Geneva.


Jet d'Eau
Seven swans a'swimming.


Maison de Tavel
The 14th century Maison Tavel with its carved human heads.

Cathedral St. Pierre
St. Pierre cathedral.

Remnants of L'Escalade
Traces of the recent Escalade celebrations.

Geneva's Armory
Cannons once protecting the city at the Armory.

Tour d'Ile
The Tour d'Île on an island in the Rhône.

Parc des Nations

If you stroll through the streets of the Rhône’s more modern northern bank, you are constantly reminded of the wonderful things that make Switzerland famous - chocolate, cheese, watches, pocketknives, and banks. Venture out far enough, and you will note another – neutrality. To the north of the city center is the Parc des Nations, a large park around which are located a number of international organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, International Organization for Standardization, Amnesty International, UNICEF and close to 250 other international organizations. The park itself constitutes the grounds of the Palais des Nations which was built to host Woodrow Wilson’s ill-fated League of Nations. It is now home to nearly 3,000 diplomats as the European headquarters of the United Nations.

Across from the Palais des Nations is the headquarters of the International Red Cross. After visiting the site of a particularly heinous battle between the Austrians and French armies in 1859, the Geneva-born banker and philanthropist Henri Dunant was so appalled at the loss of human life and the suffering of the wounded that he proposed an international agreement on the treatment of soldiers. Dunant’s suggestion led to the ratification of the Geneva Convention in 1864 and the eventual birth of the Red Cross as a humanitarian organization. While the inverted Swiss flag was used as its emblem, the Red Cross later adopted the Red Crescent and just recently the Red Crystal as supplementary symbols. For his efforts, Durant was awarded the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. In fact, residents of Geneva have won 44 Nobel Prizes over the years.

The Red Cross complex also contains a museum dedicated to worldwide human suffering. Not being big fans of museums anyway, this looked like another one we should pass on. Instead, we headed back into the old town for a quick twilight tour before settling in to a warm dinner of pasta topped with a mascarpone and sherry sauce and a nice bottle of Swiss white wine.

Red Cross headquarters
Headquarters of the Red Cross/Red Crescent/Red Crystal.

Red Cross museum
Memorial to refugees everywhere at the International Red Cross museum.

Palais des Nations
Palais des Nations.

Copyright © 2005 JnDsTravelog.com. All rights reserved.