Geneva: Part 2

Geneva is the farthest westernmost point of Switzerland extended into France. It looks like France tried to bite off the little city and got stuck with jaws on either side. So when Sandeep announced our plans for a trip over the French border to Salève, I didn’t bat an eye. Despite the grey skies in the morning, I packed up my very ugly and very functional poncho and we fearlessly boarded the tram into the city. Our first destination, a flea market near the center, was postponed when Sandeep spotted a farmer’s market lined with colorful stalls selling vegetables, fruit, mushrooms and bouquets of flowers. We walked up and down the aisles peering over the shoulders of local shoppers as they compared heirloom tomatoes and varieties of bread. P1020565

After the flea market, we caught a bus with the rest of the group and rolled up the mountain to the French border. I watched as our little group breezed past the empty border checkpoint, having forgot the casual nature of traveling between countries in Europe. Up ahead, a small red gondola climbed up the steep 1,100 metres to the top of the mountain. This Mont Salève cable car carries (15 euro for adults) passengers up and down the sheer rock face, suspended by wires and held captive by breathtaking views. Braver souls than ourselves often choose to climb up the steep uphill trail instead, which takes approximately 4 hours from the base to the summit. Additional hiking trails and a full restaurant with views overlooking Geneva await newcomers and regulars alike. 2-DSC_0592

We had lunch at the top, munching on our farmer’s market purchases (baguette, fresh goat cheese and fruit). I don’t know exactly how long we stayed on the grassy hill at the summit, taking pictures and napping in the sun, but I couldn’t get enough of the incredible view. I recognized buildings I had walked past the day before, now just miniature versions of themselves scattered in near proximity to the lake. The pictures on my camera paled in comparison to the wonder and magnitude of the picturesque landscape. I took it as a sign that I should stop trying to document everything and simply basked in the gratitude of being in this place. We took a leisurely walk and stopped from ice cream before descending back down the mountain and home to prepare for the firework festivities. P1020618

Since this was the last weekend of Fêtes de Genève, a large fireworks display was planned for Saturday evening as the month-long celebration’s big finale. Sandeep and I headed to an apartment in the center of town and rode the elevator to the 9th floor for a balcony view of the lake and mountains beyond. Adam and Kevin, the hosts of the party, were attentive and kind providing both intelligent conversation and bottles of wine depending on current need. The fireworks began around 9:30pm and lasted for almost an hour with a variety of musical interludes. Prior to that evening, I had always watched fireworks from a picnic blanket or lawn chair. Never before had I witnessed such a display from a top floor view. From the balcony, I felt myself floating above the city alongside the burning embers exploding into the night. There was just one more day left in Geneve and a perfect ending to my first destination on this backpacking expedition.

*The Internet here is incredibly slow. It will only upload one or two pictures so please stay tuned. I hope Wi-Fi will pick up soon!**

Thanks for the photos Sandeep!
Thanks for the photos Sandeep!

Geneva: Part 1

Part 1 (That’s right, folks. There’s gonna be a sequel.)

Geneva is located at the western tip of Switzerland built around Lake Geneva. It is the most populous city of Romandy, the French-speaking part of the predominantly German speaking country. En route from Milan to Geneva, I met a talkative college professor who informed me that Switzerland is also home to a variety of unique German dialects that, until recently, did not have a written language of their own. The mountain and valleys kept these unique dialects in tact; a fascinating piece of linguistic history coming from a country primarily known for banking, chocolate and multi-functional pocketknives. Geneva is also home to the UN, located in Palais des Nations (Palace of Nations) located near the League of Nations after the First World War. This international hub cultivates a palpable importance within the city and having arrived directly from Milan, Geneva seemed to rise from the lake as a respire from the Italian city’s obsession with fashion and power.

P1020474I spent four days with my friend Sandeep, a current UN intern, who I had met years ago while interning in Washington, D.C. He surprised me at the train station and brought me to La Terrasse, a popular lakeside bar, for a drink while he finished up with work. Thursday was the last week of Fêtes de Genève, a month long summer festival, and we walked past amusement rides and food stands selling crepes, sandwiches and ice cream. During the day, children waited in line to try their luck at one of the many carnival games while at night the streets were crowded with young adults in their teens and twenties who flocked to the lake for live music and DJ beats. From my seat at La Terrace, I could see the Jet de L’eau, a large fountain and one of the main tourist attractions in the city, shoot a plume of water high into the air (459 ft), arching in a white mist as it fell back to earth against the serene backdrop of the French Alps. I sipped my beer as the moored boats rocked along the shore. 

P1020495In the evening, we stopped for some picnic supplies and walked to the park for the outdoor showing of Invictus, another free event as part of Fêtes de Genève. I met a variety of interns who work in various departments of the UN. These young intelligent students came from all over the world but shared a unified passion for a better and more peaceful world. Many were focused in human rights and international work, having recently come from the academic background of law. And so, it was fitting after meeting each of these individuals, that I started my Friday with a guided tour of the UN headquarters. The tour guide provided a wealth of information including the historical relevance of the original League of Nations and impact of the UN entity in the world today. After perusing the bookstore and sending my first postcards, I wandered down to the beautiful Jardin Botanique, part of surrounding grounds known as the Cultural Trails*.

The greenhouses were exquisite and each pond, rock and palm tree was meticulously planted and cared for. I walked along the water stopping to take pictures, sit in the shade and read in the grass. I stopped once to watch a group of older men and woman sitting on a bench watching the water. They seemed so peaceful silhouetted against the lake’s blue water. I imagined them as young Swiss couples, laying in the grass and falling in love. These five strangers completed a feeling of peace and tranquility I couldn’t describe in any other way (picture to follow). P1020548

[Cultural Trails* include the botanical gardens and five museums: the Swiss People in the World museum, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, The League of Nations, the History of Science, and the Ariana Museum. Prices for entry vary with location.]