I spent a few days in early December in the beautiful lakeside Swiss city of Geneva. It isn’t a cheap country to visit but i found a few pleasant ways of exploring on a budget…
FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
When checking into hotels, guest houses or hostels you are issued with a free public transport card. This gives you unlimited access to Geneva’s bus, tram and train facilities, which means you can economize by staying in a hotel out of town and nipping into the city centre every day for free. The card includes airport buses and trains and even allows you to take the ferry across famous lake Geneva for free.
This magnificent body of water is Europe’s largest fresh water lake and its focal point is the enormous fountain tower near the Mont Blanc jetty named the Jet d’Eau. It was originally a temporary feature but remained as a permanent fixture due to its popularity. A number of beautiful parks line the Genevan shores of the lake and you can catch the ferry from jetty to jetty for free if stating in Geneva. Trips across the lake outside of the Geneva boundaries are not free however but these are a great way to explore the surrounding region and to enjoy glorious alpine scenery including views of Mont Blanc.
ST PIERRE CATHEDRAL
Geneva’s cathedral is perched on a hill in old town which involved a fairly steep climb of stars or steeply inclined coble streets. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk though taking in the Christmas window displays, trees and shop lights. Enroute I stopped for a bag of roasted chestnuts which kept my hands warm as I chewed on the sweet nuts. I found Geneva to be a very quiet town with very few tourists and virtually had the streets to myself. It was extremely peaceful with no beggars or con men to harass you.
The cathedral itself was suitably majestic with beautiful stain glass windows and vaulted ceilings. I purchased a chf5 ticket from the Cathedral shop and the walked up about 300 stairs to explore the north and south towers. The views on both sides are well worth the climb showing the city stretching out to the snowy Alps on the one side and old town and Lake Geneva stretching out on the other side.
THE UNITED NATIONS OFFICES IN GENEVA
Geneva is a real seat of international thought leaders and is home to the UN, the red cross, the Cern nuclear centre, IATA, the world health organisation amongst other international organisations.
I loved visiting the UN offices and seeing the enormous broken chair on the square depicting a world without peace. The entrance gate features a grassy drive flanked by row after row of flags from member nations. Of 195 countries in the world 193 are members with the Vatican and Palestine interacting a observer states only. From the main entrance I walked around the block through a beautiful park and past an art gallery. The tour of the in offices cost CHF12 and lasted about an hour. We walked through the halls of diplomats past magnificent art pieces sourced from around the world. The Human Rights and Civilisations Alliance Chamber was my favourite and the room so often seen on tv. It’s roof was donated by Spain and the artist created a multi coloured staligtight dome ceiling. Over 100 tonnes of paint were used in its creation with pigments sourced from around the world to depict international diversity. The gardens are also magnificent, trailing down to the lake and famously housing the golden globe sculpture but unfortunately these are not open to day visitors.
The European centre for nuclear research has long been on my bucket list to visit. It is home to the large hadron collider which scientists from around the world use to study what happens when you split particles. There are two exhibitions at Cern which are both completely free and very informative. Guided tours also take place at 11 or 1pm most days but it is suggested that you book in advance for these. Cern is also the place were the world wide web was invested by a British scientist wanting to find a way to share data with the science community around the world. One of the displays depicts thework station where the internet was developed and also shows the original information management proposal. A superior has scribbled on top of the proposal – vague but exciting. Bosses hey? If Cern still isn’t ringing any bells you may remember it from the Da Vinci code…
Another well priced option is the market opposite the opera house in the park over the road. It is about a 10 minute walk from the Cathedral and was festively dismaying Christmas tree stands and an outdoor skating rink. There is loads of food to choose from from every nationality you can think of – including Tibetan burgers – But I chose a generous serving of raclette. It goes without saying that Swiss cheese is incredible and a raclette is basically a slab of delicious cheese melted under a grill and peeled onto your plate. Yes, the Swiss consider melted cheese by itself a meal. The crepe stands were also popular with lemon sugar and nutella options.