Geneva Back To Zürich

I spent my last part of a day in Geneva buying the last of the souvenirs and finishing up the postcards for the people back home. The main post office in Geneva is pretty amazing, not Barcelona post office amazing, but amazing. It also has a tourism office there which is very convenient.

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If you got a postcard from me, it went in there. Die Post! Die!
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Like all of Europe, the old look was right on time.

I grabbed a few souvenirs along the shops lining the street and was VERY tempted to get a Geneva only Geneva themed Swatch at the Swatch store. Very tempted. I already have two watches, so I passed. I to this day feel regret. I’m going to have to go back and make it right.

I hopped on the train for the approximately two-hour trip back to Zürich from where I was flying back and took in the amazing scenery that I missed on the trip there due to darkness. The lakes and mountains along with the odd castle along the way make for a beautiful journey. I could really go to Switzerland and do nothing but ride the trains the whole time and still be pretty happy with the trip.

We rolled pass vineyards that I was sure were responsible for the wines I had on this trip to Geneva and the last one. Vineyard-to-table-to-my liver. We don’t many Swiss wines here in the United States and get none out in the hinterlands where I am based so I drank my fill while I was there. They were quite good.

About an hour from Zürich something happened on this trip that hadn’t happened to me yet on any Swiss (or French, or Austrian for that matter) train: a delay. I kind of smelled something burning and figured I was maybe having a stroke. I was fine with that if it was, Switzerland is probably a great place to have one if you must. Soon a few conductors walked through hurriedly with radios speaking into them in German. It was at that moment I realized it was not a stroke, but that was also the moment I had wished I had learned the phrase “abandon train” in German. I don’t normally follow crowds, but when I’m somewhere that I do not speak the language, I figure that it is safer to than not. Everybody else was cool and stayed put, so I did to.

They did make an announcement in English apologizing for the delay. They never said what the issue was, but we were delayed for a little over and hour. If we had been delayed in the countryside, it would have been better since I could have soaked in the views. We were delayed on a siding just outside a train station and the scenery was much more industrial and railroady.

We got to Zürich eventually and I hopped another train and a shuttle bus to my hotel. I spent the evening repacking for the trip home and drinking the last of my recently purchased Swiss wine and cheese. I miss them both so much.

 

Geneva! Again!

Two months before this trip to Europe I was on another trip to Europe and my traveling partners and I spent some time in Geneva. I saw enough on that trip to know that I wanted to go back at some point. Since I was going to me in the country anyway, I figured I could spend a day there and see a few things that I wasn’t able to on that trip. On that trip we spent a full day in Geneva on a Sunday and almost everything was closed. This time, I made sure to travel to the city on a Sunday and have my full day there be a Monday.

I left my hotel after breakfast and decided to head to the old city and visit St. Pierre Cathedral. I’m a sucker for old churches, or old things in general, and figured on this chilly winter day, that being inside as much as possible would be a good idea. How chilly was it? It was so chilly that someone on the second floor of a building was storing their produce on the window sill.

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Nature is the original refrigeration
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St Pierre Cathedral

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The inside of the cathedral was large and impressive and built in a mix of styles. It was historic due to John Calvin being here and during the Reformation in the 16th Century. I know very little about the Reformation and didn’t do any homework in advance so perhaps much was lost on me as I walked around it. There is a museum of the Reformation nearby, but I was more interested in what was below this building: Site Archéologique de la Cathédrale.

You go down some stairs and discovered beneath the cathedral during renovations were two earlier Christian cathedrals, parts of the old Roman city, and even burials from before the Romans showed up. It was really cool. They had an English audio guide and cool displays that helped you visualize what it was you were seeing and walking through. I love museums like this, they are a great reminder that you are the end result of thousands of years of civilization.

After touring the ruins under the cathedral, I decided to wander through the old city a bit to work my way down to a street I saw on a map my first trip. There was nothing really remarkable to me about the street except its name:

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Since December 31st is my birthday, I figured that there were only so many chances I’ll get in my life to photo this street sign. I should have brought some tools and “liberated” it. Then again, while everything in Switzerland is top-notch, I didn’t want to gamble on their prisons following that trend. Maybe one will show up on eBay one day.

This awesomely named street came to an end (or maybe started, depending on which way you are going. Life is about 90% perspective, am I right?) right on the lake. What I have always thought of as Lake Geneva, is actually Lac Léman. Maybe it has two names, but since I’m in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (I also learned that Geneva was once in France), I feel like I can call it Lac Léman and not be too pretentious. Besides the very nice park along the lake, Lac Léman is famous for the Jet d’Eau.

Hey, they aren’t getting fancy with the name it just sounds fancy to Americans because it is in French; “Jet d’Eau” means “water jet”. It is as described, a giant fountain of water shooting up out of the lake. You can walk out towards it and I’m sure during the summer the mists from it are quite refreshing. Since I was here in January, I passed on the mists and admired it from afar.

It was while admiring the jet, that I noticed a great many water birds swimming around the docks. I saw quite a few birds I haven’t seen before but one stood out more than the others.

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ElvisBowie Duck

This little guy or girl with the blue/gray beak and great feathers. He was the only of his type among many more ducks, swans, and other larger swimming birds. Despite it being smaller than all the others, it didn’t seem to get pushed around like some of the others were by a few of the larger birds.

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ElvisBowie Duck next to a regular sized duck for comparison

Imagine his size next to one of the swans there. It was really small.

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Yummy slime at the bottom of the lake!

The internet failed me once again and I was not able to identify what kind it was, so I came to the conclusion that it was a new species. Since I saw it on Jan. 8th which is both Elvis and David Bowie’s birthday, I named it the ElvisBowie duck. It is now my favorite bird, besides fried chicken. If you make it to Lac Léman, keep an eye out for it or any others like it. As far as I know, it is the only one.

I grabbed a water taxi to cross the lake to do some souvenir shopping, and hit a great food store where I grabbed some amazing cheese, cured meats, and Swiss wine for dinner. I must have eaten about five pounds of cheese in the days I spent in Switzerland and will not feel bad at all when I have my first heart attack. It was worth it.

 

Vienna to Geneva By Rail

My quick day in Geneva a few months before had taught me that most of the town is closed on Sundays so planning a full day of train travel on a Sunday seemed to be a good idea. It would be a long day, but only required one train change in Zürich so I booked it.

One of the great things about rail in Europe is how easy it is to get from place to place. That can be a hassle when everyone else takes advantage of it at the same time. I’m not sure if it was the holiday, the weekend, or both, but it seemed like all of Austria chose to travel that Sunday via ÖBB second class rail. I got a reserved seat so there wasn’t any fear I wouldn’t be able to travel, the real issue is a lack of space for luggage bigger than a carry-on.

The train I was on from Vienna to Zürich had started the morning in Budapest and was pretty full by the time I hopped on board. I was lucky to find a place for my suitcase, but others down the line were not so lucky.

The ride through Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland was insanely scenic like before. It almost made up for the length of the trip and the crowded cars. I saw many places I’d like to explore more on a future trip.

The train was comfortable and on time, but by the time I got to Zürich I was sick of being around so many people. The Swiss Rail app has a great feature where you can see how crowded each train is by class, and I was seeing second class of my train to Geneva was pretty full. Feeling very much that I wanted some room away from the crowd, I gave in to a moment of weakness and upgraded to first class via the app while en route to Zürich. I also switched to a later train at the same time. No mad dash to find the right platform, plus since I’d spent quite a bit of time at the main station there a week before, I knew I could grab some provisions.

The quick ride from Zürich to Geneva was much less crowded in first class. I got lucky because at one stop in the trip they made the announcement that several cars of the train would not be making the rest of the journey. Of course I was on one of them. The luck came with me not having my headphones in when they made the announcement, so I had time to grab my suitcase ad relocate to the part of the train that was going to keep going.

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Much more legroom and much less people in first class.

I arrived on time and walked to two blocks from the station to my hotel. After a good night’s sleep, I’d be ready to explore Geneva on a Monday when things would actually be open this time!

In the future, I may plan to go ahead and pay for first class in advance if I am traveling with a large suitcase. Either that, or use the service that some railroads in Europe have where they will ship your luggage in advance.

A Half (Well, Maybe A Quarter) A Day In Bratislava

My day in Vienna was just a sampler of what will hopefully be a future trip of much more substance. If I was going to spend a day on the train to get to Vienna, I was certainly going to spend a little over an hour on a train to go to Bratislava, Slovakia and scout that out, right?

From the Vienna Central station, the Austrian Federal Railway (or ÖBB) ran a train to Bratislava each way every hour. I grabbed one early in the morning and figured I’d spend the day in Bratislava and see what it had to offer, and still make it back to Vienna in time to pack for my trip back to Switzerland on Sunday.

After a short, foggy but scenic ride I arrived at the train station in Bratislava. As soon as you arrive you are aware that you are in a different part of Europe than just an hour ago. The station has a huge mosaic from the communist era when Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia, complete with a Sputnik!

Bratislava Mural

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The Sputnik is my favorite part of this.

Walking our of the station I had a sensation I have not had yet in my travels, it can best be described as “Uh, now what?” I didn’t really have a plan for Bratislava. I don’t speak any Slovak. I had read that there were things to see in the old city, but the train station was a bit outside of the center of town. Google maps to the rescue! It was a quick bus ride from the station to the old city. I had read in Vienna that my return train ticket would also act as a transit pass for the day in Bratislava but didn’t want to risk it so I bought a bus ticket from a machine at the stop.

Two stops later I was in the old city and I decided to head to the tourist office to see what there was to see in town. As I walked through the scenic and winding streets I was struck by how quiet it was for a Saturday morning. The tourist office was open but not much else because it was Epiphany, which is not really observed in the US in any way outside of a church event here and there. The theme for this whole trip seems to be: plan better next time.

I grabbed a lunch of Slovak food and Slovak beer and wandered around the old city. There were just enough souvenir shops open that I was able to fill my quota for the folks back home and one was even able to sell me stamps for my postcards since, because of course the post office was closed for Epiphany!

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I declined ice skating in favor of continuing to walk without a limp.
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No joke, I saw exactly two non-working public clocks in Europe.

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Pozor!
Maybe my favorite image from the trip, aside from the Sputnik.

 

While waiting for the bus back to the train station, I spotted this:

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A vending machine full of Slovak dairy items! If I didn’t have to travel back to Vienna, I would have totally bought some cheese. Next trip to Bratislava I am going to start here!

 

A Full Day In Vienna

How does a person decide how to spend a day in one of the greatest cities in the world? My plan was to travel back to the main Vienna train station and get some info at their tourist office there. I had a bit of an idea of my options ahead of time, but anything I got there would help me make up mind.

Vienna, like many other European cities I’ve been to has it’s own museum card, the Vienna City Card. While it didn’t offer many free admissions, it did give some slight discounts. The most attractive feature is the free transit on city buses, trams, and the metro. A day pass is 8€ and a 24 hour Vienna City Card was 13.90€, so  if I hit a few museums, it would pay off.

I decided the three things I wanted to be sure to do in Vienna were Vienna Central Cemetery, The Esperanto Museum, and the Globe Museum. I should be able to cram all three of those sights in a day. I hopped on the tram to ride out to the cemetery.

I have a thing for cemeteries, it’s not because I’m a goth (I am very pale though) it mostly has to do with the history of them. It is also a great reminder that no matter what, you going to die. It’s unavoidable. You can put it off, but in the end, you will end up dead. If you can read this, you have 100 years at the most left on this planet, and most of us will have a lot less than that.

All I knew about Vienna Central Cemetery before my arrival in Vienna (or Wien as the locals call it. Shouldn’t we call it that too? I mean if that’s what they call their city, shouldn’t we take their lead? Just saying….) was that Falco was buried there.

I used to say that if I was ever in Vienna, I would visit Falco’s grave. With only 24 hours in the city, would it be the best use of my time to do that just to see his grave?

Probably not. As I mentioned a bit back, I am well aware that tomorrow is not guaranteed, so to spend so much time to make that one pilgrimage wouldn’t make much sense. However, not only is Vienna Central Cemetery the final resting place of Falco, it also is the final resting place of many other famous people and has a funeral museum. Now it makes much more sense to visit on my only full day in Vienna.

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The grave of Falco and Falco’s mom

Vienna Central Museum is huge. It holds the remains of 3,000,000 people. It has four tram stops and a city bus line runs through it with stops inside. Lucky for us, they tended to group the famous dead in the same areas of honor. While in route to seeing the graves of the famous who have merged with the infinite, you get to marvel at some amazing monuments to people you have never heard of.

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It’s hard to top this one

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No caption needed either

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I was struck by the “etc. etc. etc.” line in his bio.

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I love the factory in the background
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I’m guessing a famous mountaineer

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I love the mourning statues. I’d like one on my grave of a beautiful angel or woman just shrugging her shoulders.

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This was more than likely modeled after the wife of the deceased

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Anybody have any idea what’s going o here?!?!?

There is a colossal church in the center that is worth peeking into if you are a fan of churches. They have free maps that point out the main areas of the grounds. They do have guided tours, and an app that you can download. I used a paper map they gave me at the funeral museum as my guide.

I saw what I came to see, but would like to spend another day there in the future. I grabbed the tram to head to my next stops which were in the same building at the Austrian National Library.

First up was the Esperanto Museum. I have been aware of Esperanto for a while and am always fascinated by an attempt to make communication easier. The main problem I have with Esperanto is that like all other languages besides English, I don’t speak it. The idea behind it was noble, to bring the world together by increasing communication. I’m not sure it will ever happen. Maybe a future of nothing but emojis will come close, but that doesn’t solve the problem of speech.

Espertanto CongressLabor Olympics

 

The museum is small, but has some very cool items in its exhibits. It has info not only on Esperanto but also other created languages. It is an interesting stop if you are interested in languages.

In the same building and on the same ticket (along with the Papyrus Museum at another location I didn’t get to this trip) is the Globe Museum. It has more globes in one location that I have seen in my entire life and I have a geography degree. If you are a history or geography nerd, you need to see this!

The sun goes down early at this time of year, so when I was done with the globes, I made my way back to the area around my hotel to find some dinner and other supplies and plan for the next day which would take me to Slovakia for the day.