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.

 

Geneva

Why did we go to Geneva? Well, I have never been to Switzerland so I was up for it, but the main reason we went is that it is near a town called Tolochenaz which so happens to be the burial place of Audrey Hepburn. One of our traveling party this trip is a HUGE fan. She pointed out it was only a few hours by train from Paris, so her husband and I figured this was a worthy side trip seeing as how we got to do lots of stuff we wanted to do on this trip.

We arrived late on a Saturday night with plans to get up the next day and head to the site of the pilgrimage. Our hotel was close to the train station and had everything we needed for a short stay. After checking in we went in search of food since we had skipped dinner while on the train. Not much open late in that part of Geneva so we ended up in an Irish bar not too far from the hotel.

I’d been snacking so I wasn’t hungry but decided to get a beer. The bar was filled with Americans and Irish but we found a spot and I headed to the bar, I ordered an Irish beer and the bartender, who was a Canadian, told me it was 9.70 Swiss francs. Now the Swiss franc is worth a little more than a US dollar. I’m not sure what beer costs where you live, but almost $10 is stadium pricing in the US. We will pay it, but grumble about it the whole time. I paid it and then tipped the bartender after having a small discussion on if that was the culture there or not. This was my first lesson on the cost of things in Switzerland.

Switzerland has a reputation for being a very nice place. When you say something is Swiss, quality comes to mind. Nobody uses the term “Swiss”, to talk about the shoddiness of the construction of their watch. Over the next 24 hours, we saw that all of this quality has a price. We went to a souvenir shop at the train station and the cheapest of the cheap Chinese made souvenirs all seemed to be about 10 francs. I’m a sucker of souvenirs, I buy them for myself and for friends and family, but Switzerland made that tough. I’m sure there are cheaper places to be in the country but I didn’t find them. I will do more research for a trip I am making back there over New Years.

We woke up Sunday and headed to the train station to head to Tolochenaz and see Ms. Hepburn’s final resting place. Buying a train ticket to Morges, the nearest town with a train station, was easy at the self serve kiosk at the station. After a scenic ride of about an hour through Geneva suburbs and vineyards, we arrived at Morges and grabbed a bus to Tolochenaz.

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Pressed for time we just walked to the cemetery and paid our respects before we had to get a bus back to Morges and then a train back to Geneva. It being a Sunday, there were not as many buses and trains so we did not have time to see any other parts of Tolochenaz or Ms. Hepburn’s house.

Tolochenaz, Switzerland
Tolochenaz, Switzerland

Back in town we had some time to kill before the train and grabbed some lunch at a kebab place. It was  pretty good and they had Swiss beer in a can for 4 francs! We ate and then after hitting a Kwik-E-Mart for a few souvenirs and snacks, grabbed the train back to Geneva.

One of our party was coming down with a head cold so we dropped her back off at the hotel to rest and decided to stroll for a bit though Geneva. Almost everything that was not at the train station was closed on Sundays, so we walked down towards the lake and the river to see the sights. We found and park with monuments to people and events that I was unfamiliar with, which doesn’t happen to often since I have a degree in history, but one can’t know everything, right?

While walking along the lake an checking out the Jet d’Eau, which is as advertised in French.

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We were admiring an old boat moored by the lake and were approached by a friendly woman who began speaking to us in French. I stumbled through “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French” in French and then she switched to perfect English and told us all about the old boat, She was French but lived most of her adult life in Geneva. We chatted for about an hour about the world, Switzerland, her love life and much, much more. We talked about travel and played a fun game where I told her where I was scheduled to go next and she told me why it was crap there!

I thanked her for her advice, but assured her that I would have to check those places out for myself. I’m hard headed like that. I took a great photo of her and my buddy.

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We also met some very friendly swans.

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The water of Lake Geneva was so clear you could even seen what they had thrown in it from the bridge, which was not much compared to what I would see back home.

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We walked back to the hotel, grabbed our travel companion and took the train back to Paris.

After a car ride to the hotel by the airport, we grabbed a short night’s sleep and then boarded our flight in the AM back to the US. The plane hadn’t even left the gate and I was planning my next trip back to Europe.

 

London to Paris to Geneva

We arrived early to St. Pancras International station for the Eurostar back to Paris for what was going to be a long day of travel. The station across the street, King’s Cross, has some sort of Harry Potter related thing my travel companions wanted to see so we figured we would have breakfast there and they could run across for the photo op. It turns out there are a few Potter fans out there. They waited about half an hour in line and just as they were about to have their photo taken, they had to split back to the bags and me since they were closing check in for our train. This was one of the casualties of a short stay and poor planning on our part. I guess we will have to go back. This will also give me time to see the Harry Potter flicks, as I haven’t yet (or read the books. My nephews think I’m insane, or maybe a generation older than I am).

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The passport control line seemed to take longer in London that in Paris, despite the French folks not chatting with me about records or anything for that matter, just a scan of the passport to see that I’m not wanted by INTERPOL. We boarded in plenty of time and zipped across the Channel. I purchased an over priced half bottle of Champaign because drinking Champaign at approximately 150mph while under the sea seemed like something that I never really wanted to do until I knew I could do it. I regret nothing!

We arrived on time to Gare du Nord and then had to make our way to Gare de Lyon, which was about a 20-minute car ride away. Once again we sprung for a van since we were bogged down with several days of souvenirs from two countries.

Gare de Lyon is a beautiful station from the outside. Now that I think of it, all the train stations we went to so far on this trip were beautiful. We had some time to kill that I had built into this part of the trip just to be safe and spent it at a café at the station. The station is open to the outside so it was a tad chilly, but nothing a little hot cocoa or wine couldn’t knock out.

 

Being a rail fan, I was excited about the TGV-Lyria train we would be taking from Paris to Geneva. It was a smooth and relatively fast trip to Geneva, but it was also dark since I booked a train later in the day just in case we got held up making our way from London. I’m guessing the journey was pretty especially once we slowed down entering the Alps. Since the journey to Switzerland was short like London, it was more important to get there than to see the sights along the way. Just one more reason to go back, I say that a lot.

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24 Hours in London

For a quick 24 hours in London, there is not much to report. My main goal of going to the record fair at Old Spitalfields Market was met after a great lunch there. Lots of food stalls set up selling amazing foods from around the world. I had Turkish for the first time and it was amazing. So amazing that once I found the pizza place selling any pizza for £5, I still felt like I made the correct choice.

I picked up about twenty 45s at decent prices. Including my favorite Jam single “Going Underground” a few more Slade and Thin Lizzy singles and surprises by The Rezillos and Captain Sensible thrown in. Lots of overpriced stuff, at least in my opinion, but you can find a few bargains. I had more than one dealer remind me that the better show was the next day (sorry, I’ll be on my way to Switzerland), and the biggest show is in the Netherlands. Well, I guess I’ll have to come back then.

Upon walking back to the tube we stumbled upon a chocolate shop. Same thing happened in Paris. We all showed much restraint, but I did get a few things including a small bottle of gin infused with cocoa. I haven’t tried it yet. I’ll report back when I do.

Had a great dinner at an Indian place near the hotel and met three locals getting together for the first time since they were at university together about 30 years ago. The food and the company really stand out as a highlight on the trip and it was all unplanned. We just stumbled upon it all. I plan before each trip and try to have as much plotted out in advance as possible, but as with life itself, it is the unexpected that can be amazing and most memorable.

We turned in early to get ready for the next day which would see us travel via rail to three countries. I’m already planning for my next trip to London, whenever that may be.

Paris to London

If the Channel Tunnel does not impress you, I’m not sure we can really communicate and thus it may be hard for us to be friends. When we were putting this trip together, my two travel companions had their own idea as to what would make a great one-day side trip. One said he wanted to go to London. I told him in 24 hours you won’t get to see or do much, but he said he wanted to see it and to travel via the Chunnel. That sold me that it would be worth the expense and hassle. I’ve been to London a few times but never by train so I was in.

We got up and packed and I ordered a van to take us from our flat to the Gare du Nord (I believe this is French for “north station”, not very imaginative but apt). We had quite a bit of luggage and the walk from the Metro to the flat on the first day was a bit much so we sprung for a driver. This went better than I had planned and we got there rather quickly. I am usually against cars in cities I’ve not been to before if I can help it. I hate being stuck in traffic AND paying for it while a train is moving swiftly below me.

Since we were going from a Schengen Area country to one that was not, I knew we would have to go through customs, I was just surprised that UK customs had set up at the train station in Paris. I’m not sure why this surprised me, maybe I’m just not used to things making sense. You must forgive me; I do live in America after all. It wasn’t the first train of the day but there was a bit of a line to have our passports inspected.

I got up before one of the two customs and border agents, who was a guy my age or a bit older. He immediately asked how long I was going to stay in the UK. “A day”, I said.

Border guy: “What are your plans for that day?”

Me: “Old Spitalfields Market for a record fair, lunch and then maybe the British Museum”

Border guy: “What is your interest in old record albums?”

Me: “I’m an old guy and I like to listen to old records”

Border guy: “What kinds of records are you looking for?”

Me: “60s and 70s soul, mostly American soul. From the late 70s and early 80s UK punk and new wave.”

At this point I was getting a bit nervous, the interview was getting a bit long compared to what I’m used to. In Beijing, hardly a word (of course they had tons of info ahead of time via my visa application), in Japan they took my fingerprints but didn’t ask too much, but this was turning into a real interview and the line was still behind me.

Border guy: “What’s your favorite album?”

I’ve had a lifetime to think about this but hadn’t really been able to come up with an answer. I have a couple thousand in my collection, and I’m not sure I could really name a favorite. I’m not sure why, but to me it seemed like an odd question to ask someone at the border. Sure, if I’d said something like Up by Right Said Fred, that is probably a well known terrorist favorite that will get you an “enhanced” screening, but you never know if however you answer a question at the border will seem legitimate. I thought of an album that if I had only it on a deserted island, I could listen to it longer than any other before I threw my stereo in the ocean (or tried to make a boat out of it)

Me: “That’s a tough question, but I’ll answer London Calling by the Clash”

Border guy: “Well done…the Clash are my favorite too.”

Then as he stamped my passport he looked over at his partner and said one of the coolest things someone has ever said about me: “This guy’s got a lot of stamps”. My first passport had exactly one stamp during its ten years. I’ve tried to make up for that injustice with my current one. Looks like I’m doing an OK job with it.

Nothing to worry about, I wasn’t about to be denied entry, I was just picked for an enhanced interview by a fellow music fan who just happened to be stationed at the border crossing that I was at that day. It was kind of a highlight of the trip.

We went through security (it was nearly airport level) and boarded our train for the quick trip to London. The train, as with all trains I’ve been on outside of the US, left on time and we were on our way to London.