It had been just over six months since we’d arrived home after our epic year long journey around the world and it was time for us to set off again. This time, we would only be leaving the UK for 10 days and this time we would be staying within our own continent. For we were heading to Switzerland!
After going online to book myself the Eurostar for a trip to Paris with my sister, I’d seen that you could actually get the train all the way to Geneva. A friend of mine actually lives in Geneva so I thought it would be good for Barry and I to do a weekend break away and pay her a visit. As usual for us though, a long weekend turned into ten days after I started researching the country. There was just so much to see and do, that a long weekend wasn’t going to be long enough. So a few days in Geneva, grew to a mini tour of the South of Switzerland with some very scenic train journeys through the Alps.
Our journey began with a 4:30am alarm call so we could catch the 5:38am train to St Pancras. Our Eurostar train out of St. Pancras was at 7:02am so it was an early start for us. Admittedly our journey to Paris was spent sleeping. I’d travelled this train a few times before and sadly Barry has a strong hatred for France (not sure why) and knowing that it wasn’t really that scenic a journey (despite the fact that as usual we didn’t end up with a window seat) we felt we were ok to catch up on some sleep.
We purchased some metro passes on the train as once we arrived in Paris we had to get from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. It was only a few minutes by metro or a 50-minute walk, but with our huge backpacks we weren’t prepared to do any long trips with them weighing us down.
Once we found ourselves in Gare de Lyon, we had about an hours wait for our train. About 15 minutes into this wait I decided I needed the toilet. So leaving Barry to guard the bags I went for a wander. I didn’t take long to find the loos, but once there I discovered you needed to pay. I wasn’t impressed by this, but with the urge growing stronger by the minute, I made my way back to Barry to see if we had any cash. Then it dawned on me that we were actually in France, so Swiss Francs weren’t going to suffice and neither were English Pounds. There were however lots of café’s and restaurants within the station so I thought that I could sneak into one of these and use their facilities. After about another 10 minutes of wandering round the station looking for a loo, I realised that the payable ones were the only ones available. By now I was busting so the only thing left to do was to bite the bullet, draw out some cash and pay for the privilege of using a toilet! 80 cents it cost me and whilst that is by no means a lot of money, the toilets were ‘bog’ standard! No fancy gadgets or self-flushing. No attendant to hand you a paper towel to dry your hands or give you a spritz of perfume and a lollipop after. Very disappointing!
This did now mean we were left with 19.20 in euros to spend, so I went for another wander round the station to get us some sandwiches for our journey. Whilst on my way, I saw a little old lady coming towards me pulling a small suitcase behind her. As she passed me her legs slowly began to slip apart, like she was doing the splits in slow motion and then suddenly she was on the floor, with one leg stretched out in front the other behind, yelping for help from her travelling companion who was rushing off ahead of her. I headed over to help, baffled as to what happened and then I saw it. An avocado skin lying on the floor underneath her. An avocado skin! Who just eats an avocado? It’s not like a banana. I’ve never seen anyone just eat it right out of the skin. But hey, maybe that’s the French for you!
Sandwiches finally purchased, we made our way onto the train and settled in for another three hours. This journey was a lot more scenic than the first, helped by the fact that we had a lovely big window next to us that we could see out of! We went through some gorgeous green valleys and alongside some very blue rivers. It was definitely the best way to travel over flying.
In what felt like no time at all, we arrived in Geneva and navigated our way to the tram stop. My friend Liz had given very clear instructions on how to get from the station to her house and on how to buy a ticket for the tram. This didn’t stop Barry from panicking that we’d gotten on the tram the wrong way or that we hadn’t bought the right ticket but I was confident that I’d followed the instructions properly. Needless to say, I had and we arrived at Palettes as instructed within 20 minutes. And there was Liz to greet us. I hadn’t seen her for almost 11 years and there she was pushing a buggy with her little boy sat inside. It was all a little surreal, but it’s always good to see a familiar face whilst in a strange country. Even as we stood in the centre of Geneva, we found ourselves surrounded by mountains and the heat was blistering. Straight away I could tell I was going to like this place!
That night we settled into Liz and Tim’s house (Tim being Liz’s fiancé), where we enjoyed a home cooked meal of lasagne and lots of wine!
The next morning, we allowed ourselves to wake up naturally without an alarm. We were on holiday after all and seeing as we’d had a very early start the night before, we thought this was justified. Plus, today was Barry’s birthday! Now last year we spent the day touring the head campus of Google and Microsoft in California, finished by eating smores round a campfire in Yosemite National Park. Today was going to be a bit different. Today, we were going to take ourselves on a tour of Geneva. We had breakfast, said goodbye to Liz and the kids and headed for the tram stop.
Public transport in Geneva is made so easy. There is a ticket machine at every stop and you either by a one-hour ticket for 3francs or a day pass for 8francs. All the trams and buses are clearly labelled so I think you’d find it very hard to get lost or end up in the wrong place!
Our first stop saw us head towards the Jet d’Eau. A famous 140 metre tall fountain which shoots water up into the air at 200km/h from Lake Geneva. Whilst making our way here from the tram stop, we came across some very Swiss looking buildings. Then as we got nearer to the lake we could see the jet shooting out from behind the trees and then suddenly we were right there with the lake in front of us and the jet could be seen in it’s entirety. You could walk right out to it along a platform, which of course, we did. However, when the wind blew, you got soaked all down one side. So we quickly ran back, protecting the camera and video equipment as we went.
Following our ‘soaking’ we decided it was time to stop for a bite to eat. Now knowing that Geneva is one of the most expensive places in Europe we opted to eat at a little riverside hut. They did Panini’s and pizzas so this was fine by us. We sat, ate our lunch and admired the view of Lake Geneva and the Jet d’Eau.
After lunch we continued our walk round the lake and found ourselves at the Jardin Anglais. Filled with beautiful flowers and interesting statues it also has the world’s longest second hand which is on Geneva’s most photographed clock. At first we had trouble finding it, then we saw a big group of Japanese tourists huddled round something taking pictures and we just knew that was where it had to be!
By now the sun was really starting to heat up so we thought we’d have time for just one more sight on our to do list – the St Pierre Chapel. I’d read it had some amazing panoramic views across Geneva and knowing how much Barry likes a photo opportunity, I thought this would be a good one for him to experience. As we walked up the street we could see a glimpse of the top of the chapel over the trees. We had to work our way up a winding little back alley, past some very quaint shuttered houses, which looked just like you see in films. By the time we reached the top where the chapel was, we were right up high, level with the building tops. Already we had a great view over the town and out to the lake.
After walking all the way round the chapel, we eventually found the entrance and headed inside. It looked exactly like a chapel should so we had a quick tour and then purchased some tickets to go up the towers where we would find the panoramic views. It took seventy-six spiral stair-cased steps to reach the top, which left us feeling quite dizzy. We then had to climb another forty steps to reach the bell tower. Once at the top we were right up in the eves of the building and had to meander our way through to get to the towers. When we stepped outside, the view went on for miles and we could see right across the lake and out to the snow-capped mountains. By this point, the heights had gotten too much for me (there’s only so much I can take) so I made my way back down whilst Barry continued to hang over the edge and take selfies!
After all the walking in the hot Genevan sun, it was time to head home and get changed, ready to head out for dinner to celebrate Barry’s birthday. Liz had booked us a table at Au Vieux Carouge – a fondue restaurant she recommended. You can’t go to Switzerland and not have traditional Swiss fondue after all! Barry and I both love cheese so we thought this would be something we would both really enjoy – how wrong could we be!
When we arrived at the restaurant, we took a table outside. It was still really warm so we thought we might as well make the most of it. The little old lady that served us started speaking in very fast French, I understand some but not a lot and this totally baffled me. She then asked if we were English, so feeling relieved we said yes, but this didn’t stop her from continuing on in her French. We got by though and when she asked what we wanted to order, she offered us ‘traditional fondue’ so we went with that.
When it was brought out it all looked yummy. A basket filled with chunky bread and melted cheese was bubbling away over the burner. Barry went for the first dunk and I quickly followed, but his face wasn’t what I expected. He didn’t like it. He said it had a funny after taste. I ate mine and thought it was delicious. He was really disappointed. I told him to get something else, maybe a meat fondue, but he declined and in true Barry fashion, chose to have a moan about it instead. I knew he didn’t hate it that much otherwise there was no way he would’ve eaten it. In an attempt to make himself enjoy it more, he asked the little old lady for some Aromat. It was on our table when we sat down but after ordering fondue it was quickly taken away. Needless to say the little old lady had no idea what he was talking about and so grabbed a lady walking on by. She knew what we meant and explained but the little old lady looked horrified and said ‘on fondue??’ Barry opting to try and not offend chose this moment to try some French and said ‘J’adore Aromat’. Thankfully she laughed and brought over the little yellow bottle. Feeling slightly better after drowning out the cheesy taste, he continued on and we almost finished the whole bowl before feeling like we were going to explode and splat cheese and bread all over the street. We did manage to save room for dessert though. Barry had a strawberry tart and I had meringue and cream. Whilst we ate our puddings we were subject to some entertainment. There was a marquee up across the road with some sort of Scottish festival going on and whilst we were eating some bagpipers and drummers came out. We were serenaded (if that’s how you can describe the loud shrill of bagpipes) whilst we scoffed our sweet treats. Barry said that was his highlight of the dinner – I’m just hoping he didn’t enjoy it so much he takes it up as a new hobby!
To round our evening off, we made our way to the Kempinski Hotel, where we were meeting Liz and some of her friends for some drinks. We took a lift up to the 2nd floor where we met them out on the roof terrace. The views were spectacular. Again you could see right across the lake and out to Mont Blanc – the highest peak in the Alps. So we sat and had drinks, whilst watching the sunset.