BIBLIOGRINDAdventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture
Geneva Parks index:
For all the international political agencies headquartered here, I’ve found Geneva to be least affected by politics than most cities around the world. Perhaps its history as a politically and socially tolerant culture has something to do with this; or, despite what we see across the political landscape on a global scale, Genevans understand that internationalism is not a political fad, but the means to satisfy compromise and promote understanding among the world’s many disparate nationalities. Fully a third of Geneva’s population is not Swiss-born, but of foreign origin who have moved here to work for all those international-government and non-government agencies headquartered in modern skyscrapers and historic buildings. Therefore, Geneva has a global feel about town that you’ll find in its array of shopping, choice of restaurants, and bountiful arts scene.
As you walk through its city center, set on the crescent-shaped banks of Lake Geneva, you experience Geneva’s French Baroque architecture in the massive apartment buildings along wide boulevards. I’ve not seen so many balconies along a single street. And this scene is replicated street after street. The buildings rise into the sky and hold you within their elegance. Only when you near the delta of all these streets, at the opening to the lake’s vast breathe across to the rising Alps, will you stop looking up.
One afternoon I stood inside L’Usine on Place des Voluntaires. This converted factory now has a cinema, theater, concert space, and art gallery. The atmosphere moves like a wandering mist in a vibrant wood. The generations mingle together in this multi-story space where art is king. I walked through the gallery and was not surprised to see art influenced by the many converging cultures in Geneva.
Genevans gather along the lakefront and roam its promenades. I’ve lived by lakes and oceans before, and the usual wonder is Why are all these boats docked in the harbor on such a beautiful day? Well, this is not the case in Geneva, where flotillas of pleasure craft—from single-person sailing skiffs to 50-foot yachts—leave from the docks by the hour. And this is just the main harbor, where the famous Jet d’Eau shoots its spray hundreds of feet into the air. The lakefront has recreation parks, bicycle rentals, a motorized “mule train” to take you around the sites, and cafés where you can stop for a cold beer, some hot chocolate, or ice cream.
Geneva Museums and Sites
Geneva has more than 30 museums. One of its oldest is Tavel House, a residence that was destroyed by fire in 1334 but restored to its once opulence as a symbol of Geneva’s history. The house holds artifacts of daily life of the city from medieval ages to the late 1800s. A scale model of Geneva from the 1830s shows the city when walls surrounded it. In the basement, graffiti from its earliest days is scratched on the stone walls. Open daily 10am-5pm. Rue due Puits-St-Pierre 6. Admission, FREE!
Geneva came to prominence in the world in the 16th century, when Protestant reformer John Calvin wrestled with then Catholic Geneva. Two main sites in the city celebrate his life. The Murs des Réformateurs is a bas-relief of Calvin and his reformers in the Parc des Bastions, near the botanical gardens. The relief tells Calvin’s story in story-board fashion.
Inside Cathédrale de St-Pierre, in the old town, you can see Calvin’s altar. It looks like most altars, a little less elaborate than Catholic altars. But this was part of the man’s stripping religion of its pomp in order to concentrate on saving the penitent’s sole. And so Calvin changed Europe’s belief system from the pulpit. Open daily from 10am. Cour St-Pierre.
The United Nations’ European headquarters offers guided tours of its facilities, where you see meeting chambers, halls bulging with display cases, and photographs of people and events. After the tour, you can sign the Golden Book of Peace. Open daily from 9am. Place des Nations.
The Marionette Museum is a great family activity in Geneva. The museum bills itself as a treat for those 4 to 104! More than 200 marionettes from 25 countries have found a home here. Experts conduct seminars on marionette construction, and weekly shows entertain the kids in the museum’s Theatre du Reve. Open Saturdays only, 2pm-5pm. Rue Merle d’Aubigne 22. Admission SFr. 1.50.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum documents crimes against humanity. The displays can be a bit grim, but then, the point is to raise people’s consciousness to the problems found globally. Open 10am-5pm; closed Tues. Avenue de la Paix 17. Admission SFr 10.
Near the Jet d’Eau on the waterfront, you’ll find the Horloge Fleurie, or Floral Clock, a tribute to Geneva’s watch-making history. The clock has ticked since 1955, and each season its design changes.
For a funky look at Geneva’s alternative arts scene, spend time at L’Usine, a refurbished factory with a theatre, cinema, and gallery. Open daily from 10am. Place des Volontaires 4.
Geneva is in French-speaking Switzerland, and you’ll find numerous French and Swiss restaurants. Nonetheless, cafés throughout town serve international cuisines. Geneva specialties include freshwater fish, fondue, and longeole—an unsmoked fennell and cumin sausage.
Two lakeside restaurants worth a look are La Perle du Lac (rue de Lausanne 126; phone 909 1020) and Port de Gitana (Route de Lausanne 126; phone 774 3148) at Bellevue Harbor. Both are expensive, with fresh fish selections and a good wine cellar.
Aux-Halles de l’Ile (place de l’Ile 1) sits on an island, is famous for its fish, and entertains diners with live Jazz. Phone 311 5221.
Finally, if you want to venture into Geneva’s suburbs, Dix Vins (in Carouge) serves traditional food and a changing wine list. You can sample their ten wines, which are wheeled out on a cart. Rue Jacques-Dalphin 29; phone 342 4010.
Geneva International Airport has public transportation into the city. The main rail station is just a few blocks from the lakefront, and you can get from or to every major European city. The Geneva bus terminal is just south of the rail station, and has destinations across Europe.
Geneva is a major hub for skiers traveling to resorts in the Swiss and French Alps. Bus transfers cost from around $60 round trip to the Chamonix Valley resorts, only 56 km to the southeast.
Geneva’s city transportation consists of trams and subways. The systems are color coded and easy to read. If you want a little adventure, hop on a tram that reaches into a hillside suburb and go for a ride to see how the Swiss live. Buy your tram and subway tickets at self-service machines, and validate them on the coach.
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