November 1 is Toussaint’s Day in France (All Saint’s Day). This year, the first of November happened to fall on a Monday, so I skived off work and was able to spend Monday in Genève, or Geneva as we English-speakers say.
I loved every minute of being in Geneva. It’s often thought to be the capital of Switzerland but in fact it is only Switzerland’s second most populous city – Zurich is of course the most populous. Geneva is home to the headquarters of the United Nations, the International Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization (I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of these were within a 15 minute walk of each other!), and hundreds of other places that I didn’t get to see. In 2009, a Mercer survey said that Genève had the 3rd highest quality of life of any world city. High honors went to: 1) Vienna, Austria, 2) Zurich, Switzerland, 3) Geneva, Switzerland, 4) Vancouver, Canada and 5) Auckland, New Zealand.
Is it such a surprise then, that Geneva is cosmopolitan, hip, proper, and well-dressed?
My day in Geneva was effectively split into two separate sections – the southern section that makes up old Geneva , and the northern, with the parks and the international offices. After catching a ‘commuter’ train from Lausanne (apparently many many people live in Lausanne and work in Geneva), I met up with Cecilia, another MIT ’10 alum who is currently doing a MISTI internship in Grenoble, France. This new friendship, it seems, has been cemented over the fact that we crashed a Swiss immigration party and had wine at 11 am.
Yes, you read me correctly. I had free wine at 11 am.
Let me back up a little. We had just visited the horlage fleurie (flower clock) and attempted to find the jet d’eau (apparently it doesn’t start jetting water until AFTER 10:30 am much to our chagrin), and had decided to follow a tourist walking path through Vielle Genève. We found the Cathédrale de St-Pierre, walked by Rousseau’s birthplace, and then made our way to the Hôtel de Ville. If you’ve been following my blog closely you’ll know that the French call refer to a City Hall as “Hôtel de Ville.” Now, l’Hôtel de Ville de Genève was built in the 15th century and has the typical architecture of the time with an inner courtyard and the internal arcade type structures. Cecilia and I wandered up to the 1ère étage (First Floor, in France the ground floor is considered to be the 0th level) and we noticed that there were many people milling around, eating hor d’oeuvres, and sipping full glasses of wine. Did I mention that it was 11 am in the morning?
In true scientific discovery mode, Cecilia and I had to figure out what was happening (we weren’t the only tourists who were confused and who wandered into the party). Upon our entrance, we were automatically asked what kind of wine we preferred, red or white. Huh? We took our glasses of white wines, munched on some veggies and dip, and finally asked a very nice Swiss man exactly what was going on. He was wearing a pretty ridiculous get-up — see my picture above, you’ll figure out which picture I am referring to! He told us that this is a party that happens every Monday around 11 and it celebrates all those who have just obtained their Swiss citizenship.
Oops. Well, that explains why people in the room were speaking all sorts of languages…!
The rest of the day was just spent exploring the city, it’s beautiful parks along the river, visiting the international areas of Geneva, and eating cheese and chocolate. No joke. For lunch we had this amazing dish that was basically a large piece of bread smothered in cheese&ham that was subsquently baked in an oven and finally topped with a poached egg. I don’t have a picture unfortunately but that’s because we devoured our meals entirely too quickly to even think of photos. The restaurant was called the Auberge de Saviese, located at 20 rue des Paquis.
The international areas were wonderful and full of little surprises! I actually had never heard of the Broken Chair before, but apparently it is a monument to land mine victims and has been a bit controversial. Would you have thought that a broken chair would grace the front of the UN? Another cute part of Geneva can be found right along the lake as you walk from old Geneva towards the UN et al. Here you have les Bains des Pâquis- pools and baths and a restaurant! My picture of the Jet d’Eau, above, was taken at the Bains.
I think you can tell how much I loved Geneva. Geneva sang to my little American soul, the soul raised in Washington, DC that has been firmly grounded in the April cherry blossoms, the Thanksgivings spent at the museums in the National Mall, the December Christmas Trees set in front of the Capitol, and everything in between. Geneva = international crossroad where the whole world comes to frolic and play. I have never visited a city that has so keenly reminded me of home.