Friday, January 22, 2010

White Christmas: Geneva

When we were deciding where to go for our Christmas holiday this year, Leah had only one criterion: it must be snowy. We chose Switzerland as it was convenient to Germany, and was reliable for the white stuff at that time of year.

It would seem that even Swiss Efficiency is no match for Heathrow in the pre-Christmas period, and we ended up leaving late. However, the amusing pilot made up for it by barking out updates ("Landing in 10 minutes, 10 minutes!"). We landed in Geneva, got a free ride to our hotel, reunited some Swiss person with their phone, and arrived at our hotel to yodelling and the smell of fondue.

Geneva is not the most beautiful of cities. It is definitely a business town, and it seemed bleak and empty when nobody was there. We spent our first day exploring our nearby surroundings and did a rather boring walking tour (supposedly of Genevan architecture). It was on this day we realised that Switzerland is indeed quite cold; apparently the average temperature was -6 that day. After we reheated at the hotel it was time for dinner, and the snow that was starting to fall when we went inside had turned into a thick layer on the streets. We stomped through it to a Thai restaurant that was highly rated on TripAdvisor (our verdict: decent), then took some photos of the city's art installation. They put all sorts of lights in the trees, which looked rather pretty in the dark.
Festival Arbres et Lumières

The next day, the 21st, we wanted to see something a bit more interesting, and moseyed around the old town. This was much more picturesque, with small alleyways and cobbled streets. There were small stores all throughout, all specialising in one particular product. It made for some fun window shopping. We were headed for St Pierre's Cathedral, which was recommended to us by the Rough Guidebook. It described the external architecture as unusual, and it certainly was -- it was an amalgamation of addons throughout the years, all in different styles with no attempt to make them match. Inside, the decor was much more uniform -- dour -- but there was a pretty chapel just before you left which was well worth visiting.
St Peter's Cathedral

St Peter's Cathedral

After this we were going to poke our nose into the Natural History Museum, but it turned out to be closed. So instead, we found some lunch, and Leah introduced me to Churros. Delicious. Then, it was time for some culture, so we headed off to see the Red Cross museum and the United Nations. The Red Cross museum had an industrial feel to it, and tells its story mainly through pictures. The message to take away from it is that no matter what the politics behind conflict are, people will always need help. The Red Cross also helps out in disaster zones (which is easy to forget when you start going through the museum -- it has its origins in war but kept going after WWII finished).

After the Red Cross it was time for the UN. Unfortunately for us, Ban Ki-moon and co had packed up for the New Year, and you couldn't even go into the grounds. So, we consoled ourselves with the view from the security gates, and then built a snowman in the botanic gardens.
United Nations

You may have noticed I haven't mentioned Geneva's most famous landmark yet, the Jet d'Eau. This is because its most famous landmark only operates in limited hours in the winter, and even then only when the temperature is above 2 degrees. On our last day before we left, we were determined not to miss it. We took a boat out to it to get the best possible view, only to discover just how limited the hours were. So, Leah did her best impression of it, and we took a boat back to the hotel so we wouldn't miss our train. Lucky for us though, we did have time to see it from the other side of the lake, and finally got a picture of it.
This is what the fountain would look like
Jet d'Eau

The next stop in our trip was the city of Bern, in which we meet my brother, fat churches, and a lady whose German made her sound more annoyed than she actually was.

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