Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Geneva 2013: The Swiss, The Science, and The Super Expensive Ketchup

Geneva, Switzerland is the next stop on the adventure. Or is it Geneva, France? Well, seeing there are no borders in Europe, it could be either, really. We tried to figure it out by turning the map upside down and inside out and comparing the location of the border line to where we were, but we failed at this too.

Our train leaves from the Gare de Lyon, which is a 45 Euro taxi ride from our hotel. Ouch. We're deposited in a scary-looking underground parking lot, but once inside it's super-modern station, and it's clean, which somehow makes up for the general lack of organisation. We locate a Costa and a mini-supermarket for breakfast, but by now I am downright sick of not being able to understand any of the food labels, and having to act out my order to the cashiers. In fact, I'm just sick of travelling and being tired, and France in general, and I'm not in the greatest of moods. The sooner I'm out of here the better.

"I .... would.... like... a muffin.... this one.... blueberry one?" I say slowly and carefully, tapping on the glass to show exactly which muffin I was after. "Blueberry muffin?" asks the cashier in perfect American English. Despite feeling slightly foolish, I've never been so happy to hear American in my life. I also purchase a ham and cheese sandwich, which is kind of gross because no one here has even heard of buttering their bread, let alone chucking some mayo on the stuff. Anyway...

Geneva is about a 3 hour train ride from Paris. The tourist websites punt it as being a journey filled with scenic mountain and lake views, but the truth is that it's flat countryside for a good 2.5 hours. The last half hour though, is really something spectacular.

We've got directions printed out from Google, but no way to figure out which way is North, South, East or West once we're out of the trainstation, so we try to hail a cab. The driver refuses to take us because he says it's too close. We end up wandering the streets for about two hours (luggage in tow), before we finally find the hotel. By the time we do, I'm surprised that it even exists, and pleasantly surprised that the girl at the check-in desk speaks perfect English. There's also free wi-fi, and - even better - a kettle in the lobby that we can use to make tea whenever we want - winning!

We still have much of the afternoon and early evening to explore, so we head down to the lake, but not before stopping to - once again - satiate our hunger. Literally the only thing open is McDonald's, where we're forced to pay the equivalent of R330 for two chicken burgers and chips. Plus extra for ketchup. Are they kidding?!

But empty wallets aside, the lake is really a sight. If I'd been wearing my glasses, I'd have even been able to see Mont Blanc, snow-capped and very, very far in the distance. It's not particularly cold around the lake though, and although there are water buses back and forth across the lake, it's very possible and pleasant to simply walk around. We also find Geneva's clock made of flowers in a garden near the lake, and much like at Abbey Road, take turns to have a photo with it, accidentally photo-bombing every other tourist in town in the process.

Geneva also just happens to be home to CERN, and I could really do with a dose of science, so off we head the next morning. Tours are supposed to be booked out 9 months in advance... but at least there'll be a giftshop. After finding perfect directions on the internet, we still manage to get horribly lost, and when we eventually locate the tram we're supposed to be on and flat-out run for it, we realise we're so close to our destination that we may as well have walked. Fail.

Luck is on our side in one way though - a tour is just about to leave, and it's not fully-booked after all! We're handed visitor passes and shown into a dark room to watch an intro video which is - thankfully - in English.

We're packed amongst nerds and geeks and kids furiously taking notes, and of course much of the nuclear science goes over my head, but I remember enough from Chemistry 101 to understand the basics. The thing that disconcerts me the most is the fact that much of the particle collider is located underneath the airport. Can anyone saw 'Flight 815'? Luckily none of my flights are numbered thus.

I'm not sure if I'm being clear on this: I went to CERN, where the Large Hadron Collider is smashing things together trying to re-create the Big Bang. Do you see how cool this is to a geek like me? Yes? Good.

Okay, moving on. Back in town, this time by way of one tram direct to the station, lunch is a thrifty two-for-one pasta deal (note how much pasta I have eaten so far, I would live to regret this) at an Italian restaurant next to McDonald's. Ha, take that Micky D's, we can get two bowls of pasta for what you'd charge for half a burger.

Just for the fun of it, we hop on a water bus and ride back and forth across the lake, simply so that we can giggle and squeal about being on a boat on Lake Geneva. It increases our coolness factor, see. Our fellow passengers on this voyage are none other than a family of South Africans! It's amazing how many we'll come across on this trip.

Of course, a trip to Switzerland (well, at least I think this is the Swiss part of Geneva... no borders, remember?) wouldn't be complete without some chocolate. Although anything in this town in likely to cost me an arm and a leg or two, I manage to acquire a tiny packet of Swiss chocolates. Turns out they're so good that I feel the need to keep them forever and only eat one the entire trip. In fact, it's currently a month later, and I've just consumed my third.

It really is a pity to check out of the hotel the next morning, it's very cute and quaint, and home to mom's new best friend: a boisterous boxer dog that wants to lick us both to death. There's also the situation of the tea in the lobby and the fact that I'd been quite enjoying the fact that this one had a shower with a door, if you can believe it! (Even though one had to stay inside the bathroom for a few minutes after showering so as to not let the steam set the fire alarms off.) Who knew what or where was next...

But all in all, Geneva is well worth a visit. True, you should probably stock up on food before you go, as you could probably buy half of Marks & Spencer for what you'd pay for a coffee here, but on the plus side the public transport is all free, the lake is really pretty, and there's a huge jet of water that shoots up constantly in good weather, making the lake look like some kind of magic hot spring. And who's to say it isn't?

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