Geneva (Sept 23-26)

We traveled via TGV to Paris, swapped stations via the metro (not fun with luggage!) and arrived at Gare de Lyon. Greg had a particular lunch spot in mind, and we soon ended up at Le Blue Train, a spectacular looking restaurant which is situated in the original station railway building and sumptuously decorated in a high Baroque style which has earned it a place as a listed building of historical interest. It even has the original and rather fabulous Victorian loos, all marble and wooden panelling. Our main courses were both excellent – I had a piece of Salmon and Greg had noisette of veal. For desert I enjoyed a selection of French cheeses, and Greg had the house signature dessert of Rhum Baba, extremely generously doused with dark rum at the table (with the bottle of rum left on the table so that more could be poured on if desired). However the star for the meal was definitely the venue, which was extremely impressive albeit somewhat over the top.

Our Geneva hotel, the Hotel Kipling, was a nice hotel with character. It was themed for Rudyard Kipling, and decorated with artwork, furniture and colours from India. It was elegantly and reasonably subtly done and we rather liked it. The hotel also turned out to be remarkably quiet despite it’s central location; always a definite plus. On check-in they gave us a 3 day transport card, valid within the city on all buses, trams and trains; fantastic! (and Geneva transport had an effective app too 🙂 ). We dumped our stuff in the room and headed down to the pier for dinner. There was a small place there which is part of an open air wellness facility (sauna, hamman and swimming in in the lake, all very European). In the winter months, starting from September, they specialise in cheese fondues, and we ordered a cheese and charcuterie board plus bread and fondue, and ate these as the sun went down creating wonderful evening and sunset light on Lake Geneva. Very picturesque and a nice end to the day.

We got up early the next morning and searched out a local cafe Greg had seen recommended for coffee and pastries for breakfast. These were indeed very good, and with these consumed we took the train to the airport. I rather wondered where we were going, which turned out to be the nearby exhibition center (think NEC), where a special exhibition was touring – a recreation of the excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamen. This was very well executed, starting with plenty of information about the background and history of the dig, to put it in context. The treasures themselves were very faithfully replicated, together with lots of information to help explain their meaning (as much as is currently understood). We spend a good two hours here, and were very impressed with the level of information and attention to detail. And the pieces themselves were very impressive; all the more given the lack of technology the Egyptians had available to them.

In the afternoon we visited the Patak Phillipe watch museum, which was small but contained an impressive number of timepieces ranging from pocket watches, to mantlepiece clocks, to wrist watches, plus more exotic creations such as clocks in fans or tiny jewellery and some mechanically animated pieces. There were a great number of exquisite pieces on display, though Greg and I would have enjoyed a little more information on how the clockwork actually worked. As a final stop we visited the Cathedral, and I climbed the tower, which repaid the effort (lots of steps!) with fantastic views across the city. The cathedral decor is stark in keeping with it being the birthplace of the Reformation and most specifically the Calvanism movement. John Calvin’s chair is preserved and on display and interestingly there is no main altar or indeed alter pieces. There are hints in high corners of the colour scheme there originally was, but these have all but been obliterated. The adjoining chapel gives an idea of the richness of the colour scheme and decor the cathedral originally had. The chapel had been converted into a Calvanist school with the very tall room split into several floors. More recently using the original drawings and art for the period it has been completely restored to its original state (it had been built as a mausoleum for a rich patron). The cathedral has a fascinating history and stands on a site which once housed three cathedrals (each with a different speciality). In one of the small side chapels a short film shows the history of the building, but also explains some of the history of Geneva (and why it seems an odd little addition at the edge of Switzerland – originally a small border town, it became independent in the 14th Century, following which it was conquered and reconquered a number of times, before voluntarily joining the Swiss Confederation in 1815 when the Confedration was granted independence and the borders of modern Switzerland were set). Dinner was at Chez Ma Cousine a very local restaurant specialising in chicken (and not offering much else!). So we had roast chicken and chips, and I had a local beer, which was altogether very tasty.

Our second day in Geneva was to be big institution day, starting with a trip to CERN (short for Conseil EuropĂ©en pour la Recherche NuclĂ©aire – its original name. Officially it is now “Organisation europĂ©enne pour la recherche nuclĂ©aire” but the original acronym has stuck). My company does work with CERN, and obviously it’s quite well known to the public generally through major science infrastructure such as the Large Hadron Collider – LHC – as well as being a major location for a Dan Brown thriller! As my Mum later remarked, the perfect visit would have involved Professor Brian Cox as a tour guide, however short of that Greg had booked us onto a short guided tour which turned out to be given by one of the PhD students. As we waited we explored the small museum dedicated to CERN and it’s history, which was very interesting. I hadn’t appreciated how far back CERN was founded – not long after the Second World War in 1954. And it’s had a huge impact on science, and Physics in particular, with many notable discoveries over time; most recently notably the Higgs Boson (sometimes referred to as the God particle). It also happens to be the birthplace of the World Wide Web, which Tim Berners-Lee created as a hypertext system for scientists to share information and collaborate (his vision had more interactive wiki-type elements than the general web we know of today). Today CERN unites almost 10,000 scientists from more than 110 countries, with 20 Member States as well as a few nation observers. I was also tickled to notice copies of Cern Courier in reception, which is the in-house magazine for CERN published by my company. Our tour was somewhat limited but very interesting. It gave us a flavour what of type of work CERN did, and our visit included seeing the ATLAS detector, one of four detectors looking for particles created by LHC collisions. The LHC itself was housed deep below us, approx 50-150m below ground level, and taking up the 27km of tunnel which was built in 1980 for the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP). The ATLAS control room was a little like a scaled down version of NASA mission control, though with only one operator as LHC is currently in an 18 month downtime window for maintenance. When running it generates so much data that each year it would fill a stack of CDs 20km tall. Our visit ended there (Greg had tried to arrange for more access through a work colleague, but unfortunately that hadn’t proven possible), and so it was time to head for our second big institution – the United Nations!

Getting into the United Nations was slightly more work, as you need to go through an airport style security checkpoint and present a passport to be granted entry. After this we headed for the reception building for the next English guided tour. The Geneva UN building is now the administrative center for the organisation, and was the original headquarters when it was formed after the League of Nations (founded in 1920 at the Paris Peace Congress and based in Geneva) disbanded (due to failing in its main prupose which was to prevent a second World War). Almost all of the Leagues assets including the beautiful Assembly building and its large grounds were passed on to the UN who also inherited its sub groups and comittees (which have now expanded and there are many more than you would imagine). Our guide was a very cheery fellow, and first led us to one of the iconic debating chambers. It was a weird feeling sat in one of the chairs, looking up at the platform with the UN symbol on it (itself a masterpiece of diplomacy – to avoid an country having undue prominence and bing in the centre of the map, the map that is the UN symbol is shown with the North Pole in the centre, thus having no nation in the centre as there is no landmass there).

Our guide explained the intricate arrangements with regards to seating (generally in alphabetical order, but alternating between alphabetical order in English and in French on different days! Major meeting also alternate with reverse alphabetical order to avoid countries like Zambia always being at the back). We also passed by a beautifully designed and decorated chamber – the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations room – which has a landscape on the ceiling by famous artist Miquel BarcelĂł, within which the UN Council on Human Rights was in session discussing topics including Syria. As we wandered round I wondered whether the UN budget at $5billion was more than CERN ; a comparison via wikipedia wasn’t trivial, but it does appear that if you include the cost of all the science within CERN it’s annual budget is higher. The UN Palace is located in Ariana Park, which was bequeathed to the City of Geneva in 1890 by Gustave de Revilliod de la Rive, on three conditions: that the park always remain accessible to the public, that he be buried in the park, and that peacocks roam freely on its grounds, which they do to this day. For security reasons it is however unfortunately closed to the public. It looks over Lake Geneva, and towards the Alps and Mount Blanc and struck me as very peaceful. Probably a very useful aid to thinking and contemplation for some of those involved in tense International negotiations. Our visit included seeing a couple of grand halls, within one of which an art exhibition was displayed and apparently events are sometimes held. It was also a very international hall with different colours of marble; some from Italy, some from Germany, some from Finland. In fact that particular room – the Salle des Pas Perdus – had something within it contributed from every founder member state!

After the UN we decided to take a look at a few of the shops, and I considered buying a new watch if I saw one that I liked. However I have to say that I am not sure I’ve ever felt quite so poor when shopping! I thought the budget I had in mind was reasonably generous, but there were few watches that cheap, and many that were several orders of magnitude more expensive! (one that I briefly admired I commented to Greg was 4,000 francs – he corrected me as I’d missed a 0 and it was in fact 40,000 francs…). So we found something more within our price range – some Movenpick ice-cream and enjoyed that as we gazed at the shops selling Rolex, Cartier, Patek Philippe and similar. We also found a nice looking chocolate shop – Läderach – and purchased a small selection of chocolates. Dinner that night was at a small Japanese restaurant called Wasabi, that served a small but interesting selection of dishes. We shared some pork gyoza and then each had a bento box – Greg with mixed tempura and I had chicken teriyaki. Finally we returned to our hotel and sampled the chocolates we’d bought earlier, which turned out to be sublime.

The next day we left Geneva, and headed onwards..


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