Monday, October 2

Geneva for the weekend

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I spent my 25th Birthday in Zurich. At the time I back-packed through most of eastern and southern Switzerland including Lucerne, Bern and Interlaken. Unfortunately I never got as far as Geneva. Garry has never seen this city either.

Therefore, when British Airways announced cheap fares to Europe, Geneva seemed the ideal destination for both of us. As a result, we found ourselves in Switzerland celebrating my birthday last weekend . We flew out late on Friday evening, reaching our hotel, Beau-Rivage, shortly before midnight.

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The hotel is the oldest family owned hotel in Geneva. Built in 1865, it still retains all of its classic interior including a water fountain in the main lobby. The lobby atrium rises through the entire core of the building, surrounded by classical wood-railed landings, creating a wonderful Victorian ambiance. The next morning we were greeted by the sight of Lake Geneva lying right outside our window, including direct views of the famous Jet d'Eau fountain.

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The view from our hotel window

After a welcome sleep in, we made our way into town, stopping at a local Italian cafe for brunch. From here we crossed one of the many bridges over the Rhone river and made our way towards the Old Town. Set on a hillside, the old town is as you'd expect; cobblestone streets, narrow laneways and unexpected plazas around every other corner.

Particularly memorable is the Espace St-Pierre, the starkly beautiful area surrounding Cath├ędrale St-Pierre, the church that dominates the city skyline. It was here that John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, used to live and teach. A wooden chair used by Calvin still sits inside the Cathedral.

I climbed the Cathedral's North Tower and was rewarded with stunning views of the city, the lake and the French alps in the distance. It was one of the most moments when yet another postcard came to life. We wandered through the old town, stopping to admire the Russian church, replenished with gilted onion domes and listening to buskers playing all manner of instruments.

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Later that afternoon we ambled down to the lake shore, making our way out along the breakwater to the Jet d'Eau. I was surprised to learn that this fountain is more than 100 years old. The original water jet was installed in 1886. It reached the height of 30 metres and acted largely as a safety valve for a hydroelectric generator. Today's water column rises to 140 metres as pumps jet more than five-hundred litres of water per second into the air at a speed of 200km/h. The water is aerated by a special nozzle, making it appear bright white.


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That evening, Garry and I dined in the hotel's five-star French restaurant, Chat Botte. Our dinner was part of the special weekend package I'd booked. The food was divine. We both started with the King Prawn tartar. Garry then had the lamb while I had the tenderest veal imaginable. We both chose the chocolate dessert. After all we were in the heartland of chocolate confection.


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Sunday was spent enjoying a lesuirely breakfast before venturing out to see the International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge (Red Cross Museum). Gevena is home to many of the world's global forum including the WTO, the UN's Human Right Commission (and many other UN institutions) and the former League of Nations.


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The Red Cross Museum was rather simple. However, one exhibit really brought home the impact of WWI. In one corner, the museum houses row after row of shelves containing boxed index cards. More than a million cards hold the names of prisioners of war monitored by the Red Cross between 1913 and 1918.


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We later walked back into the city centre to catch an afternoon cruise on the lake itself. It was clear that Geneva is the playground of the rich and famous. Its shores are littered with mansions and townhouses of enormous wealth. One owner, the wife of publisher Francois de Senger, had a bronze mermaid installed in 1966 on a rock out front of their lakeside home. Other homes of note included Colgate Masion, built last century by the creator of the popular toothpaste brand.

We finished our weekend in Geneva with a quick bite in the Old Town before heading off to the airport. What happened next deserves a posting of its own.

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