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The International Writers Magazine: Switzerland:

A Weekend in Geneva
Aurelie Montfrond

When people think of Switzerland, They think of Geneva and mistake it sometimes for its capital although it is Bern located in the middle of the country but has only 50,000 inhabitants compared to the population of Geneva that is about 180,000 inhabitants. It is the third largest city in Switzerland.

As the plane landed, I stuck my head to the window and saw a view I had never seen before. I saw a lot of flat lands, a lot of lakes, a lot of seas but never a distinctive large lake, which could have been mistaken for a sea, surrounding by high mountains including the famous Mont-Blanc.

At that very moment, I knew I had fallen in love with the city already. The exit was right in front of me and I could feel the sun burning my face. This was nice and on top that you could pick your free bus and train ticket that brought you anywhere in Geneva from the airport. It was also the first time I saw an airport doing that.

I boarded the train and in six minutes I was in Geneva city centre.
The first thing to do is to take a walk along the quays and admiring the beauty of the landscape. The mountains around the lake leman with its boats and its swans. This is the romantic place to be. The architecture speaks for herself. The old charming town is a pedestrian area with narrow streets full of shops and galleries selling art and antiques.
It has a lot of restaurants and cafés.

Switzerland is known for its watches and victorinox knives among others. You can find them in almost any shops around the city. They may have all the Swatch models possible.
I visited three places along my week end although not the Patek Philippe Museum that gives you five hundred years of history centred around the watch and maybe the most famous one dedicated to the organisation funded by Henry Dunant, the Red Cross, is the international Red Cross and Red Crescent museum.

The first place I visited on the Saturday morning was CERN, which is the European organization for nuclear research. Although I am generally much more interested in art or literature I wanted to see this, as it is the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world. That is science at the end of the day and that is who we are. We are made of particles and not of books. These are just ornaments whereas science is real.

They recently activated the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), which is a machine to accelerate two beams of particles in opposite directions at approximately the speed of light. It then creates collisions therefore new particles for physicists to study. It is installed in a tunnel 27km in circumference, buried 50-150 m below ground. Located at the Franco-Swiss border just outside Geneva. If you are interested in physics and science this is the place not to miss.

The Palais des nations (United nations office) could be considered as the Versailles of Geneva even though it is twice as large as the Chateau de Versailles. The visits are only guided and there is a draconian security check as the same in airports. The place is interesting and there are many artworks hung on the walls donated by different countries. Peacocks were hanging around the park in liberty. There was maybe one of the most extraordinary view on Mont-Blanc and lake Leman.

On Sunday as I was walking down the streets of Geneva I stopped by the natural history museum. It had been a while since I have not been to a natural history museum. It is situated in the city centre in a nice park. The ground floor is devoted to regional fauna and it covers almost every vertebrate species in Switzerland. The first floor to mammals and birds of the world while the second floor is devoted to most invertebrates of the world.

I recall a film that was showing how the Carnivorous piranhas especially the red species could be dangerous to humans and so hungry they could eat a human being. It showed that they were attacking as a group of not less than fifty and the sharp teeth they had. I found that fascinating how an animal with such a small brain could plan attacks. The third floor is dedicated to the history of mankind and an area to minerals and geology. I used to know most minerals when I was young so I tried to test myself if I could remember some of them. It looked like I knew most of them by sight and I could recognise them : This is a rose quartz and this one is an amber, this is an amethyst and a pyrite etc….The third floor is dedicated to Dinosaurs and geology of Switzerland.

The Institut Voltaire, which I did not visit in the end, is the house where Voltaire used to live. He used it as his main residence. It is now become an important documentation and research centre. There is a collection of 20,000 printed papers including 2,400 printed works of Voltaire. Objects that belonged to him are also exhibited.

On the third day you can choose to do an excursion outside Geneva. There are day tours organised from the city to Chamonix and Gstaad. Where you can take the train, the bus, the boat and climb to the glaciers. Chamonix is only an hour and a half drive from Geneva whereas Gstaad is quite farer. Gstaad is internationally known and attracts the high society as a ski resort but is also a charming village with typical Swiss chalets.

Geneva ‘s proximity to the mountains and the lake makes it an ideal spot either for summer or winter breaks. It is a sophisticated, cheerful and romantic city.For more info:
General information, reservations, events, :
Aer lingus operates direct flights to Geneva

© Aurelie Montfrond October 2008

see also Helsinki

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