After I left Munich, I headed to Geneva on a night bus to visit a friend who works there. I hadn’t seen her in over five years, so I was quite excited. I also was curious about the famous city of Geneva. I’ve been to Switzerland before – once when I was studying in Germany and another time when I was a nanny in southern Germany and my host family took a vacation there. We went hiking in the Alps, which was so beautiful, but I’d never made it to the mysterious Geneva, it was just a bit too far west.
Geneva is quite an international city, its home to the headquarters of many multinational companies, some 130 companies have headquarters or offices there. It’s also home to many United Nations agencies, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Health Organization. I did some research before I left and found that the very first European organization for peace was founded in Geneva by a man named Jean-Jacques de Sellon in 1830, almost 200 years ago. I wondered if this is why Geneva is home to many organizations hoping and working for world peace today (at the core of the UN’s work is world peace and harmony).
Ideas live on. Jean-Jacques de Sellon was a wealthy man who also built a Peace Temple with the words “Blessed are the Peacemakers” on it. Unfortunately the temple was destroyed in a storm in 1946. Today the castle that de Sellon built is privately owned, and as far as I know the temple has not yet been reconstructed.
Something else I was curious about in Geneva, was, of course, the food! I tried two different cafés / restaurants , first the classic La Vouivre on the corner of Rue Paquis and Rue de Zurich, a which lured me in with its antique decor and classical music, one of the only kinds of music I can listen to while writing. I fell in love with the cafés (known as ‘tea rooms’ in Geneva) charm, the mid-range prices (for Geneva that is) and the petit, yet decadent array of pastries such as brioche and tiny dark chocolate tarts.
This café was so impressive I decided I would go back the next day, when my eyes were instantly drawn to a “pretzel croissant”. To me this baked good / pastry mirrors Swiss culture all too perfectly: a marriage between German, the pretzel bakers, culture and French, the croissant fanatics, culture. I ordered one. Unsurprisingly, I sat down and bit into something that was rightly named: it tasted like a salty, buttery croissant. This delicious savory item would likely please those without a sweet tooth.
While spending time at the pleasant La Vouivre, I embarked on a conversation with a man sitting in the corner next to me. My constant photo snapping of the café like it was kind of exotic whale species seemed to grab his attention. He told me he’s a cultural writer in Geneva and runs a site called GeneveActive, and how he’d even written about the lovely café – or tea room rather – we were sitting in. “I know of another great café,” he said. “An Italian one with great pastries – would you like to go? I can show it to you.”
I didn’t know if I could handle anymore caffeine or pastries, but on the spur of the moment I agreed to go, knowing you don’t meet locals very often who are keen to show you things right on the spot like that.
We so we headed to the Sicilian Mafalda Tavola Calda on the quiet Rue des Etuves. My new writer friend Jacques, who also happened to be very into food, ordered me an espresso and a sfogliatella, an intricate flaky pastry resembling a scaly sea shell and filled with almond cream – pure delicious daintiness that I would have never found on my own.
From there headed to the Pont du Mont-Blanc, a bridge in the centre of the city that crosses Lake Geneva right where it meets the Rhone River. Normally, this is where you’d see Geneva’s famous Water Jet, likely the city’s most well-known landmark. Jacques told me how the Jet D’Eau wasn’t working right now before pointing to the Mont Blanc, or White Mountain, behind rows of beautiful buildings across the sparkling water.
I asked Jacques if people hike up the mountains and he told me they that do. Oui, bien sûr. There are many trails, he said, but you have to be careful. He also told me that the waterfront is one of the most popular areas in the city and becomes packed with tourists and locals alike in summer.
I was very happy to have had the chance to explore Geneva – the food and all. Expect to spend a lot if you travel here, once you convert prices to Swiss Francs you may be quite surprised. But if you go with the flow and pick and choose what you’d like to enjoy, Geneva is surely bound to impress.