Some of the things to do in Geneva in winter can be heartwarming. Others are heartwrenching but equally important. It’s a city of stopovers, so here’s what it’s like to spend one day in Geneva and how you can do the same. Updated 2018.
Geneva, Switzerland. My first thoughts leaped to watches, chocolates and human rights – and my first half hour in the city certainly backed up that list. Before I’d even stepped out of Gare Cornavin, the central station, I’d seen no less than seven adverts for watchmakers, one for champagne truffles and a third for the Museum of the International Red Cross.
And that was just the map.
I had less than 24 hours in this cold and curious non-capital and I wondered how far I could get under its skin.
Amid the wet and icy wind, a smooth and strangely neutral tram carried me along to Avenue de la Paix, the site of the Red Cross Museum. My inner medic wanted to know more about the world’s first humanitarian aid agency – and the museum responded with unflinching footage of corpses, hunger and messages of hope.
I felt disconnected afterwards, gliding past displays of Swiss Army Knives, PR-perfect banks and Chinese supermarkets. The pavements thronged without being crowded, conveyor belts of duffel coats with cosmopolitan faces bracing themselves against the sleet.
And then something else stood out. The Broken Chair Monument outside the United Nations building. Towering several storeys high, one leg is gone, ripped away and splintered. Originally a temporary piece of art, it has remained as a symbol of international opposition to the use of landmines. And as a reminder to the politicians and financiers who come to Geneva.
At the shore of Lake Geneva, called Lac Leman by locals, the fading sight of sunset lifted my thoughts. Lake Geneva is Western Europe’s largest lake. As if that weren’t enough, a giant fountain, the Jet d’Eau, now struts its stuff on the surface, shooting up to a height of 130 metres.
It fizzled out as we arrived and Geneva’s second “must-see” sight – the Horlogie Fleurie or Flower Clock – also seemed a shadow of its guidebook self. It’s simply trimmed grass around a clock, reminiscent of pensioners’ bowling greens across England.
My time was running out, so we left the clock and headed into Geneva’s Old Town. Again, everything was neat, clean and angulated. Polished canons, shiny mosaics, flawless lamplit streets. Even the street cafes had metallic chairs.
I had one place left before I had to call it a night.
Place du Molard, a square whose floor is studded with international greetings. While staring at these ice-cubes of salutations, a place caught my eye. The Brasserie du Molard.
Not only did the inside deliver a toasty-warmness, but the menu did as well. Flammekueche – a dough base with lashings of cream, onions and smoky bacon – started to restore a sense of wellbeing. That and the blonde, blanche and amber beer.
Sitting there, surrounded by bare brick walls, throaty laughter and chatter in a dozen different languages, I’d hardly got to the heart of the city. But at least I’d found that there was one.
This piece on things to do in Geneva was one of the first articles ever published here on Inside the Travel Lab. The early morning exploration of the atrocities of war and the grey and cold winter had left me lost and soulless on its streets. Until I found the warm welcome of the Brasserie du Molard.
As one of my earliest commenters said: “The best way to get to know a place is to spend a few hours in one of its bars! :) Food and drink are good for the soul.”
Every time I feel myself a little lost or lonely or cold while travelling, I remember that advice. And it always works. Thanks Eli!
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