With the firm belief that ALL of Switzerland would be as beautiful, serene and nature-oriented as ‘Heidi Land’, we packed our bags to go check what inspired Johanna Spyri to write such a wonderful fiction.
We felt we should first see the “Global hub for Diplomacy”, also called the “City of Peace”. Our Lufthansa flight made a perfect touch down at the Le Grand-Saconnex airport in Geneva. We stepped out of the airport in the most wonderful weather. Coming from the sweltering heat of 45° C in New Delhi, the 25°C of this beautiful place was heavenly.
We checked into Fraser Suites, situated in the Rue Du Marchè District, just 4 KM away from the airport. One big advantage of this place was its proximity to the Gare de Cornavin station (just 800 m) – big help for commuting, since the trains are excellent in Europe.
Geneva is a melting pot of all cultures and many languages-French, German and thankfully English (for our convenience), inspite of being the “French-speaking” part of Switzerland. People are helpful and guide well, unlike what we experienced in France. The City is referred to as the world’s most “compact” metropolis and can be seen on foot for the physically fit. Others can use the easily available buses or trams.
All through our stay, we didn’t face any problem food wise, as one can pick up groceries easily from supermarkets like Migros and Coop. Although Geneva is marked as one of the most expensive cities in the world, a fast-food meal for four cost us an average of 160 Francs. There are cafes on side walks where one can rest and have heavenly coffees and cakes. The good old omnipresent McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza places are a comforting sight all over the city.
The City, apart from being a heritage wonder, is a delight for shopping, provided you have a fat bank balance! Exciting designer shops for the fashion conscious and a paradise for the art dealers.
The Lake Geneva — Switzerland
One of the largest lakes in Western Europe, it is shared between Switzerland and France. Lake Geneva flows back into the Rhône. The sight of the blue clean water with the majestic Alps in the background is enough to enliven any normal human. Add to that a leisurely stroll on the shore path, browsing through the shops, stopping for a bite in the numerous shops lines alongside and your holiday is already worth the Francs spent. There are numerous fun activities including water sports, if you are looking for thrill and to keep the kids occupied the entire day.
The Lake is beautifully lit up after sunset and becomes a great place to unwind after a hectic day. There is fun and laughter and romance in the air.
Jet d’Eau: Geneva’s landmark
This large fountain, situated at the point where Lake Geneva empties into the Rhône, is visible through out the city. It can be reached via a stone jetty. Although the water gushes straight up; with the change in the wind’s direction, the gushing water shifts the direction of its fall too and can drench you completely, if caught off guard; adding to our delight.
The next day we were all set to make use of the fantastic weather and exercise our legs.
Yup. We were ready to explore this scenic City. We picked up some snacks and bottled water from the grocery store, Denner, and kept our Swiss passes ready, which we had got arranged through a travel agent from India itself. The pass enables one to travel anywhere in Switzerland by bus, trams, train and boat. It makes travelling comfortable and economical. Also, entries to some museums are free with these passes. Do remember to keep a map handy since quite a few of the places to visit are within walking distance of each other.
The Broken Chair : The Palais des Nations : Symbol of Geneva, the Capital of Peace
Since the headquarters of many International Organisations are based in Geneva, a trip here was mandatory. It’s what we came to Geneva for. The United Nations building is housed in the building complex, Palais des Nations, located near the Lake Geneva. It’s a beautiful walk, in the crystal clean environs with clean air filling your lungs.
Right across the street from here, is the very interesting ‘Broken Chair Monument’, a sculpture made in wood by the Swiss artist, Daniel Berset and constructed by the carpenter, Louis Genève. It gives out a strong message to the politicians and others visiting Geneva, about the plight of landmine victims and also opposes cluster bombs.
Inspite of its fourth broken leg, it stands proudly: tall and dignified. We stared at it in awe, admiring the concept behind this and imagining the repercussion of stepping on a mine unknowingly.
Basilica Notre-Dame – Roman Catholic church in Geneva
Just a few steps away from the train station, on a busy road, is the main Roman Catholic Church, built between 1852 and 1857. The statue of ‘Our Lady of Geneva’ is venerated here. The church is not very big but its high walls and beautiful interiors beckons one to spend some time in the peaceful environs.
Flower Clock: Representing the birthplace of fine watchmaking
We then made a bee line to one of the main attractions of the city-the Flower Clock, located at the corner of the Jardin Anglais. Not so difficult to guess that it’s made with flowers-beautiful, colourful ones that keep changing with the season. And the clock works! With Swiss precision.Not only that, but it boasts of the world’s longest seconds-hand – 2.5 metres long !
Needless to say, the lush greenery and the Jet d’Eau as a back drop, makes this masterpiece totally photogenic.
Reformation Wall: Mur de la Réformation
The monument, Reformation Wall, built into one of the old walls of Geneva, relates to Geneva’s important role in the Protestant Reformation. Lot of people were using the Segway to tour this part of the City.
Day trip to Zermatt
Our trip to Zermatt began by taking an early train from Geneva to Visp. On Reaching Visp, we caught the 11am train to Zermatt, which only took about an hour. From here, we purchased the train tickets from the Zermatt-Matterhorn railways to Gornergrat, where the iconic Matterhorn Mountain and frozen glaciers could be seen up close.
The orange train itself was special . It had large windows that stretched all the way up to the ceiling, giving passengers the fullest opportunity to take in the beautiful landscape.
Throughout the journey, one can see lush green pine trees, clear waterfalls and the majestic Matterhorn peeping through the trees.
As the train winds up the mountain, a change in vegetation can be seen. Trees give way to surprising patches of green grass where sheep could be seen grazing in the wilderness. Finally, as we drew closer to the Matterhorn, we were surrounded by white snow that gleamed in the sunlight. The grandeur view was absolutely mesmerising.
The train station itself was well equipped with refreshments, observation platforms with magnifying view finders, and a tiny souvenir shop. Since we hadn’t anticipated the drastic change in weather, we hadn’t brought our jackets with us.
Watching the panoramic view with the much needed hot coffee.
The sun was a welcome relief. We explored the surrounding rocky terrain with our cameras, all the while trying to document the stunning snowscape.
Using the same ticket, we boarded the orange Gornergrat train that brought us back to Zermatt.
Zermatt is a charming old town with cobbled streets, and wooden cottages. It’s packed with shops that caters to the mountaineers, for whom this is a transit stop. The small lanes are dotted with restaurants offering hot rosti and souvenir shops full of tiny trinkets. As we made our way through town, we found ourselves in front of a huge ‘Lindt’ store. The variety of chocolates in the store ended up reminding us of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. We overdid ourselves as we attempted to buy all scrumptious chocolates as we possibly could.
We made it back to the Zermatt station after hot cups of coffee, at about 5 pm and took the connecting train back to Geneva. A fascinating day-trip.
One can also visit Bern, approximately 2 hours away by train to see the Clock Tower, Bear park, Cathedral. There is much to look and explore too!