Geneva, Switzerland was such a breath of fresh air…figuratively and literally. After traveling through Portugal, Spain and France, Geneva immediately felt different from anything I’d yet experienced. I arrived mid-afternoon in the city center on a gorgeous day. The bus stop sat alongside the Rhone river, and I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open at the views – blue skies, expansive blue water, views of distant mountains and flowers everywhere.
With some time to kill before my Airbnb room rental was available, I followed the sidewalk beside the river, attracting attention due to the big bags strapped to my back and over my shoulder. On a weekday at lunchtime, the city was filled with men and women in suits, so I didn’t exactly blend in.
I thought of my former corporate life, of the closet full of suits that I dropped off at Goodwill months ago…and I smiled. While the parade of professionals went back to work, I found a tiny cafe at a bend in the river and bought a cup of tiramisu gelato. I found a seat next to the beautiful blue waters and enjoyed the gentle breeze while savoring every bite of my pre-lunch dessert. No regrets.
While the weather was not perfect during every hour of of my three-day visit, I experienced great weather on the whole, and will forever associate Geneva with the blue of the skies and the blue of the water. Besides enjoying that first cup of gelato, here are a few things I did and saw in Geneva.
United Nations Office Tour: The Palais des Nations is the site of United Nations buildings in Geneva. Because it was a beautiful day and I wanted to skip paying the bus fare, I decided to walk the 2.5 miles to the United Nations Office from the city center. It was a long walk, but it did not go unrewarded. I hadn’t planned to tour the building, but I happened to arrive at the front gate about 30 minutes before visitors were due to line up for the 2:30 p.m. tour. “Since I’m here anyway,” I thought, “why not?”
I had just enough time to take a few photos and then make my way around to the side entrance for the tour. (Tours take place twice daily. Visit this site for more information.) To participate in the tour, I had to show my passport and have my picture taken for a temporary visitor badge. Getting in was quite a process, but our young English-speaking tour guide was enthusiastic and informative. It was fascinating to get an inside look into the place where representatives from nearly every country in the world come together to make life-altering decisions. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to take the tour!
Broken Chair Monument: Situated just across from the United Nations Offices, Geneva’s Broken Chair monument is certainly attention-getting. Apart from its imposing size, the huge wooden chair looks perfectly ordinary at first glance. Then its one broken and badly splintered leg comes into view. This evocative monument was created by sculptor Daniel Berset in 1997 to symbolize the disastrous effects of landmines. The monument is worth a stop when you’re in the area.
Flower Clock: This huge clock made of flowers is actually considered a landmark in Geneva. I confess, it made me laugh to see it, and I felt a little silly taking photos along with all of the other tourists. However, Geneva’s flower clock is located in very near to the lakeside park, Jardin Anglais, so I did not have to walk far to find it. The flower clock was created in 1955 and actually tells time. It’s made up of nearly 6,500 flowers and plants. Don’t make a special trip to see it, but if you happen to walk by, now you know something about its history!
Jet d’Eau: The Jet d’Eau is one of the largest fountains in the world, and is located where Lake Geneva meets the Rhone River. It’s visible throughout the city and runs for most of the day. The impressive spray reaches a maximum height of 140 meters.
Auer Chocolate Cafeteria: Many Americans associate Switzerland with two things: watches and chocolate. These connections are not unfounded, as timepieces and chocolate shops are everywhere in Geneva. It took some strong willpower to avoid treating myself to a tasty chocolate morsel every few yards. Many streets had multiple chocolate shops with enticing window displays.
When I arrived at the historic storefront of Auer Chocolate Cafeteria with its sidewalk seating, my strength finally buckled. I sat myself down at an outdoor cafe table and ordered a delicious cup of hot chocolate. Later, I ventured inside the shop for a few of Auer’s famous chocolate-covered almonds. The almonds are sold in bags for about 15 Swiss Francs. But if you don’t want to spend quite that much, ask an employee for just a few of the almonds, which are kept behind the counter and sold by weight.
If you dare to try them, know that you may be returning home with an unsatisfiable craving for expensive Swiss almonds. Consider yourself warned.
Gandhi Statue: I passed by Geneva’s Mahatma Gandhi statue on my way back from my United Nations visit, and I had to stop and take it in. The monument’s simple inscription of Gandhi’s quote “My life is my message” is a moving reminder of what one person can accomplish, for good or for ill. If each of our lives serve as our own messages to the world, what are we communicating?
This statue was unveiled in 1997 and sits in Ariana Park near the United Nations building.
Jardin Anglais & Riverside Walk: The Jardin Anglais, located adjacent to the Rhone River and the Pont du Mont Blanc bridge, was my favorite area during my visit to Geneva. The views of the water and the surrounding architecture, the water fountains, sculptures, flower gardens and park benches make this park a wonderful place to enjoy a picnic or just pause and watch people pass by. Visitors can buy a ticket for a river cruise, play a song on the public piano or just take in the views, like I did.
Old Town Geneva: Geneva’s old town is a fun area to explore. Filled with narrow streets, shops, galleries and cafes, its atmosphere is very different from the riverside just a few streets away. I especially enjoyed the beautiful Place du Bourg-de-Four, where this photo was taken.
Music Festival: I was lucky enough to visit during a huge music festival that took place in indoor and outdoor venues throughout Geneva, including this historic square. I enjoyed this Japanese flute performance as well as brass bands, baroque pianists, African choirs, rap artists and more.
Geneva such an interesting, beautiful and multi-faceted place. It can be difficult to maintain a budget in Geneva with the strength of the Swiss Franc, so pack your lunch, check out the free attractions and enjoy the energy of the city. That won’t cost a thing!