The Red Cross Museum, the United Nations, and the Sights Around Geneva

I’m now on part 3 of this series. I have two previous posts about this same trip, if you’re interested.

It was my third day in Switzerland, and it was Monday. My wife will be off to work, so I was left by myself to roam around. By then I felt confident enough to read the route and schedule tables on train stations and bus stops by my lonesome, and so I decided to conquer Switzerland’s international city, on my own. Geneva.

My wife had been to Geneva before, so she didn’t need to go with me. After dropping her off at work, I headed straight to the Zurich HB, for the 4 hour train ride to Geneva (Geneve, as the locals call it, pronounced as “jeh-neev”).

Geneva is at the extreme western end of Switzerland. In fact, it is bordered on almost all sides by France, with just a small strip of land connecting it to the neighboring Swiss canton of Vaud (pronounced “voh”). The trip was long, but the train ride was very comfortable, and the scenery was superb. The Swiss countryside, between Zurich and Geneva, was a stretch of beautiful farmlands and villages that looked like they came from the pages of fairy tales. The farms were so wonderfully maintained, it was a sight to behold, especially for a third-world countryman like myself whose  impression of rural life is synonymous to poverty. My camera and videocam worked double time to capture the scene. I was simply amazed.

The train passed by this castle, somewhere along the way to Geneva.

The train had three stops – Bern, Fribourg and Lausanne. I would have loved to stop by Fribourg and Lausanne, but I never had the time to, during few days that I stayed in the country. This does mean one thing though, I’m not yet done with Switzerland, there has to be a “next time”.

My travel companions on the way to Geneva
The view right outside Gare Cornavin
A pedestrian side street near Geneva’s main train station.

After a breath taking journey (what would you call one when everything you see out the window looks like a painting?), I finally arrived at Gare Cornavin, Geneva’s main train station, close to noontime. I got off the train, confident that I could take Geneva on my own. I passed the tourist office quickly, decided I did not need anything from there (yabang!), then headed out to the bus stop. I took note the of bus route number that would pass by the Place-des-nations, and boarded as the bus came. As I got in and the bus was on it’s way, I realized, yes I was on the correct bus route, but it’s headed the other direction – away from Place-des-nations. So…”patay mali na lang”, I decided to just stay on and get off when I see something worth viewing. I eventually got off at the Pont de Mont Blanc (Bridge of Mont Blanc), which crosses the river Rhone, close to the edge of Lac Le Man (Lake Geneva).

After taking a few snaps, I traversed to other side of the road and took the bus headed the opposite way. That was the last time I took the wrong ride in Switzerland. It’s sort of like the mistake that you just had to do one last time, before you finally learned. After that, I got their time and route tables all in stride.

I was headed to the Place-des-nations (plas-de-nasyohhn). It’s where the United Nations’ European Headquarters is located, and close by is also the Headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Geneva wasn’t called an “international city” for nothing.

Geneva, like most of western Switzerland (including Lausanne and part of Fribourg), is French speaking, so instead of hearing “Neicht Alt” (neysht-alt) on buses in German speaking Zurich (“Next Stop” in English), it is “Prochains Arret” (Prooh-sheen Arreh) in Geneva

I got off the bus right beside the Red Cross Museum, which sits below the ICRC Headquarters. I found few people going into the Museum that time, probably because it was Monday, but I wasn’t one to complain. The less crowded the better!

The Red Cross (ICRC) Headquarters.

Right infront of the ICRC is one of the gates of the UN European Headquarters. The main gate is actually on the Place-des-nations, but this gate near the ICRC is the main entrance point for vistors, and I guess for the employees too, judging by the number of cars lining in. There are actually 2 daily guided tours inside the UN, though tour participants are required to present their passports. I had my passport with me, but due to the limited time, I decided not to try the tour. There’s still a lot to see in Geneva, and so little time.

The UN European Headquarters

From the ICRC, I decided to walk back towards the UN main gate. It was a leisurely walk for maybe a couple of kilometers, under the shade of large roadside trees. There were a lot of people walking too, but most of them were on business suits, coming from different races, and speaking various tongues I don’t recognize. “U.N. folks”, I thought. As a graduate of Economics, a social sciences course in our school, I’ve heard the name of Geneva numerous times as a student. And now, I was actually walking on the very place that, to me, only existed in books and lectures several years ago. Wonderful.

After maybe 15 minutes, I arrived at UN main gate. Within the vicinty also is the Broken Chair monument, one of Geneva’s landmarks, and the main offices of various UN agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and the UNHCR (UN High Commission on Refugees).

Geneva’s Broken Chair, at the Palais-des-Nations

After taking a few photos and videos, I then boarded a bus heading back to the center of Geneva, and my next stop was the Place Neuve, where one would find the Parc des Bastions. Parc des Bastions is a tree-lined park in the center of Geneva. When I got there, I found some senior citizens playing with giant chessboards, some younger Genevois lazing around under the trees, and a few folks like me taking pictures. Aside from being a recreational area, the park is also home to one of the campuses of the University of Geneva, and the Reformation Wall – a monument to the founders of the Protestant Refomation.

The bus stop, right outside Parc Des Bastions
The Reformation Wall
The Parc-des-Bastions

I exited at the other end of the park, and headed uphill in search of the Catedral St. Pierre, to the part of the city known as its “old town”. I had  no map in hand, but I could see the church tower from the park, so I just had to walk towards the general direction and rely on my ability to navigate. I eventually reached the Place-du-bourg-de-four, a “town square” lined with restaurants, almost all of which feature outdoor “al fresco” dining on the streets.

The Place-du-bourg-de-four

I passed the Place-du-bourg-de-four and headed straight on, but found myself walking away from the tower of the cathedral, so I changed course, traversed to a parallel road, and headed back uphill. I finally got it right, and found the cathedral. Unfortunately it was closed that time for some reason (it was still early afternoon), so I had to content myself with taking pictures outside.

The Catedral St. Pierre
As I was wandering around, looking for Catedral St. Pierre.

Having found the cathedral, I then walked towards the shores of Lake Geneva, which was already visible from the hill where the cathedral sits. Lake Geneva features a giant fountain called the Jet d’Eau (je-doh) which has become a symbol of the city. Unfortunately the fountain was not operating when I got there. In place of the fountain was a large, inflated football…an ad for the Euro 2008 Championships, which was coming in a few weeks time. Tough luck for me.

Anyway, even without the jet, I decided to just stroll along the shoreline, looking at the cars, boats and buildings along the way, and absorbing the experience. Here I am, I thought, a total stranger in this city. The nearest person I know was a 4-hour train ride away – my wife in Zurich. There’s absolutely no one, within a 300 kilometer radius, who knows me. In my previous travels, there’s always someone I know nearby, either my travel companions, or a resident of the place. This time around it was just me..I felt isolated..yet I was thrilled, and I was silently humming the “Lonely Planet” theme on my mind (the show has now been renamed “Global Trekker”, but I like the old name better). So this is how it feels, I said to myself.

Geneva street scene

The shores of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)

I then headed towards the English Garden, to see Geneva’s flower clock (larger than the one at Zurich). It was 5pm by this time, I think, and so after a few minutes looking around at the park, I headed for the nearest bus stop for the ride back to Gare Cornavin.

A fountain at the English Garden
Geneva’s Flower Clock

4 hours later I was back in Zurich. The roundtrip actually took longer than my stay in Geneva, but it was all worth it. I don’t know what lured me more…the place, or the sense of adventure in going it alone, on that spot of the world where I was a total, absolute stranger <lonely planet theme playing in my mind again>.

* I visited Geneva on May 2008. All pictures taken with my Nikon L3.


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