Monday, September 8, 2014

Geneva By Choo-Choo Train

Mark and I had originally planned to rent a car and drive from Nice to Geneva with all our gear, where we would store it for a couple of weeks. For various reasons, that didn't work out and we decided to fly instead. Whereas before, we planned to drive through the Italian Piedmont and Alps and be on the road most of the day, we suddenly had a whole afternoon to kill in Geneva. Wouldn't it be nice, I thought, if we could join a small group tour of the city. A stroll, a "tram" ride and an excursion on the lake. What could be nicer? As it turned out, a number of things.

My first clue should have been that, in my research, I found very few tours of Geneva. No local people. Hmmm, I wondered. Surely there must be things to be seen in Geneva. So I booked the tour I just described, which sounded perfect.

We took the train in from our hotel near the airport to the central station. From there, we walked down to the lake and took a few pictures, such as the lead photo. We also came across this monument which appeared to be a mausoleum for some ivory important person from the city's renaissance or baroque past:

Turns out, however, that  houses the remains of a 19th century duke of Brunswick who was extremely eccentric and had adopted Geneva as his home. When he died, he left a fortune to the city in exchange for this monument built to his memory. Hmmm. All I can say is that the city must have really been hard up.

Before long, it was time to join the tour. I kept looking for a group milling about, waiting for the walking tour I expected. Instead, I was directed to a large blue tour bus named "Guillaume Tell," i.e., "the William Tell." Hmmm. Could anything be more tacky? (Remember William Tell and the arrow through the apple story?)

It turned out that the tour would commence with a bus ride up through the "international area" where there a lot of buildings that house UN agencies and other international organizations. The tour guide, bless her heart, droned on and on in her Swiss-accented English - which frankly became quite annoying. I half-expected her to say, "We have vays of making you talk," at any moment, despite her otherwise sunny personality.

We learned how many square kilometers the city occupied (not a whole lot), how many people lived there, how many people came into the city from France to work. (She really wished they would leave their cars in France and take public transit in order to cut down on pollution. "But they won't," she lamented.) We learned how many thousands of people work for the international agencies, when this building was built, when that building was built, how many windows it had (okay, maybe that's an exaggeration).

We learned about this century and that century and on and on and on. She told us how - in considerable detail - Geneva had almost become French, then was saved from that fate after the Napoleonic Wars. She told us about the languages and native ethnic groups in the Swiss Federation and made sure we understood that Swiss German as a language had nothing to do with that of their imperialistic neighbor to the north.

I looked at my watch at one point and assumed that surely an hour had gone by. Nope. Only 30 minutes. I wondered why some tour guides think that people want to know all those facts and figures. Is it just to impress people with their encyclopedic knowledge?

Granted, there were some interesting sites on this part of the tour. We saw the headquarters of the International Red Cross (above), the European headquarters of the United Nations (below), and a monument consisting of a huge chair with a broken leg in commemoration of all those people who have been maimed by land mines.

The bus then retraced its route and cross the Rhone River onto the other bank of Geneva. We drove along the lake front, and I noticed a little train that was taking tourists along the shore. "How ridiculous," I thought. "That looks like something that belongs in Disneyland. How touristy can you get!"

Imagine my chagrin when the bus dropped us off to board a tram to the old city of Geneva and I saw that it was the very same train. Diesel operated, it nearly gagged us with its fumes. But that wasn't the worst part. The voice on the tram speakers that told us to look right or left was bad enough. What was really embarrassing, however, was when we'd pass city residents either walking on the street or sitting in a cafe that were obviously having a hard time keeping a straight face while seeing a choo-choo train full of tourists.

It was also frustrating because we couldn't get off to take pictures. We were basically chained in. The photo below was the most interesting one I took from this part of the tour:

By the time we boarded the bus again to return to city center, Mark and I had decided enough was enough. We chose not to go on the boat ride and gave our tickets to a couple of other tour members who didn't have any.

Another thing that was frustrating about Sunday was that hardly *anything* was open in Geneva. Apparently the whole city pretty much shuts down on Sunday. Salt Lake has more going on on a Sunday that Geneva does. It was eerie. Whereas in France we would have seen people in busy sidewalk cafes, enjoying the beautiful weather, relaxing, etc., in Geneva we saw very little of this. I surmised it was a legacy of the city's Calvinist past, and assumed that many Genevans headed over into France for the day where life is more interesting.

After some pasta in one of the few restaurants we saw open, we headed back to our hotel and had a nice quiet evening relaxing in our room, preparing for the next leg of our adventure: Rome.

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