If you’ve read my piece on Toronto, you’ll likely know (or at least have an inkling) that travelling excites me to my very core. So when the opportunity to fly to Geneva for a morning meeting revealed itself to me, I was quick to build in some free time in what became a 24 hour visit to Switzerland. But travelling for business, it turns out, is not particularly exciting in and of itself. Travelling to the airport, trying to find somewhere to work, failing to find a plug to charge my laptop – suddenly everything was a chore. Somewhere in me, I was excited to be heading to a new city, but the pressures of work and the unknowns of my morning meeting were blotting out the explorer in me. I started to wonder if travelling for work might have a greater impact on my perceptions of travel as a whole.
Nonetheless, upon arriving in Geneva mid-evening, the fun of navigating to the city, and walking to my hotel soon lifted my spirits and confirmed to me that I had nothing to worry about, especially when approaching Lake Geneva (actually called Lac Léman) and seeing the fountain, a 140m high jet of water that pumps 500 hundred litres of water per second, and is the focal point of the view. Navigating through Geneva is relatively easy – it’s not a large city, there are clear road crossing everywhere, it’s impeccably clean, and the people of this truly international place are very and happy to offer help.
I stayed at the Hotel Century a relatively cheap hotel for Switzerland, especially in comparison to what’s on offer in Zurich, which was more than adequate for an overnight stay, and would be comfortable for longer. It’s near the lake, and is only a 20 minute walk from the train station, making it a great base for the city. Midweek prices for a room and breakfast were about £100, booked only a few nights in advance, so it’s likely that better deals could be found if you were planning in advance.
Eating in restaurants in Switzerland is certainly taxing on the wallet (although Geneva is cheaper than Zurich, and I’m told, Bern) and while I didn’t really have time to extensively search around to find good value restaurants, the two places that I did eat at were good value, offered good service, and good food. The Au Jeu De L’arc which at approaching 10pm and across the road from my hotel made for a highly convenient choice – an Italian restaurant serving salad and pasta, and they didn’t seem to mind my appalling level of French (I even defaulted in to Spanish at one point…)!
I also ate at a pizzeria, on my second day which was located near the train station. There are a number of streets near the station and the small bus station with a wide selection of restaurants spanning the world – Mexican, Middle Eastern, Asian, and of course European. Glances at the menus outside showed that these restaurants offered choice across price ranges, which I didn’t expect for such proximity to the station. I found in Geneva (as you can see from my restaurant choices), and in Zurich, that restaurants offering pasta and pizza tend to offer the lowest prices, with classic French and Swiss restaurants tending toward the higher end.
Seeing the City
With only a few spare hours in Geneva post-meeting, I decided that the best way to make use of my time would be to join a tour. It’s not my favourite way of seeing a city, certainly preferring to walk it and discover places independently, but I must admit that when pushed for time, and carrying a fairly heavy overnight bag, this tour definitely made the whole experience much easier. It started with a coach tour around the international area of the city, where the majority of international organisations have headquarters, including the UN, the WTO, and the WHO. It’s a large area with few buildings that are accessible for the public, but if I had some more time, I’d have appreciated some extra minutes at the UN or even join a tour rather than simply driving past it.
After this, we went back toward the lake and drove to the other side to see the parks that line it, and for views back toward the international area. We then went toward the old part of the town, through the luxury shopping streets (think Prada, Louis Vuitton etc) before hopping on the tourist ‘train’ that goes through a vast park, past the Wall of the Reformers and up the hill to the cathedral, with time to visit the Cathedral, before heading back to the bus station and on to the hour long lake cruise, which is a relaxing way to spend some time, with views of the fountain, residences of famous people (Shelley wrote Frankenstein in one of the houses on the lake), the little mermaid of Geneva, and on a clear day, views of Mont Blanc.
All in all, the tour was a good way to see parts of the city in a hurry, but there are certainly areas that I would like to have more time to explore – the old part, and its museum of the city, more time to relax by the lake, maybe head over to CERN (they have tours), and of course a trip toward Mont Blanc would be a must.
I don’t think you’d want much more than couple of days to truly appreciate Geneva, but my 24 hours certainly wasn’t enough. If you’re thinking of going to Switzerland for a city break, I’d recommend Geneva over its bigger brother Zurich, mainly for its beauty, but also for the general feel of the city, and the fact it’s comparatively cheaper should you be on a budget.
Business vs Leisure
Although the end of this trip marked exhaustion, frustration and delays, and even with its markedly different feel to a purely touristic experience, on reflection, travelling for business certainly has its benefits for getting a feel for a new place, even when that feeling is brief. It’s reassuring to know that the feeling of wonder and excitement on arrival remains the same, even if you’re still ‘on’ in a work sense – if I’m offered more opportunities for travel, even without much time for myself, I certainly won’t be turning them down!
Since writing this piece, I’ve been back to Geneva for an even shorter period of time, again with work. The feeling of familiarity when walking to the hotel, across the bridge at the lake, with the view of the fountain, made this even shorter visit worthwhile (meetings aside), and suddenly acting as a guide for my colleague made Geneva feel even more welcoming, and I definitely wished I could have stayed for longer. Switzerland, I will be back.