Friday, it was time to head off to Geneva. It was even more complex than getting up to Murren because we were headed west across the mountains, and the trains keep changing line gauges. This time it was:
Murren -> Cable car to Gimmelwald, second cable car to Stechelberg -> Bus to Lauterbrunnen -> Train down to Interlaken -> Train to Spiez -> Train to Zweisimmen -> I honestly can’t remember if we transferred in Montreux, it’s such a blur, but we probably did -> Train to Geneva.
We had a few minutes to kill in Spiez waiting for our next train, so we gazed across the lake at this shit and listened to the noontime bells. Look at that shit.
The train ride to Geneva had lots of rolling green hills in place of the shocking mountaintops of the Alps. Also at some point, the language of the announcements switches from German-emphasized to French-emphasized, when you pass from the Bern canton into Vaud. Make what you will of it, but all I will say is that the conversations on the train at that point also started getting louder…
We got a little lost coming out of the gigantic train station trying to get on our way to the hotel. I felt marginally more comfortable surrounded by French instead of German. But truthfully, I might have picked up as much German after living in it for five days as I have retained French from high school. Maybe instead of teaching kids foreign languages in school, we should just drop them off in a foreign country for a month. They’ll probably pick up more vocabulary than from four years of classes.
We stayed at the Intercontinental by the United Nations, again free thanks to points. It’s a nice level of luxury, like the one in Dusseldorf, as opposed to the stifling luxury, and its attendant helper people, at the Park Hyatt.
I’m glad they left my personal water brand out for me.
The hotel, as all Geneva hotels, kindly gives you a transport pass so you can use all the trams you want during your stay. So we immediately headed downtown, since the hotel is a mile or two outside the historic core, and started walking walking walking. St. Pierre’s Cathedral is the centerpiece of the hilly, cobble-laden old town, but there are sidestreets aplenty, all filled with delicious-looking shops. That is, until you get close enough to read the prices.
Did I mention how expensive Zurich is? Well, Geneva has a reputation for being even more expensive that Zurich, but I managed to find the one cheap, good restaurant in town, La Chez Ma Cousin, a chicken restaurant. I call it a chicken restaurant, because that’s what you get: Half a roasted chicken. That’s basically the only thing on the menu, but it’s really good. I’m sure a more wealthy person could indulge in some authentic French cuisine in Geneva. There was absolutely no shortage of it. But if someone just wants to give me a roasted chicken meal for 15 francs, I’m happy.
Saturday morning I made it my goal to go to a real boulangerie for breakfast. (Look at that flawless high school French) It’s typical of our vacations to grab something from the nearest doughnut shop for breakfast, but when in French Switzerland…. I went to Boulangerie Contel and proudly conducted the entire transaction in French using words like “deux,” “s’il vous plait,” “pains du chocolat.” This is one of the few times high school French has directly paid off.
After les pains, we headed downtown for museum-going. The Museum of the Reformation is located in the St. Pierre’s complex. The sign is the most fun thing about it. It’s really educational, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you had more than two days in Geneva.
After La Musee de la Reforme, we met up with Spans and David who had come all the way out to Geneva, perhaps lured by the temptation of Saturday night’s Eurovision finals. They don’t have cable, and our hotel room was about to turn into Eurovision fandom central that night.
Since we had combo passes, we were able to go to the Reformation museum, the St. Pierre cathedral spire, and the Site Archaeologique.
The archaeological site, underneath St. Pierre’s, is what you should be doing in Geneva. It turns out that the site of St. Pierre’s has been a sacred site for millennia. You can go all the way back to 200 or 300 B.C. to when it was a tomb for some unknown revered person. Then the Romans took it over, and so on and on and on. As you go into the basement, all of these layers have been partially excavated so you literally see history adding up. This bath is dug, a floor is put over it, another tiled floor over that, etc. Pretty amazing.
What fascinated me most is that the site was really originally chosen by the Allobrogians for that one guy’s tomb. Who the hell was that guy? Nobody knows. But at one point at the site, you see his bones. During one of the expansions of the church, they started finding the lower half of the guy’s skeleton. And here’s the sick part: Instead of digging the whole skeleton out of the rock, they dug straight down to where his head would be, and took the skull. They just took it out! So the lower half of his body is exposed, and then there’s a straight line right to his skull. What is wrong with you freaks of old times?
I didn’t take a picture of it (something about respect for the dead) but other people have.
Then we went to the Patek Philippe Watch and Clock Museum. It was expensive and late in the day, but I’m glad we went. They had the most insanely ornate, and mechanically complex timepieces you will ever see. I wish I could show you, but pictures were not allowed. They had a fascinating video that showed how birdcall clocks work. It's not a cuckoo clock, mind you.
About that time, we headed back to the hotel. Spans and David took our advice and got roasted chicken takeout from Chez Ma Cousine and then we settled in for a long night of Eurovision!
Cheap champagne, supermarket macarons, fine cheeses… that’s how Eurovision should be.
All of the semi-finalists perform a second time, performances that are bizarrely identical to their first performance, and then the voting starts. Then the vote tallying starts, with a representative video-conferencing in from each country to present their country’s voting results. Austria won, which was no surprise. What surprised me what France’s result. The winning countries will have hundreds of points by the end, countries in the middle are in the 50-70 range, but France had 2 points, last place by a very wide margin. Which is so strange because I think their song was kind of great.
The next morning, we caught the bittersweet bus to the Geneva airport and got on our super luxurious Lufthansa business class flight home. I say luxurious, but it wasn’t without its awkward moments. Caitlin’s headphone didn’t work, which led the German flight attendant to take her seat for a moment as he tested the headphones out to make sure it was the headphones problem and get new ones. Then my food tray wouldn’t deploy from my armrest! It took (what felt like) an eternity as a different flight attendant jammed the tray up and down next my lap, trying to get it to pop up and out. We are definitely due a few hundred thousand flyer miles for this embarassment, and probably a few bottles of champagne to take home.