Geneva; cold, scary and fabulous.

We have not yet been able to impress Grandma with our gorgeous, warm Spring weather. It appears that some Canadian style weather may have come along with her. Typically back home when presented with 2 weeks of vacation we would look at the weather map and point our RV in the direction of the sunniest locale. The tricky part of living in a wee tiny country is that one weather system pretty much covers the whole place.

Luckily while cold and snow were in the forecast here in Winterthur, sun and warm(er) temps were forecast for Geneva. So off we went.

In that this was a fairly last minute plan we scrambled online to secure a good place to stay for the night. Keep in mind that of the 5 most expensive cities in the world, Switzerland boasts 2 of them, Zurich and Geneva. Commonplace for those working and/or visiting Geneva is to stay/live in France which is mere moments away. So, believing ourselves to be savvy locals we did what the locals do and booked ourselves an Airbnb in France. (The poorer locals that is. Those locals with scads of cash would never lower themselves to stay anywhere but Geneva. We are the former.)

As with all Airbnb experiences there’s a certain level of risk involved. We looked into a few possibilities, found one with great photos, good reviews and in a location and budget that we felt comfortable with. So we booked it.

We decided to catch a 10:30 train which would deliver us to Geneva shortly after 1:00. Helena requires gravol for longer train rides so we doped her up and set out. Not sure if it was the gravol or too much Easter chocolate but she was off that morning. Not her usual sunny, happy, care-free self.

That sweet smile didn’t last long.

Subsequently, the train ride felt longer than it should have as the whining level of both kids increased. Because of the early departure time, I didn’t have cocktails on hand for Mom and I so our ability to tolerate the whinyness was impaired. (Ha! Not literally.)

By the time we arrived in Geneva we were very happy to be off the train and anxious to turn the day around.

One of the first differences I noticed about Geneva was the unwillingness for the locals to attempt to assist us. In Winterthur, our efforts to speak German with the locals is almost always met with gracious patience or a switch to English to put us all out of our misery.

Geneva, not so much.

My brain has yet to figure out where and how to store all of this new language information so it’s all a bit of a jumbled mess at the moment. Everything is all lumped together and it is everyone’s surprise what will be blurted out when I’m feeling flustered. Typically it is some bizarre form of Spanish or Italian that comes out which is always totally unhelpful. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Swahili I picked up on my travels to Africa in the mid 90s surfaces at some point too. Hakuna wasiwasi. Pole pole.

I was able to recall the vital phrase of “Parlez vous Anglais?” from my school years’ French.

Turns out it is a much less helpful phrase in Geneva than in Winterthur. The most common response was “NON”. Full stop.

Right then…

Thankfully Grandma had a whole wealth of French knowledge tucked in the recesses of her brain which did help a great deal. It didn’t help us avoid the humiliation of being kicked off a bus for not being able to purchase a ticket but we fairly quickly regrouped and got ourselves on the next one.

Finally on our way to discover our delightful French abode we settled in on the bus and watched the sights go by. We watched as the sights began to slowly degrade from pretty Swiss/French facades to less pretty to sketchy, broken down “projects”. Which was exactly where our bus stop was…

Uh oh.

Mom and I did our best to stay up beat and project an “isn’t this exciting” vibe while giving each other the “oh crap, what have we gotten ourselves into” sideways glance.

Welcome to France!

As we walked to find our place with our rolly suitcases rattling behind us we were well aware of the fact that there was just as much, if not more, curiosity being focused our way. We had the distinct impression that the likes of us weren’t a familiar site in this part of town.

Finally arriving at the apartment we were met, thank heavens, by our smiley – non English speaking, host. (Between French, English and German we did manage to communicate with him quite well.)

While his presence was a welcome sight, the overall impression of the apartment was less so. Through a dark hallway, onto a squishy elevator we proceeded up to our apartment. It definitely resembled the images we saw on the Airbnb site but the in-person version was really quite underwhelming.

G’ma in our apartment. It looks pretty decent, right? That’s what we thought from the photos too…
The general gunginess of the apartment was made worse by no soap available at any sink. Luckily some scrounging under the sink in the kitchen amidst the hair and filth we found these old used bars of soap. Lovely.

Having the sense that the long train ride and bus ride might have been a bit much for the kids we had originally thought we might save exploring Geneva for the next day and spend this afternoon exploring our quaint little French town. Considering that there was nothing quaint about this French town our goal pretty quickly became to get ourselves back across the border and into Geneva asap to salvage the day as best we could.

After familiarizing ourselves with the deadbolt on the door we set back out into the streets.

This time our upbeat “off we go” attitude wasn’t fooling the kids.

“This place is scary.”

“I don’t like it here.”

“Why are we staying in such a scary place?”

Why indeed…

Back on the bus with the strategy of finding some fun to distract us from the scariness but ensuring that we get back inside our apartment well before dark!

Headed back into town.

Once back on the streets of Geneva we discovered that the sun and warmer temperatures were no match for the wicked cold wind coming off the lake. Shivering in all our layers we did our best to explore the far side of the lake. Everyone was feeling out of sorts made only worse by our collective fear of what would await us back in scary France!

Looking out towards the jet d’eau. Probably much more impressive when the famous fountain (shoots water 140m high!) is actually turned on. Too windy today…

We decided that some food would help us all and we began searching for a good early-bird place to eat. Many restaurants in Europe, we have found, don’t open for dinner until 6:30 so finding somewhere able to serve us at 5:00 was tricky. There were plenty of uber-fancy places to choose from but we were pretty sure that if we went somewhere fancy, they would smell it on us on the ride back to France and we’d be targets for sure!

Who are we kidding? There was no way I was taking my crotchey, mangey looking kids into a fancy restaurant. If we were sans-enfants Mom and I would have dined in style and gotten sufficiently tipsy to no longer notice the crudiness of our apartment for the night.

After a long search we found a great pizzeria willing to serve us. Warm, delicious food (and wine) does wonders to improve one’s outlook on things. Still aware that we needed to get back to the “other side of the tracks” before dark, we quickly made our way back to the tram. Sardined in with the end of day work force, we felt a bit less like fish out of water this time – strength in numbers.

At the end of the line we piled off the tram along with a whole pack of hard working folks, clearly doing whatever it takes to survive in such a ridiculous economy. Turns out we really weren’t so different after all.

After claiming which bed looked the least bad, we said goodnight hopeful the night would be quick. And it was – with the security screens tightly closed on the windows the black-out effect helped us all sleep surprisingly well!

Everything looks better in the morning light. Not a bad view from our apartment.
Time for a quick French breakfast before we flee.

That said, our lazy sleep-in didn’t allow us to linger. The questionable amenities in the apartment included a single, small roll of pink toilet paper. We were rationing squares of toilet paper already before we went to bed so there wasn’t much room for morning business!

How much toilet paper do 4 people need for an overnight stay? More than this.

After a quick breakfast we got the heck out of dodge, marveling at how what felt scary and slightly horrific turned out to be really not so bad in the end. Another win for the life lessons of:

  1. Be thankful for how much we have
  2. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover
    and lastly but perhaps most importantly
  3. Spend more than 20 minutes selecting your Airbnb place

With the newfound wisdom of our life lessons we set out to have a super day in Geneva. First stop was coffee of course. Crotchey kids would seem like a basket of puppies compared to Mom and Grandma on caffeine deprivation!

Memories of NYC, 2005.
All is right in the world again.

Humbled and amazed by the sights of Geneva, it’s global significance and the giant brains who work together to make it all happen, we thoroughly enjoyed what the day had to offer.

The kids and me at The Broken Chair. Constructed by a Swiss artist in 1997 to represent opposition to land mines and cluster bombs. It is said to be a symbol of both fragility and strength, precariousness and stability, brutality and dignity. 


The symbolism of the United Nations is so great and so hopeful. Just wish it had a reputation for greater effectiveness these days.
“Broken Chair is a reminder to the world’s nations to protect and aid the war-torn civilian populations. It invites each one of us to denounce what is unacceptable, to stand up for the rights of individuals and communities…”
Grandma and the kids taking in the UN.

Pretty sure they don’t mean us…
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Pretty humbling to realize just how lucky we are to have the freedom to travel when and where we want to with a warm roof over our head, every night. 

WWI & WWII monument for the Geneva soldiers who died. Perplexing given their neutrality established in 1815. 
The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. 

Not all sights were as cerebral. This is a good ol’ pretty shopping district.
Brunswick Monument – a mausoleum built in 1879 to commemorate the life of Charles II, Duke of Brunswick.
Borrowing a French style patio for a quick photo op.


Gorgeous lakeside apartments and hotels. May we suggest one should consider a place here when visiting Geneva for the night…
Panorama shot of the kids at the lake. Also known as Lac Leman.

Time for a little chess on the grounds of the University of Geneva.
Henry Dunant – founder of The Red Cross

International Monument of the Reformation – known as Reformation Wall – honouring the individuals and events of the Protestant Reformation. 
Panorama shot to try to depict the vastness of this monument. It was an amazing sight to see.

A wee little Grandma for scale.
Two more for scale. Whoa.
“…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…”

Pretty wisteria at the end of the wall.
Because doors and flowers…

St. Pierre Cathedral, dating back to as early as the 8th  century.
Pretty streets below the cathedral.
Pretty French style restaurant.
Looking down on the street below from up at St. Pierre Cathedral.
More pretty streets and fountains.
So green and lush everywhere.

Once again, I am reminded that it’s when things don’t go quite as according to plan that we learn the most about ourselves and create the greatest lasting memories.

And when all else fails, super cans of Tequila-beer make a train ride so much more pleasant. Check out Helena’s mesmerized stare…


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