Bureaucrats & drug dealers: a weekend in Geneva

Our trip to Geneva was a spur of the moment, stroke of madness, ridiculous, romantic, impulse purchase of a trip.
After the … experience that was flying from Stansted airport on a Friday night (complete with an hour spent in the security queue and running through the airport for the departure gate) we made sure to leave more than even the most generous of time allowances for our trip from Gatwick.I’m sure you can tell where this is headed. We had hours to spare, hours to kill. Gatwick was an organised delight of an airport and we even had time to have a drink (or two) (maybe it was three) as we DID NOT RUSH to our flight.

Getting into Geneva was a dream. There is free public transport (!) and the train from the airport to the very centre of the city takes all of around 15 minutes (!!). We did not get lost in city streets at 1am. By 1am we were in our extremely warm hotel room and I hadn’t even cried once.

 Bright and early the next morning we put on all the layers we could muster and headed out into the streets – at a tiny café I ordered us coffee and croissants in French and felt inappropriately impressed with myself. My high school French hadn’t failed me. And, thankfully, we both drink black coffee.


I’d been concerned for our days in Geneva as all the things we’d wanted to do were closed or booked or too far away (a cable car up a mountain, the United Nations, the tour at CERN) but we enjoy exploring a city, it’s relatively easy to navigate and of course the lake is absurdly beautiful; glacially clear water made us think less of the sluggish Thames, and the Jet d’Eau is simultaneously impressive and … not (it really is just a really really high jet of water)

  When I was 11 I went to Switzerland with my family and my memory is very much of a mixture of languages (German, Italian, French), a lot of cheese and chocolate and cuckoo clocks and cowbells, entirely Swiss clichés. But Geneva feels wholly and completely French. Well, French with extra fondue and chocolate. But still.

I think this is a geographic thing. I’d not realised Geneva was so completely out to the side of Switzerland, a little Swiss tributary into France. So basically this all to say I am 1. Bad at geography. 2. Not very good at researching locations before I get there.


Despite the 2°c chill in the air and clouds blanketing the valley, we walked up to the cathedral in the old town and continued on up the spire because that’s what you do when you’re in a foreign place? You get to as high a position as possible and peer into the distance. It’s what we did in London and Oslo; it’s what meerkats do watching out for danger etc. It seems sensible. I can’t fault it.


There were adorable markets all through the old town and a sculpture which marked New Zealand on it with no apparent explanation. We visited the art gallery and stopped at a café to sit outside in the sun for a sandwich and some vin chaud, we visited a tiny museum full of taxidermy and spent too long searching for exhibits that were no longer there.


We ended up back at the waterfront for the most beautiful pink and blue dusk. It’s ridiculous but the Jet d’Eau really comes into its own when the lake is still and beautiful and the clear sky stretches for miles. Until then it seems a little cramped, bowed by the clouds.


 Geneva is a city of bureaucrats, honestly, and I do not mean that as a bad thing. It’s a great place. And it’s full of bureaucrats. Yet somehow, Pip and I managed to find the five street corners which looked more like The Wire than any street corner I’ve ever passed in real life.

You can only really understand how unusual that is if I’ve pointed out about the bureaucrats.
So we walked, in the cold and the dark, past street corners of drug dealers who nonchalantly whistled just in case we were looking for hard drugs. We weren’t. We were looking for a Korean restaurant. But when we weren’t interested, they weren’t interested, and we found the kimchee we had been looking for.


It wasn’t absurdly early by our standards when we sat down to eat – it was after 7pm and we started with a drink – but we were the only customers in the entire restaurant. And it stayed that way. Which, while it was delicious and I wouldn’t change a thing, may have been the most I’ve ever spent on a meal. We’d been warned that Geneva was expensive but we’d been to Oslo, also famously pricey, and not been too alarmed. More fool us. So, you know, beware beware. 


Sitting outside when it’s freezing cold is quite a revelation – it takes a surprisingly long time for your body to realise quite how cold it is. We made it through most of a pint at a strange neighbourhood sports bar we passed on the not-drug-dealer-alley side of the way back to our hotel.

And yes, despite spending a ridiculous amount on dinner we still stopped for drinks. Because at that point, really, why do things by halves.


 I woke up early the next morning as I’d promised to call my family – this whole timezones thing is such a pain – but it’s not fair that we both have to wake up; so I put on my jacket and a hat and headed out into the still Swiss Sunday to walk the streets talking to the little box I was holding up in front of my face and disturb the general populace.

I do like talking to my family as I walk around and show them the sights except every single time I almost get hit by cars as I try to cross the street and maintain conversation …


On my way back I discovered a tiny hipster coffee bar for coffee and croissants to take back to my best girl in our hotel room. Breakfast in an overly warm Swiss hotel room is really quite lovely. Especially as you don’t have to worry about crumbs in the sheets.


 I know it makes sense, for a town full of bureaucrats, for the United Nations to only be open on weekdays but it makes it dreadfully inconvenient for weekend break travellers. Okay yes the visitor’s centre is still open on Saturdays but this was Sunday so it was no use at all.


 Eternally hopeful, we caught the tram to the giant broken chair statue and, at a nearby gallery of china and porcelain (I don’t know) we confirmed it was closed. 


You wouldn’t think a gallery of china and porcelain would be all that interesting. You would mostly be right. It was diverting in its own way but I don’t think I would recommend it. We spent some time standing in the windows upstairs looking like ghosts in the photos of the tourists outside. 


There is a seriously creepy statue outside the Red Cross museum – it’s called The Petrified and I was approaching it with reverence until I realised that the sign on the outside of the museum encourages you to take selfies and share them on Instagram with a hashtag. There was a lot of that at the Red Cross Museum (which is excellent) very serious subjects lightened with quirky displays.


 And that was pretty much all we did in Geneva. It wasn’t our most eventful trip but we came away eager to visit more Swiss-y parts of Switzerland and, thankfully, excited to spend time in France. Which we had planned for the very following weekend.

Paris. Potentially the most romantic weekend of my life.