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.



Museo Criminologico, Rome

Criminological museum

One of the very last things we did in Rome – before our last meal, before our last artisinal gelato – was to visit the Criminology Museum.
(I have a degree in criminology – did you know that?)

It was brilliant.
The museum was teeny tiny, filled with students, and displays with half un-translated signs
I spent an inordinate amount of time poking around. Craig spent time looking around and then waiting for me so we could move on. He’s lovely.

Iron Maiden

The Poggio Catino Skeleton
The identity of the “Poggio Catino Skeleton” is still a mystery. The only historical fact is that the skeleton was found in 1933 inside the ruined tower of a baronial palazzo in Poggio Catino.


Fake passports

Fake canadian money

Revolver used to kill King Umberto I
The revolver used to kill King Umberto I in 1900


Tattoos are for losers and criminals.


Origins of criminology

Prison made tattoo guns
Prison-made tattoo guns with adorable handwritten display tags

Knife in a crucifix
Knife in a crucifix, two bits

Female serial killers

Milazzo Cage
The Milazzo Cage
This iron cage containing a human skeleton was discovered by chance on 17 February 1928 by a gang of prisoners who were digging in the area within the enclosure walls of Milazzo Prison in Sicily. The cage was located about 25 cm below the surface.

Papal Guillotine
A guillotine used by the Papal state.

If you are in Rome and have an inherent morbid fascination like I do? Then I highly recommend visiting this museum.
If you can read even a little bit of Italian – that helps.

A few photos from the Forum

So a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum …
It didn’t actually, but I could NOT avoid using that line.
Craig and I spent a sweltering day in Ancient Rome, looking at ancient stuff and poking around ruins. We wandered the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum. It was exhausting but so interesting we didn’t feel it for hours.

Straight out of the Colosseum metro stop
The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium, Italian Anfiteatro Flavio or Colosseo), is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering.

Ancient stuff

Graffiti at the Colosseum
Ancient graffiti!

Inside the Colosseum

Craig at the Colosseum
This man. My heart.



Craig and I at the Colosseum




Constantine Arch
Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine (Italian: Arco di Costantino) is a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312.

Constantine Arch

Constantine Arch

The Forum
Palatine Hill
The Palatine Hill (Latin: Collis Palatium or Mons Palatinus) is the centremost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. It stands 40 metres above the Forum Romanum, looking down upon it on one side, and upon the Circus Maximus on the other.

This dude was just bashing away. At the ruins. I'm sure he was allowed to.
This dude was just smashing at the ruins. At the RUINS. I’m sure he was allowed to.

The Forum

The Forum

The Forum

The Forum Museum

The Forum Museum

The Forum Museum

The Forum

The Forum

The Forum

This is what he found

He found this stucco decoration that dates from the first half of the 1st century AD
This stucco decoration dates from the first half of the 1st century AD

Just a goldfish pond, right?

Fountain underneath the goldfish!
Underneath the goldfish pond.

The Arch of Titus at the Forum

Finally to the Forum
The Roman Forum (Latin: Forum Romanum, Italian: Foro Romano) is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the centre of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.

It was for centuries the centre of Roman public life: the site of triumphal processions and elections, venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches, and nucleus of commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city’s great men. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history.

The Arch of Titus at the Forum
The Arch of Titus
The Arch of Titus is a 1st-century honorific arch located on the Via Sacra, Rome, just to the south-east of the Roman Forum. It was constructed in c.82 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate Titus’ victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
It became a symbol of the Jewish diaspora. Roman Jews refused to walk under it. However, when David Ben Gurion declared independence for the State of Israel, the chief rabbi gathered the entire Roman Jewish community by the arch and in solemn procession, walked the opposite way under the arch to symbolise the return to Jerusalem and Israel.

The Arch of Titus at the Forum

Arch of Titus

The Arch of Titus at the Forum

Very old mosaic
Inside the Curia Julia
Curia Julia is the third named Curia, or Senate House, in the ancient city of Rome. It was built in 44 BC when Julius Caesar replaced Faustus Cornelius Sulla’s reconstructed Curia Cornelia, which itself had replaced the Curia Hostilia. The work, however, was interrupted by Caesar’s assassination at the Theatre of Pompey where the Senate had been meeting temporarily while the work was completed. The project was eventually finished by Caesar’s successor Augustus in 29 BC.

Stormclouds were a welcome respite from the sun. Especially as it didn’t actually storm. Just cloud.

Capital at the Forum

Also: I do so like that they have SO MANY ancient artefacts that sitting on the broken columns? Totally fine.

Arch of Septimius Severus
The white marble Arch of Septimius Severus (Italian: Arco di Settimio Severo) at the northwest end of the Roman Forum is a triumphal arch dedicated in AD 203 to commemorate the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, in the two campaigns of 194/195 and 197-199.

After the death of Septimius Severus, his sons were initially joint emperors. Caracalla had Geta assassinated in 212; Geta’s memorials were destroyed and all images or mentions of him were removed from public buildings and monuments. Accordingly Geta’s image and inscriptions referring to him were removed from the arch.

Poor Geta.

The spot where Caesar was cremated
Fresh flowers on a mound of earth hidden behind a wall and under an almost perfectly inelegant tin roof. This is the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated.

Temple of Vesta
Temple of Vesta

House of the vestal virgin
The House of the Vestal Virgins
The House of the Vestal Virgins (Latin: Atrium Vestae) was located behind the circular Temple of Vesta at the eastern edge of the Roman Forum, between the Regia and the Palatine Hill.

I’ve long been interested in the Vestal Virgins. In ancient Roman religion, they were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. They were considered fundamental to the security of Rome and protected the sacred fire that was not allowed to go out. The Vestals were freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children, and took a vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were off-limits to the male colleges of priests.

The Vestals were ordained into the priesthood before puberty & sworn to celibacy for 30 years. These 30 years were divided into decade-long periods during which they were respectively students, servants, and teachers.
Afterwards their 30 year term was up, they were retired and replaced by a new inductee. Once retired, a former Vestal was given a pension and allowed to marry. A marriage to a former Vestal was highly honoured, and thought to bring good luck.

It doesn’t sound like the worst way to live as a woman in Ancient Rome.


Roses? House of the Vestal Virgins


A few photos from Vatican City

St Peter's Basilica in the rain

There were storms the day we were booked to visit the Vatican. Grey sunlight followed by thunderous downpours. The cobblestones were slick with rain and the tourists in the queues were sodden.

Thank everything I had booked us on a tour – our wait in the queue was less than five minutes. Pre-booking was one of the best decisions we made on our trip.

Queue to get into St Peter's.

I love the wind direction things

Ornate lamppost and St Peter's

Caught! in the rain

We'd been to the Capuchin crypt in the morning.
Earlier that day we had been to a Capuchin crypt. They didn’t allow photos inside.

Me & St Peter's. And the crowd

Museo Vaticano

St Peter's in the rain from the Vatican Museum

Laocoön and His Sons
The statue of Laocoön and His Sons is attributed by the Roman author Pliny the Elder to three sculptors from the island of Rhodes: Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. It shows the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being strangled by sea serpents.

Belvedere Torso
The Belvedere Torso.

Mosaic floor

Diana of Epheseus

Gorgeous ceilings

Gorgeous ceilings


No photos in the Sistine Chapel.
Craig and I had booked for just the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel but at the end of the tour it turns out the guide can let you in the side entrance to St Peter’s Basilica.
We had decided to not bother, what with the thunder and lightening and queues and all, but this was excellent.

Back entrance to St Peter's Basilica

Back entrance to St Peter's Basilica

Giant babies St Peter's Basilica

St Peter's Basilica

St Peter's Basilica

St Peter's Basilica

St Peter's Basilica

St Peter's Basilica
It is incredible to think that all the art is mosaic, there’s no paint involved.

St Peter's Basilica

List of the popes buried in the Basilica. There are a lot of them.

Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s (finished) Pieta.

Me in St Peter's Basilica

Craig in St Peter's Basilica

Espresso after lunch

A few photos from Rome

Craig on the train

There really are too too many photos of Rome for one entry. Almost twice as much as any other city.

Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain

Amazing gelato

Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Fillipo Lippi
Fresco by Fra Fillipo Lippi

Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva




Outside the Pantheon

Ominous statue in Piazza Navona

Market in Piazza Navona.

Craig at a bar in Piazza Navona

The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or “Fountain of the Four Rivers”
This one’s the Nile.

Il Vittoriano
The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II) or Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) or “Il Vittoriano” is a monument built to honour Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy

Italian flag at half mast for the earthquake and the bombing
Italian flag at half mast for the earthquake and the bombing


St Peter's in the distance
In this shot you can see both the Pantheon and St Peter’s.

Craig looking at the Colosseum

Leaving Il Vittoriano

Trajan's Column

Trajan's Column

We were in Rome but we stayed in "hotel florence"
In Venice our hotel was named after Milan. In Rome our hotel was named after Florence.

La Specola, Florence

Panorama - taxidermy birds

Streets of Florence

On one little page in our City Guide to Florence is an entry with an especially enthusiastic star next to it. The entry is, of course, for the Museum of Zoology and Natural History, aka La Specola.

Down a side street from the Pitti Palace and up three flights of stairs, Craig and I spent a deceptively long time wandering the 34 rooms. It was a must see.

It is, essentially, a museum full of taxidermy and medical wax works. I could think of little better.


With a collection dating back to the Medici Family, and a nickname referencing the observatory that stood there in 1790, this unassuming little museum was just delightful. It’s also the oldest scientific Museum of Europe. At the time of its opening it was the only scientific museum or “wunderkammer” specifically created for the public to view.


Oh. And most of the labels were in untranslated Italian. Adorable.


Giant crabs


Odd looking lion

Yes. As you can see in the reflection next to the lion, I wore leopard print to a zoological museum.



Eee! Terrifying monkeys. I love them.

Rinolofio di blasius! Look at his little face!

Bird bird birds

Big alligator

Hey! There's the kiwi
Always look for the Kiwi.



I may have squealed just a little when I saw the room of rays.

Rays! Craig for size comparison
Craig added for size comparison.

There were only a few rooms of anatomical wax works but the detail was amazing.
(those of a sensitive disposition might want to skip the rest of this post)

Wax medical models from the 1800s

The art of anatomical waxworks was developed in Florence in the 17th century in order to teach medicine when practicing on corpses was illegal. Anatomical waxworks was slightly more true to life than learning surgery from a book. These waxworks are famous for having been modeled off actual corpses. How that is any worse than letting medical students loose on the deceased is simply beyond me.

Wax medical models from the 1800s

It’s just wax. It’s just wax.

Wax medical models from the 1800s

Saturday: Wax medical models from the 1800s


Wax medical models from the 1800s
I think this lady was my favourite. She was flayed open and yet her face was so serene. Like she was just about to fall asleep on a hot summer day.

Wax medical models from the 1800s

Wax medical models from the 1800s

One of my favourite parts of the whole museum was that, always a few steps behind us, we were shadowed by an Italian family, a mother, father, and a boy of about 6 years old who was just SO DAMN EXCITED to be there. We lost them in the anatomical section, they didn’t stay there long.

I am a little distraught that I didn’t notice the stuffed hippopotamus which was a 17th-century Medici pet that once lived in the Boboli Gardens. I know, I know they are, apparently, vicious killers but seriously? a hippopotamus ambling around your extensive gardens? it sounds pretty amazing.

Panorama - Medical wax works

A few photos from Florence

The Basilica and the Campanile

Lifesize statues on the Duomo

Looking back down on the Basilica

I'm a little in love with Florence

Gelato! But the trick to get good gelato is ...
This may look impressive but the best gelato is kept away from the sun. Also their banana flavour should be grey.

Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s unfinished Pieta.

St John the Baptist. In Silver

The spot where Savanarola was burnt
“In this place, on 23 May 1498, Fra Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and then burned after an iniquitous verdict, in the company of his fellows Fra Domenico Buonvicini and Fra Silvestro Maruffi. This memorial was put in place four centuries later.”

Ponte Santa Trinita

Me and the Ponte Vecchio



Food market


Big alligator
(La Specola, the Museum of Zoology and Natural History will get its own post)

Hotel Centro

Writing postcards at a bar

Art in the Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio


Why we couldn't go into Fort Belvedere

Back blocks of Florence

Gelateria Santa Trinita

Gelateria Santa Trinita

Reflections on the Arno

Our train was late

Florence was my absolute favourite.