Most certainly not a getaway in a romantic French château.
Switzerland never makes it onto our holiday radar because, well, we have mountains and cows and alpine food and great wine here in Austria at a fraction of Swiss prices, and without the bothersomeness of currency conversions (C/F to C/J as well as Euros to Francs).
This being written, at least one of us endeavors to attend Anna Grace’s HS sports tournaments as schedules allow. This past weekend’s particular tournament was being hosted by ISGeneva–excuse me, Ecole Internationale de Genève, the oldest international school in the world–so a short skip across the alps was planned once CTF’s sitter confirmed availability. Plus, this is our favorite Lady Knight’s senior year, so there are scant months (and thus excuses) remaining for Tony to take a long weekend away from the office.
The primary focus being to cheer on the team meant that our sightseeing would have to fit around the games. Of course, the administrative address for the school placed it conveniently near Geneva’s Old Town (and with a tram stop practically across the street); but the actual campus, La Châtaigneraie where the tournament was held was some 18km outside of Geneva in the Vaud Canton countryside, accessible via a precision-timed SBB/regional bus/650m walk scheme. Sigh.
Sightseeing was carefully prioritized. The Airbnb, reserved. The 0715 departure on Austrian was booked; and the airport driver was arranged for oh-dark-thirty. Well aware of the dreadful state of VIE’s food offerings even during regular business hours we pre-purchased the optional catered breakfast from Do&Co (Austrian Airlines catering group) to be delivered to our flight.
Wise move.While others around us were enjoying (?) cold Kipferl and paper-cup java Tony settled in with scrambled eggs, bacon and OJ (in a real glass), breakfast purist that he is; while I spent much of the 1:20 flight nom-noming (and snapping) my incredible Bento Box.
Oh, Do&Co. Edamame. Sushi. Gently pickled vegetables. Avocado and Salmon Tartare with Yuzu Ponzu. Duck Masao (lower left). And even a small chocolate mousse!
We arrived into Geneva to the aroma of money; that is, advertisements for expensive watches all about the airport.
After depositing our case in one of the airport train station lockers and purchasing a transit day pass we caught our connection trams to CERN for a tour. Fully badged, we began the visit with a tour of the Microcosm exhibit for an at-your-own-pace description of what goes on at CERN, for which we were both glad we had made time.
This is the original linear accelerator at CERN from 1952-1958.
The tour itself began with a film that was wildly dramatic, with music and spectacular PowerPoint effects; while the walking tour was perhaps a little lecture-y with no Sheldon Cooper jokes but with video CERNerds waiting to talk about their work.
Though one does not get up-close-and-personal to the collider action, obviously, we were able to observe the control room for the Atlas Collider (though the collider is presently shut down while the magnets are being refurbished) and were shown a portion of the IBM computer system that birthed the WWW.
Tony whispered to me, “We had one of those in the Engineering Department at Michigan.”
I whispered back, “Ssshhh. Your age is showing.”
The tour ended with a visit to CERN’s original, and long-since-decommisioned Proton Synchroton and a fascinating timeline video that put everything you ever wanted to know about particle physics into chronological perspective.
On the Wall of Fame, the founders of CERN including J.Robert Oppenheimer, the Father of the Atomic Bomb, alongside Physics rockstars Heisenberg and Bohr. Quite a bit to think about in this room.
For the two of us STEM nerds the tour was engaging in a geeky kind of way, and an interesting look at how Europe rebuilt its scientific community after the war. A stroll through the gift shop afterward revealed some fun stuff for brilliant young minds, too.
By the time the two-hour tour had finished our tummies were rumbling. Lunch! Just then, our Airbnb host rang and asked if we could check in early, so we rerouted to the apartment up in the embassy and permanent missions ‘hood. After the hellos and key-collect we walked a couple of blocks to a postcard perfect old rickety wicker-backed chairs, mismatched-dishes-on-the-table crowded café. The chalkboard menu emphasized the Fondue Maison. Well, why not? 60 Francs later (Okay, the fondue was spectacular) we eased out of the restaurant and planned our late afternoon walkabout in Geneva’s Old Town.
Geneva’s Old Town was Instagrammable and largely void of tourists. There is a small bus that runs a loop near to many interesting sights within the Old Town, and we took advantage of that whenever possible to stay out of the cold. Charming in an old French village kind of way, except that we were in Switzerland.
“Ladder of the Chicken,” because of how this passage resembles the entrance to a chicken coop. There are 67 steps that lead to the back of Cathédrale Saint-Pierre from this entrance. Once upon a time it was used by “Ladies of the Evening” as a way to reach their, ahem, offices at night. Ponder all of that.
Look, Vienna, outside tables in winter.
Possibly the most understated Russian Orthodox Church I have seen.
Somehow we still managed seven kilometers on foot before dinner. Our hearts had been set on a Poulet roti and a Swiss or Alsatian wine, curled up on the sofa of our flat while plotting the remaining time in the city. But our hearts were broken when we arrived at the Rotisserie near the grocer—all the Poulet had been sold! After sulking about the grocery for several minutes we decided upon a supper of pan-seared steaks with salad and paired with a sublime Gamay, a couple of bottles of which I sincerely regret not bringing home.
The following morning was a Swiss-precision routine to reach the school in time for the first game tip-off. From the bus stop we walked in biting winds to reach the school (Fun!) and I arrived with a red nose and watering eyes, looking as if I had trekked instead to the North Pole.
We had been “warned” that the school was nearly in the middle of Swiss Canton Nowhere and that we should bring provisions, as the downtime between relevant games was not sufficient to walk across the tundra to a restaurant or grocery. Thank goodness we had come prepared, because the offerings at the school ranged from chicken hot dogs to Cup-O-Noodles to chicken (or perhaps veggie) hamburgers kept warm in the oven. At one point I took leave of my senses and decided to try a noodle cup. Nope. Couldn’t finish it and pawned it off on Tony. I think my taste buds are still stinging from the salt.
Did I mention that the sports facility resembled a concrete-enclosed ice cube? We spent the day in full parkas, alternating between sitting on the (cold) concrete benches or walking about the (cold) facility and peeking at the mountains, all the while cheering on our Basketball, not Ice Hockey team.
A vast expanse and some mountains. Our view from The Ice Cube.
Our favorite Lady Knight did what she does best: blazing past one opponent, drawing a foul from another, and sinking the shot. The team was not expected to, and did not medal, though they did finish at a higher seed than at the start of the tournament.
Sprung from the games about 8 hours later, we were on a mission to find Poulet Roti. And we did! I sautéed some fingerlings and tossed the remaining salad to go with, and we uncorked a rather quaffable Alsatian Gewürztraminer to pair while we caught a few episodes of The Sopranos (Have AppleTV, will travel!)
No need for an alarm, as an inebriated neighbor shouting and stumbling in the hallway at 0446 woke us the following morning. A repeat of our precision moves ensued (after coffee, naturally), with one small extra step of storing our case at the main train station. Once the tournament ended the remaining afternoon hours were spent touring the International Committee of the Red Cross museum, which sits on the campus of the United Nations.
The Broken Chair sculpture sits in the square in front of the main UN building, to draw attention to victims of landmines.
The International Committee of the Red Cross building and museum is perched upon a small slope.
The high ticket price of €15 aside, we both agreed that while the museum was worth touring overall, it was perhaps a little lean on substance in certain facets (The Moral Failure in protecting the Jewish population during WWII) being but a lone statement. A number of other exhibits included first-person commentary, too, which became a little word-y after a while.
A gallery was dedicated to the art produced by prisoners of war.
The section devoted to humanitarian efforts we found rather moving: the (still active) archive of more than 6 million prisoners of war records and the wall of missing Rwandan children particularly so.
A display of posters held our attention for several minutes. We could understand the United States Parks Service teaming up with the Red Cross to warn about the dangers of forest fire disasters, but we couldn’t quite get on board with posters in Denmark addressing the need to plant trees in the desert.
Soon enough it was time to head to the airport. As we had more or less skipped the midday nosh we settled into a quiet corner booth for an entirely acceptable Pizza Diavolo and a “pot” of house wine at an airport restaurant in the late afternoon before our flight. The airport is unique in that is has a special gate for transit travelers to avoid entering Swiss territory (remember, Switzerland is within the Schengen zone but is not an EU member.) It’s all complicated over here.
Naturally the airport lounge area would have a timepiece advertisement above the faux fireplace, too.
And lest there be any doubt that Switzerland is an expensive country, even the McDonald’s “Dollar Menu” items cost 3 Francs!
Our Austrian Airlines pilot put the pedal to the metal so we, and the team touched down in Vienna 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The airport driver was waiting, and in no time at all we were home and being greeted by Clayton Theodore.
Truth be, with perhaps the exception of not having time to tour the Patek Phillipe Museum I think we allotted the right amount of visiting time for Geneva. On previous school-related trips to Zurich and Basel both we felt the same, as well. Perhaps one goes to Switzerland more for the countryside than the cities? That may be, but why bother when we have the mountains and cows and alpine food and wine here in Austria, at a fraction of Swiss prices.