Geneva, Switzerland

by - January 24, 2011

Thursday 20th January 2011

Lake Geneva, Switzerland
I always feel that flying from a city without visiting it is a missed oppurtunity.  It also leads to problems when it comes to classifying whether or not I have visited a place - I have, for example, caught a plane from Warsaw, but I didn`t actually go to the centre.  To save this administrative error, I decided to curtail the end of my skiing trip and spend a day in Geneva - a city that has always interested me as the home of many many international organizations, as well as being a place of legendary beauty.

CERN, Geneva
I arrived at about 11.00am, having caught the train from Sion, and after dumping my bags at my hostel, set out on the legendary Swiss public transport system (which was free thanks to a travel card that the hostel gave me).  My first destination was CERN - le Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or as it tends to be known in the British media, the Hadron Collider.  With the one mark dropped on my Physics exam being the catalyst for my gap year, it seemed like not only a fascinating, but also an appropriate place to visit.  Unfortunately a guided tour of the actual laboratory needs to be booked a month in advance (which I found out a week ago), so I went to see the two major exhibits that were on display -  Microcosm (a history of post war European science) and Universe of Particles.  Both were very interesting and were pitched at a level that was accessable to somebody who had done an A level into it - it wasn’t as hard as it could have been.  It was a place that I could have spent days in, but there were other places I wanted to visit in my afternoon in Geneva, so I was only there for a few hours.

Palais de Nations, Geneva
My next stop was the Palais de Nations - one of the European headquarters of the United Nations, and the birthplace of the League of Nations.  It is in many ways the centre of 20th century European history and is all the more worth going to for still being in use to this day for international diplomacy.  In order to get access to the site there is a fairly rigorous security check, which involves a passport check and being given an identity badge.  This wasn’t an inconvenience though, because being given an identity badge made the visit even more exciting.  It goes without saying that members of the public aren’t allowed to just randomly walk around the site so I was obliged to take an English tour with a German tour guide.  This was fairly interesting, but she tended to ramble on about pointless stuff, like how nice the view is from the windows, rather than exploring the various intricacies of international relations.

Original League of Nations conference hall
The palace had been built after the end of World War One as the home of the League of Nations, an international organization that hoped to avoid there being any more bloodshed on a major scale.  Anybody who knows their history will know that the League of Nations was a bit of a flop and after failing to prevent World War Two, was disbanded and replaced with the United Nations, who moved their headquarters to New York.  However, such a large organization requires more than one ‘branch’ and Geneva, along with Vienna, was chosen as the European branch of the United Nations.  On top of that, the Hague in Holland was chosen as the site of the International Criminal Courts.  I hadn’t realised it, but there is also a United Nations headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.  But that is beside the point.  The Palais de Nations was the obvious place for the United Nations to be housed in Geneva, but it was deemed too small and several new wings have been attached.  The original core of the building is retained however and there are still remnants of the League of Nations - the letters LN on the door handles for example, or the fact that the grand hall is made of materials from each of the founding League of Nation members (granite from Norway, marble from Italy etc).  In my head I imagined there being one large auditorium - the famous one with all the national name plaques, but there are in fact over twenty of such rooms.  The original League of Nations auditorium is the most intricately decorated of these, and is now home to the International Disarmament Committee.  Members of the public are free to sit in on certain meetings and there are a wealth of topics that are discussed - from the state of natural gas reserves to the growing problem of back pain in adults.  While most decisions are made in New York, there are some occasions - such as the war in South Ossetia, where Geneva is preferred for peace talks.  The tour cost 10CHF (about £6.00) and was well worth going on.

Main auditorium, UN
I had spent most of the day at the two sites, so didn’t have any time to go in anywhere else - there is a whole lot more I could have done in the city.  I therefore decided to go for a stroll into town from the UN building, along the lake front.  It was very windy and this unfortunately seemed to mean that the famous Jet d'Eau had been turned off - the lake itself was very choppy, so it wasn’t much of a surprise.  I wandered around the Jardin d'Anglais, where there is a flower clock with the longest second hand in the world.  At this stage it seemed that I was scraping the bottom of the site barrel so I headed to a traditional local coffee house (Star..somethings) and then on for a curry.  Which of course the Swiss are famous for.  Once back at the hostel (the City Hostel - £20 a night for a four bed dorm), I proceeded to give myself a heart attack.  Opening up the locker that I had left my luggage in earlier, I found that it was completely empty - all of the things I had brought with me - the ski equipment, camera etc etc was gone.  I rushed up to reception to report that it had been stolen and the receptionists came down and asked if I had checked the other lockers.  I saw no reason why my stuff would be moved, but followed their advice and lo and behold I found it.  Having placed all of my gear in locker 13 and having shut the door, I had proceeded to put the padlock on locker 12.  Possibly the most stupid traveler mistake of all time.  I left my hostel, disgraced, the next morning and got the early flight back to London Luton.  All in all, Geneva was a very worthwhile city to see, and is a I would love to go back to in the near future.

Windy Lake Geneva

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