This trip, beginning in Switzerland, has been talked about, and planned for, for so long, and with much help from the Trip Advisor forum. I hope my story will, in turn, be a help to those presently planning their own trip, a welcome reminder of wonderful memories for those, like me, whose trip is now behind them, and a special thank you to the DEs ever generous with their informative advice.
My friend, ‘K’ and I, (both fairly fit, female and mid fifties) live in a small coastal town in northern NSW, Australia. Our adventure began with catching the airport train from the Gold Coast to Brisbane’s International terminal.
It was now really on – Switzerland here we come! There was already a queue waiting for the Emirates check in to open, but we had no trouble with our slightly overweight hand luggage (yes they DO weigh it) and plenty of time for a cruise around the duty free shops and a last Aussie sparkling to celebrate the beginning of our adventure!
Loaded on our Emirates flight, all hope of having a spare third seat in our row faded as we watched the plane fill. Sure enough we scored a grumpy weird person; no acknowledgement or small talk from him. In fact getting him to let us out for a bathroom stop became a big issue! The 14+ hr flight to Dubai was massive – and all in the dark. We very much enjoyed the Emirates food and service, though.
After a couple of hours at the huge, modern Dubai airport where we eyed off what we might purchase on the way home – luggage space permitting, we had a Starbucks, Arab style coffee and a comfort stop before boarding our flight for Geneva. I was confronted with my first squat toilet, but K’s cubicle had the ‘ordinary’ style toilet – they cater for everyone!
Boarding was not well announced, but luckily we had checked at the gate quite early – to find everyone going through. At Dubai you are checked in at concourse level and then taken down an escalator to a holding lounge before boarding. Somehow between being checked in and the gate K’s boarding pass stub disappeared and was later found to have jumped into a random side pocket of her bag. All was well, and the boarding pass found while the attendant was still looking for the right card to print off another one for us! If only all our later lost items could be so easily rectified! (You’ll need to read beyond Switzerland for that one!)
Another full flight, but this time thankfully we had successfully pre-booked a pair of seats down the back, in row 46, where the airline body tapers. Exhaustion, and certainly not the comfort of trying to sleep sitting up, allowed us to doze for some of the 7 hour second leg of our trip, watch another movie and enjoy the food and wine service.
We crossed some sandy looking arid areas, with oil fires burning, then snow capped mountain and eventually farming land and built up areas of northern Italy and across Switzerland before a good look at Lake Geneva as a prelude to our landing. Passports processed we proceeded to what we thought would be just the next step in the arrivals procedure, collecting our bag. This successfully achieved, we thankfully remembered to collect our free train ticket from the machine before heading out the ‘Sortie’ and finding that WAS it – we were outside in Switzerland! No customs, no quarantine declarations for food. (why didn’t we bring some of the dinky plane snacks with us!?!)
Still over whelmed with the idea that we were actually here, in Switzerland, we followed signs to the trains and found ourselves on a beautiful regional train, which after a wait to leave, dropped us at the Cornavin or main Geneva station. Despite my months of research, it was unclear how we should exit the station to the Place de Cornavin. Dragging our bags behind us we made an annoyingly erroneous first attempt before retracing our steps and finding our way onto Rue de Lausanne and a couple of blocks along, the street leading to the f6 design hotel in Rue de Ferrier. The receptionist spoke English, but never the less tested my French… but we got booked in, collected our tourist travel cards and were delighted with our room – for a very reasonable price (booked months ago via Bookings.com) It had enough space to separate the twin beds and have our bags open at the same time! We freshened up and re-arranged our day bags ready to set off to explore Geneva - and keep ourselves awake til a reasonable time to go to bed! Now it was my turn for the random mis-laying of the room key. Having both checked all my bags and pockets – twice – it turned up UNDER the bed. Another of life’s little travel mysteries! Jet lag does wonderful things to your brain!?!
Coated up against the light drizzly rain, we set off back past the station, down Rue Des Alpes and via the restaurant we had an internet booking for the following night, then across the Pont de Mont Blanc and a detour left into the Jardin D’Engletaire for a photo op in front of the floral clock. We followed the Lakeside Promenade, including checking out the Rousseau sculpture on its own island like setting in the river, and found our way to Place du Mollard and up the steps into the old town. This was amazing – old but beautiful stone buildings and windy passage ways and little squares. We found the Cathedral (St Peters), the old Hotel de Ville, first home of the UN and a stair case wide enough to ride a horse up (you do have to poke your nose through the door in the wall in order to see it), and wound our way back down the Ramp de Treille to Place de Neuve and back across to the waterfront and ‘home’ via the shopping centre area – left for another day. We found a supermarket for supplies - including the cheapest of wine! By now our jet lagged brains and weary legs were suggesting a night in would be a good idea, so we picked up a pizza d’emporter (takeaway) for an amazingly cheap 13CHF – and enjoyed wine and pizza before crashing out at the appallingly early hour of 8pm – still broad daylight outside.
Next morning we enjoyed a cuppa in our room, having woken up around 6am but still didn’t manage to get to breakfast much before 8am. What a wonderful breakfast … and what a wonderful find the f6 has turned out to be. We enjoyed the fruit, bircher style muesli and yoghurt, boiled egg, French bread, pastries and machine coffee and were well fuelled up for our walk to the United Nations. The distinctive chair sculpture and flag lined front entrance were easily found, but not so the Pregny Gate and visitors entrance. We’d already walked up the hill to the Red Cross headquarters (unfortunately closed for major renovations) and back to fill in time, only to find we had mis-read the sign and the tour entrance was indeed half a km back ..up the hill and opposite the Red Cross HQ! Entry was an easy process, but not everyone gets an ID badge – only the first person in each group. The trick would be go in as individuals, so as to get a souvenir badge. You must however take your passport with you. We had time to reconnoiter the gift shop before our English speaking tour at 10.30am. This started in the new building where we viewed a couple of meeting rooms used by the 193 member countries of the UN General Assembly, particularly in the Human Rights and other areas specific to the Geneva Palais de Nations. We moved on over the connecting air bridge to the old building - more interested in the magnificent snow capped mountain views! Here we saw the Spanish room and main General Assembly room.
After leaving we saw that a number of protests were now set up under ‘The Chair’. On a whim we jumped on a tram at the Nations stop, saving our legs until closer to the lake where we enjoyed a stroll and worked out the mouette boat system. We just had time for a less than brilliant coffee from a Lakeside vendor before hopping on ferry No 3 to Port Noir where we changed to a No 4 back to Chateaubriand at Perle de Lac. What a wonderful way to see the city, the Lake and the water jet close up …and all for free for tourists with the transport tickets you get at your hotel. We made our way back to LIDYL (cheap supermarket) for some french bread to have with our Gruyere cheese for lunch and managed to buy some fake Bailleys as well! Alcohol is very cheap – and available in supermarkets here! We were so glad we brought a fold up shopping bag – its bring your own bags here. (It was useful lots of times on the trip – even back in good old Australia where our duty free shop now charges $1/bag!)
We had a look at Manor, H & M and a number of souvenir shops, purchasing nothing!..but plenty of possibilities. A swiss watch would be nice, but no bargains here! We made our way back over the river and found the Place de Madelaine Markets – basically just one stall near the carousel. Luckily we decided to check out the tower climb at the Cathedral which had already closed for the day when we visited yesterday. The Cathedral itself was magnificent with beautiful stained glass and awesome stone work. However the highlight was the climb (and view) from the top. Not only did the nice man let us pay a few coins short, he also chased us up with our tickets we’d left behind and pointed out the way to go – which once we worked out the turnstyle access, was obvious! The climb itself was a bit spooky, and the green/red indicators didn’t always guarantee no-body was coming down the one person wide spiral stairway, but the view from the top worth any aches and angst. Even the inner structure of the bell tower was amazing to see. Once up high a North or South option became available. Luckily we chose the south option first, leaving the bell tower on the north to last. There is a direct exit down from that tower, without having to go back to where you came up. Every platform gave a wonderful panoramic view in all directions.
We caught another tram back to the Cornavin and tried to work out our Golden Pass train trip for tomorrow…we can only hope it makes more sense in the morning! This left us only just enough time for a quick nibbles and drinks before getting changed and making our way to Le Petit Swiss for a traditional Swiss cheese fondu dinner for 23 CHF each and a glass of ‘open’ (house) wine. We were back home before dark at 8.45 to pack, enjoy a ‘pod’ coffee from the N’Espresso machine in our room and get organised for an early departure. Unfortunately the travel gremlins got into our electronic gear with the computer, camera and e-reader all going flat and the swiss/europe adapter we thought we had proving not to fit. The Swiss power outlets look similar to, but are indeed different to the ‘European’ adapters we had, which worked later in France and on the boat.
(More to come as our adventure moves on to Lucerne, via the Golden Pass)