This trip began as most others do, via flight. The only difference this time was that I was sitting in the cockpit for take-off and landing. Throughout this flight there was the calm and collected veteran captain seated next to his nervous, meticulous rookie co-pilot. My view allowed me access to the inner workings of flying a large jet, Boeing 737 to be exact. (One of the perks of having a girlfriend who works for a major air freight company operating throughout Europe, thanks!) I was sitting in one of two jump seats reserved for occasions like this. No lines, no screaming babies, a quick security check and off to the flight. Geneva, Switzerland.
A last-minute internet search of Swiss brewers allowed me to gain some insight into the polarity of the Swiss make-up. To the north you have the German-speaking city of Zürich, while to the south-west you have French-speaking Geneva and to the south there are the Italian speakers. With influences in Zürich from Bavaria there is no shortage of fermented malt beverage in this country. The Swiss are a proud people, so proud in fact as to hold on to their own currency, the Swiss Franc (CHF), as well as to exclude themselves from the European Union. At this point in the E.U.’s current “financial situation” this seems to have been a smart move by the monetarily minded Swiss, as the Franc rivals that of the Euro. Although, cost of living is far higher than that of many other European cities.
Geneva, in short, is an International city, home to the United Nations, Red Cross, UNICEF and many more socially conscious NGO’s. Then you have the private banking sector, something of a legend in its own right. As you walk through the streets while paying little attention to passersby you can hear a barrage of languages being spoken. Is it this that attracts the numerous social welfare groups to station their headquarters here?
My arrival into the “City of Time“-they make watches if you are unaware, many different types of very expensive watches, Rolex for one-coincided with the Swiss National Day. One to rival that of the American Independence Day celebrations; large festival areas with national foods, drinks and fireworks displays.
Here to celebrate an acquaintance’s birthday, I felt I would be right on track to follow-up previous posts with similar local brewing
knowledge. In fact, it was a quick lesson taught while patrolling the aisles of a grocery store, attempting to purchase 50 Francs worth of product to gain a 10% discount, capitalism in action. There is Cardinal, a beer once removed from the shelves by its brewer. The story goes; parent company Feldschlösschen, recently purchased by Carlsberg, had chosen to stop producing Cardinal due to finances. Public outrage ensued with the boycotting of all other products-a beer revolution if you will-caused such a depletion in sales that it was put back into production. It is almost a story worthy of a screenplay as far as I am concerned. A David vs. Goliath, perhaps? Obviously there are more options to choose from but it is not beer that is king in Geneva, it is wine. Copious amounts of white and rosé. Being a beer drinker I am not accustom to the amount of vino consumption that was on hand for the weekend.
By 8pm Saturday we had consumed 3 or 4 bottles of the sweet stuff, all coming from the Swiss wine region of Valais. Here the story gets blurry. Our next move was on to Le Bateau Geneve for dinner. Now, the concept behind this establishment might also find some of you conservative types a bit uneasy. It is an old lake ferry converted into a restaurant/bar-while still afloat at the docks. It is a social development project designed to employ those citizens who require a second chance at life. Former drug addicts, criminals and refugees take control of every aspect of the restaurant’s operations. You walk the dock to load the boat as if you were going for a cruise; are greeted by friendly, awkward smiles and are told to have a seat anywhere you would like while Reggaeton fills the air. It is very informal, yet the mix of people ranges from those like the staff to the rich banker types wearing Rolex watches. Link: http://www.bateaugeneve.ch/
I seem to remember having only one option for dinner here: Swiss+cheese=Raclette. Imagine half a wheel of cheese being grilled under a heat lamp while a mongoloid of a woman with a toothless grin scrapes the oozing delicacy onto a plate. It is here that I should point out that this “meal” is not large, or filling in any way. Along with cheese you buy a bottle of white wine and take it to your table where the others in your party have already moved on to the bottle(s) after quickly consuming their faire. Apparently, as I do not recall, between 10 of us we proceeded to polish off 20 bottles of this alcoholic grape juice. My head on Sunday would not have disputed the numbers.
I stayed two more days and wandered the various sections of the city via bus, boat and tram-all included in the price of a one day public transport ticket. You could set your newly purchased Swiss time piece to the buses, boats and trams crisscrossing the city. Using the regularly departing buses you can travel to the borders of Switzerland and France where you can walk the remaining 10 minutes to France’s Telepherique du Salève (cable car) to the top of Mont Salève. Here you have panoramic views of Geneva, Lac Léman and Mont Blanc in the Alps. I wanted to write about something edgy and taboo while in Geneva but was unable to find anything off-limits in the company I kept while here for four short days. People are comfortable with their surroundings and the friendships they keep. Wealth is shared and people give back to their community.
Geneva is unlike anywhere I have ever been.
I am a tourist everywhere I go. The people I meet are my guides to life in any particular place. Have a positive experience with those people and you will have a lasting impression. Geneva and it’s residents have done this for me. Thanks to my hosts and those who accommodated throughout.
Two thumbs up.
NEXT WEEK: Holland? Amsterdam? Or just another day in the life of a guy out of place in Belgium…