Geneva, Switzerland • January 2019 • Length of Read: 4 Minutes
The ice-cold wind blowing across Lake Geneva cut right through us as we strolled along the harbour, piercing my jacket and rattling my bones. It was a crisp winter’s day in the Swiss municipality, and my girlfriend Eva and I were exploring the city for a few hours before heading to the airport; having made our way down from the French alpine town of Chamonix that morning.
Not that there’s much in the way to uncover in Geneva, as we quickly discovered. I usually relish in the opportunity to pull back the skin of a city and find out what makes its heart beat, but it was as if the winter chills had caused the blood flow of Switzerland’s second-largest city to stop. The ‘old town’ was barren, a mass exodus of people leaving only a handful of grey-haired veterans braving the conditions as they played chess in the park. The internationally-famed financial district bore a striking character resemblance to the graveyard that lay across the street, a mortician’s dream. The myriad clothing boutiques and top brand watchmakers appeared devoid of the usual upper-class gentry, world-class window shopping gone to waste.
According to the guidebooks, one of the city’s must-see tourist attractions is the Jet d’Eau; a ‘tremendous fountain’ and Geneva’s ‘most prominent landmark’. In reality, however, it’s nothing special. Expecting a Las Vegas-style production of lights and sound, or captivating Disneyland-esque performance, we were greeted at the pier by a solitary water cannon spraying a single continuous jet of murky water 150m into the sky. All boats and barges were moored up, and the only activity on the lake was a few confused cygnets prancing about the shore. As one TripAdvisor review poetically puts it, ‘only worth visiting as there are hardly any other things to do in Geneva.’
Having exhausted all possibilities in this abandoned theme park of excitement, we found a little café, warmed ourselves up with a couple of cappuccinos and slice of apple pie, then paid the €17 bill and hopped on a train to the airport two hours early.
“How was your holiday?” asked one of my colleagues at work the next morning as I yawned my way into the office. Our flight had landed twenty minutes early but the unfavourable Edinburgh Airport bus timetable had prevented me from getting to sleep before midnight. “Did you pass through Geneva at all? I worked out there for seven months at the turn of the century.”
“We did, actually. It was eh…” I replied, pausing for an instance to measure up how she’d react to my unenthusiastic tone. “Historic,” I punted for. “Geneva was quite historic.”
“I found it such a boring place to live,” she unloaded as I exhaled a sharp breath. “There’s really nothing to do.”
“Perhaps it comes to life in the summer,” I conservatively suggested. “The cold weather really didn’t aid its cause. I couldn’t help but notice the distinct lack of artistic attraction, student population, or restaurants, however.”
“I was there right through the depths of winter,” my colleague laughed. “From October to April. It was back when video rental stores were still a thing and my Blockbuster membership card quickly became my best friend. In the typical French way, there wasn’t a massive English-language selection, so I found myself renting Friends box-sets and binge-watching them to get me through the weekends.”
“I don’t envy the individual charged with spearheading the city’s tourism board,” I quipped.
“This is a bit sad to admit,” she continued, “but when I got fed up of being confined indoors I used to find an Irish Pub and just sit there like a barfly until someone interesting came along to have a conversation with.”
“There are worse ways to pass the time,” I consoled.
“But worst of all was the supermarkets. There seemed to be a blanket ban against imported goods, so everything was locally sourced and branded. It seemed nice at first, but when you’re wandering around the aisles trying to figure out what anything actually is, it gets really tiring. Like, ‘is this cottage cheese or semi-skimmed milk?’ Who knows, let’s take a guess.”
“At least the train ran like clockwork,” I concluded. “I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there any longer than necessary.”
“Swiss efficiency to the rescue.”