Gail and I have just completed another portion of the Via Francigena pilgrimage which started in Canterbury and will eventually take us to Rome. This year, we walked 575 kilometres from Tergnier to Gy in France. Although we planned to walk about 40 kilometres further to Besançon, an unfortunate fall that severely limited Gai’s ability to walk, cut our journey a tiny bit short.
However, we had also planned a post-walk holiday that would take us from Besançon and through Switzerland by train, before returning home to Winnipeg. We resolved to continue with our plans, as carefully and as slowly as Gail’s ability required, minimizing our walking and using buses, trams and trains wherever possible. Here’s a day-by-day account of our progress.
Notes from our trip to, and stay in, Geneva:
It would require a full day to get to Geneva from Mürren, starting with a retracing of the cable car, bus and train journey that, two days ago, took us to the alpine village. At Interlaken Ost, we divert westward to Speiz and Zweisimmen in order to board one of Switzerland’s scenic trains, the Golden Pass. This specialty tourist train with expansive panoramic windows transports us through a landscape of lush green pastures dotted with Simmental cows, through low mountain passes lined with jagged mountain peaks and onto Montreux. There, we board a regular train that takes us along the shoreline of Lake Geneva, passing through Lausanne on our way to Geneva itself.
Geneva’s a modestly sized city of slightly over 202,000 people, although that swells to over a million when the entire metropolitan area is included. Although not a capital city, it has an international reputation which includes many United Nations agencies, major financial institutions and is the headquarters for the International Red Cross.
Venturing far out from the city centre, past the manicured grounds of Place des Nations, our bus deposits us at the foot of the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Its subterranean International Museum is divided into three thematic spaces, each designed by a different architect. Shigeru Ban’s presentation for the “Reducing Natural Risks” section is defined by the architect’s signature use of cardboard tubing while Diébédo Francis Kéré uses actual identification files from World War One in his moving interpretation of “Restoring Family Links.”
Back in the city centre, it is the famous Jet d’Eau that instantly attracts us. Sitting just offshore in Lake Geneva, it has been spraying a 140-metre tower of water since 1891, or 1866 if you include its former location at nearby La Coulouvrenière hydraulic works, where the jet of water was a means of relieving excess pressure. Today it has a simple but spectacular touristic value, a watery monument that dominates the city skyline.
Just across the lake, which we reach on a small ferry, or mouette, is the Jetée de Paquis and its unique public bath facility, Bains des Pâquis. It’s a balmy October 16 afternoon. Beaches lining the spit are packed with sun worshippers and swimmers. But we are here for lunch at La Buvette des Bains., Gail, resting her ailing knee, reserves seats at a pier-side picnic table while I join a throng of hungry customers jockeying for position at the open air counter to order from several preset, highly affordable meals on the chalkboard menu. Such a fun experience with good food on this unexpectedly warm day.
We visit a few Geneva sites over our two days—there’s the Red Cross Museum and the Cathédrale de St-Pierre, for example—but shopping and eating are our priorities. These are, after all, our last hours in Switzerland before returning to Winnipeg. Chocolate, clothes and books will find their way into our ballooning luggage. There’s a dinner of Lake Geneva perch. And a final, spectacular lunch at Restaurant Le Dix Vins in the chic Carouge neighbourhood. As the sun wanes at the end of our second day, we head back to the old town and the cozy Place du Bourg-de-Four. The outdoor tables of Café La Clémence are bustling with students and afterwork patrons.
It’s time for one last drink.
Read on to view the day’s photos.
Click the images below to view a full-screen slideshow.