Saturday, January 11, 2014

First Week in Geneva

Flower Clock in Jardin Anglais in January
Since arriving to Geneva and checking into my new residence for the next four months, I've been lucky to have done some significant exploring.  Comparing guidebooks and websites, my friends and I have been trying to fit in as much as possible before work starts so that we can have more free time to explore other parts of Switzerland and see the things we really want to see first (also, since things in Geneva apparently all close at 6:30pm).
One of the main symbols of the city is the giant Jet d'Eau, right on the shore of Lake Geneva by a little marina, splashing whoever is lucky enough to have their assigned dock right under the fountain.  According to the Geneva Tourism Office, the fountain pumps out 500 liters (132 gallons) of water per second to a height of 140 meters (460 feet) at a speed of 200 km/hour (124 mph).
St. Pierre's Cathedral by night
Another important feature in the old part of the city is St. Pierre's Cathedral, or Cathédrale Saint-Pierre (for St. Peter, in English).  It took about 100 years to build the first version of the cathedral, beginning in 1160, and at the time of the Christian Reformation in 1535, the cathedral became a place of Protestant worship.  The cathedral is located right next to John Calvin's old lecture hall and even has his chair inside the cathedral by a pulpit.  
For 5 CHF, you can climb the 157 stairs to the north spire for an amazing view of the city along Lake Geneva and the Alps.  You can also climb to the southern spire, although the views are not as great.
There are red and green lights indicating when the narrow spiral staircases are clear to go up/down, but sometimes other visitors don't follow them.  Even though we hollered that we were coming up, a giant Frenchman and his wife decided to ignore our multi-lingual holler (and the color-coded lights with four languages describing their function) and instead barreled down past me, my friend behind me, and three other people behind us, squishing all on their way.  The cathedral is also beautiful lit up at night, and there's even a wifi access point sponsored by the City of Geneva nearby.
Outside of the Basilica Notre Dame
Next to Gare Cornavin, the central train station, there is the Basilica Notre Dame (yes, same name as the one in Paris).  The outside of this church is not as impressive at St. Peter's Cathedral in the Old Town, but I thought that the inside was far more beautiful.

In exploring more of the Old Town in Geneva, we stopped for lunch at the famous Chez Ma Cousine, the best food value for your money in Geneva.  For 15 CHF, you get a delicious half of a rotisserie chicken, tons of fries, and a salad.  House wine is about 3.70 CHF per glass.  
Tasty, tasty chicken!
Geneva also has some great museums.  In the first week, I visited several: Maison Tavel, the oldest house in Geneva; the Botanical Gardens; the Reformation Museum; the Museum of Art History; and the Natural History Museum.  The Patek Philippe Museum, Red Cross Museum, Ariana Ceramics Museum, and Museum of Modern Art are also on my "Geneva Bucket List" before I leave.
The Botanical Gardens are beautiful and are actually located right behind the United Nations plaza.  Even in January, there are beautiful flowers inside and the park surrounding the greenhouses is also lovely.  In the spring time and summer, there should be roses in bloom, which will be beautiful to see.
Maison Tavel, the oldest private residence in Geneva, was also pretty great.  Like the Botanical Gardens, it was free to visit, making it even greater.  The house is named after the family who owned it from the late 1200s to the early 1500s.  The house's vaulted cellars date back from the late 1100s and are the last example of Roman cellars in Geneva that are so large.  In the Middle Ages, the cellars were used for trade and opened directly onto the street and were isolated from the residential part of the house.  Although the house was destroyed by a fire in 1334 that left only the cellars, the house was rebuilt.  Over the centuries, the house underwent numerous architectural transformations, especially during the time the house was owned by the Calandrini family from the 1600s to the early 1700s.  In 1963, the city of Geneva acquired Maison Tavel and began restoring the house.  In 1986, the house opened as a museum, and has been open to visitors ever since.
Maison Tavel
Geneva has a strong connection to the Protestant Reformation.  As reformists were leaving their countries of origin, they flocked to Geneva and continued their religious movement from the city.  John Calvin's chair sits inside St. Peter's Cathedral.  Even Maison Tavel shares connections to the Reformation.  As I wrote above, the house was owned by the Calandrini family from the 1600s to the early 1700s.  The Calandrini family was actually an Italian merchant family who converted to Protestantism and fled Italy for Geneva, where they purchased Maison Tavel.
Reformation Wall in Bastions Park
(John Calvin is 2nd from Left)
The Reformation Museum was interesting for more history on the Protestant Reformation (but I would not necessarily recommend it unless you find that period of history fascinating - it's a bit dry for me).  The museum has many manuscripts, paintings, and engravings that tell the story of the movement that partially spread from Geneva in the 1500s.  The museum itself was built in the 1700s on the former site of the cathedral cloisters where the Reformation was voted on in 1536. One interesting artifact the museum has is an old copy of a Protestant Bible that likely belonged to French Huguenots who were prohibited from having these editions of the Bible, so it was likely hidden in a space behind the fireplace.  Another interesting exhibit was the collection of caricatures and political cartoons from both Protestants and Catholics berating leaders of the other side.
Russian Orthodox Church - not a tourist destination
On our way to the Art History Museum, we were wandering around a bit and asked an older woman for directions to the museum.  She gave us good directions and then told us to go inside the Russian Orthodox Church because it was "historic" in Geneva.  While she was probably right that the Russian Orthodox Church is historic (like everything else in Geneva), it was definitely not a tourist destination and we had to pay 2 CHF to get in to realize this.  While the old lady was nice to give us good directions that eventually led us to the Art History Museum, I think she just got us to unwittingly donate money to the Church on our way...
Museum of Art History, Geneva
The Art History Museum itself was very nice (and free!).  The museum's building itself was beautiful, and it had a large collection of mostly classical styles of art.  There were a few pieces in more modern styles as well in one of the temporary exhibitions.  While the museum really had a lot of great pieces, one of my favorites that made me laugh is an artist's self portrait that looked like "the original selfie."  It also made me laugh because it reminds me of the pose that Stephen Colbert does when taking pictures with other people.


Finally, I visited the Natural History Museum (actually located very close to that Russian Orthodox Church).  The Natural History Museum was probably better for children, but if you looked closely, there were still some things to keep the adults entertained.
Sense of Humor from the Curator
The Palexpo, a huge arena where the Geneva Auto Show is held later on in the winter, also had an exhibition with replicas of the treasures from King Tut's tomb.  Even though all the things in the exhibit were replicas, they were very well done and the exhibition did a good job of giving the history leading up to Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb in 1922.  The exhibit also had a section where the main treasures were darker and then gradually illuminated, just as Carter would have seen them when first unsealing the tomb and slowly shining more light into the darkness to see what was held inside.

It's been a great first week in Geneva, and I am looking forward to exploring more of the city and Switzerland this semester!

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