About half of Leini’s story in THE WOODEN CHAIR takes place in Geneva. Thank you for the chance to take you on a tour of this place, home to me for most of my adult life. I raised my two children there, had a great career. Now when I go back to visit my children, granddaughter and dear friends, it’s as a tourist.
To rent a car in Geneva, is pointless because parking is very limited, expensive and hard to come by. It makes sense to avail myself of the free pass to public transportation most hotels give to their guests. The public transportation network in Geneva is excellent, trams and trolley buses get me to most places I want or need to go. Taxis are also affordable.
The hotel where I usually stay is right in the heart of city center, a spitting distance from L’Horloge Fleurie, The Flower Clock,and the lake. People call it Lake Geneva, but in fact it’s real name is Lac Leman. It’s bordered in the north by the Jura mountain range, in the south by the Salève and France. To the north you have Lausanne.
My day as a tourist starts with a renversé (coffee with hot mild) and a croissant at one of the many cafés on the main street. There, and one street closer to the lake, Rue du Rhone, you have a panoply of the world’s luxury stores. Geneva is a city made for strolling. There are numerous lush parks with a variety of old trees. Among my favorites is Parque des Eaux Vives, a walking distance from the café. Weather allowing, I stroll along the quay, admire the beautiful sail boats bobbing on the waters. My sauntering takes me to the nearby Rose Park with it’s display of innumerable varieties of roses. Every June, one rose is voted the rose of the year. In fact, this tradition inspired the scene in my novel LIFE IS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE, in which Michael, my male protagonist, enters his specimen rose in a contest and goes on to win the highest nomination, Rose of Roses.
If I head back they way I came, I hop on the ferry to head over to the right bank, passage paid by my free pass. Here are some of the most luxurious hotels imaginable. I keep repeating the word “luxury,” but that’s Geneva, home of luxury. On the left bank are the luxury homes of the affluent and celebrities; on the right bank are the luxury hotels; in the city center, you have the luxury shops. On this tour of my home town, however, my next goal is the United Nations ((UN), Le Palais des Nations. It’s situated in the beautiful Ariana Park with trees over a hundred years old. The city of Geneva makes the Ariana Park available to the United Nations for as long as UN exists. Whenever I had guests from out of town, I took them to the UN for a one hour guided tour. I have something of a weak spot for the UN and it’s history, so a visit is a must.
My stomach is growling so it must be time for lunch. The taxi drops me at Hotel Kempinski. The lift on the façade of the building affords me a splendid panoramic view of the lake, the Jet d’Eau fountain and the Mont Blanc. In the restaurant on the top floor, I ignore the proffered menu. A visit to Geneva wouldn’t be the real deal without Filets de Perches et Pomme Frittes, a local delicacy. And a glass of on open white wine, any local will do as they usually are reliable to be palatable. For me, no dessert, only an espresso.
Replete, on the quay, I wander in the direction of the Mont Blanc bridge. Weather allowing, it’s about a half hour brisk walk to Globus, the shopping center downtown. Everything in Geneva is pricy, but the wonderful perfumes, Guerlin my favorite among them, the shoes, handbags, in fact, everything is eye candy, and that’s free. Underground, accessible by an escalator, is the most irresistible, must tempting, mouthwatering, generous display of cheeses. You can have the cakes and the ice creams and the cookies, but I’ll take cheese any time. The cheese master behind the counter, shaves off a sliver of Gruyere, which melts in my mouth. He points at this cheese and that cheese, extols their virtues, maturity, provenance. Unable to resist, I buy a piece of Tomme de Savoie, a cave aged firm cheese from across the border in Savoie, France.
This is just a quick view of Geneva, as much as I can cram into one day. For the evening, my husband joins me at Café du Centre, lose by the hotel. I order moules marinieres, mussels cooked in white wine with chopped shallots, garlic and parsley with baguette to dunk. My husband has raclettes, which is melted Raclette cheese over boiled potatoes with pickles and pearl onions.
My plan for tomorrow is a day long tour of the lake by boat. When the weather is sunny, the wind not too stiff, it’s a wonderful way of seeing some of the little town bordering the lake; Nyon, Rolle, Morge, then over to the French side to Evian and Hermance. The thing that strikes me at every stop we make, is the profusion of flowers; pansies, begonias, azaleas in window and balcony boxes, on planters on the streets, along the quay. Wherever I turn, I’m met with pristine cleanliness and explosion of colors.
This is truly Geneva, the beautiful.