Geneva, Switzerland: They Must Have Been Behind On Their Water Bills … Everyone’s Feeling The Pinch

I had until 4 PM to explore Geneva before I would have to get on a train to Paris. I started with the older sections of the city’s CBD: narrow cobblestone alleys and paths that dart between buildings, and up and down the hills that pull away from the water’s edge. I stopped at the ubiquitous old church and tried to find something unique about those walkways … I cursed the cookie-cut landscape of Europe’s older cities, but then I thought about the legacy of architecture and city planning modern cultures were leaving behind. Suddenly it didn’t seem so bad anymore.

The weather was beautiful. Not hot, not cold, not overcast, nor was it cloudless. It was a great day to be walking around one of Europe’s most famous cities.

But it would’ve been nice if they had turned the water on. The Jet d’Eau is one of the world’s largest water fountains. Two jets stream more than 130 gallons of water per second, 450 feet in the air. It can even be seen from an airplane at 33,000 ft, and at any time there’s about 1,850 gallons of water suspended above the lake’s surface.

Here’s the funny thing about the Jet d’Eau: apparently it has opening hours. The water jets are situated on a stone jetty that extends onto the lake, further down the marina from the Jardin Anglais. I was expecting to see the iconic plume of water even at 10 in the morning, but the jets seemed to be off. I didn’t realize that the stone jetty was the Jet d’Eau itself, but I innocently walked onto it to get pictures of the city from the water’s edge. It wasn’t until I saw tourists taking pictures next to a fenced-off area of the jetty did I figure it out. It seems people have actually walked out there while the jets were operational and, due to shifting winds, been drenched.

One of the most popular comments I get from people — both in response to this blog and as a reaction to the stories I tell — is “Man I bet you had a wicked time in _____ and got wasted!!!” Or something like that. I’ve covered this in other posts, but when I visit a city I eschew the traditional approaches to exploring a new environment, those of fraternity brothers, hipsters and Clark Griswolds. I don’t bother with publicized and hyped attractions unless there’s evidence or reliable advice that says they’re worth the publicity; and I understand that no matter where you are, be it Australia or Azerbaijan, everyone speaks the same language of drunk. So why waste the money? Don’t get me wrong, I like to go out and have a good time, but I’m not gonna make that the focus of my trip.

To that end, on my one day in Geneva, I just wandered. If you right now blindfolded me and dropped me in the middle of Geneva I would be able to find my way to the train station immediately. Or the hostel I stayed at. Or the UN Center. I could even figure out the exact location of the enormous jet stream of water that can be seen from an airplane. I’m that good. In all seriousness, I really do know the city that well. How many holidaymakers could say that, after spending one day in a foreign country? How well do you know the cities you’ve visited?

For lunch I ducked into a supermarket, bought a loaf of bread, some cheese and meat and walked to the lake. The Jardin Anglais sits near the mouth of the Rhone river, which bisects the two halves of Geneva (“English Garden” … which, contrary to the notion of “garden”, actually means an area of minimally-regulated ecological growth), and it’s where I found an empty bench and ate my lunch. I broke the loaf of bread open, made a couple of sandwiches — one for the train ride — and watched Genevites enjoying the beautiful weather.

I walked back through the older part of the city and found myself at a small park, known as the Parc des Bastions, home to the Monument International de la Reformation.

Looking back through previous posts I realize that I frequently talk about my need to pee. I’m not trying to be vulgar, it’s just that sometimes having to pee really influences your decisions. Especially when you’re in a foreign country. And especially when you’re miles away from your hostel. Well guess what, I had to pee. That was basically my whole reason for coming into that park to begin with.

But when I first entered I was immediately sidetracked. The park is popular for playing giant chess.

I walked to the Reformation wall, which is some kind of tribute to the founders of Protestantism (thank you Wikipedia … I also eschew that tradition of learning a goddamn thing about anywhere you go). The park was really peaceful and lots of office workers in the neighbourhood were eating their lunch on the grass.

On the way back to the hostel I finally got a look at the those mighty jets.

Along with a shot of the first bridge that passes over the Rhone as it exits Lake Geneva.

And a really cool bike …

… that belongs, it seems, to a member of the Geneva chapter of the Hell’s Angels.

Or at least a member of their fan club.

I picked up my backpack, headed to the train station and waited for customs to open so I could board. Wait, what? Customs??

That’s right, there was a customs checkpoint when going from Geneva’s main terminus to the Paris departure platform. I mean, the “checkpoint” was nothing more than a cursory glance at the passport and a casual wave (they had unused x-ray equipment sitting in the background), but it was still a surprise. Most of Europe rail system seemed largely passport-controlless.

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2 comments

  1. i’m totally with you regarding wandering around a city as a way of traveling. that said, i did enjoy the traditional ‘going out and getting plastered’ every once in a while – but more so as a way to meet and interact with fellow travelers rather than an event in and of itself.

    the hell’s angels sticker was awesome. i’ve thought about getting one for my bike if only so that it serves as a deterrent to thieves. if you could steal a non-hell’s angels bike vs. a hell’s angel’s bike, wouldn’t you go with the safer option?

  2. While visiting a city without having read all about it first in a travel book has its charm, there are advantages to some prior preparation. On a trip to Bangkok, stepping out of the hotel, we were guided by a well spoken passer-by (an off duty cop) to visit a gem store where there was a sale going on that would end in an hour or so. He helpfully put us in a rickshaw to get there. We visited the store, almost bought some stuff, but had second thoughts about the expense, and got back to the hotel. I then picked up the guide book for ideas about what to do in Bangkok, and read a word-for-word description of what we had just gone through as one of the most popular scams in Bangkok!

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