In the beginning stages of planning my Western Europe trip I wasn’t sure if I would add Geneva to my itinerary. When I finally decided I would go it meant backtracking a bit in my path. Luckily, it also meant that I’d get to fly over the Swiss Alps three times! The first was on a flight from Paris, France to Venice, Italy, then again when I flew backwards from Rome, Italy into Geneva, Switzerland and finally when I left Geneva for Barcelona, Spain.
When I landed in Geneva I was a bit worn out from being in yet another airport, but I needed to exchange cash since all I had were US Dollars and Euros. My smile returned when I saw how pretty Swiss Francs are! In a better mood, but still a bit disoriented by my new surroundings and my horrible French skills I made it to my Airbnb residence with just a few struggles. I mostly used the remaining daylight to explore the neighborhood and grab dinner before bed.
I knew my stay in Geneva was going to be extremely short so for my next and only full day as a tourist I booked an English-language bus tour. It meant that I would be driven all around the city in an air-conditioned unit and have a tour guide spoon-feed me the most visited sights. This felt like a treat after having already walked miles each day as a tourist in four countries and six cities within the span of three weeks.
To my surprise the tour group was even smaller than I expected. I was only accompanied by two older couples, one pair from Brazil and the other from Australia. The tour guide spoke in both English and Spanish because the Brazilian couple felt more comfortable with Spanish than English. Also, I presume, our tour guide didn’t know Portuguese 🙂
Even though we were on a bus that could have easily fit 50 people our small group meant a more intimate feel to the tour. Our guide gave a few personal touches, pointing out his daughter’s elementary school which he had also attended as a child and sharing a great deal of history about the school building. Later when we passed the famous ‘Broken Chair’ sculpture our guide told us that he knew the sculptor personally and also provided us with background on the piece.
A lot of the tour was the guide pointing out something to look at and providing its significance while we took photos from the bus. On occasion, however, we exited the bus for close-ups. At one point we left so that we could join a Trolley Tour. What is designed to look like an antique trolley is in fact a vehicle with tires that has the ability to zip around the city. It’s the kind of shameless tourist activity that caused locals to divert their eyes away. Something about participating in it amused me though. I easily decided to embrace this form of tourism, just for the moment. When our group exited the trolley we visited a church and were led on a walking tour by our guide. Then we met up with our bus driver again (who was doing great for his first day on the job). The next stop was the Rose Garden at Parc La Grange.
The Rose Garden was beautiful and after spending some time walking around and taking photos I told our guide that I could have stayed there all day. He agreed, but also noted that I was the only person from the bus tour who booked tickets for the boat tour and he wanted to get me back in time for the boat’s departure!
We eventually ended our tour with a few moments to spare and the guide made sure I boarded for the boat tour before bidding me farewell. Only two minutes into the ride one young girl complained to her mother that she was bored. I thought it was more calm than boring…nevertheless I nearly fell asleep a few times. Later the girl’s father tried to convince her younger sister that the famous Mermaid by the Lake was Ariel, the popular Disney mermaid. She saw right through his lie and was having none of it!
My short stop in Geneva wasn’t the ‘authentic’ experience I shoot for, but I felt pretty content in my decision. After being able to check off all of the go-to tourist destinations via the bus tour I then used my well-rested feet and the public transportation system to go around and see other parts of Geneva. Exploring this way proved that simply walking around Geneva can be fun. While the tour showed me plenty of ‘must-see’ sights and government buildings exploring on my own allowed me to discover the beautiful architecture and diversity within Geneva for myself.
I will note that Geneva was just as expensive as people say, even with a comparable exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Swiss Franc. I felt that fast food-esque establishments were about twice the cost of what I’d find in New York. Thankfully I had paid for my housing and bus tour ticket back in the US, so the only costs I had to consider while in Geneva were food, transportation and gifts.
Speaking of gifts, I made sure to pick up a gigantic Swiss Chocolate bar for my chocolate-loving mother before leaving Switzerland. I was so filled with excitement that while waiting for my flight out of Geneva I emailed her saying that I got her a gift she was going to love. About a week later I was back in the US and revealed the gift to her. She was so excited she gasped with pure joy!