I can’t claim credit for the title of this post. Sweetzerland is the name of a chocolate shop that you’ll want to visit when you arrive in Geneva. The author of the NY Times article ’36 Hours in Geneva’ boasts that this is the shop ‘where Russian tourists come to buy chocolate by the kilo’ since all of the sweets are made with pure, organic cocoa butter. We savored our small bag of chocolate covered almonds for three days 🙂
Travel tip: Geneva offers a warm welcome to visitors: free transport from the airport if you ride the bus within the first 80 minutes upon arrival. So civilized! The #5 bus became our close acquaintance as it took us from the terminal to our airbnb accommodations in the La Florence neighborhood. It’s not surprising that our first stop was Parfums de Beyrouth, our airbnb host’s suggestion for lunch. Families, uni students, couples and a variety of people of colour were eating chawarma wraps and mixed lunch plates. We were so hungry that we forgot to snap pictures of our mixed plate of chicken and lamb. If you feel the need for a sweet afterwards, don’t hesitate to pick up an almond, honey, or pistachio pastry by the cash register.
The #18 tram is walkable from Parfums de Beyrouth, and drops you directly at the iconic dome of CERN, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or the European Council for Nuclear Research. Their exhibits were fantastic for layman who needed very simple and straightforward descriptions of the physics projects. Both the featured and the permanent exhibitions were interactive and incorporated sample demos for visitors. The real test will be if I can summarize my take-aways here!
The spherical building (below) that welcomes guests to the campus is only one small part of the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. There is an underground circular highway below the buildings on campus that accelerates atomic particles at 1/3 of the speed of light. As the atomic particles are released into this underground circular highway they spin insanely fast and crash into one another. Physicists from around the world study the various collisions to learn more about particle characteristics and interactions, and ultimately the matter of our planet!
After leaving CERN’s Universe of Particles, we rode the #18 tram to the opposite end of the line into the Carouge neighborhood. This neighborhood is well-known since it was designed by Italian architects, and thus has a different feel than the other parts of Geneva we’d passed on the tram. Many of the streets were lined with shorter shops, galleries, and patisseries rather than with larger, immaculate buildings with identical windows in the other parts of Geneva. I vowed that I’d return to Rue de Saint Joseph as it looked like a prime spot for holiday shopping (update during post: this never happened). Not much was open after 5pm, but we did find Wolfisberg Patisserie for a warm drink and the first of Corey’s many pan de chocolate/pain au chocolat.
Against my better judgement, we passed all of these cosy looking, candle-lit bistros to find a sushi restaurant for dinner. There’s nothing to report on our meal at Sake, but I would suggest Chat Noir for a fun night out after a meal. With two floors, you can find something if you wanted a low key night with friends and drinks upstairs, or a more active night with pub-quiz and dancing downstairs. We unofficially played the ‘name that tune’ portion of the pub quiz over a vin rouge before heading home on the #21 bus.
We usually try to get out of the main city centre for at least one leg of a trip, and on this day we set out for Montreux and Lausanne.
Travel tip: Buy a joint ticket at the Geneva train station that includes your round trip to Montreux, you bus round trip to Chillon Castle, and the entry ticket for Chillon Castle. The overcast weather matched my coming down with a cold, but even in the mist, Le Lac (the lake) was beautiful from the train car. You walk down a two levels of stairs to see the main street in Montreux which also hosts a wonderful view of the lake from their riverwalk-type pathway. On Sunday, it’s very sleepy, but it’s easy to imagine the crowds of folks visiting for a ski weekend or for the summer jazz festival.
Our Italian lunch at La Rouvenaz was just ok, but we reflected that everyone had wine which we skipped, and many ordered shellfish which we also skipped. We walked off lunch by following along the bus line until we were ready to board the #201 to Chillon Castle. We found the Zurcher Chocolatier which should not be missed if you are in need of a decadent pastry.
The #201 drops you right at Chillon Castle’s gate, and guests can explore the stony and sparse rooms with the brochure’s suggested itinerary. The castle is built on a small island that was strategic in coordinating movements between the north and south of Europe. It’s survived French, English, and German occupation, the earliest being from 1150. My favourite part of the visit was climbing the stairs to the top of the Tower for a bird’s eye view of the lake and neighboring towns. On the way up the stairs, I took pictures at each level convinced that the current level I’d reached was the most beautiful view….and then I’d get to the next landing and be just as stunned.
We didn’t walk the castle’s surrounding walking trails but we wanted to make sure we had enough time to check out Lausanne before heading back to Geneva. We missed the mark and it was dark by the time we reached Lausanne. I should probably note here that we didn’t know what we’d find at Lausanne, but that I was keen to visit as I’d decided this town was the namesake of the school where Kwaku currently teaches in Memphis.
The attendant at the information booth right outside the train station shared that at 17:30pm on a Sunday, we’d probably find little to do. She highlighted that the main loop for a tourist trek would be about an hour. We’d see St-Francois Church (built in 1270), a gothic cathedral (built in 1150) overlooking the city, and the Flon district which is now known for it’s modern architecture and design shops. The goal was to reach the cathedral by 18:00pm if we wanted to see the interior. Everything else would be closed.
She failed to mention the start of the walk to get to St-Francois church was completely uphill! The winding streets along the way were clearly the commercial shopping district. I joked that you’d either need to be very clear about shopping for only one item, or you’d need to be very dedicated to moving slowly from one store to the next to forget that you were shopping at a constant 45 degree angle! Just to note, we did the loop with success and saw the cathedral with five minutes to spare!
We followed the signs noting ‘de-escalation’ from the cathedral to find the #2 metro to take us to Ouchy (the name of the Lausanne port). Tourists flock to this area since it’s the home of the Olympic museum. The restaurants were actually open in this part of town as well. We were attracted to a sign that read ‘Food non-stop 24/7’. Clearly.
I loved the ambiance at Le Vieil Ouchy! The tall candles were lit on every table, and my wine glass seemed to remain full of vin rouge the entire meal. Corey ordered a serious cordon bleu! Based on every other orders we saw, we’d also suggest fondue if you’re not a member of the lactose intolerant club.
Today was memorable. Not only did I enjoy everything we saw and ate, but it was also a major turning point in Corey’s career; he accepted a severance package from his company right before our walk through the old town. Read on…
From our neighborhood, the dependable #5 bus dropped us of directly in front of MontBlanc. What’s important about this location aren’t the steeply priced ball point pens, but that we stumbled upon Sweetzerland at this very moment (just across the street from the luxury writing utensils)! Please ask for a taste of the chocolate covered almonds even if you don’t purchase anything! Maybe bring one back for us?
The promenade along Lake Geneva to Bains de Paquis was dreamy. We were walking around 10:30am when the sun was bright and the weather crisp. When you arrive at the bathhouse, it draws you in even though it’s no frills. The cafeteria style tables had light streaming across them, and a wood burning stove was warming the indoor seating area. The teal painted sea creatures detailing the walls, and the walk-up window for ‘grub’ made us feel as though we’d found a hidden gem.
Within fifteen minutes, we were surrounded by senior citizens, uni students, and the few locals who weren’t working 9am-5pm jobs on a Monday. It’s incredibly cheap for such yummy food! Most ordered the Plat du Jour which comes in a standard meat or meat-free option. The plates are hearty! Some also shared the fondue pots, and we opted happily for the soup and bread. It’s a must that everyone drinks ginger tea, too! To my surprise, some folks were lying on the wooden slats to soak up the sunny day though it was the end of November.
We felt warm and content as we walked to an art installation called ‘Stop Telling Women to Smile‘. I knew that Tatyana Fazlalizadeh had her art showcased in Paris, and in Brooklyn, but I hadn’t been able to catch her yet. Her art focuses on the gender based harassment that women face while simply walking down the street. She covers large mural spaces with faces and voices of women responding to this harassment in their daily environments.
On our way to see her traveling series, Corey got a call from HR and we stopped outside of a cafe for the next forty minutes so Corey could take notes on his next steps!
As you can imagine, the rest of our walking tour through St Pierre Cathedral and Old Town was focused on his career more than taking in the specifics of these sights. I enjoyed walking through the tiny red door to walk up the steps to the cathedral’s look out, and the Old Town has lovely shops and most likely lovely places for lunch (which we didn’t try because we were too busy talking).
We stopped on the edge of Old Town to take in the view of the city. I guess it felt symbolic to be looking out over the city, and recognizing how small we are in all of this, but also how much promise you can feel as you look out across a beautiful city-scape.
After a final pan de chocolate, we continued our talks of Corey’s decision on the bus, at the airport, and all the way home. In a short three-day weekend, we enjoyed the bread, butter, and the French influence on the pastries. We found it was easy to walk around the neighborhoods to see the facades of the buildings which were designed with simple yet elegant eaves. We wished we were able to talk to more people as there are a number of non-Swiss people who’ve made Geneva their home. It’s also got wonderful potential for someone who likes to combine city and nature on their vacation. Finally, Geneva will also forever be the city where Corey closed his chapter at BBG. And it’s not a bad location to start reflecting on the next steps of one’s career…
- Eat lunch at Parfums de Beyrouth and then take the #18 tram to CERN
- Leave enough time to ride the same tram back to the Carouge neighborhood for shopping, gallery hopping, and patisseries
- Stay in Carouge for a cosy bistro dinner and a night at Chat Noir
Day 2: Day Trip
- Take a day trip to Montreux, Lausanne, or one of the various mountainous towns outside of Geneva
- ((One blog even suggested renting a car and driving across the border to France for a market day!))
- I’m pretty sure if I’d been to Bains de Paquis earlier in the trip, I’d have gone at least twice for lunch or… even for the bath experience. Make sure it’s on your list for a hearty, healthy and amazing lunch!!!
- No judgement if you choose to stay at Bains and bathe, read, or philosophize for the larger part of the day
- Walk to Old Town to see St Pierre’s Cathedral and then meander as long as you like
- Make sure to eat bread and chocolate. Oh, and butter on the bread. Yes!
Leave a Reply