To be completely honest, there was no real part of me that was dying to visit Geneva. The simple fact of the matter was that it was the cheapest place in Switzerland to fly out of. My lack of a desire to visit Geneva probably contributed to my considering just skipping it all together and spending a longer time in Zurich. In the end, I’m glad I visited the place, but for different reasons than one might expect.
I arrived in Geneva around 9:00 at night and walked quickly to my hostel, where I immediately passed out after a long day.
The next morning, I set out to get to know the city by taking Free Walk Geneva’s Heart of Geneva walking tour. I met the large group at the designated meeting spot, and off we went. Out of the two walking tours that I took with Free Walk Switzerland during the time that I was there, this one was definitely my favourite. We covered a lot of ground, and it was super informative.
We learned the story of a woman who made enough soup to feed the city…
Saw the Reformation Wall and the hastily added on name of a woman far off to the side…
Visited St. Peter’s Church, the namesake of my hostel and John Calvin’s church…
Saw what Geneva claims to be the longest wooden bench in the world…
And many other things along the way.
The tour broke around 12:45, and with a grumbling stomach I went to find some lunch.
In the afternoon, I made my way to the United Nations and the famous broken chair monument.
I sat outside the place for a little while. Unfortunately, it was a Saturday, so the UN was closed and I couldn’t go inside for a tour. Instead, I spotted the Botanic Gardens on Google Maps only a few minute a way, and decided to while away my afternoon there. The place was that classical kind of botanic garden beautiful, with white framed greenhouses and tropical plants galore. It was easily my favourite part of the city.
In the late afternoon, I went to the Maison Tavel, a free museum that the guide on my walking tour had recommended.
The star of the show was easily the scale model of Geneva. Auguste Magnin spent 18 years making it, walking around Geneva sections at a time in order to get all of the details right. It also featured a large wine barrel in the cellar – though it wasn’t anywhere close to the size of the barrel I had seen a few days before in Heidelberg Castle.
My favourite part of my trip to Geneva had absolutely nothing to do with what I saw that day, though.
When I returned to my hostel that evening, I was greeted by several new faces in my dorm room. After a week and a half of living in Swiss hostels with absolutely no social atmosphere, I wasn’t really expecting much out of that night. But instead, a few of us gathered around a table and talked late into the night. One girl was from Japan, completing a month long internship at the UN. Two others were from Europe, attending a model UN summit at the actual UN.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, we soon learned that one of those two girls was from Kosovo. She was only a year or two older than me, but she had been a refugee of the Yugoslav Wars. And now, she was attending a really legit model UN event. I can’t even begin to fathom how much she had gone through in her life, but she was so matter-of-fact about it. Her stories really opened my eyes to a whole world of experiences that I had never really given much thought to before. It was so unbelievably humbling.
Towards the end of the night, we all brought out our passports to compare them.
I almost felt guilty as I pulled out my two, extremely powerful Swiss and American ones. The text of the cover of the Kosovo passport has already rubbed off. Because the government was too cheap to use good quality materials. Not only that, but many places (including the UN) don’t recognize Kosovo as a country.
I didn’t fall in love with Geneva. It’s not the most beautiful of cities because of the influence of Calvinism, and the part of me that comes from German-speaking Switzerland is naturally predisposed to hate it. But I will always treasure the memory of this night in the tiny hostel by John Calvin’s church. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
Because of this night, I couldn’t recommend Home St. Pierre in Geneva any more.
Combination student residence and hostel, Home St. Pierre is centrally located in the Old Town of Geneva – right across from the St. Pierre Cathedral. I stayed in the 10 bed female dorm. It was well equipped with HUGE lockers and a kitchen and dining table right in the room! I had to search far and wide to find this hostel, and it was a little bit more trouble to get a booking than normal. But it was so worth it. The only two hostels on Hostelworld (my normal go to) in Geneva were far out from the center of town and apparently very sterile and unsocial. Home St. Pierre was the opposite of that, and led to the best hostel experience I’ve ever had. If you’re ever in Geneva, stay there.