When train companies send you cut price deals and you also have a senior citizen rail pass, sometimes the offers are too good to resist. My husband read out a list of European destinations we could visit for next to nothing. For me Geneva grabbed my attention as it was one of the centres of church reform, so much so that it was once called the Protestant Rome. It would be a chance to discover more of Reformation history.
What were the differences we found having left France for a few days in Geneva? Having traversed Paris and lugged our suitcases up yet another flight of stairs, in train stations, parks and underground networks, the first thing we noted after arrival at Geneva station were the 2 slopes that led us from the train to the street. There was even a little slope beside the half a dozen steps up to our budget hotel.
Switzerland uses the Swiss frank (CHF) but we could spend our Euros as long as we don’t mind getting our change in Swiss coins. Upon seeing the bank notes that the cash machine issued, our reaction was ‘Wow, they are beautiful!’ Their notes have won prizes in ‘The Most Beautiful Bank Note’ competitions.
We were very pleased to receive a free bus pass along with our room key. As we often buy a bus pass when we visit towns by rail, that was a very pleasant surprise. The bus and tram network was impressive and we seldom had to wait more than a few minutes for one to arrive.
Eating out is often fraught with problems as I am on a gluten free diet. However, A quick search on the internet revealed more than enough establishments to give us a choice of venues. In France, being a vegetarian is considered strange and a few vegan products are just beginning to be available in supermarkets.
Geneva is in an interesting location at the foot of one end of the upside down crescent that is Lake Leman. We took a bus trip up the eastern side of the lake until there was a terminus, because any further and we would be in France.
We also took a bus trip in a westward direction as CERN was marked on our map. Once again we reached the frontier with France. To the south is France as well. Only the strip of land on the western side of the lake joins Geneva to the rest of Switzerland.
I had wanted to visit CERN- the European centre for nuclear research – as I wanted to find our what it felt like to have a 27 kilometre ring of tunnels under my feet with particles whizzing around them. A number of impressive exhibition centres are being built just beside the tram tracks, but we had to content ourselves with reading information of various free standing boards.
I had always been fascinated by the story of how Henry Dunant had thought it would be interesting to see a battle taking place, but was then horrified by the maimed and dying soldiers that were left untreated at the end of the day. His experiences led to the founding of the Red Cross. The headquarters and exhibition centre was to be our first port of call. I was disappointed by the too ‘Artistic’ exhibits that didn’t explain Henry’s involvement but were housed in lovely curved wood panelled rooms. I didn’t learn that he was one of the founders of the Y.M.C.A. and had a deep personal Christian faith.
Who would have guessed that Patek Philippe watches were named after the two founders? The top floor of the museum contained a library of all the 8,000 books ever written about time and watches, starting from ‘Learn to Tell the time with Noddy’ up to books on the universe.
For me one of the most amazing timepieces was made to look like a big vase of flowers. A small clock was part of the vase and the flowers were made of feathers. Almost hidden in the floral display were many small feather birds. On the hour they didn’t just chirp, but turned around and flapped their wings! It would be well worth while going again on a thematic tour of the enamelled watches or the automatons.
We found the giant wall that commemorated the reformers from Luther to John Calvin and surprisingly our own Oliver Cromwell, warts and all. However the Museum of the Reformation was closed due to refurbishment! How could they do that the week that I wanted to visit? I thought that the Museum of Art and History would fill the gap, but although there was plenty of Art, ‘History’ was only Archeology. A temporary exhibition of fans didn’t help me with my desire to find out about the Genevan reformers of the church. A tantalising video on https://www.musee-reforme.ch/en/the-reformation-in-seven-minutes/ gives us 1 minute of this 7 minute presentation! Oh, well, we will have to visit again after checking whether the Reform Museum is open!