Geneva in a day, on a budget, and with a carry-on

I awoke on Friday morning to a room into which sunshine was trying valiantly to streak through the dark curtains. I hadn’t slept very well in Geneva’s biggest hostel, where the slogan of the night seemed to be “Make Love and War,” most of it taking place right outside my door, as far as I could tell from the sounds that reached me.

My watch said 9:58. I swore (in French, bien sur) when I realized I had approximately two minutes to get out of bed and get myself together before my hostel card, the key to the magic kingdom of my locker and the bathroom, expired.

Two minutes later, I found myself at the front desk in clothes which looked like they had been slept in. Oh, because they had. (My foresight extends only to packing a change of underwear in my carry-on, not pajamas). The somewhat bemused receptionist charged my card for another 10 minutes, which gave me enough time to get myself into some semblance of respectable appearance in the hallway, where at the moment  nobody was making war, or love, thankfully.

To finish up with my airline drama, I managed to get myself to a Starbucks, down enough painkillers to help me think straight, and call the airline. In a most brilliant and merciful twist of events, I was informed by the airline ticket agent that my reservation for the evening flight was already confirmed, and that I just had to check in 2.5 hours prior to the flight.

“I don’t understand.” I said, hardly believing my luck. “I was supposed to call in with my credit card number so you could charge me for the changes. Are you sure everything is ok with this reservation?”

“Listen, Mademoiselle,” said the ever so-charming agent. “I don’t know what kind of manipulations my colleague did to this ticket last night, but your flight is confirmed, and please don’t insist on paying.”

I thanked her profusely, hung up, and stared at the wall of the internet cafe in silent astonishment. It seemed like I was actually going to be lucky this time!

So I walked around Geneva for the 6 hours that remained, dragging my little carry-on behind me. It seems to be a yearly tradition for me to drag an assorted piece of luggage around Geneva in the dead of winter while waiting for a train/plane. This time at least, the weather was gorgeous – freezing cold but very sunny.

I have to say I am not all that charmed by Geneva itself. It’s a weird combination of luxury watch stores, classy banks, expensive hotels, and then slightly more shady parts of town. For me, it’s a bit hard to place, and I don’t feel very comfortable there (maybe because whenever I’m there, I’m always with a large piece of luggage and in transit mode and mood, never mind the haggard travel look that most definitely sets me apart from the prim and well-dressed Geneva inhabitants).

The Old Town is nice, and it’s great just to wander about the streets. I’ve never had time to go to the Red Cross Museum, the Palace of Nations, the UN entities, a luxury boutique, chocolate store, or anything else of importance, but I do know there is one place in Geneva that you absolutely cannot miss: les Bains des Paquis.

The Bains des Paquis is something like a pier jetting out into the lake – there is a sauna, massage parlor, diving platform and swimming area in the summer. And a buvette. A buvette, to my simple mind, was simply a place to drink (from the verb ‘boire’) but Wordreference tells me that it actually means “refreshment area.” It looks like a not-very-sturdy construction of planks and glass, and is far away from the posh, stiff center of town in atmosphere, if not in distance.

It was the beginning of winter when I wandered there, admiring the Jet d’Eau (on image above) from the little bridge that led to the Bains. A friend had recommended that I try their fondue, but that is apparently an evening treat. At lunch time, I was comfortably unencumbered by choice – the (only) meal of the day was tajine, a lamb and vegetable stew over couscous. I sat in the small building with my back warmed by a fully-functional wood stove, I ate, drank ginger tea, admired: the little sparrow that was dancing on my table, the retired couples across from me who played yet another hour of bridge on a checkered tablecloth, and the little kid sprawled on the bench across from me who pretended he was reading the newspaper someone else had left on the table.

No waiters (you bring your plastic tray with food yourself from the outside booth into the building), a very relaxed and informal atmosphere (I sat there for over 2 hours and nobody asked me to leave), delicious food, an amazing old blazing stove, and a superb view of the lake and Geneva – why would you ever want to spend 10 Swiss francs for lunch anywhere else?

Perhaps someday I will go back to Geneva, this time with the express purpose of visiting the city, just to check whether the laid-back, relaxed vibe remains the same in the summer.

Only next time, I’ll bring a swimsuit instead of the luggage.


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