Sunday, September 30, 2007

Geneva: To visit or not to visit?

Most guide books recommend skipping Geneva, but the New York Times recently provided an itinerary for a weekend visit.

36 Hours in Geneva
GENEVA, the political and transportation hub of Europe, is one of those seemingly unavoidable cities. It's like a Swiss version of Atlanta: practically everyone passes through sooner or later, whether they want to or not. But there are plenty of reasons to stay longer. Not only is Geneva blessed with a sweeping lake within beckoning distance of the snow-covered Alps, but its medieval ramparts have also long served as a cultural haven for the world's exiles and freethinkers. Switzerland's famous neutrality also means that there is a thriving community of expatriate polyglots, many of whom work for international agencies like the Red Cross and the United Nations. So if you fly through Geneva, add a couple of days to your stopover.

Friday 4:30 p.m.

Walk or bike along Lake Geneva's glamorous lakefront, where, on a clear day, you can see snow-capped Mont Blanc floating in the horizon. Rent a Bike (41-51-22-51-4820;, at the Gare de Cornavin, the main train station, has bicycles starting at 23 Swiss francs, or $19 at 1.21 Swiss francs to the dollar, for a half day. Start at the immaculate Jardin Anglais, with its famous 15-foot flower clock, one of Geneva's signature sights. Then glide over to the Jetée des Eaux-Vives, a breakwater that leads out to the Jet d'Eau, one of the world's largest fountains. From afar, the fountain might not seem remarkable. But from under the 459-foot-tall column of misting water, it's an awesome spectacle, especially when it's illuminated at night.

8 p.m.

Every visitor to Switzerland should sample at least one bubbling cauldron of cheesy stuff, and Restaurant les Armures , inside the Hôtel les Armures (1, rue du Soleil-Levant; 41-22-310-3442; ), is a fondue institution. This wood-beamed restaurant with muskets on the wall is at the top of Old Town, which winds around a hill overlooking the Left Bank. A plaque near the front door commemorates a 1994 visit by Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton . If you're famished, order the cheese fondue with mushrooms (27 Swiss francs).

10 p.m.

Walk dinner off with a stroll through the narrow medieval streets and head toward one of the city's favorite meeting places: the leafy Place du Bourg-de-Fours, the former medieval marketplace in the heart of Old Town. A dozen restaurants and cafes surround a tiny 18th-century marble fountain in the cobblestone square. Tiny La Clemence (20, place du Bourg-de-Four, 41-22-310-1096; is a popular spot during the day for café au lait and a croissant. At night, it draws a lively mix of students, businesspeople and politicians.

10 a.m.

Though the walls of the tiny Old Town are covered in graffiti, the cobblestones and stone facades look much as they did during the Reformation, when John Calvin and John Knox found refuge there and created a "Protestant Rome." Signs of the Reformation are evident at Cathédrale St.-Pierre (6, cours St.-Pierre; 41-22-319-71-90; with its green-copper spire crowning the hill. A side chapel with 15th-century angel frescoes is a riotous contrast to the austerity of the cathedral's nave, which was stripped of its decorations by 16th-century Protestant reformers. Climb to the top of the north tower (3 Swiss francs) for a sweeping view over the city and the lake.

1:30 p.m.

The airy Musée d'Art et d'Histoire (2, Charle-Galland; 41-22-418-2600; features an admirable cross-section of art history, including exceptional works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Picasso. For a real treat, head to the second-floor galleries and get lost in the Genevoise landscapes of the Swiss painters François Diday and his student Alexandre Calame.

3 p.m.

Anyone who says there's no money in philosophy should visit Voltaire's former home, now the Institut et Musée Voltaire (25, rue des Délices; 41-22-344-7133; Voltaire was a shrewd businessman, and his writings on liberty and sharp wit won him rich and powerful patrons, including Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great. From his Palladian villa set in an immaculate garden Voltaire in the 18th century set forth the ideas that would help spark the French Revolution. You can read them, along with his personal letters and manuscripts, in the philosopher's sumptuous salons.

5 p.m.

If there's any doubt that you're in the world capital of watches, wander down Rue du Rhône with its diamond-encrusted and gold-plated shops. Check out Bucherer (No. 45; 41-22-319-62-66;, which has been selling high-end timepieces since 1888 and has what is thought to be the world's largest selection of Rolexes. A mere 44,000 Swiss francs buys the special-edition platinum model. Not unusual enough? Go up the street to Marconi (No. 53; 41-22-311-3630), a boutique watchmaker that makes only small-run editions. Its clunky, over-the-top timepieces (600 to 850 Swiss francs) look like something Willy Wonka would wear if he could afford them.

8 p.m.

Geneva has a growing Middle Eastern community, as evidenced by the Arabic script on storefronts, banks and offices all over. For a cultural taste, follow your nose to Rue de Berne, where Libyan bakeries, small teahouses and Middle Eastern restaurants stand side-by-side with the city's small, tidy red-light district. La Caravane Passe (11, rue du Dr. Alfred-Vincent; 41-22-731-3431) is a casual family-run restaurant popular with immigrants and students. Order a steaming plate of traditional lamb couscous (15 Swiss francs) and wash it down with pots of foaming mint tea ( 3.50 Swiss francs).

11 p.m.

Geneva tends to shut down early, but there are a few spots where you can party with the city's moneyed class. If the high cocktail prices (25 Swiss francs) don't faze you, head to the Platinum Glam Club (18, quai du Seujet; 41-78-726-6941; White sofas and V.I.P. lounges surround a pulsating dance floor, where the city's well-dressed 20-to-40-somethings gyrate under strobe lights and smoke machines. The music ranges from thumping techno to Middle Eastern dance music, and notable D.J.'s have included the likes of Busta Rhymes and DMX. Admission is 25 Swiss francs for men, free for women.


11 a.m.

Who says the Swiss are humorless? Certainly not the cheery waiters at Faim (5, rue Châtelain;; 41-22-340-2575), a Scandinavian-sleek cafe on the Right Bank. The funky décor, tasty eats and rotating photo exhibits draw the city's bright young things every Sunday morning. A brunch plate, including delicious restaurant-baked bread and jams, is 28 Swiss francs.

1 p.m.

When you hear news reports of "negotiations taking place in Geneva," it invariably refers to the Palais des Nations (14, avenue de la Paix; 41-22-917-4896;, home to the second-largest United Nations office, after New York. Sprawled along Geneva's Right Bank, this complex of grand offices was built from 1929 to 1936 to serve as the headquarters of the League of Nations. When it was reconstituted as the United Nations after World War II, this became the U.N.'s European headquarters, housing an alphabet soup of organizations like Unicef and WHO. The hourlong tours — in any of the organization's 15 official languages — take you through the enormous Assembly Hall and the commemorative galleries (10 Swiss francs; passport required). Later, stroll the surrounding 87.5-acre Parc de L'Ariana. Avoid being nipped by the peacocks that roam wild. In a city as safe as Geneva, this might be the greatest danger you'll face.


Yesterday we went to St Cergue to see their festival celebrating the cows coming down from the alpine meadows for the winter.

We had to take the train to Nyon and switch to a smaller train to get to St Cergue. The smaller train was very full. We had to stand for the 40 minute trip and could hardly move. Once we got to the festival we saw three sets of very large cows come through town. The cows all have very large bells around there necks and many had flowers too.

Photos will be posted soon.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Uncle Pat's visit

Uncle Pat spent two weeks in Switzerland/France and three nights were with us. We went to Chillon and wandered around both Morges and Lausanne. We stopped at the local dairy store on the way back from Chateau Chillon and asked the girl at the counter to recommend three types of cheeses. The highlight was the Vacherin Mont-D'or. It was described as "one of the highest achievements of human civilization" in the Cheese Primer. I'm not sure if I'd rate it that high, but it is very good. We went to a little festival today and there was a booth giving away free samples of the cheese. It might have been the highlight of the day.

It is the cheese in the upper left corner of the plate in the picture below.

The two other cheeses are also very good, but don't deserve to be compared against other major accomplishments in history.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Only six visits later...

...our dishwasher works. The dishwasher hasn't drained properly since we've been here and the repairman had been here five or six times. The dishwasher company decided to replace the machine and that seems to have solved the problem.

Foreign residents given their say

From swissinfo, based on an article in German by Renat Künzi

A new website launched on Sunday gives Switzerland's foreign residents the
chance to vote – albeit unofficially - in next month's parliamentary elections.
The aim of the German-language site is to show that foreigners – who account for 20 per cent of the population – are responsible citizens and should be granted voting rights.

Hans Verbeke, one of the founders of the website,, said issues such as tax rates, pensions and relations with the European Union are of concern not only to the Swiss but also foreigners living in the country.

"We foreigners have many duties to perform as permanent residents therefore we should be given more responsibility, such as voting rights in referenda and elections," the Belgian marketing expert who has lived in Switzerland for 20 years told swissinfo.

He said Switzerland benefits greatly from its foreign residents since they too pay taxes and make their share of financial contributions to the country's social insurance system.

"We want to receive voting rights so we can take responsibility for the political
decision-making process too," Verbeke added. Interested foreign
residents can register online and cast their ballot anytime between October 14
and election day one week later.

Verbeke said the virtual ballot box would contribute to political transparency in the country. "The Swiss will be made aware of whom we would vote for if we only could."

The four-person team behind the project – two foreigners, Verbeke and an Austrian, as well as two Swiss – hope it will lead to foreigners being granted voting rights.

Four or five years?

"We want to see Swiss citizens launch an initiative which will lead to voters having a final say on the matter in four to five years' time," he said, adding he was convinced there was a good chance that this would happen. While the centre-left Social Democrats and Greens would be in favour of such an idea, Verbeke says the initiative would need the support of the two main centre-right parties, the Radicals and Christian Democrats, to win over enough of the electorate.

The rightwing Swiss People's Party, known for its anti-foreigner campaigns, represents the biggest obstacle to such a change to Swiss law.

"Anyone who really wants to vote can apply for citizenship," Gregor Rutz, the party's general secretary, told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

Foreign residents have already been granted limited voting rights in some cantons and towns and villages across the country.

"It could become a pioneering project and allow Switzerland to prove to the world that it is very different to how it is often perceived," the Belgian said.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chateau D'oex

Today we went to Chateau D'oex, which as about an hour and 45 minutes east of Morges by train. We took the regular train to Montreux and the Golden Pass from there to Chateau D'oex. Once we got there we took a gondola halfway up the mountain and then a ski lift the rest of the way. Rowan enjoyed the ski lift more than I did. He complained that I was holding him too tight, but I was worried I wasn't holding him tight enough.

On the way home there weren't any seats in 2nd class so the conductor let us sit in first class (sometime it helps to travel with two small kids). Not only did we get to sit in first class, but we got to sit at the very back of the train with picture windows in front of us so we had a 180 degree view.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Six months ago....

...we arrived in Switzerland. It is hard to believe it has been six months.

In other fun news
  • Emily's purse\wallet thingy was last seen in the Montreux train station.
  • A locksmith costs CHF 600 to replace the keys and lock
  • we'll get to see how quick UBS can replace a debit and credit card

In the even more fun news category, I believe the router is not functioning correctly, so if you need to contact Jody or Emily, you'll need to use our home number.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

More Niamh

I know this will create an imbalance in their blog space, but we'll live.

Euro 2008

The Euro 2008 will be held in Switzerland and Austria next year. There is a lot of interest in the tournament, but I don't understand it. I think the games are sold out, so I'll have to watch on TV. The good news is that each of the Swiss games will probably be on at least 3 channels (Italian, German, and French).


Here is a somewhat interesting article from cnn\Rick Steves. Emily and I visited this town in June when my parents were visiting.

Equal Blog Time

There have been a few complaints about unequal blog time after I posted a picture of Rowan and not Niamh.

Problem resolved.

Enemy Number One!


Switzerland has been described as Europe’s ‘Climate Enemy Number One’, for its highly polluting cars and its ineffectual policy on Carbon Dioxide emissions. According to the Transport and Environment organization, the cars on the road in Switzerland – especially new vehicles – came out as the most polluting, when compared with the 24 countries of the European Union. The ATE says that Switzerland holds the dubious honour of leading the way when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions from new cars too, with 187 grammes per kilometer, compared with the European average of 160 grammes. The organization says it is not enough to expect the public to buy smaller, cleaner cars. Kurt Egli, from the ATE says they are calling for a change to Swiss law. The European Union is discussing a law which would insist that CO2 emissions be reduced to 120 grammes per kilometer by 2012.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Europe's Last Witch

The woman known as ‘Europe’s Last Witch’ will not be pardoned by the canton which ordered her death more than two hundred years ago. Authorities in the canton of Glarus, where Anna Goldi was beheaded back in 1782, rejected a motion to clear the woman’s name but has instead ordered an official study into the life of Ms Goldi, to determine, scientifically, if she was indeed innocent. Anna Goldi worked as a maidservant for a doctor in Glarus, who told authorities that she repeatedly put needles in the milk of one of his daughters, apparently by supernatural means. She was arrested and admitted, under torture, that she was in pact with the devil. Official records, however, made no mention of witchcraft and instead marked down her crime as murder of her second child, who died shortly after birth.

Friday, September 7, 2007

First day of school

Here is a picture of Rowan on his first day of preschool/daycare. He had a great time and wants to go back.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Paris Update

I just realized that I did not post many comments on our trip to Paris, so here is a summary of the trip.

We left Morges on a Thursday morning and took the local train to Lausanne. We took the TGV from Lausanne to Paris. It takes a little less than four hours to get from Lausanne to Paris. I purchased the tickets on line and thought we are all sitting together, but it turns out that we were not. We got lucky that the train wasn't super crowded and we were able to sit together.

Our apartment was less than a 10 minute taxi ride from Gare Lyon. We were on the 3rd floor (4th US floor) and the stairway was narrow. It sort of a pain to get the stroller up and down, but it was worth it since staying in an apartment is much easier than an apartment. We spent the afternoon wondering around the neighborhood, but didn't actually do any serious sight seeing. Much to our surprise, the kids both slept as well as they did it home, which was a big improvement from the trip to Interlaken.

On Friday morning we got up and went to the Louvre. The security line was fairly long, but since we had a stroller we got to the front of the line to get hand checked. There are actually four ticket lines inside, so it didn't take long. The first thing we did was see the Mona Lisa. There weren't too many people there, so we got a decent view. The kids decided that they were hungry, so we went to the ticket area and had a snack. Then we went and wandered a bit and saw Venus De Milo. Then we left. All told we were in the Louvre for maybe 2.5 hours.

After the Louvre we walked to the Luxembourg gardens for lunch. Rowen enjoyed playing at the playground (2 Euros to play) and Niamh had fun pushing the stroller around. After that we walked to the Eiffel Tower. It was a fairly long walk, but not too bad. We didn't go up because the lines were too long.

On Saturday we went to Notre Dame early to beat the crowds. We didn't have to wait to get in and walk around, but the line to the museum and the spire walk already had a huge line an hour before it officially opened. We spent the afternoon walking around in search of chocolate shops that Emily wanted to visit. Unfortunately, most of the ones we found were closed for August. We ended up finding a few, so the quest was successful.

On Sunday we had to be out of the apartment by 9:30 and we took a cab to the train station. We found lockers for our stuff and then took the metro in search of another chocolate shop. We found it, but it was closed for the day even though the web site indicated it was open on Sunday. We walked back toward the train station and found a restaurant that Emily had learned had the best hot chocolate in Europe. It was good, but I'm disappointed if that is really the best. We took the metro back to the station, had lunch and waited for our train. We got back to our apartment at bath time, so the kids took a bath, ate dinner, and went to sleep.

Niamh is signing!

Niamh isn't talking yet, but she has started signing. She knows and can do the signs for milk, eat, all done, more, book, and bath. If you are interested, here is a link to an ASL dictionary.