Geneva: Travelogue (24 July, 2017)
24 August, 2017
This summer, I made my first trip ever to Geneva, the major city of Romandy, which is the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
Did you know that Switzerland is one of the most developed countries in the world and has the highest nominal wealth per adult as well as the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in the world?
Yes it is. In fact, Switzerland ranks at or near the top of the list for numerous global performance metrics, including quality of life, government transparency, civil liberties, economic competitiveness, and human development. Geneva is Switzerland’s second-most populated city, after Zürich. And both Zürich and Geneva are ranked among the top cities in the world for quality of life, according to Mercer.
Seven Key Facts About Switzerland:
- Switzerland (more commonly referred to as the Swiss Confederation, in Europe) has a population of just 8 million and its capital is Bern. Most of its territory is occupied by the Alps. (The Alps also extend into France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania.)
- Switzerland is composed of 26 cantons––a canton is a federal state of the Swiss Confederation.
- Switzerland has four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian, and Romansh, with the majority of the population being German speaking. The country is therefore also referred to as, respectively, Schweiz, Suisse, Svizzera, or Svizra, in each its official languages.
- Switzerland is not part of the European Union but is part of the Schengen Area and the European Single Market through bilateral treaties.
- Switzerland uses its own currency, the Swiss franc (CHF; derived from Latin) rather than the Euro. Switzerland’s currency employs its Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica (English: Helvetic Confederation; frequently shortened to “Helvetia”), instead of its four official languages, to describe the franc monetary unit. The word “Helvetia” derives from the Helvetii, a Gaulish tribe living on the Swiss plateau before the Roman era.
- Switzerland has a history of armed neutrality that dates to today.
- Switzerland is the birthplace of the Red Cross and the base for several international organizations, the most important of which is the United Nations (UN).
I was in Geneva for only one day, so I will give you just a few quick first impressions to paint some broad brushstrokes of the city vibe:
Geneva is a very picturesque city. You will notice this from the moment you enter the city centre and spot the landmark Jet d’Eau (140-metre-high water fountain), to the moments when you are circling the periphery of Lac Léman, also known as Lake Geneva, and delighting at all the unexpected aesthetic discoveries, to the times when you venture into Place des Nations or other nooks and crannies of the inner city and discover a beautiful drinking fountain or remarkable building or other impressive natural or architectural or artistic phenomenon. It is an easy fact to face: Geneva is such a pretty place.
Geneva is very multicultural, not just in terms of tourists but also in terms of residents. Genevois residents comprise people originating from all over the world, of different nations, creeds, and cultures. And their diverse coexistence is witnessed in the abundance of multiracial families, multicultural relationships, and multinational friendships. It is a beautiful international enrichment of the fabric of the society and seems apt for a city that is renown for its diplomatic institutions and staff hailing from nations united in protecting international peace, health, and cooperation.
The second-largest UN office (after the headquarters in New York City) is located in Geneva. Most of the affiliated UN agencies are clustered around Place des Nations, not far from the downtown area, while others are located close to the airport. It is truly impressive to walk around such important peace-making global institutions and to think of all the work they have done, since World War II, to stave off conflict, disease, and human suffering. Work that protects fundamental human rights and freedoms and that must not be taken for granted in our generation but must be renegotiated daily.
It’s no secret that the cost of living in Switzerland is very high, that their currency is generally very strong, and accordingly, that vacationing there is very expensive. Depending on the currency in which you earn your income, be prepared to adjust your expectations of where you can stay, what you can buy, and what you can or cannot save on.
A Lot of Banks
Switzerland, in general, has a visibly abundant number of banks; and another large population of banks that do not look like banks but actually are. This latter group tend to look like ordinary academic institutes or fancy houses or dapper firms that are nondescript and (seemingly) unmarked. You may already know that Switzerland has a reputation as a secret tax haven, although this status was put to an end in 2017. It is possible that the preponderance of that notorious practice coupled with the country’s strong global financial performance is attributable to this overabundance of marked and unmarked banks in Geneva and elsewhere in Switzerland.
To get the most out of what the city has to offer, I would recommend a minimum of two days to visit Geneva, preferably three, as just one day can be quite rushed or inadequate. I certainly would love to stay longer in the city if I have the opportunity to visit again. I would also like to visit other cities around the country, including Lausanne, Lucerne, Basel, Zurich, and St. Moritz, which I have heard so many good things about.
What is on your Swiss travel list? Share your plans in the comments section below!
If you are planning a visit to Geneva, here are a couple of freebie tips that might help you wander around more economically, in Geneva:
There are a number of public spots that provide free wifi access:
- The (Lac Léman) lakefront
- La Perle du Lac
- Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
- Parc de la Grange
- Parc des Eaux-Vives
- Plaine de Plainpalais
If you have a reservation in Geneva at a hotel, youth hostel, or campsite:
- You will receive a free Geneva Transport Card
- This card entitles you to free public transportation in Geneva for the full duration of your stay
- You will be able to take unlimited trips on Geneva’s public transportation network, UNIRESO, including bus (TPG), train (CFF) and boat (Mouettes Genevoises) services
To see pictures of Geneva, take a look at The Travelling Sociologist Facebook Page, and click “Like” to receive notifications about new photo albums.