Our European Adventure travel blog

The flags of the Red Cross Red Crescent

Statue; People wth out Rights or Dignity

Broken Chair

Avenue of Flags UN

In the fountain at the Square of Nations

A square in Old Town

One of those hilly streets

St.Peter's Cathedral

Stark interior

Ornate pulpit from which Jean Calvin preached

I have never seen so many wild swans together. They were cruising...

Have to get those bikes up and down the stairs

The Jet


Sunday, August 16th

There was quite a storm during the night and we awoke once again to rain and overcast skies. As we were in no particular hurry we decided to play it by ear. Around noon, despite an 80 % chance of showers the sun came out. Bill had the office call a cab and we headed into Geneva.

Geneva as a city was a disappointment to us. Mind you after the last 3 days in the mountains it would have to be pretty spectacular to impress us. In the pamphlet given to us at the campgrounds there were pages after pages of where to shop, eat and drink, rent a bike, take a tour, ride a boat etc., none of which interested us.

There were only about 5 items that we were interested in seeing;

The Red Cross, Red Crescent Museum; United Nations Grounds; Old Town including St Peter’s Cathedral, the waterfront and maybe discover a private inconspicuous bank where we could hide some funds (Ha Ha)

First stop was the Red Cross Red Crescent Museum.

We never would have found this building by taking the bus. The taxi driver drove us around to the other side of the lake, up and over a few hills, left turns, right turns, down a little hill, up a very steep hill past the United Nations Grounds made a U-Turn and said, “Here we are”. Sure enough looking up on top of a hill was a stately old building that had the Red Cross and Red Crescent Flags flying over it.

Fortunately, the Museum which seemed to be attached to the HQ on a lower level was only a short set of stairs up, to a small square.

To the left of the entrance was a grouping of mummified life-sized statues in gray, given to the Museum when it opened its doors in 1989.

The artist called it, “People Without Rights or Dignity”. Standing looking at it was quite a haunting experience.

After giving a donation, we were given instructions to the audio tour and off we went.

Of course, at the beginning of the tour was a life-size display of Henri Dumont seated at a desk writing. Now, having worked for the Red Cross in Canada first as a volunteer than as a staffer, I know all about Henri Dumont. If you are interested I will let you discover his story on you own. He was a Swiss who reversed the colours on his country’s flag to give the Red Cross theirs.

It was an interesting museum with the exhibition theme of “The Humanitarian Adventure”. An interesting display was, ”The Witness Statements. There were 12 stand-alone life-sized people from different nationalities talking about the violence toward their people and how the Red Cross, Red Crescent had helped them. These were started by giving there outstretch hand a high five.

Another room was devoted to the history of re-locating loved ones lost due to disaster or war.

This was an interesting hands-on learning experience. The room was full of boxes filled with index cards containing thousands of names of those who had disappeared. There were 4 different tables with a set of instructions, pertinent information and log book on each one and you were given the task of locating the missing person.

A hands on disaster prevention display where you had to follow the proper sequence by pushing large buttons that lit up in order to save a town from a natural disaster.

There were witness statements here testifying to the benefit of being prepared and following mandated criteria in a disaster. By following the plans made for future use following a disaster, the number of deaths from future disasters was remarkably reduced.

The museum showed to me how one man’s initiative has had such a profound effect on how we deal today with those; wounded in war, suffered loss due to disasters, and the re-location and registration of those involved in disasters or war.

On all continents, the name of Geneva invokes the idea of peace and freedom. Along with The Red Cross the city is home to more than 200 international organizations.

The skies were still clear and we were able walk down to the square across from the United Nations Grounds called the Place of Nations. The square was the size of a city block and covering a good chunk of the centre were a series of water jets that would shoot up in the air before disappearing altogether. Although it wasn’t a particularly hot day I took a chance and walked in and around it without getting wet, on a hot day, different result.

At the end of the square facing the United Nations buildings was a huge (40’ tall) chair with a broken leg. A sculpture commissioned by Handicap International to urge all countries to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, to honour their commitments to help mine victims and to clear mined areas.

I found it quite provocative.

Across the street as I said earlier was the United Nations grounds all fenced and locked for Sunday but the avenue of flags was quite impressive. We met a young couple there with 2 young boys who were trying to find their country’s flag. They were from a small island country off the coast of Africa. You just never know who you will meet on any given day!

Geneva originally built the Palais des Nations for the League of Nations founded in 1919. After the Second WW and the dissolution of the League, the building was ready to welcome the European seat of the newly constituted United Nations.

We managed to find the right bus which took us downtown to the old city. (The receptionist at the Red Cross Red Crescent Museum gave us explicit instructions; Bus #8, 2nd stop after the bridge over the Rhone.) Great instructions, we arrived at the foot of the old city just a flight or two of stairs (groan) away.

The old city is an ancient settlement with origins that go back to Roman Times. It sits on a craggy hill at the western end of Lake Geneva and is full of narrow, steep, cobblestoned lanes and streets, fountain filled squares and an array of shops, galleries and cafes. We wandered in and out and up and down them keeping the spire of St. Peter’s Cathedral in sight.

Around a corner and there it was standing facing a small square. The building dates from the 12th century and its rather plain façade and interiors are in keeping with its Reformist heritage. It is said that this was the center of the Reformist movement, in fact Jean Calvin preached here.

Outside the church but at its foundations there is an ongoing archeological dig. The remains of churches predating the cathedral are hidden beneath this ancient building, the oldest dating back to the 4th century.

Geneva’s exceptional religious tolerance has made the city into an ecumenical world centre. The growing reform movement and the coming of Jean Calvin have both contributed to the fame of the city known today as “Protestant Rome”. There are over 140 places of worship in Geneva.

Up another street and we found a flat cement platform where there were 8 cannons on display. Two of them were forged in the 1600’s. Bill having worked in his youth as a guard at Old Fort Henry in Kingston Ontario was quite familiar with some of these cannons and interested in there display.

Around the corner from there we found the building where the Geneva Convention was signed.

You just never know what you will discover when you wander with abandonment.

It didn’t take too much longer to finish exploring the old town so we headed down to the lake front.

Once down the hill we walked along the promenade beside the river, then thru a tunnel under the Old Shopping Street of Rue du Rhone and entered the park lined promenade which ran along the lake front in both directions. The park full of statues, fountains and gardens extended the length of the promenade. Of course, there were souvenir shops galore, café’s, cyclists, baby buggies, skateboards, maintenance vehicles and people sharing this 10’ wide boardwalk beside the lake.

Although not particular sunny, it did come out from beneath the clouds a few times and we were able to sit at an outdoor restaurant and eat comfortably. I had mentioned to Bill that I would like to have some Rackelette (?) before leaving Switzerland and thought that would be difficult in this area. We checked at the next restaurant and low and behold they served it. Rackelette is a National dish, which usually requires specific cooking ware to make. I am not sure if this little kitchen would have the necessary equipment but what they served was very good accompanied by the local red wine of course. The meal consisted of a warm pita looking bread filled with potatoes and melted cheese, accompanied with a green salad.

We strolled further along the boardwalk enjoying the marina and all the boats and sailing vessels on the water. You couldn’t help but notice the giant water jet soaring 140 m. 459’ into the air. Le Jet D’Eau is an icon of the Geneva harbour.

Originally installed in 1886 it was used as a safety valve for a hydraulic power network. The water leaves the nozzle at a speed of 200 km/h (124 mph).At any given moment there are about 7,000L (1,542 gallons/1,849 US gallons) of water in the air. There is a jetty that leads you out to it from the boardwalk and on a hot day the spray is probably a great welcome but not today.

It was time to find the right bus to take us back ”home”. After asking for directions we headed out to search for the stop. Something was wrong; no buses in sight. We wandered for about 30 minutes up and down streets to no avail. We finally hailed a taxi who took us directly to our campground.

The view across the lake and back to Geneva was still there but no mountains were visible. We enjoyed the ducks and swans parading back and forth in front of for a while then hit the sack.

That reminds me, even though Geneva is in Switzerland but very close to France, the language spoken is French.



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