4 Things I Hated About Geneva

A beautiful building in Geneva, Switzerland.
A beautiful building in Geneva.

It’s easy to assume that I fall in love with every city I visit. Obviously I like some more than others, but I’m here to tell you that I hated Geneva. Yep, hated. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that I could not wait to leave the Swiss city.

I should have loved it. It’s a world class city with a really old Old Town and everyone speaks French. What’s there to hate? Well a few things. Four to be exact. Admittedly, my hatred wasn’t all the city’s fault. It was a combination of factors that added up to three very long days. Let me explain.

Glass of rosé and notebook outside at a café in Geneva, Switzerland.
A little rosé and writing in Geneva, trying to make sense of everything.

4 Things I Hated About Geneva

I left Zurich with my heart full of love for the German-speaking city despite excitement to experience the French side of Switzerland. The 3-hour train ride was like a beautiful slideshow of landscape images, full of green hills and large lakes, permeated with obedient lines of grapes winding up the mountainsides. Swiss wineries! Note to self: next time, stop at the wineries for a tasting or two.

Once I got off the train I felt like I’d been transported to Paris. Besides the obvious — Geneva is a French speaking city — the architecture, the vibe, everything reminded me of my time in France. Having loved Paris, my hopes remained high. But then one hiccup after another plagued moment after moment.

Inside the St. Pierre Cathedral in Old Town, Geneva.
Inside the St. Pierre Cathedral in Old Town.

1. There are no suburbs if all the hotels are booked.

Geneva was a last-minute destination after my original trip itinerary got screwed and I had to replan my trip a week beforehand. After booking my train to Geneva, my flight out of Geneva and buying my opera ticket, I realized there were zero hotels available in the city. Ok, zero under $5,000/night (seriously). I checked hotels in Geneva’s outskirts but discovered the nearest town is actually in France and there’s no quick way to the city.

(Yes, I should have booked my hotel first but I’ve never had a problem finding a hotel in a major city before!)

So I resorted to AirBnB, which I usually avoid when traveling alone. Which would have been fine, except it was less-than-spectacular.

Rue Maurice in Old Town, Geneva, Switzerland.
One of Old Town’s tiny streets, Rue Maurice.

By the time I found my AirBnB, half hidden at the top of a hill in Geneva’s Old Town, I was gushing over the charming Old Town and its teeny streets. Unfortunately my AirBnB apartment had some of that teeniness… and not so much of the charmingness. The bed was a mattress on the floor. The kitchen was a closet with a hot plate. And the towel looked like it’d been washed 87,459 times, washing away all the resemblance of ever being a towel. Gross.

There was a several minute tutorial on locking and unlocking the door that made me wonder if it was worth leaving the apartment at all. Then I noticed a note with strict instructions to deadbolt the lock even when I was inside. Apparently Geneva has a lot of break-ins. That’s comforting.

 

Bone marrow for lunch in Geneva.
Waiter was shocked I ordered bone marrow for lunch.

2. Everything is really expensive.

After having a slight breakdown about the state of my home base for the next three days, I decided it was nothing a change in attitude and some wine couldn’t fix. I stopped at the first cafe I saw, tucked away in the winding streets of the neighborhood, and plopped on the patio. I ordered Swiss wine, lamb chops and bone marrow and all was well with the world until the check arrived: $81. For lunch. With fries I’m pretty certain started off the day frozen.

Normally I don’t panic over paying for food (I’ve been known to have $300 dinners by myself) but this was a little much. I hurried back to my AirBnB to shake it off, when — of course! — I couldn’t unlock the door. I followed the instructions step-by-step, and — nothing. After ten minutes of failure resulted in tears, I called my host, who told me the same instructions I’d been doing, and of course it opened. Geneva was just not my city.

(Ok, not all restaurants were that expensive. I ended up finding some delicious fondue and raclette that was more affordable, but by no means cheap!)

 

The Jet d'Eau in Geneva, Switzerland.
Geneva’s main tourist attraction, the Jet d’Eau fountain, sprays water 460 feet into the air.
The L'horloge fleurie in Geneva, Switzerland.
The second most popular tourist attraction is the Flower Clock (L’horloge fleurie).

3. There’s nothing to do in Geneva.

The next day I set out to explore the city. Turns out there’s nothing to do in Geneva. The main tourist attraction is a fountain (called the Jet d’Eau) that sprays water 460 feet into the air. The second most popular is a flower bed with a working clock in it. The L’horloge fleurie, as it’s called, has the longest second hand in the world. Um, cool?

(The Chillon Castle, famously posted with Geneva headlines, is a several hour train ride away, requiring a day trip. I should have visited a museum or toured The United Nations, but didn’t. Somehow I missed the Reformation Wall but I did see the Broken Chair monument.)

One day I walked to the World Intellectual Property Office, where international patents are prosecuted and granted. (I work with patents at my day job, hence the interest.) Apparently visitors aren’t exactly allowed. The security guards were so confused why I was there they practically escorted me out while I tried to explain my job. Fail.

 

The wooden beams underneath the opera seats at Opera des Nations.
The wooden beams underneath the opera seats at Opera des Nations.

4. The opera house is a temporary wood building (at least til 2018).

But all that mattered in Geneva was the opera. It was the real reason I was there and I needed a night of beautiful music now more than ever. Ha! Au contraire, said Geneva! Little did I know The Grand Theater de Geneve is under construction and the performances have been moved to a temporary wooden opera house, named Opera des Nations. There was no foyer, no air conditioning, I don’t even know if there was an elevator. Geneva was playing a sick joke on me and I wasn’t laughing.

(To the Geneva Opera’s credit, the website does mention that performances are at the Opera des Nations. But it doesn’t say it’s a temporary theater with exposed wooden beams or anything about its true state.)

I was pouting for choosing Geneva instead of, well, anywhere else when I realized the opera was magnificent. My mood lightened and I was overwhelmed with how stunning the singing was, how creative the set was, and — wait, are those three guys naked?! Yep, they really know how to keep people’s attention spans at the opera in Europe with full-frontal nudity.

A canon in Old Town, Geneva.
A canon in Old Town, Geneva.
A detailed fountain in Geneva's Old Town.
A detailed fountain in Geneva’s Old Town.

Afterwards I hopped on the light-rail headed for my apartment. Just when I thought Geneva redeemed itself, temporary opera house and all, I realized the train should be going up that giant hill instead of way, way passed it. And that’s how I found myself in the dark, hiking up a steep heel in high heels alone in Geneva. By the time I reached the apartment I was so mentally prepared to battle the door that I miraculously opened it on the first try. I fell onto the mattress on the floor, almost asleep, when laughter from the bar below my window snapped me back to angry reality.

I shoved some earplugs in my ears, muttered some pardon-my-French “French” words and fell asleep thinking “thank god I get to go to Madrid tomorrow.”

 

Up next: what I did in Madrid that I never, ever thought I’d do on vacation.

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