Geneva in mid autumn (Sophia Antipolis Gateway No1)

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It was the start of another business meeting in Sophia Antipolis, France and the idea had just been cast to visit Geneva for holidays. I had visited Geneva twice by that time, but both times were in the middle of the winter, both were for business and bear in mind that in those ITU meetings the average age of participants was around…60, so it was difficult to persuade any of the participants to go for a beer or drink – even tea – after 21.00. So apart from a couple of walks in the city, some visits in the local winter markets and shopping centres, the odd drink in a bar and a Greek dinner with 10 meeting participants in a super-folk Greek restaurant – bit cheesy though – there was not much to do.

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This time it was a chance to visit Geneva over a weekend with a local guide to show me around. I could not refuse.

The air ticket, courtesy of BA air miles, was booked in a flick of a second. There was a tiny little problem though. I had to fly via London!

It was supposed to be a relaxed weekend so I arrived in London on Friday morning and I was required to take an afternoon flight to Geneva. I had planned nothing else to do and after packing up back home, I had three hours before the flight was taking off.

Sometimes when we have time we tend to do the stupidest things that zip through our minds and this time I decided that it was a chance to go to Paddington with a bus while at the same time getting a bit … adventurous and getting to know a new bus route. Seriously, … sometimes I think I need to sort out my priorities! So, accidentally I took the wrong bus and indeed adventurous my drive to Paddington proved to me. It was just 1.30 hour before my flight was taking off when I realised I had to take swift actions to make it to the airport on time. I still don’t remember where I had been, but it seems that the bus was following a route to the North and when I started hearing locations I had never heard I got worried. I got out of the bus, I walked for some time, got in the first tube station i found, arrived at Paddington run my guts out to make it to the train platforms and the whole process took me 30 minutes before I boarded probably the last Heathrow Express train that would get me on time at Heathrow. I even had to run to the gate. Luckily I had only hand luggage. Next time, remind me to just not try new things when catching a flight!

London I left with bad weather. Geneva I arrived in the evening and the first thing to do was drive to my friend’s home which was in …France. Weird, I thought, to work in a country and live in another…”! The weirdest thing was even crossing the … virtual border. There was something that looked like a toll, but you just drove through without even thinking of stopping. “Shall we start speaking French now?” I asked loudly, getting a… nasty look!

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The first day we did few things. We just drove around Geneva and then went back home. We talked, ate a simple pasta dinner, after all Geneva is close to Italy and personal and food-related bonds exist, chatted about numerous things, talked to a friend of ours in … Brasil and had a relaxed time.

The second day, Saturday, was fantastic. A glorious day appeared and it was a chance to literary walk to a small village and enjoy one hour wandering around a very rustic and simple local French market and buy French baguettes, cheese and fruit and some meat. I just loved the humble and simple process of just walking around the market, talking to the stallholders and buying healthy food. It was quality life you don’t find easily in large cities. For a weird reason, I felt connected immediately with the place. For a moment I realised that traveling the world and living a … modern nomad life is not necessarily the best thing. For a moment I thought that I could easily stay in the area and live the simplest life in the world without traveling more than 3 km from my home.  But then again travelling the world may….

Again the Yin and Yang appeared into my personal decision making processes.

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Then it was time to head downtown.

We drove to the city centre, paid tribute to good old UN site – a new meeting was supposed to take place within the next months – and decided to try Jetee de Paquis.

We had a coffee in Le Bains de Paquis and then proceeded further into the pier where we literary lied down took our clothes off (we had strategically brought with us swim suits – remember it was October) and just let the Geneva air and sun gently provide us a good treat. It was when lying flat on the woods of the pier when I realised that all around the Geneva Lake there were clouds and a cloud-free hole … the size of the lake let the October sun cast its rays to … us the sunbathers. We lied there I don’t know for how long. It was grand. It was superb. At some point my mobile phone rang and a friend informed me that in South London it was raining cats and dogs. I sighted with relief and smiled sardonically. Once again I had randomly decided that Geneva was the place to spend that autumn weekend. Remind me next time to play Lotto!

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We spent more time by the lake, watching in awe the Geneva Water Fountain spitting water up to the skies. From time to time I would close my eyes and the whole sound effect around me would make me believe I am sunbathing in a Greek, Italian or Spanish beach by the Med! The sun was not quite as … strong as in the South, but it was … damn good!

The more the time was passing by the more people – everyday Swiss people- were walking around the area. Although it was a stone’s throw from the city centre, it was so much more down to earth and not touristy. Then we had a coffee and then walked around the area again. It was nice to finally appreciate a city which until a day ago did not suit my appetite. The boring, wintery city had after all a human, vibrant character, at least as long as the sun shine lasted.

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Geneva is a European city but primarily it is a Swiss city and a multinational city. Numerous international organisations have their HQ in Geneva and primarily UN. This I realised later the day when we met some Indian friends and I put on my non-European-looking google filter which let me identify and track easier people that looked non-European and which failed my attention initially. I realised that apart from the Swiss and the European stereotypes and casts, there were also other people that constitute other levels of the Swiss society that manage to live and breath their own … lives in that very Swiss city. Not everybody in Geneva is paid over 5.000 Euros per month, drives a stylish German premium car or … goes skiing in the weekends. There are other casts of people that lead their own lives, that cherish those very facts that Geneva offers, but at the same time contribute their own piece of … offerings to that city. For a moment I realised that Geneva could also be the place to spend some time in my life, even on a temporary basis. (I know, I need to do something with this fixation…every place on earth is potentially a place I could spend some time.)

France is a stone’s throw away and a car can drive you there in less than 10 minutes (I realised that the previous day), buses can get you to Italy in less than 4 hours through the Alpes’ tunnels, trains can get you to Germany in less than 3 hours.  Geneva is a good base to move around in central Europe. I could even hire a car and drive to Issoire and Clermont Fermand and visit places in France I had visited years ago for a 7-day stay with a folk dance group.

We spent more time in the city centre until in the evening we went back home and decided that the day is not over without another Italian dish – pizza in a local restaurant.

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The last day there was not much to do. We had a coffee in the morning, drove around in the … deserted Geneva city centre and then to the airport.

A superb short stay in Geneva was over and I had to get ready for my usual London week after another great, relaxed, inspirational weekend.

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