48 Hours in Geneva, Switzerland
On the way to Chamonix, our soon to be French ski destination, we stopped by Geneva for two nights to recoup after a rather long haul flight from Perth, Western Australia. In the middle of winter, Geneva is a quiet but charming city.
The Old Town of Geneva
Geneva is a small town located in Switzerland and nestled around the stunning Lake Geneva. The city is expensive to transit however as we were travelling on a budget and being the first stop on our two month holiday we did find ways to avoid burning a hole in our wallets. Many of the budget airlines fly to Geneva; we flew with Easy Jet from the London Stansted airport. The city has a combined Swiss and French influence with the majority of people speaking the French language. We found restaurant menus to be in French as well as items stocked in the supermarkets.
A Chocolate Store at Place Du Bourg Square
The airport is conveniently located 15 minutes from the town centre. Anyone staying in a hotel, hostel or campsite will receive a Geneva transport card, allowing unlimited free travel on the train, tram and buses. Exploring the city on foot and using the transport system was very easy and perfect for the budget travellers that we were.
There are two parts to Geneva; the old town and the no so old town, both are separated by Lake Geneva.
City Hostel, Geneva
Our hostel was located in what appeared to us to be the Turkish area of Geneva, it was only a 15 minute walk from the gateway train station, Gare de Cornavin. A private room for two with shared bathroom costed us $60.00 Australian dollars per night. The room was simple and clean with a bunk bed, desk, cupboard, safe and basin. City Hostel is one of the largest hostels in Geneva with a kitchen and bathroom on every floor, large common area, good security and lockers for storage. We used the kitchen a few times to prepare rolls for the day and make warm food in the evenings. The kitchen was clean and we were given a locked compartment in the fridge to store our cold food. The city map given to us at check in was very handy and we referred back to it constantly during our two day stay. The hostel was fully booked but surprisingly quiet during our entire stay. The City Hostel was my first hostel experience and overall it was a great stay, I would recommend it to any budget traveler.
The area around our hostel was not that exciting and had far too many kebab stores and so whilst in Geneva we often strolled across the lake (along Pont Du Mont Blanc Road/bridge) to the old town. The old town is situated on a hill offering stunning views across Lake Geneva and the Jura mountains in the far distance. It is a charming and somewhat expensive part of Geneva with its cobblestone paths, Romanesque stone houses, small bars and restaurants. The majority of the high end stores are also concentrated in the area. As we wandered around one evening it was quiet on the streets but we found life and warmth in the tiny bars.
The Old Town is a beautiful area to wander through and there is a city square named Place du Bourg de Four (dates back to the 16th century). The square was filled with café shops and restaurants and notably there is a flowered fountain that is often the meeting point for friends. One morning we went to La Clemence, a tiny café in the square, we sat outside with colourful wool rugs, drinking our piping hot coffees and breathing in the nice crisp air.
The Old Town in Geneva
Archaeological site of Saint-Pierre Cathedral
Whilst exploring it was so cold that day we almost retreated back to the warmth of the hostel until we discovered an archaeological site underneath Cathédrale Saint-Pierre. The site dates back to the Roman Empire revealing a glimpse into Christianity life and we were instantly curious as well as wanting to seeking an escape from the bitter cold wind, we entered. In 1976 the cantonal archaeological service began excavating the area and uncovered several preceding churches, a wheat processing area, a mould for the making of bells and baptisteries. An entrance fee of 6.80€ included an audio visual device that allowed us to walk through the site at our own pace. Along the way there are audio visual spots and 3D displays replicating the daily life back then. My favourite area was the almost intact mosaic floor of the bishop’s reception. The site is very well laid out with pathways and mini bridges that transported us very close to this previous world, we spent a few hours exploring the site.
Underneath Cathedrale Saint Pierre
The site interestingly displays different eras of time from Geneva in the 6th century to a 11th century cathedral and the baptisteries. At one point you can clearly see the different colours and textures of the soil.
Looking at the different layers of ‘life’
Lake Geneva I could imagine would be a great place to spend a warm summers day and the Promenade du Lac is a relaxing public space to walk along the water’s edge watching the gigantic 140m fountain of water known as Jet d’Eau. In the middle of winter it still looks beautiful and despite the bitter cold wind bouncing off from the chilly water, we still stopped by for a few photos.
Free Tour at CERN
Before leaving Perth I had booked a free two hour tour with CERN as Dk is an avid Science lover and CERN is the ultimate place for science like minded people. On the morning of the tour we traveled to the outskirts of Geneva taking tram 16 to Avanchet and then bus 56 to the end of the line. It was cold and the surroundings were dull and bleak however this soon changed when we realised we were standing on the site of deep tunnels where science occurs every minute of the day.
Physicists at CERN explore matter using machines called particle accelerators. The accelerators shoot beams of particles and smash them into each other or into other targets to create high energy conditions similar to those in the first instants of the universe. Interestingly enough, particle detectors have been used in areas of development such as medical diagnosis advancement.
A Particle Accelerator
We registered at the reception building and wandered through the the Globe and the Microcosm exhibition next door while we waited for the tour to begin. The tour started with a short video about CERN.
CERN is the European organisation for nuclear research and is an international collaboration of 20 member states (Australia has a Non Member co-operation agreements with CERN) with offices all around the world. Some remarkable things have taken place at CERN such as the world wide web was created to assist particle physicists around the world to communicate with each other and store important information. CERN is home to the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator – the LHC. The LHC is a tunnel 27 km in circumference buried 50m to 150m below the ground spanning through France and Switzerland, we were told to bring our passports in case we crossed the borders during our tour.
The tour at CERN
We then went outside, crossed the grounds to a building that housed a section of the Atlas project. The tours constantly change to ensure visitors do not disrupt the work taking place and our tour was on the Atlas project. The Atlas project is a particle physics experiment with over 3000 scientists from 37 countries involved, amazing! Our guide pointed out that the beginning scenes of Angels and Demons was shot in the tunnels below the Atlas project. Our tour guide who was also working on the project tells us the experiment is about mapping the secrets of the universe, intriguing. A machine named the Atlas detector is used to carry out the experiment, it is 46 metres long and 25 metres high but unfortunately our tour did not take us to see it, it is top secret.
We were unable to go down below however we did see a control room of the atlas project.
The Atlas Control Room
The project hopes to uncover the unknowns of extra dimensions of space, black holes and dark matter. I have to admit I find it hard to grasp Science, I remember in school I would have to go home and read the text book 10 times before I understood the meaning of matter and the forces of nature. In a CERN brochure I read this and it seemed to help me understand the purpose of the project ‘At the very beginning of the universe, equal amounts of matter and antimatter existed. If matter and antimatter were exact mirror images of each other, they would have completely annihilated to leave only energy. But why was some of the matter left over to create galaxies, the solar system with our beautiful planet, and us? ATLAS will explore the tiny differences that exists between matter and antimatter’.
Some might say the answer is God, I am interested to follow this project and see if it leads to some answers.
After the tour ended we went to the Universe of particles CERN visitor centre and this was a big load of fun, I could only imagine what it would be for kids. The centre is completely dark except for the lights of spectacular audio and visual displays. There are six areas to the centre that include; detecting particles, science without borders, In their own words, mysterious worlds, spark chamber and the research area. The displays are very interactive and at one point a voice came out of nowhere and a show was displayed around the circular walls, everyone stopped and sat in random spots to appreciate how the universe was made. We were almost going to skip the visitor centre as memories of boring excursions from school surfaced however were so pleased that we gave the CERN visitor centre a go.
Playing around in the CERN visitor centre
I left CERN with a new appreciation and knowledge that I could share with everyone back at home.
Getting to Geneva
Rue Ferrier 2, CH-1202 Geneve
Tel. +41 (0)22-901 1500
Things to do
Café La Clémence
Place du Bourg-de-Four 20 / 1204 Genève
site archeologique de
la cathedrale Saint Pierre
Cour Saint-Pierre 6 1204
Geneva – Switzerland
Opening hours Tuesday to Sunday 10:00am – 5:00 pm
Adult admission price CH 8.00
Audio tour available in French English German Spanish Italian and Japanese
CERN Visits Service
Phone: + 41 22 767 84 84
Fax: +41 22 767 87 10
Universe of particles CERN visitor centre
The Globe and the Microcosm Exhibition:
More Information about the Atlas Project
Video from The CERN Channel that sums up what CERN is all about in 3 minutes
If you have time, this is a 2 hour conference by the Director of CERN running through the discover of the Higgs Bossom